Addiction is a recurring theme in pop culture, but far too often, the story doesn’t ring true. We see movies that present recovery as a clear, linear path—and shows like Celebrity Rehab that are more about voyeurism than illuminating the everyday struggles of real people trying to get sober. Few plays, movies, or TV shows authentically highlight the challenges of recovery and help the public think about its implications. I remember watching Anne Hathaway’s brilliant performance in Rachel Getting Married, a refreshingly honest portrayal of one young woman’s recovery journey. Recently, I saw the play “The _______ with the Hat,” another rare portrait of what overcoming addiction really entails.
Watching “Hat” with a group of colleagues from Phoenix House reminded me of the obstacles our clients face each day. Like Jackie, the play’s principal character, many of the individuals we serve have friends and family members who also use. They learn in treatment that removing themselves from social circles that revolve around drugs will be critical to their recovery. As we see in “Hat,” however, this is rarely an easy process. Jackie is committed to his sobriety, but his long-time girlfriend Veronica is still in the full throes of addiction. He knows he’s putting his recovery at risk, yet he can’t force her to seek help, nor can he break off the relationship. At the same time, his “friend” and sponsor Ralph D. turns out to be his greatest adversary. As members of the audience, we have an uneasy feeling about what transpires: Ralph’s betrayal, Veronica’s bad judgment, Jackie’s relapse, and their parting ways.
“Hat,” Rachel Getting Married, and other truthful depictions of substance abuse demonstrate that treatment is required, but by no means marks the end of the recovery process. Addiction is a chronic condition, not unlike diabetes, which demands constant vigilance to maintain sobriety. Life after treatment, when a person returns to the environment that may have triggered their drug use in the first place, can often be the most difficult part of all.
And yet, while there is no happy ending, “Hat” leaves us with the hope that Jackie will rise from the ashes and choose recovery. Despite the challenges, recovery is possible. At Phoenix House, we’ve seen thousands of men, women, and young people face similar obstacles—or worse—and go on to lead, sober productive lives. Many have mended broken relationships, built new ones, and found meaningful careers. Their stories, like Jackie’s, aren’t fairy tales, but they are real. “Hat” depicts the complicated, sometimes heartbreaking journey ordinary people take to get their lives back on track. This road isn’t easy, but as those who have achieved long-term recovery will tell you, it’s worth it.
President and CEO, Phoenix House