With the heroin crisis dominating the news, it got me thinking about how addiction is portrayed in the media. There is nothing glamorous or appealing about addiction and the movies and shows that realize this are the ones that portray it most accurately.
There have been many, many movies made about addiction from the perspective of the person with the addiction but very few from the perspective of the family and friends. One of the best I’ve ever seen and one that personally helped me so much in dealing with my husband’s addiction is “When a Man Loves a Woman”.
This movie came out in 1994 and stars Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia as married couple Alice and Michael Green; Alice is an alcoholic and Michael does his best to deal with Alice’s alcoholism while raising their two daughters. While I didn’t see it when it first came out, I remember renting the VHS from my local video store a few years later and being absolutely blown away by how accurately it portrayed the frustration, helplessness, sadness, and loneliness of dealing with a loved one’s addiction and how devastating it can be to everyone involved.
The best description I’ve ever seen about “When a Man Loves a Woman” is from the late film critic Roger Ebert, who summed up the movie as follows: “here is a wise and ambitious film about the way alcoholism affects the fabric of a marriage. So many movies about the disease simplify it into a three-step process: Gradual onset, spectacular bottom, eventual recovery. It isn't that simple; most alcoholics never even give themselves a chance to recover. And recovery is a beginning, not an end. "When a Man Loves a Woman" is about an alcoholic who recovers - and about her husband, who in some ways dealt with her better when she was drunk.” – rogerebert.com
Finally someone was showing what it was like to be on the other side of addiction…
While our situations were slightly different; my husband was the alcoholic and I was the one raising our daughter, I identified so strongly with everything Michael was going through and I can’t explain to you how much it meant to me to see that played out on screen. Finally someone was showing what it was like to be on the other side of the addiction; how you think you’re doing your best to keep everything together when in reality, everything is falling apart and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
I remember sobbing through much of the movie because I had experienced so many of the feelings that Michael experienced and all the stages of hitting bottom that the couple went through, we went through as well. I think I cried as much for me as I did for him because I knew exactly what he was going through and it was almost like a therapy session watching this movie; whoever wrote this knew what it was like to be the spouse of an alcoholic and captured it note for note.
I rented the movie so many times, I eventually ended up buying it and when VCRs became obsolete, I found the DVD online and bought that as well. I’ve watched this movie so many times that I can recite whole scenes, yet every time I watch it I get as emotional as I did the very first time I saw it because it is such a powerful movie. I cannot tell you how much it meant to me to see my story being played out so realistically on screen and with such detail. It absolutely gave me chills at the end and gave me hope that maybe, just maybe my husband and I could experience the same thing and I am happy to say that we did!
Even though this movie focuses on the relationship between a husband and wife, thus the title of the movie, it also touches on how the children are affected, as well as other family members and friends. I would highly recommend it to anyone who has a loved one dealing with alcoholism, or for those who want to know what it’s like. It truly captures the essence of why alcoholism and addiction is a family disease and makes it easy for those not familiar to understand why.
Nadine Herring is a blogger that specializes in writing about addiction from the family perspective and community building & organizing. She is a Heroes in Recovery Lead Advocate, community activist, runner, new cyclist, and owner of a small animal kingdom consisting of 2 dogs and 3 cats (all rescues).