Where’s the line between being supportive and being an enabler? Where’s the line between being a critic and being the cancer?
Lamar Odom is an addict. He was found unconscious in a brothel after partying with the girls for days, with reportedly “every drug imaginable in his system,” and visible track marks on his arm. He cheated on Khloe Kardashian, who filed for divorce in 2013. Their troubles have been documented on the high-profile, always invasive reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians. It’s easy to point the finger and turn a blind eye, saying that he’s just a victim of his own circumstance. But the main way to help understand the pain of an addict is to realize that Lamar Odom is battling insurmountable pain compounded by insurmountable addiction.
In brighter days, Lamar was a young basketball hopeful from Queens, N.Y., who showed his star athletic potential at Christ The King High School. He earned the Sixth Man Award in the 2010-2011 NBA season as a forward for the Los Angeles Lakers. His teammates and coaches, from the Lakers to Excel (the team in the Spanish league with whom he most recently played) loved his energy and valued his friendship. It was hard to resist his charm as Khloe’s lanky lovable husband, who seemed to be more of a teddy bear who loved to gift his wife with stuffed giraffes than the stereotypical athlete with 200 groupies on deck. It was easy to root for “Lam Lam” on the court, and on TV.
But E! showed another part of Odom’s life that was far from a fairy tale wedding. He supported his family and friends, footing countless phone bills and payments on condominiums. On the spinoff show, Khloe & Lamar, we even heard a painful phone call, when his father Joe Odom, a former heroin addict, called his son begging to buy him Chinese food. The amount of pressure to feel like the “one who made it,” whose responsibility is to support those he “left behind,” is something you can only understand if you’re in the exact position. On top of that, Lamar also suffered the loss of his six-and-a-half-month old child, Jayden, to SIDS in 2006. He lost his mother to colon cancer when he was just 12 years old. And he most recently lost his childhood best friend, Jamie Sangouthai, who died suddenly this year.
Where there’s pain, there must be an escape. It seems like basketball was Odom’s outlet, but when he was released from his beloved Lakers, where he thought he’d finish his career, the wheels started to fall off the bus. Odom identified as an athlete, and it’s been said that athletes have two deaths: when they actually die, and when they stop playing basketball. Crisis Manager Wendy Feldman told Page Six:
“Athletes are very tricky because they have such a short-career shelf life. If they don’t have a backup to transition to, it’s difficult. It’s like, I had this, now I have nothing.”
And although Odom had another NBA stint with the Dallas Mavericks, being dropped from the Lakers was the first experience of negative feedback from the game that held him together. Enter drugs, and enter out of control addiction.
If you’ve ever known an addict, you know that it’s not as simple as telling a loved one to “pull it together.” The addiction is fueled by pain, and the pain only feels better when the addiction is fed. It’s a painful ordeal to witness, and even those who conquer their demons fall many times before they beat them for good.
As a fan of the sport of basketball, and a girl whose TV remote unashamedly lands on E! more often that not, I’ve been rooting for Lamar. While he’s been made a joke on the Internet, yet immortalized today while his health fails, it’s important to remember that the culture of dragging celebrities when they’re down leads to the binges we ultimately read about. It leads to unnecessary plastic surgery attempts. At its worst, the bullying leads to suicide. And perhaps it’s because he’s a Catholic school kid from the South Side of Jamaica, Queens like me, but I just want to see Lamar stable. I want to see him OK. I want to see him win.
The list of celebrities falling to addiction will continue to get longer. From Judy Garland to Glee‘s Cory Monteith, it’s naive to believe that it will somehow end over time. But it’s important for us not to contribute to their pain for quick Twitter laughs.
In reality, Lamar is a celebrity, but he’s a dad. He’s a grandchild, a friend, and the love of someone’s life. His grandmother, Florence Odom, is praying for her grandbaby. Understandably shaken, she told NBC News: “Lamar is special…He made himself a name all over the world. And he’s just a cutie.”
The people who love him are the ones hurting the most, not those looking in. And with them in mind, we send our heartfelt well wishes to Lamar Odom, Khloe Kardashian, and the entire Odom family.
We’re rooting for you, brother.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty