I first saw you in the movie Happiness. Your raw-ugly-beautiful performance cut through to my heart in a way I had never experienced before. “This guy isn’t afraid of anything,” I thought. “He’s fearless.” And you did it again and again: in Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Capote, Synecdoche, Jack Goes Boating, A Late Quartet. Balls out, I would call it now, with great admiration.
More recently I saw you at one of the Happy Talks at the Rubin Museum of Art. You sat with philosopher Simon Critchley and were as real and thoughtful and imperfect as I imagined you. The way you dropped your head into your hand to fully consider whatever probing question your co-host had posed. As if you needed to remove yourself from the presence of all our eager eyes in order to touch something deep inside, to find an uncompromising truth.
At one point he asked you “How do you know when you feel happy?” And after a long, silent pause, you shared that watching your kids enjoying one another – how they allowed you to enjoy them – that was the definition of happiness for you. I wished my boyfriend was with me to hear that. To hear a father’s description of the unexpected joys of children, the sheer gorgeousness of life’s messy spontaneous moments.
But then you questioned your own answer. You wondered whether this sort of experience felt like happiness because it spurred reflection on your own past and sort of filled in the holes you imagined existed as a child, or if it was a feeling of true unconditional love for your children. “What is real happiness?” we were all left wondering.
I also wondered about those holes. I have them too. I often feel like a problem that’s impossible to solve. Simultaneously too much and not enough. And like there’s something rotten inside me, something that I might be able to exorcise if I could just find its exact location. I usually feel that no one else can see or understand it. I walk around the city feeling like everyone has figured out something that continues to elude me.
Drinking helped. It numbed me to my experience and allowed me to get away from myself and my pain, if only temporarily. But after a while I realized it didn’t really help. And worse than that, it added to my pain by convincing me that I was weak, incapable of dealing with reality, altering my experience in a way that was wasting my life. Eventually even the slightest discomfort led me to the bottle, creating a vicious cycle. When I stopped drinking 6 years ago, those feelings got worse. Without my predictable anesthesia, I felt overwhelmed by suffering, my own and that of others. When I found the practice of meditation, though, I started to build up my tolerance to such discomfort. Like exercising a muscle that had wasted away, I am gradually becoming more resilient, more loving and gentle to myself.
When I learned that you left rehab a few months ago, I wanted to reach out to you. I started writing a letter, telling you that even though we have never met, in a very real way I know you and feel your pain. I wanted to remind you how strong and beautiful you are, that you are deeply loved and appreciated for your imperfect self. Even if you didn’t believe it at first, I wanted you to take my word for it and eventually you’d see. I wanted to invite you to meditate, to have the experience of sitting with that seemingly solid and immovable discomfort without reacting with drinking or shooting up or even going down the rabbit hole of habitual thoughts. To watch how the pain changes, even if only minutely, from moment to moment. I wanted to tell you that it doesn’t get easier, but it does get better.
But I put the letter away. I lost my nerve when I realized you might think my lightweight addiction couldn’t measure up to yours, that my suffering was nothing in comparison. I couldn’t see past my own insecurities, couldn’t be fearless like you were in Happiness, and chose not to put those thoughts of love and support out there, even if you never read them. Now I wish I had.
You will be missed.
Thank you Jenna.
Back at you
Thank you, Karen
Authenticity is raw and rare and beautiful and perfect in it’s imperfection; a lot like Philip Seymore Hoffman and a lot like this beautiful soul-stirring letter. Thank you Jenna.
Thank you, Lori
You can still send it to his wife.
Thanks, Helise. I might.
“I couldn’t see past my own insecurities, couldn’t be fearless like you were in Happiness, and chose not to put those thoughts of love and support out there, even if you never read them. Now I wish I had.”
You just did, Jenna, you just did.
Thank you for sharing with us,
Thank you, Christy
So well said. It’s heartbreaking to see someone with so much sobriety go down that path again. A wake up call for so many of us.
Said with love. Thank you, my Dear.
Beautifully written; I share your heartfelt expression!
[…] the full post here. You can also read Jenna’s excellent piece, also titled “Drinking to […]
I know this letter did not get to Phil but I hope other’s will read it! Very inspiring.
Thanks for sharing!
Wow! So good. Beautiful tribute.
[…] the drug use that he seemed to be winning his battle with. (On that part, you may want to read this post from the Driven to Distraction blog, the author’s “open letter to Phillip Seymour […]
Have you seen him direct and act in “Jack Goes Boating”, as an homage to him we watched that last night. He was fantastic.
It was one of my favorites…
Excellent. In so many ways, just what I needed to read. Thank you.
Love this. Thanks for sharing. There are many people who really need to read this!
Thank you Jenna. Your words were not only inspiring, but beautiful.
Reblogged this on Skinny Flat White.
great reply to death, the spirit is always with us, and death is not the end, just imagine it,
i love that
People need to remember that relapse is part of recovery, which is only contingent on a daily basis. It’s sort of “built-in,” as the shadow side. Sadly, some people don’t “make it back,” and the fatal nature of the disease is again cruelly revealed.
Brave and beautiful words, with hooks that allow for grabbing. Thanks so much for this.
This is beautifully written, very relateable to many.
Here’s hoping this letter finds its way to where it needs to be….
Very nice.. thank you. I recently put out on Facebook to my friends/family that I didn’t understand the outpouring of compassion for this man.. the outpouring from seemingly countless fans of his work. I say I don’t understand it because it’s not possible for all these people to know the man..but only the actor.
He had a choice did he not? He could have forced himself to stay away from drugs for his children right? However, it’s clearly obvious I do not fully understand addiction. Im not trying to be spiteful.. I really am not. I am sure it’s a very very hard thing to battle and since I have never done it at the scale of Mr. Hoffman or even yourself.. I do believe it’s excruciating.
Im not saying I am ready to change my view 100%..I still think that “blind compassion” offered up on Twitter and FB by strangers is perhaps equally if not more deserved by say soliders who are dying for their cause in countries far from home (for example).. but your writing most definitnely touched me and is helping me understand if nothing else.. the severe challenges of addiction.
Its obvious from your writing and from many of your replies above that I have a lot to learn.
Hi, I’d like to maybe help give some insight for you and others. Addictions are clearly preventable, but once someone has an addiction, the brain creates a chemical pathway that remembers the substance or behavior and how much pleasure it brought (and sadly, this memory is formed in a part of the brain completely separate from the part that reminds us of all the bad aspects of the substance). The more one repeats using the substance or behavior, the more entrenched that pathway becomes. It takes scores of willpower and support to resist the urge to use, as that pathway has the ability to re-order our priorities so it makes the brain think obtaining the next fix is more important than basic necessities. And even if one achieves sobriety for many years, that pathway still exists, and any variety of triggers can make the cravings return. That is why they call addiction a disease.
From what I’ve read, Hoffman achieved sobriety before starting his acting career and remained clean for two decades. Either he had his guard down or was overwhelmed somehow, but he fell into a relapse. Yes, he had a choice, but when addiction has been triggered, it becomes incredibly difficult to have the power to make the right choice.
[…] webpage called Drinking to Distraction put up what it called “an open letter I wish I’d sent” to Hoffman saying among other things that, “I wanted to invite […]
Thank you for writing this, it could not have been easy. I needed to read this. When I first met Phillip Seymour Hoffman through his movies, I was hooked. It was uncanny how I held on to every word, waiting for his next. The emotion and energy he put into his craft was mesmerizing. A common man.. with an extraordinary talent for his craft. I do wish this world could have been a bit kinder to Mr. Hoffman. Addiction, and loss due to addiction has touched my life many times. One side of me wants to be really pissed off. The other, understands and easily offers up the compassion due. Rest in beautiful peace, Mr. Hoffman. You are so loved. So very loved.
Our primary purpose is to stay sober and to help the still suffering. How tragic his death was. But for the grace of god there go I. My heart is truly heavy.
Yes but, I heard your words right now. I thank you for them and for my ability to change from raging to crying…it’s a step…a really backward seeming step but it’s a move toward feeling and a small small step away from escape.
I came across this randomly and want to say it’s absolutely stunning and beautiful. Thank you for sharing.
I once had breakfast in a little cafe in Greenwich Village (many years ago) and saw P.S.H. there with his baseball cap on. There were only a few other people in the place and everyone left him alone. He was having a good time with a his girlfriend(?) He seemed just like a regular person. I truly admired his talent and I think he was one of the greatest actors of his generation. I don’t think addiction is a result of weakness. I think there is scientific evidence that a genetic predisposition to addiction leads to this behavior. I think in the future, this will be curable. I liked your post, but I think you are naive thinking that your letter would help. He was a hard core addict it seems, and even several rounds of rehab couldn’t help.
From what I read, he was clean 23 years and just recently relapsed. Getting clean and staying clean off heroin is no small feat. Of course, relapsing is possible and recovering from such a relapse is very difficult. But with that many years of being clean, I imagine he had some good coping skills in his repertoire.
Herione is such a strong addiction. It is so very hard to stop. Most people don’t realize this. I have experienced it through my once beautiful daughter. This drug has ruined her life. And taken is with her to watch the awful fall from
Grace. As a society we choose to ignore and discard addicts. Our government overlooks the big problem and in doing so is demonstrating tacit approval. This keeps our police and judges and lawyers working. I’m so sorry he is gone. My heart goes out to his loved ones. Maybe his death can help us as a society open our eyes to the big herione problem we have going on in this country right now. Something needs to be done. Last week in Philadelphia 22 people died from herione overdoses.
I’m sorry for the loss of your daughter….spiritually. I have a close friend who’s grandaughter is an addict and it is such a difficult place to be…for the person and the family. Nobody wants to die like PSH in the bathroom alone with a needle in their arm and a burnt spoon on the counter. People don’t understand that once you are cross that line it is almost impossible to ignore. I am not forgiving these behaviors but feel for the poor souls who are searching for something which they will not find in drugs, alcohol, food, smokes whatever their addiction is. I feel quite certain a part of the person, no matter how deeply entrenched doesn’t want to ever do it again. :( ….but just cannot help themselves. Peace to you. M
How many of us have shared a similar experience, a recognition of another’s gifts and ghosts; a kinship or kismet? Empathy and validation are acts of hope we all too often think without speaking. I am willing to bet the letter you didn’t send to Mr. Hoffman will lend another stranger comfort. Beautiful post.
And yours too was a beautiful post. M
Reblogged this on Drinking for A Lifetime and commented:
A wonderfully written letter to Philip….. Thanks Jenna :)
I enjoyed your letter. Thank you.
Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.
A very nice letter, Jenna. Thank you for allowing us to read it.
As a film fanatic, I took the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing very badly. We have lost an incredible talent – probably one of the best actors who ever lived – and we are now deprived of all that amazing work that he may have done in the future. It is a very sad loss. And a terribly sad shame that it could have possibly been prevented.
Having said that, it is much worse for his children, who have lost their wonderful father.
All-in-all, really awful news. Let us at least celebrate the wonderful films he did make and which are left behind for us to enjoy again and again.
Reblogged this on My journey into film and commented:
Very good post.
Powerful. Smart. Eloquent. Shared. Well-said. Thank you
We all have demons. Some of us run from them and others to them. But you can not hide for they know where you are.
Reblogged this on 4just2day and commented:
Reblogged this on Ryan Boren.
[…] 5. Philip Seymour Hoffman died. This is not something good, in fact it’s absolutely awful, but some of the things written about his passing have offered a sort of grace. Like Philip Seymour Hoffman from Guinevere Gets Sober, and this from The New York Times, and The Open Letter to Philip Seymour Hoffman I Wish I Sent. […]
This is a beautiful article. I was wondering if I’m able to reprint it in an online magazine, with full credits of course, and a link to your website?
Yes, of course, thank you for asking.
Reblogged this on retired work and commented:
You have money. When a person has money; there are those who will sell you stuff. Most stuff is not good; not needed. Do not buy. When you are tempted, feeling weak or if it is a time of the week you would normally imbibe in risky behavior; flee. Leave town, go and do something you have never done and call a supportive friend to help you go. Go and go; you owe it to yourself to see what the other side looks like.
Thanks for honoring him like this. He was indeed fearless. His work’s not over, though. In a way he’s just getting started. If Heaven credits you for all the love and joy you inspired on the earth, then Mr. Hoffman has quite the treasure to go home to.
Beautiful, strong, words. Thank you.
Powerful, thought provoking and beautiful. Your words embodied his passion for the art and for his incredible gift both in the limelight and in person.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. This was beautifully written. I’m so saddened by Mr. Hoffman’s death, he was a great talent, and it’s always tragic to lose someone who had so much to give to addiction.
His performances in Love, Liza and Owning Mahowney haunt me to this day. It was a privilege to watch him. My heart goes out to his partner and children.
Reblogged this on Elizabeth Jamison's PhD Journey and commented:
I was just seeing on the news tonight that heroin death statistics have skyrocketed…such a tragic loss, it’s heartbreaking.
I just blogged about this too. I think Philip Seymour Hoffman was talented person and we have to celebrate his successes, instead of getting lost in his flaws. Read my post at http://runwright.net/2014/02/03/philip-seymour-hoffman-succesful-at-46-years-old/ great letter. I am sure his family would like receiving it.
One particularly sad fact about all this is that he won the Oscar for Best Actor in 2006, for “Capote”, and notably, the actor he edged out to win (it was considered a very close race at the time) was Heath Ledger, who was nominated for his performance in “Brokeback Mountain”.
Ledger himself died of a drug overdose in January, 2008. It was due to a variety of prescription drugs, but that it wasn’t heroin doesn’t matter so much. What takes away these brilliant men? It is Addiction. And addiction is very real, indeed.
I am so glad you mentioned A Late Quartet, not a lot of people watched. Great movie and great performance from him nonetheless.
Reblogged this on kavyashreet and commented:
I guess the lesson is, if what you might want to say has good intentions and could possibly be helpful, take the risk of getting shot down, because it just might change a person’s life.
Beautiful post. It has really angered me when I saw so many cold-hearted comments on various online threads, saying he deserved to die because of his addiction. Apparently our society still has a ways to go in understanding addictions.
And your last couple lines really highlight our need in the field (whether one’s a client or clinician) to tear down some of the walls between addictions and realize we’re all in this together.
Use those feelings for positive. None of us are perfect. Unfortunately some of us validate ourselves in ways that harm the vessel. :( Too bad we are not all able to look on the inside and see what makes us whole because that is what it really boils down to a search of self. It’s really a shame….the loss and also the lack of empathy. Again, find something that makes it a positive, something maybe you can do to maybe make a little world change. Wouldn’t that be something if we all made a small additional effort – help someone in need or somehow make a difference.
Reblogged this on Real Talk From Mr. Jackson and commented:
So true it took for him to go for people to listen..
Nice post, thank you.
What a lovely post…thank you!
This is a great peace. I really enjoy the transparency. Hoffman had a great career since Twister. Gone too soon!
Thank you for your letter. It touched me deeply. The illness, the disease of addiction has been studied and researched yet it still mystify’s when it swallows the life of such a talent like Mr. Hoffman. I loved everything I saw him in. I hope to pass your letter on to any in my path who might be touched by it as I have been.
Reblogged this on My Best of the Web.
Beautifully Written!! Awesome
Beautiful and very well written because it comes from the heart.
Great post! – I wrote an article about him yesterday too, RIP christopherwalesuk.wordpress.com
Perfectly written… Beautiful. X
Beautifully written. I sent a letter to an entertainer once after he tried to commit suicide. I don’t know if it helped, but you never know the power of your caring words. The publishing of this letter may help someone who reads it.
I too have sent letters to people I did not know, but I knew they were struggling. Bravo to you….you have a caring heart.
Reblogged this on The Q Filmcast.
Reblogged this on DICKSON SOKORO.
Many of us agree and at the same time must leave time and concern for others in need throughout the universe this fellow probably loved while he could. RIP
What a great reminder to follow our heart – even if nothing comes of it. Thanks for sharing this. Powerful! And congrats on being FP’d!
Thank you, everyone, for your kind words. I am touched by all of these responses.
Thank you Jenna. What a beautiful witness of Phillip. And blessings on your recovery. Thank you for writing now. xoS
[…] https://drinkingtodistraction.com/2014/02/02/the-open-letter-to-philip-seymour-hoffman-i-wish-i-sent/ […]
Beautiful….in an imperfect yet perfect way…
Thoughtful, honest, and moving.
This is very beautifully written, thank you for sharing. I remember watching, on HBO, PSH and Robert De Niro in the film “Flawless” and his performance in that role was incredible. Losing him is a great loss to the communities in which he thrived and it saddens me very much to even think about him being gone.
I’m a huge Seahawks fan and on Sunday morning his death was the first news I received – it put a huge weigh upon our Superbowl win and it still carries a heavy weight now.
Thank you for writing this it was lovely.
Jenna, Your letter was beautiful….so raw and real. My x husband once said to me, “One is too many and 100 is not enough”. :( So sad. I imagine Mimi is always going to carry it with her, even though often times the partner has no choice. :( We are not perfect and life is not about being perfect, it’s about being whole. I am glad you found meditation. Now look at your Chakra system, this will GREATLY help you. Blessings and peace. M
Your words are powerful – 94 responses. Thank you for writing your blog, and especially this post. We are the lucky ones today. Gotta love the recovery movement and all its goodness. Thank you.
He was a noteworthy actor. “Raw-ugly-beautiful performance.” Well put. Thanks.
I was also motivated to send some words to the family when I found this post. I did not know this man but right now feel closer to him than so many other people I know. I am 45,a suburban mother of two young girls with a loving husband –this could be me any day. I have been battling alcohol for the past 5 years with limited success.and this made me stop and want to look at my children again. Thank you.
Anndi, thank you for reading. I feel your struggle and hope you are able to find some peace. Have you ever looked at the website soberistas? It’s a community of people (mostly women) who wish to stop drinking and there is a wonderful support system there. The creator, Lucy Rocca, also wrote a great book you might want to check out. Keep reaching out to others and consider ways to be kind and gentle to yourself. You are loved and appreciated and needed by many.
Reblogged this on Tarek Elbakry's Blog.
[…] honest, I’m pretty disheartened by his passing. But, with all the memorials posted out there, the open letter to him already published, and the hundreds of thousands of devastated fans, what more do I really […]
Thank you for this piece of writing. I was struggling to articulate why I felt so brokenhearted by the death of someone I never met. There was this special quality about his acting that really touched me. I’ve eagerly watched his movies for decades.
I’ve recently started my own 12 step recovery–CODA. I feel like I could have written the exact same letter to him also. For me, the only thing I’m taking out of this sad ending is a fierce comment to my own recovery. There is nothing more important I can do in my life than to heal. There is nothing more important thing I can offer someone else than my own healed and compassionate heart. Thank you.
“A Late Quartet” is a fine movie and PSH did a great job of acting in it. The ending set up nicely for a sequel, but that seems highly unlikely now. I can’t think of some other actor who could convincingly take over the PSH role and carry it forward.
Reblogged this on O LADO ESCURO DA LUA.
Here, here! Can we now all finally agree to start treating addicts for addiction, instead of sticking them in prison cells? We have a lot of sick people out there who need love, understanding and healing. Lovely tribute.
I have nominated you for The No Strings Attached Lovely Blog Award because I believe your blog will help so many people.
If someone does not accept awards, well it still stands even if you cannot fulfill the requirements because this is a no strings attached nomination; only fulfill the award if you have time and are inspired.
Beautiful post. I think most people go through a time in their lives where they question their happiness and if what it is, is real? They question every aspect of their lives and wonder what do I really want and how can I maintain it, once I get it? Will I be bored after awhile? Will it transform me forever? So many deep and dark questions one has to face. And it is scary. It is hard. Because you have never had to before. Never before this moment, have you ever felt so alone, even when their are people all around you that love you, and you love them. There is something that is inside, questioning – is this enough?
So you chase after a change, something else to help you feel fulfilled. And then you get it and that journey ends. The question pops back up – is this enough?
The point is, never give up on finding yourself, your true zest for life. And never forget what you do have at this moment. Because at this moment you have breathe for life, you have the day and night, you have the choice to live the life you want to live and be who you want to be.
When you ever feel that something is missing, remember: this is a time, to challenge yourself to become even greater. Do not let the thought that happiness is an elusion. Do not let the questions pile up through avoidance for fear of digging into the unknown territory. Answer each question as it arises. Reflect. Review. And remember you are so worthy of a wonderful life, never give up on it.
Reblogged this on majesty80's Blog.
Very, very beautiful.
Reblogged this on beal1985 and commented:
wish I could blog with such elegance…Thanks
I enjoyed reading this very much. I saw earlier today a photo of his wife and children at, I assume, was a memorial service or funeral. The look of anguish on one of his daughter’s face breaks my heart. I have two daughters – 5 and 19 months – and the thought of them hurting is horrible to me. Do you have an address where letters can be received by the family? I would like to write the daughter – through her mother, of course – and try to say some words of comfort.
I don’t, unfortunately, but I think you should write the letter regardless of whether you are able to send it.
Reblogged this on Earth Tree Healing.