We lost another rock star last week when Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver fame finally succumbed to the repercussions of decades of substance abuse and addiction. It’s a song we’ve heard too often. This time, however, even as the tributes and platitudes piled up, Mary Forsberg Weiland, the singer’s ex-wife and the mother of his two children, offered some brutal and painful truth. “December 3rd, 2015 is not the day Scott Weiland died,” she wrote in a letter to Rolling Stone. “It is the official day the public will use to mourn him, and it was the last day he could be propped up in front of a microphone for the financial benefit or enjoyment of others.”
Forsberg Weiland briefly chronicles the painful experience of loving an addict. She also rebukes a culture that not only tolerates but enables and commodifies such self-destruction. Instead of using these tragedies to develop a more sophisticated and effective understanding of mental health, the disease of addiction and the potential for true and lasting recovery, they are wasted. Weiland will be either deified or demonized and nothing worthwhile will come of it.
While there’s certainly no evidence that rock stars experience addiction any more intensely than plumbers, lawyers or stay-at-home mothers, our culture is certainly more accepting of it when it comes to our creative cash cows. They become vicarious fallen heroes, sacrificed on the altar of cool. Some canonize them for living fast, dying young and leaving a pretty corpse, while others dismiss them as victims of their own mistakes who are bound to reap what they sow. The truth, of course, is much more complicated than these simplistic extremes allow.
Weiland will be either deified or demonized and nothing worthwhile will come of it.
At its core, addiction is about relieving pain. That pain may be physical, emotional or a terrible combination of both, but it is very real. The relief may come from drugs or alcohol, or possibly from sex, food, work, spending money or even exercise. The brain doesn’t care. If something brings relief from the pain, the brain will use every tool at its disposal to keep that relief coming.
It would be nice if it was as simple as just saying no to drugs and alcohol. It would also be much easier to dismiss addicts as victims of their own mistakes. And there is some kind of appeal to thinking that the brilliantly creative among us are just more prone to implode. Those are all cop-outs, though. The truth is that millions of people are born with a biological predisposition toward addiction and that too many turn to substances or damaging behavior as a means of coping with trauma or other underlying psychological distress. That doesn’t abdicate anyone from responsibility for the pain they cause, nor does it relieve the responsibility we all have not to enable or encourage addictive behavior that might destroy our loved ones. Simply put, it’s a mess — and it’s a mess that affects all of us.
It is long past time for our society — led by people of faith — to mature in our understanding of both the science and spirituality of addiction. I believe the Apostle Paul adds a theological framework to the neurological nature of addiction when he tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” in Romans 12. Through the leading of the Spirit, within the context of community, we can harness our God-given potential for healing and growth. Only then can we know the good and perfect will of God in our lives. With help we can all learn to be mindful of the emotions and impulses that shape our behavior and can learn to better love and serve the hurting people in our lives. It’s not easy, but it is possible.