Thoughts, Vol. 1
Introducing a new element of Make It Make Sense where I discuss a health-related moment in pop culture. First up: Sunday's episode of Euphoria.
This post contains spoilers from the latest episode of Euphoria and depictions of substance abuse that could trigger readers. Please skip by this one if you need to do so.
Euphoria’s latest episode has stuck to me like a briar. I’ve thought of its complexities many times since Sunday night, but my attention often comes back to the opening sequence. Rue, a character crafted masterfully and infused with so much humanity by Zendaya, has just been confronted by her mother Leslie (Nika King) about her continued drug use. Rue, immediately thinking she’s been betrayed, turns her ire toward Gia (Storm Reid), accusing her of snitching as she burst into the younger sister’s room.
From there, quite a bit happens. Rue is in a bad place, and the intervention quickly goes south. Laurie’s suitcase is gone—which could open Rue up to violence from the monotone-speaking dealer—but so is her current means for satisfying her addiction. And, within the next couple of minutes, she’s going to find out that the girl she’s in love with and her closest friend are the ones who told her mom she was using again. It’s a disorienting 13 minutes marred by fear, anger, confusion, emotional manipulation, and the beginnings of withdrawal. Yet, it’s a stunningly accurate depiction of how addiction plays out within families—especially when the person using is vulnerable.
I’m familiar with this haze. Every time Rue screamed at or struck the people who love her, my heart would stop for just a second. My breath shallowed, and I had to remember that I am not seven-years-old and Rue is not [redacted]. (Out of respect for their privacy, I will not be sharing any identifying information.)
Before Sunday’s episode, Euphoria’s exploration of addiction hadn’t hit close to home. I find it an honest, humanizing look at substance abuse, and I like that it doesn’t treat Rue’s addiction as a personal shortcoming. But one scene, in particular, got to me this week.
A fight ensues when Rue goes into Gia’s room the second time. Rue hits Leslie, who is trying to separate Rue and Gia. Then Gia hits Rue, who shoves her down. Then Leslie slaps Rue, throws her out of the room, and slams the door shut. Rue, in inconceivable distress, starts screaming and kicking the door.
Now, I am seven-years-old sitting on my bed, scared and crying as my great-grandmother slams and locks the door to our shared bedroom. [Redacted] is high, hallucinating, and screaming: “There’s something in my head! Get it out! Get it out!” They start kicking the bedroom door, trying to break it down—eventually, the doorframe cracks.
How possessed they looked never left me; neither has any other mark of their disease.
Before I sat down to write this, I was on a call with psychology professor Phil Reed for a different story. But he said something that’s relevant here: “Addiction is the expression of a problem.”
Loving someone who suffers from substance abuse disorder is hard but necessary. People who are navigating the disease will often, as Rue did, fracture their relationships during their pursuit to satisfy the addiction. But the pull they feel is uncontrollable.
When the monster calls, they will manipulate, blame others for anything, often unfairly, and use their words to twist a knife into your spine when other emotionally manipulative tactics do not work—as Rue often does. Beneath what seems like unimaginable cruelty is unfathomable pain. It’s not their fault, and they remain worthy of love. (I’m not saying you shouldn’t prioritize your well-being or hold people accountable. You should, and it’s possible to love someone from a distance.)
I’ll end this Thought with a fantastic quote from Zendaya:
For me, what has always been important with the show is the concept of empathy, the concept of a greater human understanding. I think Rue makes decisions and does things that are painful, not only to herself, but to other people. And we see that fallout over and over and over again.
I think in this show, and this season more specifically, she goes to the rock bottom. It’s my hope for people watching that they still see her as a person worthy of their love. And worth of their time, and that she has a redemptive quality still, and that we still see the good in her even if she can’t see it in herself.