A new way to talk about addiction, the courts and Johnny Depp.

I have been reading about the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard court case, which took place at the High Courts in London over the last three weeks.

As someone who has had more than my fair share of experiencing the ‘monster’ of addiction, I really believe we need a different societal response on how we talk about addiction.  Highly public and humiliating court cases are not the way to do it. 

Just as we need a new and compassionate way on how we talk about Kayne West and his public struggles with Bi-polar, if anything, this court case throws the spotlight on how we talk about the chronically addicted.

The ugly 'monster' of addiction and all its character traits have been under the spotlight at the High Court. The phrase ‘monster’ was used by Heard to describe Depp’s behaviour when he was in the throes of addiction.  When not in active addiction Johnny Depp is described as ‘gentle, kind, loving and generous.’   When on drugs or drinking he is described as ‘a hopelessly addicted man child and verbally and physically abusive.”   Amber Heard is not without unappealing traits, as she has been described as a manipulative sociopath, who has made stories up about ‘Johnny the wife beater’ when in fact the defence has argued she is the ‘hitter’ and physical abuser in the relationship.  So, what is the truth?

The truth is when people are addicted they are not very nice people, that is why there is so much stigma, lack of research, lack of innovation and a lack of compassion when it comes to trying to help addicts. Addicts generally hurt the people who love them, so their ‘safety net’ is often damaged or non-existent.  It's when addicts only start to help themselves and others that relationships can be rebuilt, a pathway to recovery can be achieved and a more meaningful and fulfilling life created. 

The Judge has a hard task on his hands, unpicking the witness statements.  What is it?  Johnny the drug addled lunatic or Amber the malevolent physical abuser and liar? 

Lunacy and malevolent behaviour are all part of addictive behaviour. When addictive behaviour is at the heart of a dispute, perhaps the issues should be dealt with in a radically different way .

This should have never been taken to court, court cases by their nature create deeply entrenched positions, fuel animosity and I would argue fuel addicted obsessive behaviour.  The courts are in need of radical reform. 

I believe addiction is a mental illness.  Often experts, doctors or observers will say, the addict is drinking or doing drugs to hide or cover up a mental illness such as depression or bipolar disorder or in response to trauma such as bereavement or childhood abuse.   My first hand experience of the syndrome of addiction is that the obsession with drink or drugs is in fact the mental illness. Period. Obsessive traits are key in any addict, whether sober or not.   Once that obsession with alcohol or drugs is removed, it is generally replaced with another ‘more socially acceptable’ obsession; helping others, relationships, food, exercise, painting, shopping etc.  Addiction will always be there in an addicts life, but it will manifest in socially acceptable ways. Like diabetes or any other illness the addict has to consciously manage their condition on a daily basis.  Only then can the addict recover and lead a semi- normal life.

I have worked a lot with addicts via my work with Cause UK over the years, mainly helping to tell their stories of recovery and working with charities and social enterprises who are helping addicts into recovery. 

I also have an addict in my own family.  And I have observed that addiction is a syndrome with common character traits.  Addicts have huge egos, they are self -important and sensitive at the same time, they can’t cope with life challenges (bills, leaking pipes, moving house, divorce), they are generally creative, successfully artistic, paranoid and emotionally immature.  They are used to being the centre of attention (whether in active addiction or not) and have more often than not been praised/adored in their life.  When that adoration and ego propping falls away, behavioural problems begin. We are all human and vulnerable and most of us will have lived through many of those traits, but the external environment, DNA, biology, trauma, bereavement or being unable to cope with life's challenges can create the toxic fuel of addiction.

Positively, addicts can be charismatic, successful, the best in their field, talented, brilliant company, perfectionist and the most extraordinary people you will ever meet.  This ‘complexity’ has been alluded too in court.

Most significantly to this case, addicts will always blame others for their poor behaviour or for being addicted, they will blame their family, loved ones and spouses. And are probably completely unaware that they are doing so.

If they exhibit poor behaviour such as verbal or physical aggression, it is always someone else’s fault not their own. In active addiction, addicts will never take responsibility for their own poor behaviour, they will be highly manipulative and they will ‘do anything’ for their next drink/fix. 

More often than not they will create hard done by ‘stories and narratives’ to elicit sympathy and to expose how unjust and at fault others and the world is, they will turn loved ones against each other and also vilify their loved ones, especially if those loved ones try to help. They are never aware or accept that they are their own ‘enabler’ of their own poor behaviour, addiction, and decision making.

Also addicts will not remember what they have done or said.   So, despite Johnny Depp pursuing this court case and ‘his own truth’, the simple crux of the matter is that he won’t remember his poor behaviour to Amber Heard and the same is true for Amber.  The judge can only make sense of it all by interpreting ‘reliable’ witness statements to the whole sorry mess.  They probably adamantly believe they are right, righteous even in ‘their truth’ when in fact if drugs and booze are central to this, how can anything be remembered with true accuracy?

Both of them may be absolutely adamant that they didn’t behave poorly to each other, even trying to tape/record each other during their marriage shows the height of their paranoia, the absolute need to be right, to catch the other one out. Their egos and sense of self are battling to be heard, both have to be ‘right’ (part of an addict’s behaviour trait, whether sober or not) no doubt in the misguided attempt to protect their bank balances, reputations and careers.

Johnny Depp would have been better served with responding to negative ‘wife beating press’ with complete ‘radio silence’ and dignity.   Amber Heard too, could have moved on with her life.   Both were emotionally abusive to each other and that can be just as damaging as physical abuse.  One could argue that Depp continued the abuse by taking Heard to court, not only in the UK but the USA and is suing her for £50m!  This surely is an act of abuse in itself or is it an act of obsession (obsession being the addicts fuel)? That the court is entertaining and encouraging this is shameful and immoral.  Both of them had an opportunity to move on from each other and live peaceful lives, but it seems they are still addicted to one another, even if it is across the courtroom.

To have the entrenched hurt and humiliation dragged out over many years can only mean one thing, they are still obsessed.  Addictive obsessive mental illness is the pathology.

In summary, I see two very vulnerable mentally ill people fuelling their entrenched positions and exposing themselves to public humiliation -as completely alarming and something that the legal system should put a halt to straight away.  We need to be more sophisticated and knowledgeable in our response to addiction. Not only to protect them but other vulnerable addicted people. And most crucially to protect the people who love them; mothers, fathers, siblings and children.  Their well-being and mental health is unspoken here and is surely is at  grave risk.

If addiction was classified as a mental illness surely this court case wouldn’t happen?  The court wouldn’t allow two people suffering from bi-polar or schizophrenia sparring at each other in a tit for tat court battle.  And if addiction was classified as a mental illness they would be treated in a different way, not excused for their poor behaviour, but perhaps treated with more compassion and understanding. No matter how successful, beautiful and rich, the misery of addiction, an obsessive compulsive disorder, is indiscriminate.  It can happen to anyone, even judges.

The only people who benefit are the lawyers and newspapers. A sane and compassionate judge and a more enlightened society and court system should have sent them all packing with mediation and psychiatric support. There are no winners here and seemingly no peace for them and their families. As a society we need to fund new research and new treatments.  The stigma of entrenched addiction and lack of funding into research means that we are perhaps in the Victorian age in our response to the condition, we haven’t come far along as a society in humiliating and vilifying and even laughing at the addicted.  The courts and lawyers should be ashamed that they entertained and made vast amounts of money out of the misery and destruction of these two very beautiful and talented people, whose obsessive energy when directed in the right way can create great things.

Contact the author Clair Challenor-Chadwick,

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