Compassion seems to be doled out only to the best-behaved among us.
Over the past week, I’ve despaired at the amount of vitriol directed at actor Anne Heche after she suffered a fate I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
I’ve been haunted by the idea of her body covered in burns after her car crashed into a house in Los Angeles 10 days ago. I find it incomprehensible that people think she’s undeserving of empathy after experiencing such pain.
Heche was under the influence of narcotics when she rammed into another woman’s home. Although the resident wasn’t injured, she lost almost everything in the fire. When some of Heche’s friends, including actors Alec Baldwin and Rosanna Arquette, posted messages of support for her on social media, they were greeted with criticism and scathing comments about her actions.
Heche’s injuries left her brain-dead. On Sunday, her family took her off life support. I wonder whether it’s enough to satisfy those who have been calling for her head. They have it now.
As I read the comments, the word that popped out at me was “choice.”
“There are accidents and there are choices,” said one of the many Instagram users pummeling Baldwin, adding that “her choice burned down a family’s home.”
I will make no friends for saying so, but I’m not sure Heche did make a choice.
The 53-year-old actor had been public about her struggles with drug abuse, as have I. For me, the compulsion to use drugs never felt like a choice. It felt like a lightning strike. The rational part of my brain shut down.
I am going to get high now, thank you very much. Get out of my way.
I remember when it happened to me a few months out of rehab. My husband’s two sons were over. We were piled up on the couch, and they were watching sports. I began to drowse. It was a blissful feeling. A good night’s sleep had eluded me since the day I entered treatment. Perhaps I’d feel better after this rare nap. I was still enduring symptoms from long-term withdrawal.
As I nodded off, my phone buzzed. I ignored it.
“Your phone is buzzing,” my oldest stepson said.
“That’s OK,” I replied. I was almost there and could still fall asleep.
The phone went off again. My stepson said, “Liz, your phone is ringing.”
Danger was nigh. I was aware, in those milliseconds that give me a lot of information quickly, that I needed to temper my irritation. It wasn’t my stepson’s fault. He was just being helpful.
I was brand new to self-regulation after years of being mired in the total, all-encompassing selfishness of heroin addiction. I needed a lot of practice in considering the needs and feelings of others.
“Thanks, but don’t worry about it,” I said pleasantly. “I just want to nap.” I congratulated myself on my tolerance of humanity.
You know what happened next. My phone buzzed again, and this time he poked me in the arm as he said my name. Three months of work were gone. The poke put me over the edge. I was done.
I didn’t say a word. I got up, took the blanket off, went upstairs and got my purse and car keys. I went back downstairs and walked out the front door. I was in my car when my husband came out the front door in his socks. He knew I was headed to my heroin dealer.
“Liz,” he said. “Sweetheart …”