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Philip Seymour Hoffman, Drugs, and our Caveman Brain

February 2nd, 2014 3:30pm

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Drugs, and our Caveman Brain

Philip Seymour Hoffman found dead of a heroin overdose. Naturally, his celebrity status brings his death in this manner to public attention more than the hundreds who perish by drug overdose, daily, throughout the world. As most of us cringe from the thought of a needle and syringe sitting close by Mr. Hoffman’s lifeless body—tourniquet tightly bound around his arm, I contemplate the history that led up to this overdose.

Arguably one of the best character actors in the business, and as so many of the good ones, Mr. Hoffman became his role. When one puts so much energy into becoming something other than themselves, do they sacrifice the effort needed to understand their role in life?

Maybe, you think I am being too philosophical here. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Ah, he took heroin because he could afford to. He just wanted to get high, spoiled rich actor.”

Well, maybe that is the case. But recreational drugs are used to obtain an alternated state of consciousness. Such a state is usually pursued to self-medicate a reaction, caused by the caveman part of our brain, which I have called the Automatic Brain, AB for short. Whenever this brain processes that life circumstances represent danger, threat, or may cause one to feel vulnerable, it leads to a predictable fight-or-flight reaction. Wonder why you look to grab a drink right when you get to the party? Your brain processes the crowd as a potential threat and the drink tames the fight-or-flight reaction.

Although, when my children were younger, they said, “Dad, not everything is the Automatic Brain, in situations of self-destructive behavior, it is everything. Such behavior always has a trigger that causes one to fight or flee into such behavior. It is all about danger and this AB of ours is on the alert for such danger, 24/7. What could be the danger for Mr. Hoffman? I don’t know exactly, but what I can infer is that it had to be a rather big one for him to look to flee by medicating himself with such a powerful drug as heroin. I read briefly that he was found dead by a friend, who went looking for him after he did not show up to pick up his kids. Maybe there were dangers lurking in his private life. Or maybe his brain processed a great danger of being exposed as a fraud—that is, a wonderful actor on the screen, but a wreck in his personal life; or confident on screen, but an insecure, passive person in real life. Or perhaps, the danger lies in his childhood, as so many of the dangers do.

Whatever led to his overdose needs to be a loud clarion call to anyone who is an addict or knows someone who is. That call is to get those people to identify from what they are fighting and fleeing and get them the help so that they need not believe, trust, or take direction from these primitive, instinctive, automatic impulses.

To Philip Seymour Hoffman, may you rest in peace.  

 
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