Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

Brave Not Fearless

The front page of today's New York Times ran Philip Seymour Hoffman's obituary, leading with this headline: "Actor of Depth, Fearless in His Choice of Roles"  So here's the rant:  People are not fearless, they are brave. When Mr. Hoffman portrayed eccentrics, addicts, social outcasts, overweight people, master manipulators, and priests, he was exhibiting bravery. And tremendous talent that, as I understand it, comes from a place of empathy and social intelligence. To describe him as fearless, dismisses the courage and strength it took to live in these roles and suggests that he was some kind of psychopath.  Who among us is fearless in the decisions we make about our lives?

He was also being brave when he stopped using drugs 20 years ago, when he fought against his addiction, signed into rehab last spring. The tragic end to his life illustrates how difficult this journey was. Hard to hide, to stop, to self-medicate. Easy to make a mistake, to trip, to stumble, to fall.

Last summer, Cory died of a drug overdose. Alone in the hotel. Yesterday's news was similar, another white man found dead surrounded by his works and empty heroin envelopes. Like Heath's story. These famous guys who get the press are just the tip of the iceberg: In 2013, nearly 200 people in CT died of a drug overdose. Mostly white men living in the suburbs. Mostly opioids, heroin and oxy pills.

So here's the lecture.  Not me ranting and raving, this is science.

  • Don't use opioids. Not heroin, not pills, nada. Not fun, not funny, hard to put down. When the demons, peer pressure, boredom, and everything is staring you down, try to be brave. See if your health insurance covers mental health services. Talk to someone. Share your story.
  • If you use:
    • Don't use alone. 
    • Use small amounts when you are starting to use after prison or treatment. Tolerance changes.
    • Find a doctor who can prescribe you Narcan (Naloxone). Keep it on you and give it to the people who you use around.
    • When you stop using, consider Methadone to prevent relapse.
In the wake of this awful death, let's all try to be just a little bit braver. Scary to talk to our friends and family about drugs. Scary to embrace harm reduction when what we really want is for it all to go away. Scary to really see the people around us. Scary to see ourselves. Let's be brave for the drug users, for the drug users' families, for the Corys, Heaths, Phillips who are fighting hard every day to stay brave.