Addiction is a terrible thing. Drug addiction, alcohol addiction, whatever type of addiction it is...it destroys relationships, jobs, lives. Anyone who's ever loved an addict has faced the reality at some dark point of how much it's not, really, a choice, as much as we still hope and wish that it is or could be. It's brutal. People waste away. Talent is destroyed. Lives and relationships, already hard, become that much harder. People die.
A lot of us in the media have been watching one of our own—Cat Marnell, 29, the former beauty director and health critic of xoJane.com, a talented writer, a person with an apparent system of support among coworkers and friends, a person with, until today, a job—deal with her own unabashed addiction in a very public forum. Which is to say, online. All over the place online, on her own Twitter; on the website she wrote for; in recent interviews for New York and Vice in which she professes with no apologies to be exactly who she is; and so on.
Via Page Six today, Cat Marnell is leaving xoJane.com "after refusing to get clean." The website was a place where she'd written often of her drug use, interspersing it with beauty and health coverage, and though she'd gone to rehab, "sources say Marnell never stayed clean, with one suspecting she even worked high." Marnell wrote to the Post, “I’m always on drugs. Look, I couldn’t spend another summer meeting deadlines behind a computer at night when I could be on the rooftop of Le Bain looking for shooting stars and smoking angel dust with my friends and writing a book, which is what I’m doing next.”
This announcement of her departure, as dramatic as it sounds, is not terribly surprising. From that Vice interview, several weeks ago:
Cat Marnell, xoJane's Beauty Editor, is always in trouble. Whether it's for taking Plan B three times in one month (and writing an essay about it) or snorting heroin in a bathtub on a business trip or showing up an hour late for a New York magazine interview that would ultimately slag her, but Cat doesn't really care. This is just who she is. Cat makes no apologies for her drug use, which I like. She's been a prescription speed freak since she was 15 years old and there is no sign of stopping. Everyone gets that, even her editors and the people in HR. You might ask yourself, "Why is someone in charge of a beauty-and-health department of an online magazine acting like this?" Cat doesn't stay inside the lines. She colors off the pages, but that may have something to do with the angel dust.
And from the New York piece, published in April:
It’s 7 p.m., but Marnell tells me she’s been up for only an hour. She seems flustered, jittery, and a little lost. “They want me to go to rehab,” she says as we rush to a Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee. “Shit, I was going to wait until the end of the interview to tell you that.”
“They” is SAY Media, the publisher of xoJane.com. According to the company, Marnell is the site’s most read and most commented-on writer—Pratt calls her writing “raw, riveting, and not at all derivative.” Marnell tries to return the compliment: She describes Pratt as “not like Slimer in Ghostbusters,” a movie she will confess she’s never seen, “but it’s the same essence. She’s always smiling and hovering and saying ‘I love you, honey.’ ”
Watching all this happen is something like watching Lindsay Lohan cycle through highs and lows, denying but clearly struggling with her own addiction demons. We watch and wait and it's cringe-worthy and awful, but it's the proverbial car crash we can't look away from. We know it's going to end someday, and it's probably going to end badly. But it's not "personal": These people we watch on the Internet seem more like characters than real people. So when Marnell announces that she'd rather smoke angel dust on the rooftop of Le Bain than work in a dreary office job, a lot of people come forth to, sort of, Internet high-five her. Why should any of us live dreary existences, have to pander to the man, slog our lives away in tedium? What's wrong with drugs? Drugs are cool! And to be so honest and upfront about it, well, let's accolade her for that, too. What bravery! What a way to live on your own terms! As Marnell tells New York magazine's Kayleen Schaefer, “I don’t want the reader not to be in a shared experience, not connected with me,” she says. “Why am I not talking about drugs if I’m taking them every day? People can say that’s pathetic, but it’s one of my main hobbies. That’s when I go back to the idea of shame, especially for girls. Why do I have to clean up?” she asks. “It’s time to question the idea that everybody has to live a certain kind of life.”
But is the issue really shame here, or not fitting into a certain life? We're talking about an illness, not a "lifestyle choice." Making matters worse, it's one that the Internet gathers round to watch play out in people, to gawk and mock and even sometimes celebrate. And when it takes a turn into tragedy, though that tragedy has really been there from the beginning, we sigh and cluck-cluck and mourn and regret and wonder what we should have done differently. In the course of watching this happen, those of us on the Internet have become enablers just as much as the people in an addict's actual life, maybe even more so.
The twisted side effect of that is that the same habit of addiction that drives a person to return again and again to the drug of his or her choice, at the cost of everything else, may well parallel the addiction habit that keeps a person on a constant Twitter drip, or revealing her life choices to the world in interviews, or oversharing confessional posts that go on to be shared even further—all with the purpose of getting more and more attention back from the Internet. With Marnell, that addiction to Internet attention appears to be getting scratched via her ongoing online revelations. I wish her the best, but I worry about what's next.
Those of us who work in this arena know what it feels like to be ignored, when you're having a bad day, when none of your posts hit the way you want them to. But what if the success of your post or article was linked to how much it revealed about your life as it spirals out of control? What if making a big deal over your drug use was a way to ensure page views or traffic, not to mention the Internet attention that you so love and crave? And what if your "Internet persona" was so tied to your addiction that you really saw no way to separate them, even if you did manage to escape the physical grips of the addiction itself?
That would be pretty messed up.