Addiction (vis a vis Nurse Jackie season one)

I just watched the first season of Nurse Jackie. It was edgy, interesting and fast-paced (a good show, not a mind-blowing one). The main character is a nurse in a busy emergency room and she’s also an addict which she, in the first season anyway, is successfully hiding from almost everyone in her life. She’s married with two girls and has a lover on the side, the hospital pharmacist and frequent drug source, who she rendezvous’ with on the job.

I watched a few of the Special Features and in an interview, Liz Brixius, one of the creators, made a peculiar statement. She said: “Is Jackie an addict? Yes. AND she’s a great nurse. Is she an addict? Yes. AND she’s a great wife. AND she’s a great girlfriend. AND she’s a great nurse. She’s all of ’em.” (If Brixius had thought to, she’d likely have added “great mother” and “great friend.”)

This sensibility – that a person can be an addict AND be great at their work and interpersonal relationships -caught me up short, especially given that the other producer in the interview, Linda Wallem, comments that, “We [she and Liz Brixius] are both in recovery.”

One of the best definitions of addiction I’ve heard is a person is doing something they know is bad for them but they can’t stop (alone). If someone is successful or great in all or almost all areas of their life – despite tendencies toward excess – perhaps they are not in fact an addict, but something else. Because so far as I understand it, addiction is not static and it takes prisoners, not only the user but the other people in the user’s life. It worsens. People are hurt. To suggest someone (albeit a fictional someone in this case), could be a great this-and-that as well as an addict is troubling (the term “functional addict” notwithstanding). Because the addiction, whatever it is, always comes first. And if the addiction comes first, that which comes behind it, either suffers or gets less, whether it’s a job, a spouse, children, family, or friends. That certainly has been what I’ve observed in real life.

5 thoughts on “Addiction (vis a vis Nurse Jackie season one)

  1. John Callaghan

    Hmmm. Interesting. We watched the first couple of seasons of Nurse Jackie but had to stop watching it because more and more time was being dedicated Jackie’s two daughters. The older one, a teenager, was a lazily written sterotype of a spoiled, pouting, miserable, teenage girl. I detest this trope as well as find it boring. It is so predictable. Wah! Wah! Wah! No one understands my pain. Just shut up already. The show had some potential but ends up falling very short.
    I do know of people whom I would consider “high functioning alcoholics.” People who MUST drink yet are able to achieve tremendous success. Hell, the founder of Canada, Sir John A. MacDonald, was a brilliant and ambitious man, and a drunk of legendary proportions. But these types I believe are the exception and your more common variety of addict is usually a burden to him or herself, family, and community.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Great comment.

      Yes, I was having trouble with that kid already in the first season and found her annoying and indulged. The mother/daughter relationship felt false. (When a child actor feels wrong, it can really throw off a show for me. (I always thought ALL the kids on Seinfeld were spot-on, so I knew it could be done!) Your critique is swaying me from watching more.

      I’ve never known a brilliant alcoholic who wasn’t also a pain-in-the-ass, at least in his personal life. Something usually – inevitably? – gives somewhere. I think I’d need to hear from Sir MacDonald’s loved ones(!)…

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