We like to think we’re not starstruck. And we prefer the North Carolina film industry to Hollywood. But a recent high-profile interview with actor and movie star Ben Affleck is receiving a lot of attention for his openness about personal struggles — struggles that he shares with many others, including some of our readers. His experiences and insights could provide inspiration and hope.
Speaking to New York Times reporter Brooks Barnes earlier this month, Affleck discussed his alcoholism and the mental and emotional issues that exacerbated the problem. As Barnes put it, “This is Ben Affleck, raw and vulnerable, talking extensively for the first time about getting sober (again) and trying to recalibrate his career (again).”
Affleck’s career has been largely successful in terms of money, fame and critical acclaim — mixed with some failures. He’s starred in both independent films and Hollywood blockbusters and won countless awards, including an Oscar for writing and one for producing. He’s not likely to ever want for work.
But his success has not protected him from personal difficulties that include bouts with alcoholism, which has sent him to rehab three times, and a divorce from his wife of 13 years, Jennifer Garner, with whom he has three children, which he has called “the biggest regret of my life.”
The heart of the interview is this statement: “People with compulsive behavior, and I am one, have this kind of basic discomfort all the time that they’re trying to make go away. You’re trying to make yourself feel better with eating or drinking or sex or gambling or shopping or whatever. But that ends up making your life worse. Then you do more of it to make that discomfort go away. Then the real pain starts. It becomes a vicious cycle you can’t break. That’s at least what happened to me.”
That’s a spiral to which many can relate, especially when it comes to the abuse of a substance like alcohol and/or opioids.
But just as Affleck seems to have found a way out, through reflection, hard work and the help of friends and professionals, he serves to remind us that others can, too.
Ours is a culture that shows a lot of deference and admiration for celebrities of all types — they often seem to have it made in every way.
But every now and then we see their lives play out in disastrous ways that remind us that they’re people, too. Suicide victims like Anthony Bordain and Kate Spade remind us that money and admiration don’t inure people from suffering.
We also live in an age of TMI — too much information — that makes it difficult for celebrities to hide their struggles. That may be turned to our advantage. Some, like Affleck, Bruce Springsteen, Demi Lovato, Taylor Swift and Eminem, have come forward to talk about their difficulties — with substance abuse, mental illness and other maladies — honestly. Doing so, they can encourage the rest of us to be honest and to seek the help we need, knowing there’s no shame in a human struggle.
Hollywood is in the business of creating illusions. Reality isn’t always pleasant. But if we look behind the curtain, we can face it and, with help, deal with it.
Resources to get started include the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK and the Mental Health Association in Forsyth County: 336-768-3880.