for The Fix 

Shortly after noon on Monday, June 19th, my phone started vibrating with text messages. “Did you hear about Carrie Fisher? So sad, right?” I had heard about Carrie Fisher, or so I thought. Certainly, the saddest thing anyone could be referencing was her death following a cardiac arrest on an airplane in late December. As the news alerts poured in, I understood the renewed interest: the L.A. County Coroner released a toxicology report noting that Fisher had died with cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy in her system. Actually clicking on the link revealed that “trace amounts” of those drugs were found and didn’t necessarily have anything to do with her cause of death. But, because she had been open with her history of addiction and bipolar disorder, the dramatized revelation that a cocktail of drugs had been found in Fisher’s system made for clickbait gold.

For millions of people who struggle with addiction and/or mental health conditions, Carrie Fisher was a stigma-fighting icon. The publication of her novel Postcards From the Edge about a young woman in Hollywood struggling with addiction was understood as largely autobiographical. By the early 80’s, Fisher was talking openly about her previous drug addiction and mental health challenges.

Wishful Drinking, Fisher’s first nonfiction book, in which she addresses her addiction and bipolar disorder, was published the month before I entered inpatient treatment for alcoholism. Like Fisher, I had been diagnosed with a mood disorder–-in my case depression–-in addition to the (more obvious) addiction. It was January 2009: As I was plowing through what would be my last bender, I heard the news that Heath Ledger had died of an overdose. Earlier that month, Britney Spears had been forcibly removed from her children and home by paramedics. The nation seemed transfixed by the substance use and mental health challenges of celebrities. Public discussion of substance use disorders and mental health were dramatic, fatalistic, and splashed across every newspaper, magazine, website and cable news channel…(continued)