A Star Is Born.
I’m a little late to the party but, I still think it is well worth discussing. Plus, as my outlet to get things off my chest, this piece deserves to be here. I have now seen ‘A Star Is Born’ and feel it is my duty to make sure I give a trigger (and a spoiler) warning for both the article and the film.
Both contain alcoholism and suicide – the two reasons why Sergeant Calm exists.
I had known about the alcoholism in the film and it was one of the reasons I wanted to go see it. I wanted to see what a sober Bradley Cooper was capable of in this role, and he didn’t disappoint. Having been there done that in real life, I could see he was bringing more than just good acting chops to the role. He was accessing the hell that all addicts feel - unable to stop, at the mercy of their own inability to cope with hard emotions and hard-wired to go back to the thing that only works (albeit for a short time). The loneliness, the shame and the exhaustion of that particular merry-go-round were palpable. For me, it was really, really hard to watch. You know those funny stories of people pissing themselves because they’re so drunk? Or falling over at a really high-end work event and having a good laugh at their expense the next day? I was worried that the film risked making alcoholism look funny. I actually held my breath in the cinema, expecting people to laugh at Bradley’s mangled character. It didn’t happen. In fact there were audible intakes of shock around me while I watched through a space between my fingers.
Bradley did such a good job that I’m still reeling today, a feeling buzzing around my body of instantly wanting to jump to his rescue. To try and help him see there’s a better way to live. But of course, in real life, he already knows this, he’s sober and doing a great job of it - in this I take great comfort.
When it comes to his eventual death, I was in no way prepared for it. I hadn’t known suicide was involved. Had someone told me, would I still have watched it? Probably. We need more of this in my opinion. Not less. What I stand for is being a beacon of hope and I do believe the film does an amazing job of showing just how fragile we are as humans. So I would have done it. I might have been more mentally prepared. But, that pain, oh that pain.
It wasn’t just about the suicide and the drinking. It’s the parallels to my own life that I struggled with the most. Unless you have lost someone to suicide it’s really hard to know just how deep that pain goes. This isn’t to undermine other feelings of grief; it’s more that it’s a different kind. I call it exquisite pain. It’s so intense that to call it up means I know what profound love for a person is, was and always will be. If you didn’t already know, I lost my Dad to suicide 8 years ago. He was a clever, amazing man, who - like Jackson Maine, was loved yet deeply troubled. From exactly what, I doubt I’ll ever know. More poignantly he was a musician. Hearing some of the quotes at the end of A Star Is Born cut me like a knife. I still have his albums and even after all of this time I can’t listen to them. The gather dust on my bookshelf and I look at them from time to time and ask myself, is today the day? It never is, because the heartache I felt watching the movie comes close to the heartache I feel when I hear his voice.
Anyone who has felt profound grief will tell you, it’s not just emotional. It’s physical. It’s a burning in my throat that travels all the way down my spine. It’s a deep belly full of emptiness that nothing for the rest of my life will fill. It’s also fear. What was going through his mind? I often end up with picture of demons, real demons in my head when I think of what he must have felt like in the end. I struggle to breathe in those moments. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I have to change the subject in my head because at that moment in time, I can’t cope with it. Most of the time, I have a choice when these feelings come up, but sometimes I don’t. I had no choice while watching A Star Is Born.
I went to a support group in the first six months following his death. Initially, it helped to be able to share and cry in a room where people under the same duress could understand. But, after a few months something shifted. I was seeing the new people come into the room - the people who had just lost someone. And, it just wasn’t helping me. I couldn’t look them in the eye because I knew what they felt. I had no idea how to comfort them then, because I had no idea how to comfort myself. In fact I’m not even sure I know now. There’s not a lot of rationalising when it comes to someone’s suicide. Yes, they’re not in pain anymore but this is treatable. It’s avoidable. It’s not inevitable. This is what brings us survivors the most profound agony.
I’ve now been there too. I’ve wandered the rooms of my house at 4am, thinking I’d rather be dead than fighting with my own thoughts. I get it. I see how easy it is to spiral, and how much you think it would ‘solve’. The reality is, suicide does nothing but ripple it out. One person goes down and the mental health of their loved ones is profoundly impacted. Please note, I am not placing blame, I’m the last person to ever believe in the ‘selfish’ notion that so many STILL believe in. It has nothing to do with selfishness. It has everything to do with what I mentioned before. It’s profound love. Loving the people around you so much that you don’t wish for them to see you that way. You don’t wish for their lives to be impacted by your illness. Love so strong that you believe that your sacrifice will allow them to lead a better life.
Jackson Maine did it because he felt his wife Ally (Gaga) would do better without him. Would feel better without him. Would be a bigger star without him.
But at what cost?
As she sings her final lullaby I felt that wound open again.
I’ve worked hard to make Dad proud. I’ve built businesses and I’ve started a successful social enterprise that supports people with mental illness. I got sober, I found yoga. I have the most amazing friends and colleagues and support system.
But I would give up everything, including Sergeant Calm to have my Dad back. With him, I could do it better, not worse.
That’s pain. That’s suicide.
At ease xx