You have a fantastic life. Not just averagely good, but really bloody good. You have a job that involves fooling about with your best friend on the telly, and getting paid tons of money for it, writes Suzanne Harrington.
Everyone knows you, and everyone likes you. Your life is charmed and successful.
So what on earth have you got to be depressed about? What makes you so addicted to booze and legal drugs that you drive your car drunk and crash it, endangering the lives of yourself and others? What is wrong with your perfect life that makes you behave like this?
The television presenter Ant McPartlin has been facing these questions since his car hit another and he was arrested for drink driving. Why, Ant? Why would you drink drive?
Why jeopardise your enviable life, and worse, jeopardise the lives of innocents by getting in a car when you’re too out of it to drive safely? Why are you depressed? Isn’t addiction and depression for people with nothing?
Here lies the great myth of depression and addiction — that it can’t happen to you if your life looks great from the outside.
That’s like saying to someone who lives in a nice house that they can’t ever get cancer, or saying to someone with a great job that will never succumb to any chronic physical illness. How can you possibly be ill, when your partner loves you and you have a holiday home in Barbados?
See how mad that sounds? Yet we still routinely ask people why they have depression, or why they have addiction, in a way we would never ask someone why they have asthma or diabetes or heart disease.
They have it because they have a succeptibility to it, the same as to any other illness. This isn’t to condone the grim, horrific behaviour that so often accompanies addiction — lying, stealing, manipulating, cheating, focusing relentlessly on your own insatiable need.
Drink driving, violence, crime. Prisons are full of addicts.
Physical illness is so much more straightforward. When cancer recurs, our reaction is sympathy, empathy, a desire to help, to reach out, to support.
When addiction comes back, our reaction is at best incomprehensibility (“but you spend all that time / money in treatment!”) at worst, judgement (“how could you do this again, you selfish loser”).
When wealthy successful people succumb to cancer, we don’t demand to know why, but when someone as materially priviliged as Ant McPartlin’s life becomes quite literally a car crash, we demand explanations.
It’s as if we regard people like Ant as ungrateful for daring to screw up their charmed lives; we regard them as self-indulgent, undisciplined, weak, spoilt, and other inaccurate ideas. They are none of these things.
They are just common or garden addicts, the same as the addicts who live on the streets, except with cleaner clothes and bigger bank balances.
Externally luckier, internally the same.
Addiction can happen to anyone, and it does.
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