Rocket Man reminds us that addiction can affect anyone

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By Beth Collard, Trustee and Manager

I have listened to Elton John for years. Me and my kids play ‘I’m Still Standing’ in the car all the time and I’m often found dancing to ‘Tiny Dancer’ in the kitchen while I’m cooking, so I was really looking forward to seeing Rocketman at the cinema.

I thought there will be great music and a chance to see how Elton John started his career and dealt with his issues. I know he is in recovery and, of course I wanted to see some of that too.

Firstly, as you would hope, there is great music in this film and great acting and singing by Tarun Egerton and all of the cast. However, I wasn’t expecting to see one of the best interpretations of childhood trauma followed by addiction and followed by 12 step recovery that I have ever seen.  But I did. The film blew me away and I didn’t move for the whole time it was on. I laughed, and I cried, and I identified with it a lot.

I didn’t expect to identify quite as much as I did. How could I when there are so many differences between our lifestyles? I spent much of my active addiction struggling on benefits and stealing to get what I needed. Elton John is a successful rock star with millions in the bank and no need to worry about money. I was homeless by the end of my addiction and wandering the streets of Newcastle feeling hopeless and alone. Meanwhile Elton john lives and travels all over the world with people around him all the time.

However, I identified with him and his emotions so much.

I identified with the feeling of desperation and the lack of control. I felt different all of my life and not quite right in the world and I felt that from him too. At one point he looks into the mirror sad and desperate and he forces himself to smile and put on that face everyone wants to see. I spent so many nights out with people I didn’t want to be with in places I didn’t want to be, and I would catch sight of myself in the mirror and see that dead eyed person staring back at me and feel desperately scared and full of fear.

I identified with the progression of addiction in his life. He didn’t set out to become addicted and neither did I. By the age of 27 I was in a rehab wondering just what had been happening for the last few years and how I had ended up there.

At the start of the film we see Elton turning up in the 12 step meeting and again and again throughout just full of emotions and shock that it has come to this. This film shows Elton John’s disease progressing and alcohol and drugs becoming more and more important in his everyday life. At one point he sits having breakfast in a lovely room with his wife. She pours herself some orange juice and he pours himself some vodka into a lovely glass, apologises and they both cry.

It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have addiction is painful and it is powerful, and it is bigger than any of us. I identify with the need for that morning vodka and just because he is drinking out of an expensive glass in a mansion and I would drink mine from the bottle in an alleyway it doesn’t make it that much different. Addiction is addiction and none of us can beat the power of that alone.

The film shows the childhood trauma that he faced from an early age and how this links to addiction. A father who was abusive and unavailable emotionally his entire life and a mother who just never said the things that he needed to hear. The attempts to fix this trauma throughout his life are shown so clearly and there is an absolutely wonderful resolution and a coming back to himself near the end of the movie which had me crying and nodding along.

As a person in recovery for 11 years I have undertaken the work I need to do to look back into my life through the 12 steps and also through therapy. I understand that link to addiction and the need to fix those childhood wounds that have happened whether intentional or not. I have had to re-learn how to parent myself and find some peace around the things that had caused me to feel not quite right and different from others.

I watched this film and I saw a man who had gone through that same process to get to recovery and peace. We had completely different circumstances and life experiences but it’s the same recovery. Let’s look at what happened and how it’s affected us and then let’s move on and start a life free of substances where we can be free to love and be loved and help others which I feel that this movie will.

12 step recovery is available to all no matter how much money you have or don’t have or where you come from. Meetings happen all over the world and everyone is welcome. Elton John sits in that 12 step meeting and says “I’m Elton Hercules John and I’m an alcoholic, cocaine addict, sex addict, bulimic, shopaholic…” and he is almost 30 years sober now. Addiction can happen to anyone and recovery is possible. This film shows us that. And that;s why it’s so important.

Beth Collard, Trustee