Depression, Drugs, Destruction…I Smile Back

    By Turney Duff

    I used to fantasize about being in a near-fatal car crash—a nightmarish daydream. It seemed like a solution. My imagined fate would then shift to me lying in a hospital bed unconscious with wires and beeping machines all around me. A group of people would wait in the waiting room, drink bad coffee, and wonder if I was going to make it or not. And after a few days of fighting for my life, I’d eventually pull through. It’d be a miracle.

    I didn’t want to die, but I wanted you to feel as sorry for me as I felt for myself.

    I thought that if something really bad happened to me, I could wipe the slate clean of all my past mistakes and conflicts. They’d seem almost trivial at that point. My new complications could become the focus. And maybe, just maybe I could finally physically feel the emotional pain that’d been swirling around in my head.

    I don’t dream like that anymore. But recently I watched the film I Smile Back and it was like taking a time machine to those dark days. When the final credits started to roll I had to sit there for a moment, not to watch them, but to catch my breath. Those 85 minutes I’d spent in the darkened theater had deeply affected me.

    Depression, Drugs, Destruction…I Smile Back

    photo via
    photo via

    I Smile Back beautifully captures the destruction of depression and drugs. It masterfully layers the underbellies of addiction. And I hesitate to say this because I don’t want Sarah Silverman serving me with a restraining order, but she’s disturbingly brilliant. I loved her in this movie.

    Silverman’s character, Laney Brooks, is flawed. Her list of character defects are a mile long despite the appearance of an upper-middle class suburban housewife and mother. She has a devoted loving husband, two charming kids, and a nice house in a nice neighborhood. And she has the best intentions. But then why does she continue to drink too much, do drugs, and cheat?

    It’s a good question.

    If you think addiction is simply when a person is addicted to a substance that equals consequences, then perhaps you won’t fully understand this film. In my experience it’s so much more convoluted than that. A common misconception about the addict or alcoholic is they drink or drug solely because they’re addicted to the substance. Yes there’s some truth to that, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle—a very, very large puzzle. And that’s what this film taps into.

    When the movie starts we’re unsure of the source of Laney Brooks’ pain. And that’s exactly what it was like for me. Is the depression causing the drug use? Is the drug use creating the depression? Or perhaps it’s a combination that leaves a wake of destruction in its path. And just like Silverman’s character in the movie, I didn’t know—I still don’t know. But I continually found myself in the middle of my own chaos. I knew how a good father and boyfriend were supposed to think and act like, but I couldn’t get it together. But I always thought I could fix the problem tomorrow.

    “Nobody tells you that it’s terrifying to love something so much.”
    —Laney Brooks (Sarah Silverman)

    For years I struggled with addiction and depression which resulted in a lot of ruin. For an outside observer, my behavior probably seemed callous and self-sabotaging. It appeared like I was just another drug-addicted loser. And in some ways they’d be right. I was out of control, I couldn’t stop, and consequences were no longer part of my thought process. Like I said, I was dreaming of car wrecks. I wanted to get caught, but I didn’t want to get caught. I wanted to use drugs, but I didn’t want to use drugs. The only thing I knew for certain was that I deserved to be punished.

    Eventually I left the theater after all of the credits rolled. I walked to my car still unsure of how I felt. My entire drive home I kept thinking about the movie. I was grateful that I no longer lived like that and desperately wanted to talk to another sober person.

    The film, written by Amy Koppelman and Paige Dylan, captured the very essence of the pain associated with depression and drugs. It was so powerful it felt like a “hit” and an antidote all in one. All it takes to appreciate I Smile Back is a tablespoon of curiosity, a pinch of empathy, and a small popcorn.

    I Smile Back (Rated R by Broad Green Pictures) is in limited theater distribution and available on demand via Amazon Video.


    • Turney Duff chronicled the spectacular rise and fall of his career on Wall Street in the New York Times bestselling book, "The Buy Side." He's also a consultant on the upcoming Showtime series, "Billions," starring Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti and is featured on the CNBC show, "The Filthy Rich Guide." In 1984 he placed 4th in the Kennebunk Junior High Science Fair.

    • Show Comments

    • Karena

      Turney, do you think that it is wise for you to see movies like this? That was your yesterday. NOW is your tomorrow. Why dig the knife in? I have had painful periods in my past and I put them in the boat and sailed them off to sea never to be thought about again. Many have never experience the pain of addiction except through movies like this. You did it! You got healthy! If need be, help real life people to overcome the problem that you conquered. GO FORWARD and embrace your future.

    • Ceci Alberti

      Karena – while I think your point is a valid one (move forward)…I think Duff’s ability to navigate through the chaos of this on-screen story, relate it to his own and then inspire people in similar positions, is not only brave, but incredibly inspiring. He generously shares his raw truth (as does the movie). The future is ahead of us, but what happened in the past is what helped to shape and groom us to live in it. I applaud, Mr. Duff for always bringing his a-game and honesty to the table. Part of being in recovery is to address the issues that brought you there, so that you can embrace your future.

      • Karena

        Hi Ceci, Thanks for your insights. …well taken. My point is that we move towards what we focus on. Generosity of insights into the past is a gift to OTHERS, but our unique future awaits all of us, and exactly what that is keeps evolving. Our future is a gift to OURSELF. In order to receive that gift, we must envision it. A true gift to others is to set an example of making our vision real. Each and every one of us surely has a dream of tomorrow if we look in that direction. As a child, we had very little past and a great deal of future. As we experience life, it becomes more retrospective and less of a vision. To speak in terms of stock research, would you rather read a report on what a stock has done to date, or the innovative products that the company has lined up? KR

    Comments are closed.

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