Friends is one of those shows that came along after I’d aged out of that type of sitcom, but I got to watch plenty of episodes with my kids, and I developed a fondness for the characters and their foibles. Good old Chandler Bing, charming and anxious, played by Matthew Perry—who was recently found dead.
Perry spent a large part of his adult life in rehab battling addiction. More than any of the other actors, Perry’s physical appearance changed dramatically from season to season. Some seasons he was rail thin, others he was huskier. Everyone knew he was an addict. He didn’t try to hide it.
According to the National Institutes of Health, 23 million Americans struggle with problematic drug use. So Perry, despite star status, isn’t so special. He’s just like a lot of us.
Patti Davis, daughter of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times the other day in which she sympathized with Perry’s plight because she too had struggled with addiction.
This passage from Davis had me holding my breath:
Many readers commented on the power of that passage and how it spoke directly to them. Others pointed out that loneliness can’t be at the root of addiction. Other factors such as genetics play a big role. And of course there were comments about people being addicts because they choose to use drugs, although a lot more people choose to use drugs than become addicts. No one wants to suffer from addiction.
But that loneliness—who hasn’t felt the isolation? Who hasn’t experienced desperate moments when it seemed everyone else had “some secret formula for getting along, for fitting in . . .”—and we didn’t?
Apparently, loneliness in life is at times inevitable and universal, but must loneliness develop into an existential dread that we simply cannot tolerate?
Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön has written about loneliness and the need to cultivate a “relaxing and cooling loneliness” that undermines our terror of the existential void.
In her book, When Things Fall Apart, Chödrön writes:
And later, she continues:
It’s a shame that Matthew Perry couldn’t cultivate that “cool loneliness.” It doesn’t sound easy to do. Nor does beating an addiction.