“For the Want of a Father’s Love”

Movies about addiction, from Requiem for a Dream to Trainspotting, pretty much demand an intense and intriguing main character in order to carry us through the inevitable harrowing battle against addiction. Self-Medicated follows that same model in the form of out-of-control teenager, Andrew Eriksen (played by 24 year old Monty Lapica, a triple threat as first-time star, writer, and director and inspired by his true story).

Caught up in a spiral of depression and self-destruction because he mourns the loss of his father, Andrew has passed out of his mother’s, Louise (Diane Venora), ability to handle his increasingly erratic behavior. So much so that he ends up in an intervention nightmare that ends with him in a hospital-cum-detention center, with the threat of being deposited in Samoa if he doesn’t get his mind right.

“I think that this life is hell. Not hell as in it sucks, but hell for real.” –Trevor (Noah Segan)

Andrew is guilty of what many of us are guilty of: a know-it-all arrogance replete with a complete trust in ourselves. Such reliance on self has its weaknesses, like solely depending on yourself to get out of trouble. Turning to pot, alcohol, or even prescription pills, we self-medicate as an ersatz self-salvation scheme, not realizing that we’re junkies of different stripes.

We so desperately want to find a way to stop the hurting, we don’t mind the trade-off of our dulled dreams and our lives being reduced to the escape. I’m reminded of this quote from C.S. Lewis (from Weight of Glory): Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Why do we so often have to hit rock bottom before we have our end of self moments? Those times when we look in the mirror and realize that we aren’t where we were meant to be, not doing what we were meant to do, not living how we were meant to live. In short, when we realize that we aren’t the people we were meant to be – and we try and figure out why.

“If you think drugs are gonna make things go away, you’ve got another thing coming, buddy. That’s like shooting cortisone into a blown rotator, right? I mean, sure the pain’s gonna go away for a little while, but the injury’s still there and sooner or later those drugs? They’re not going to work anymore.” –Keith (Greg Germann)

One of the steps the program Alcoholics Anonymous asks its participants to take is to try to get in touch with his or her “higher power,” whatever that may be, in order to help overcome the powerless feelings that many alcoholics experience in relation to drinking. There is no definition of that higher power, but it is a way for them to get outside of themselves. Which is why Andrew’s mom says “You have the ability, with God’s help, to turn your life around.”

Andrew continues his search of his father’s love, like we all do: looking for one who would watch out for us, send ministering spirits to us, love us even when times seem at their darkest (grieving alongside us in the silence), and above all, never leave us. Putting the magic in magical Negro is the timely arrival of homeless man, Gabe (William Stanford Davis). I’m sure him sharing the name of the Biblical angel Gabriel is strictly coincidental:

Gabe: It ain’t easy. It’s true.
Andrew: Yeah, why is that, man? I mean, for some people, why does everything have to be so unfair?
Gabe: Good question. Afraid God’s the only one who can answer that one.
Andrew: Yeah, I don’t know about all that. I used to believe all that. I just don’t see how, if there was a God, how could he let so much …

Gabe: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. And he will direct your path.

There is a hole in us that misses our spiritual father. We have this sense of lost-ness, an incompleteness, a vague confusion and longing, what Augustine called the God-sized hole within each of us. We try to fill with all manner of distraction, from the pursuit of materialism and the trappings of success to family and relationships. Yet the terror, the ache in our soul, remains. As relational beings, we are hard-wired for intimacy; we seek that communion, that connection with Him as well as with others.

Gabe: You and your daddy were pretty close, weren’t you? … One day you’re gonna be with your daddy.

Self-Medicated–despite it being full of first-timer mistakes and its after school special verve–engages. Perhaps it is the sheer force of will passion of Lapica’s performance, story, and direction, but the movie runs on the momentum of its need to be told. Has a raw, desperate intensity that, much like the kinds of questions it asks, has no real solutions. Only the promise of journey.

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