How Cory Monteith’s Death Changed My Perspective

cory monteithLast Sunday, I was eating breakfast while my parents were watching the news (as they were keeping up with the Zimmerman trial) and suddenly I saw Cory Monteith’s face pop up on the screen. Since Glee is my favorite show and Finn Hudson was my favorite character, my ears perked up. And suddenly, I heard the news.

“Cory Monteith was found dead in a hotel room in Vancouver yesterday. He was 31 years old.”

My jaw dropped and my heart shot up into my throat. “WHAT?” I choked out? “Oh yeah, didn’t you hear about this?” my dad asked nonchalantly. “NO! I just woke up!” I croaked out, feeling tears welling in my eyes, not wanting to cry in front of my parents about some ‘random’ actor dying. But I was gutted.

I’d been using Glee as my weekly wind-down session during grad school, and it was one of the few things in my life for the past four years that was completely pointless and made me happy by letting me briefly escape from my own, often less-exciting reality. Cory was one of the major actors on that show who I particularly enjoyed watching; a guy who I saw as my ‘ideal man’, handsome, kind, and musically gifted. I hoped I’d one day meet a guy as impressive to me as Cory was. Now, he’s dead, and I still can’t believe it.

I’ve since been following Cory’s story all week, from his autopsy results, to reports on his past addiction struggles, to the Glee casts’ emotional responses to their good friend’s death. I grieved for Lea Michele, who I could only imagine felt like her whole world had imploded. She’s 26, like me, and I can’t even begin to imagine how devastating this situation is for her. (Some reports say she is inconsolable – of course she is, how on earth would anyone be consoled in this situation?)

I recently read an article suggesting that the show Glee address Cory’s death on the show, not by glossing over the loss and whitewashing what really happened, but by dealing with the topic of drug abuse head on, using Cory as an example to his younger fans who might consider trying drugs in the future, even if it’s just things like alcohol, marijuana, and other less lethal drugs than heroin.I truly hope they follow that recommendation. I think drug and alcohol abuse is a serious problem in this country that isn’t being addressed, and it’s unfair to blame Cory for his supposed weakness instead of acknowledging addiction as a disease, and our culture as tolerating and even promoting drug abuse. Cory apparently has been addicted since he was a young teenager – would you blame your 15 year old son for being “weak” if you found out he had gotten into a bad crowd and was using dangerous, highly addictive drugs?

It’s such a sad situation, since if anyone should have been able to get past his addiction, it was Cory. He had a good job, a supportive cast, a loving girlfriend who tried her best to keep him clean, and he himself worked hard at being sober for years, which is a challenging thing to do for anyone. But in some ways, I wonder if the pressure of being a clean-cut Glee star made it even more difficult for him to deal with his addiction, since he couldn’t be 100% open about it. He opened up a little in past interviews, but even then people brushed it off as a “before Glee” situation. I know I did. As Ryan Murphy, Glee’s producer, said: “His last words to me were, ‘I want to get better,’ and I always felt and continue to feel even in his death that he did, that he really wanted to fight it and he was humiliated and shamed.” Cory wasn’t some over-privileged hard-partying star, he was fighting for his life after growing up in a harsh environment and getting involved in the wrong crowd.

People who don’t do drugs have negative attitudes towards people with addiction, myself included. I’ve had heroin addicts come into our hospital this summer, and I even had one man who had been readmitted after going through a rehab period. He recognized me from his last rehab stint and said he was “glad to see me”, which made me feel awkward since I didn’t think I should be glad to see him back in the hospital. I’m embarrassed to admit that I had a pretty negative attitude towards these people, believing it was their own fault they were in this situation and having little empathy for them. I was certainly pleasant in my interaction with them, but in my mind, I still saw them as being to blame for their condition.

Now, after reading more and more about what happened to Cory and how heroin addiction screws up your brain chemistry, I realized that drug addiction isn’t simply a matter of willpower and avoiding temptation, but a disease, one that certain people have the misfortune of developing due to where they were born, who they were friends with, and the power of good versus bad influences in their lives. It’s easy for me to say drug addiction is someone’s own fault when I grew up in a upper class, loving family with no exposure to illegal drugs and no temptation to do anything remotely dangerous. Heck, I didn’t even try alcohol until I was 18, which is pretty old for most people in my generation! God forbid I lived in a poor, urban neighborhood with divorced parents and shady friends offering alcohol and drugs when I was 13 – the exact situation Cory grew up in. It’s easy to get on your high horse when you’ve never had to deal with the kind of terrible circumstances that would lead to someone doing heroin in the first place. I don’t think I’ll ever judge a drug addict again after this.

Also, I feel like this situation can be applied to people who are obese – we love to play the blame game and point fingers at overweight and obese people for being “lazy gluttons”, but who’s to say that they had any control over their food quality and access, social influences, nutrition education, genetic tendencies, or epigenetic phenotype? Some people eat like pigs and stay skinny, and other people diet all their lives and still gain weight. Who are we to judge them for not being “strong” enough or “smart” enough to lose weight? Maybe food addiction is as real as drug addiction, especially in a food environment designed to make people addicted. Who are we to judge their struggles?

In this situation, I’m glad I have my Christian beliefs to fall back on, since Jesus teaches that we all are sinners in some way and have no right to judge others for their shortcomings, apparent immorality, or bad behavior. God loves all of us, even the heroin addicts. I’m also recognizing how worthless the feeling of jealousy is; for so long, I was extremely jealous of Lea Michele for having what I considered to be the ‘perfect’ life, and felt that she didn’t deserve who I thought was the ‘perfect’ boyfriend in Cory. Now I just feel grateful that I don’t have to go through what Lea has to, and realize that now, I wouldn’t change places with her in a million years. It’s weird to go from envying someone to praying for them and thanking God I’m not in their shoes. But it’s been a good lesson for me nonetheless – life cannot be taken for granted, the grass is not always greener, and the lure of a ‘perfect’ life is a fantasy that, in this case especially, has been shattered for me.

I know this post is totally off topic but I felt the need to write something about it since I’ve had a lump in my throat all week now trying to come to terms with the loss of someone I used to consider ‘the perfect guy’. This experience has driven home the fact to me that perfection does not exist, and in many ways I feel liberated from the pursuit of perfection in a way I never really grasped before. I felt like I needed to write something about my experience as a way to come to terms with all the unexpected emotions I’ve been having.

I’m just so sad for Cory, for Lea, for his family and friends, and for all the young fans who have had to deal with the tragic death of one of their idols. I’m going to miss tuning into Glee and hoping that Finn Hudson would perform another great song, or that Rachel and Finn would get back together finally. It’s a rough crash to reality, but it’s given me a lot to think about over the past week.

Rest in peace, Cory.

cory and lea

  • April

    Thank you for writing this article. My son who is 22, is a drug addict. It is a horrible disease. No one who tries drugs for the first time wants to be an addict. Unfortunately, for some that is what happens. It doesn’t matter your race, rich or poor or your beliefs. Addiction can happen to anyone. I wish everyone could get they help they need but that does not happen. Hopefully, his death with help others. My son has lost 4 friends to addiction. Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts.

    • Jane

      Jesus can only save us from addiction, and release us from the idolatry of living for ourselves. When we accept Jesus, the Holy Spirit changes us. We cannot change ourselves, that is why it says that by grace we are saved, not by works lest any man can boast. We cannot overcome on our own, and even when we have it all, we are miserable inside unless we serve the Lord. He made us for Him, and when we don’t serve Him, we don’t have joy. As a result, we try to fill the void. In Cory’s case, having it all didn’t matter. Sin clouded his life, and he fell into addiction because of sin, and his past. When people say that getting involved in drugs isn’t a sin, they are not correct. You are harming body and hurting yourself which is a sin. You can feel badly for people who develop a drug addiction, but you can’t excuse the behavior. At the same time, if you don’t view something as a sin, you can’t convince them of it. You just have to pray for them, and ask the Lord to give them opportunities to be presented with gospel message. God, Himself, gives us free will and cannot make us believe in the Lord Jesus, even though He desires that all believe and that none perish. The gospel message is simple. Just believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and ask Him into your heart, and let Him work in your life. He does the changing in you. You can’t do the changing. Salvation is a free gift that you just have to receive. My heart goes out to people who are lost, and all you can do is pray for them to come to the Lord, so He can heal them. That’s all we can do.

      • MArie

        Hi Jane,
        Coming from a mother who raised her children to love Jesus, praises Him in every way, I felt your comment as a sting. Addiction is not a clear cut problem, and by saying that people born with a ‘life threatening disease’ are excused, ‘obviously’, is very judgmental on your part. Judgmental Christians are not who helped my daughter break free of meth, nor are they the ones helping my younger daughter in her search for peace. Did you know that some life threatening diseases people are born with do not present themselves until they are older? Sometimes not at birth, but at 2 years old, 12 years old or even 20 years old? My daughter in law found out she had Type I diabetes at 20 years old. I’ve seen toddlers come into the ER with a diaper full of blood, to their parent’s shock to find their once healthy baby has been dealing with a disease they were not aware of. The message I’m hearing from your post is that addicts have ‘no excuse’. Genetically being predisposed to obesity is not always seen.. it is the results of poor food choices that bring about the obesity, that brings about the diseases and health problems. And yet, people still point the finger at the obese and tell them it’s their fault. My daughter went to a Christian friend for comfort in her darkest most lonely moments. When she was to ashamed to come home and fearful of me calling the police on her. ( MY only choice to get her into treatment). I AM a Christian, and I have seen the ravages of addiction in the most beautiful people, and I know that their is a point of weakness in everyone’s life where the bad choice can cost them their lives. My sister is in a nursing home, for over twenty years now, due to a stroke caused by meth. She went to treatment many times. She was confirmed and came from a loving Christian home. She cried to me how badly she wanted to stay sober. Now she cries because she is in anguish all the time. Are you seeing a possible genetic link? My two sons excel in life, no addictions at all. Both were in the Ranger Battalion. That requires the highest amount of physical and mental stress to get into. Please reconsider , please pray for understanding. I think you are a faithful Christian, but the judgmental point of view of ‘no excuse’ will only turn broken hearts away from you. And yes, through Jesus we all can be healed. It’s believing that God loves you that is the first step. And addicts are full of self hatred, so keep praying for them, and loving them, and hoping. But don’t judge. We don’t know enough about this ‘disease’ to do that. I could go on and on about the many misunderstood disorders, diseases, etc… think back to when people with mental disorders were locked into padded cells, or beaten for having evil spirits. God is opening our eyes.. I hope He continues to open yours, and mine.

  • MArie

    I can tell you that it doesn’t take a low income environment , divorced parents, or a crime ridden neighborhood to stack the odds against some one getting addicted to drugs or not. It took one tragedy for my daughter to spiral down, it took a loving family to help her, and now we pray and give thanks for her still being with us, sober. It took my daughter’s tragedy to make her spiral down, but that spiral took my younger daughter to areas she would not have known otherwise. My two sons did not spiral down from the tragedy, the excelled. I think there is so much research into addiction that still needs to be done. And always remember, the addict knows what they are doing, they just can’t stop themselves.

  • jenella

    Nicely written.

  • Vickers

    I am much older but had the same experience when River Phoenix died of a heroin overdose. I was in my twenties & just thought he was the ideal. Weird & almost embarrassing to be so saddened by a celebrity death- but still, none the less, effected. Great writing.

  • Ole

    Nice article! I do disagree on one point though… Addiction should not be classified as a disease, cause then we would have to call situations like obesity, or the need to get constant plastic surgery, for a disease as well, and it is not! It is a lack of self respect and lust.

    • Laura

      Ironically, the AMA now classifies obesity as a disease: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/19/business/ama-recognizes-obesity-as-a-disease.html?_r=0

      I think there are many people who are obese or addicted to drugs/alcohol that have very little control over their situation for a variety of reasons. There is some level of choice involved but some people are born into environments that make it far more likely for these conditions to manifest. I think solely blaming the individual as being ‘lustful’ is wrong.

      • Jane

        When we repeat a behavior that is not good long enough, it becomes a pattern and it is hard to stop. It still doesn’t make it any less wrong. We all do things that are not right, but we can’t make excuses for bad choices that later become addictions. Someone who is born with a life threatening disease through no fault of his or her own, should be excused obviously. But some addictions and diseases happen to us through poor choices initially. This is not to say that we can’t be sad for people who are in these situations. And we also should not point fingers at people as “bad” because we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. But it is interesting that when we start a behavior that we know is not good, we had a clearer head to start with, yet we still engage in the behavior. After awhile it can get over our heads. Sometimes people are more predisposed to certain behaviors or addictions more than others, but they still don’t have the excuse. If you have a problem with something and you know that it is beyond you, cry out to Jesus and ask Him to help you. He wants us to lean on Him, and ask Him to help us. We can’t go this life without Him, and we don’t want to be in the next life separated from Him forever. He pardons those who cannot make a decision about Jesus, like infants, children, and others who don’t fully understand salvation. But the rest of us are accountable as to whether we accept Jesus Christ or we reject Him.

      • MArie

        Hi Laura,
        Until people have some one they love… really love, go through the struggles of addiction, they will not have compassion or understand. When my sister was in and out of treatment, it angered me. I thought that my parents should just quit helping her, let her hit ‘rock bottom’. When my brother started into addictions, it angered me even more. More and more of my parent’s time was being disrupted and taken by dealing with their bad ‘choices’. My other brother and myself were leading productive healthy lives. It took for my own daughter to come into addictions before I understood. Jesus left the flock to find the one lost sheep, right? I knew my children that were strong were okay, so I devoted more time and effort into my lost daughter. I was blessed to see her sober, but I know with addictions never to get to comfortable. It took for my own child to fall before I had understanding for my parent’s fight to not lose their children to addiction. I think one day it will be more understood and possibly a treatment will be there. Thanks for writing the article… it’s a tough subject.

  • carol

    Hi, I never comment. But today I will.

    I understand and sympathize with you. I am a lot older than you- you are in between the ages of my two daughters.

    Addiction is not the product of poor urban neighborhoods, bad friends, or poor parenting. Some of it seems to be genetic, some spiritual, some psychological. Some people take one drink, or try drugs once, and become addicted. In others, addiction develops over time. Some addiction is made “worse” because of damage from trauma (whether one-time or ongoing.)

    Parents, churches, and communities do many things to prevent and stop addiction- but nobody seems to have come up with a sure-fire, one-way answer that works for everyone.

    I grew up in a loving home, in a good neighborhood, with married parents. I loved alcohol the first time I tried it (very young), and drugs were the same. By the time I was twelve my life was not what it could have been- by the time I was 15 it was messy, by 18 it was terrible, at 27 I found Jesus (or He found me?) in jail. I have been clean from drugs and alcohol since.

    But it’s not the same for everyone. Some people get addicted more slowly- or more quickly. Some have Jesus as children- and still get addicted- young or old. Some find Jesus, but go back to drugs. Some get clean in AA/NA, or rehab, but don’t stay clean. Some people wake up one day and stop. Some stop, put the pressure of life without drugs pushes them to suicide. Or makes them so mean that nobody can live with them.

    Every time I think I know all there is to know- I find out something that makes me think I knew nothing.