Writing by Meggie Royer // Photograph by Aitor Frias and Cecilia Jimenez
I know next to nothing about Star Wars. Sure, I’ve seen some of the films, but I never became an avid fan and was never invested in the films beyond much more than a passing interest. I know next to nothing about Carrie Fisher as a human being, but I do know this:
There is absolutely no shame in her ingesting heroin, meth, alcohol, ecstasy, MDMA, cocaine, etc., in the days before her death. This was a woman who struggled openly, honestly, and loudly with drug addiction and mental illness for years. Decades.
What there is shame in, however, is using her very public and painful addiction as a means to anything other than having an honest and essential discussion about the ways addiction affects women. And the ways in which we consume, romanticize, ignore, and belittle women’s pain, whether emotional or physical.
We cannot turn narratives of addiction into glamorized, flashy arguments about how fame and fortune turn celebrities into power-hungry, lethargic, selfish monsters. Carrie Fisher’s narrative is not the narrative of her being a power-hungry monster. It is the narrative of a very different power-hungry monster: that of an entertainment industry, and beyond, that both glamorizes and ignores women’s pain and the stringent and demanding expectations that we place on women both in public and in private.
It is the narrative of the fact that women’s heart attack symptoms display in far different ways than the heart attack symptoms of men, yet many women have never been taught how to recognize the unique ways that their life-threatening pain presents itself. It is the narrative of the fact that the trauma of sexual violence and the trauma of abuse perpetrated against women actually has manifested in women with ovaries having their ovaries removed at far, far higher rates than women with ovaries who have not endured abuse.
This narrative is about Yentl Syndrome, a medical community phenomenon that sees women’s physical pain taken less seriously than men’s pain. This narrative is about the fact that addiction, for so many women, stems from a lack of resources to access healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with PTSD and violence, such as counseling, psychiatric treatment, support groups, education, comfort, understanding. Recognition. This narrative is about how years ago, before drinking was deemed “acceptable” for women, women took sips of wine and vodka in back rooms before they returned to the full-time job of taking care of their children. And we refused to see it, and we still refuse to see it.This narrative is about how there are far, far more AA groups and chemical dependency programs for men than there are for women.
This narrative is about how men only have to wait 49 minutes before receiving painkillers for abdominal pain, while women are forced to wait over an hour. This narrative is about how women metabolize drugs differently than men. It’s about how female sex trafficking victims are often plied with drugs and alcohol to make the ordeal of being raped several times a day “easier,” and how addiction can develop this way. This narrative is a centuries-long narrative that saw women with uteruses having their uteruses removed due to concerns that the uterus was a source of “hysteria.”
In other words, if a woman is suffering intense emotional pain, or intense physical pain, society’s first and foremost objective is to take instead of give. Society does not take away the pain, however- they take away our access to what can take away the pain. They take away parts of our bodies, they take away our own deep intuition of what is truly “wrong” with us by claiming that our intuition is faulty, they take away our ability to defend ourselves, and, like Carrie, they take away the years of our lives that we spent demanding that our pain be recognized as more than just “too much emotion.”
Women, especially women forced to perform to high expectations in the public eye like Carrie, are seen as “too much.” If we struggle, we are too much. If we are honest, we are too much. If we display emotion, we are too much.
Carrie Fisher’s narrative is not about greed, or power, or reckless indulgence. It is about a woman, who, like many women, was forced to give too much of herself away, and was not given nearly enough in return. Tomorrow, no, today, another woman will die of drug addiction, maybe miles from here, maybe in the house next to your own. She will die alone and she will die misremembered, and we will drudge up all the minute and grotesque and grainy details of her death as a way of continuing to convince ourselves that women always “take it too far.” Another woman will have a heart attack that a doctor could have prevented. Another woman will sit down in the emergency center and have an unnecessary medical procedure to correct the wrong problem after being convinced that the true problem she mentioned all along was incorrect.
When I look at the photo of Carrie Fisher that dozens of news media sites have positioned alongside flashy headlines about the drug cocktail that may have killed her, I don’t see a power- hungry, cash-wasting celebrity. I see a brave and honest women who was extraordinary not for her celebrity status, but for her recognition of, and commitment to, talking about the very things women are asked, no, demanded, not to talk about.