The Soapbox: On Cat Marnell & Rubbernecking Drug Addicts

If you’ve been hanging out in the ladyblogosphere, you’ve heard of Cat Marnell. Or maybe you know her as “Cat Marnell, ugh.” Cat Marnell was — until last week — the health/beauty editor at xoJane. More pertinently, though, she was an open, unabashed, self-described “pillhead” who frequently wrote about her drug use and abuse online. (As well as some other things.) She had been sent to rehab in April at the insistence of xoJane’s publishers. The New York Post reported on Friday that Marnell left xoJane, seemingly of her own choice, because she would rather pass the summer “on the rooftop of Le Bain looking for shooting stars and smoking angel dust with my friends.”

This morning, published an interview with Marnell with more of the same Cat-ariffic quotes. “I’ve always gone to rehab for the wrong reasons.” ” I’m just a fucking freak show.” “I spent Christmas Eve with Jane [Pratt] and Courtney Love.” “I had drug bags pasted on the walls [of my apartment] because I collected dope bags.” And she goes into great detail about how she ended up parting ways with xoJane, which has something to do with losing her pills, crashing, her Internet being shut off so she couldn’t write posts, and forgetting her cell phone at the office.

Compelling reading? Cat always is. It’s not exactly a secret that people read her on xoJane for that ZOMG what the fuck did she just say now soundbite, not her questionable health or beauty advice (though her various product recommendations did fly off shelves). But as long as Cat Marnell’s been tearing up my RSS feed — and that of every other blog-reading woman I know — I’ve felt uncomfortable with rubbernecking this drug addict.

One thing I want to establish first:

I have a fairly laissez-faire attitude about drug use. I’m not writing this piece to be judgmental of Marnell’s drug use or drug abuse. I’ve used drugs, including prescription drugs (which are Cat’s drug of choice). I generally believe that drug experimentation and/or use in moderation isn’t a big deal if the person taking them is prepared and responsible. For the most part I agree with Jane Pratt when she wrote, in a post about Cat leaving xoJane, “I’ve always had a Libertarian view of drugs and suicide, that people can do whatever they want with their own bodies.”

But the thing that no one says when we talk about drug use and abuse is that it’s not just about the drugs. I certainly don’t think it’s a good thing that Marnell is a pillhead, but her drug addiction is just one problem here. The reality is that most people who become drug addicts have messed up problems to begin with, messed up problems feel bad, and they’ve started using drugs because drugs feel awesome. Certainly not everyone who becomes a drug addict has mental health issues, but ask any substance abuse counselor, therapist or psychiatrist and they’ll tell you that a lot of them do. And I can assure you, from a lifetime of living with an older brother who is a heroin addict (sober for two years, knock on wood), that none of those mental health problems can be dealt with while the person is still actively using or abusing drugs. The drug abuse, in a sense, becomes an itchy scab over the initial wound.

Look at Charlie Sheen. Look at Lindsay Lohan. Who knows whether either of them is as sober as they claim to be? (Guessing not, though.) But take away their “Winning!” and their jewelry thefts/car accidents and they’re both still a f**king mess. Charlie’s a domestic abuser with an ex-wife who has her own sobriety troubles (who is friends with Paris Hilton, I mean, come on) and 36 different 18-year-old porn star girlfriends living in his house. I believe he’s even lost custody of his kids. And Lindsay … I mean, do I even need to go into it? Her parents are Dina and Michael Lohan.

Yes, it’s very tantalizing when a Cat or a Charlie or a Lindsay has a new drug-fueled, crazy story.  But I implore everyone to look beneath that crazy story and see that there’s probably somebody who is very hurt, very alone, and very confused underneath, a person who is probably trying to cover all that up with drug use. There might even be a mental illness at work way down underneath, and who knows what that could even be because the druggy behavior is making them so erratic? The crazy stories are a lot less funny (if you even think they’re funny to begin with) when you look at that wound underneath the scab. I have boundless amounts of compassion for anyone dealing with mental illness, or even not-defined-illness-but-certified-mental shit, because it sucks. It sucks. It sucks. Did you not hear me the first time? It sucks.

It’s just plain distasteful to rubberneck people with mental illness. It’s just plain distasteful to rubberneck people who are going through some shit. And while I may not be the epitome of good taste myself (I am, after all, one of Miss Lohan’s biggest fans), I know from my own experience both as someone who has been sick with depression and has an older brother and other family members with similar issues that scrutiny and disdain (whether public or private) doesn’t do as much to “help” as you might think. Scrutiny and disdain actually make things worse in a lot more cases. I know I personally didn’t want to deal with my depression because the idea of admitting that I had a problem felt really embarrassing and scary. It was really only when I was approached with compassion and non-judgment that I was able to deal with it.  I’m not saying shows like “Intervention” don’t work or that there should be no social stigma whatsoever for people with drug problems; I am saying that the disdain and judgment are probably not going to compel the person to clean up unless he or she wants to do so in the first place.  When someone is down and you kick them when they’re down, so to speak, they don’t have anywhere else to go. They’re still down.  So what do we, the viewer, get out of it? What’s the point?

As much as I believe folks are ultimately responsible for their own stupid decisions — and I’m not defending the specific stupid decisions of Cat, Charlie or Lindsay in any way — I also feel it’s somewhat hopeless that their whirling dervishes of lives will slow down enough for them to really solve their own problems. Some of that’s due to their their own choices. Some of that is the people enabling and exploiting them. And some of that is due to this un-compassionate rubbernecking all of us do.

I’ve never met Miss Marnell, but I do hope for the best for her — both on a human being level and because she seems like a quirky, funny girl who maybe is a good writer underneath all those pills. Hopefully one day she will be Cat Marnell, and not just “Cat Marnell, ugh.”

[NY Post]

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