I had never heard of Nelsan Ellis when he was alive, but his death from alcohol addiction has touched me in a painful way. I think of my family members (and myself) and our battle with alcohol. I recall bloated faces, smiles that don’t hide physiological or psychological pain. The struggle against alcohol, a substance that is prevalent, socially accepted and imbedded into our culture is ever present is daunting.
Imagine being a movie or television star , like Ellis, with the world wanting to toast you. How do you say “no” to the champagne at the Emmys or your cousin’s wedding or Uncle Charlie’s wake? Difficult. Yet, we minimize the struggle of alcohol addiction. We as a culture are not educated to the harm alcohol poses to our bodies, nor do we appreciate the danger of going “cold turkey.” We fail to acknowledge and most of us don’t even know that often times withdrawing from alcohol requires medical supervision.Worse than all of the above is both the self-imposed as well as society’s stigma in its failure to understand that 70% of most addicts relapse. We shame our family members and others with statements like, “Why didn’t he just stop drinking?” Why didn’t he just seek help?”
I imagine what it must have been like for Ellis, having failed at rehab so many times, choosing to withdraw, hide away and deal with withdrawal privately. Perhaps, he simply did not want the production company to know that he had started drinking again. Most studios insist that their stars meet physical and psychological tests, since millions of dollars are being invested in a star’s continued ability to perform. These were perhaps good reasons to tough it out alone in withdrawal – a decision that perhaps led to his death.
I also appreciate the family ‘s openness and honesty about Ellis’s struggle with addiction. I hope that Ellis’s life and his untimely death are not in vain. I hope that the dialogue around his death will open our eyes and create empathy, education and compassion.
Nelsan Ellis died alone, no one should have to do that, especially at 39 and a media star. Hopefully someone who reads this will think twice before they shun the addict or former addict. I hope that someone who reads this will go beyond the shame and stigma and seek professional help. I hope someone out there reading this will reach out a helping hand, rather than a cold shoulder to a family member or friend who is an addict in need of emotional and perhaps medical and or psychological help. Please don’t turn away. Please don’t hide, you are not alone.
- #addictionisadiease #caringsaveslives
photo credit: `James Wheeler <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/24128704@N08/9767233194″>I’m Being Followed by a Moonshadow</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>