I was hungry and not really mentally prepared to watch a film about addiction. Sitting in my chair watching and listening to the first moments I was trying to convince myself to make something to eat. But then I heard “You don’t know that you’re falling in love with it”, and then sat riveted to the screen. The first installment of Bill Moyers’ series on addiction (Moyers, 1998) uses anecdotes from people who had lived tragic lives of addiction and are now clean and sober. The sample of individuals who essentially testify on camera is amazingly broad. Moyers doesn’t limit his subjects to people who are in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), although they are in the majority, thus providing viewers with the opportunity to explore other avenues to sobriety. No doubt what each person has to relate to others is the emphasis of this program. I think the video was unlike any other show on the subject of addiction that I had viewed. The fact that the video was filmed using excellent production values and that those chosen to be on screen seemed highly educated and altogether articulate not only added to the show’s power, but surprising forced me to pause and consider people who weren’t nearly as fortunate.
The strength of the video rests in the testimonies, and while it was very gratifying to know that each person had persevered and had become quite productive in their lives, I appreciated even more when they talked about their darkest days. I wrote a good number of passages from the video because they seemed to be valuable learning moments. For example, when hearing the following I couldn’t help but think that what the woman was doing was self-medicating, but more importantly that she had gone through a process typified of learned behavior, “But if my hands are shaking and I’m sweating and I’ve learned that if you take a drink the symptoms go away” (Moyers, 1998). Or irony one must feel when realizing that you are a slave to addiction, “It controlled my life anyway because I’d look at the clock for half a day” (Moyers, 1998). Such passages inspired “aha” moments because I had seldom listened to so-called addicts as they provided such rich and quite nuanced details. Or the dread of a vapid existence when recognizing “There’s no spirit left in you” (Moyers, 1998).
The viewer could very well understand that each person, and in their own way, arrived at a place where their addictions had to be dealt with, but it took a great deal of dissonance and heartache in order to take the first step, “I didn’t say that and I didn’t want that—but that’s what happened” (Moyers, 1998). The pain that must be felt by addict for living in degradation, “I guess you would have to have seen me and smelled me to have understood” (Moyers, 1998) drove the point home for me that humans actually do commit great harm to themselves. It was around this point in the video when I realized that some of the people were not only part of AA as active members, but were tied to it in some organizational capacity and for a moment I began thinking that Moyers had produced an extremely effective marketing tool for the program. On a certain level I know this to be correct, but I silently chastised myself because I actually do realize that there are other paths to sobriety and not all of them lead to AA; and if there is no place else to go then by all means go there.
Moyers on addiction: Close to home: Portrait of addiction is a highly impressive piece of work that will leave most considering the tragically harsh nature of addiction and the consequences one must bear. Even as each individual relates their darkest periods the video doesn’t convey a sense of foreboding, because each person survived relatively intact and unscathed. Each spoke as if they were in the moment and with a sense of purpose that I thought they could only fathom. I didn’t expect very much and had wanted to avoid watching the video until the absolute last moment. But like one individual would say, “I went to a soup kitchen and found more than soup” (Moyers, 1998).