TW: Sexual Assault, AIDS, Death
The most recent seasons of the shows POSE and Feel Good both deal with addiction. While the two are very different, each illuminates the links between trauma and substance use disorders.
This last season of POSE, season 3, takes place in 1994; previous seasons were in the late 80’s. Pray Tell (played by Billy Porter) and the other characters have been watching their friends die of AIDS over and over again for years. Pray is struggling with alcohol addiction. He himself is HIV positive and getting sicker. The government is doing nothing.
Pray’s relationships become strained as he refuses help from his chosen family. When confronted about his addiction, he talks about how many funerals he’s attended in the last several years. He even shows up to a funeral drunk. Pray Tell is on a path of self-destruction, because he feels hopeless and traumatized.
The portrayal of Pray’s addiction is as complex as addiction can be. Pray can be mean and downright volatile to the people trying to help him, but you’re rooting for him. You understand the deep pain he’s in and how afraid he feels. Of his rocky bond with former partner Ricky, the AV Club says, “Ricky and Pray Tell’s tumultuous relationship is a striking and honest portrayal of addiction, codependency, and enabling. There are no easy answers here. There are no bad guys either.”
Angel (played by Indya Moore) and Lulu (Hailie Sahar) also get sober from crack addiction during the season, and the portrayal is equally complex. You see that, as much as people who care about you can try, the decision to get sober is ultimately up to you.
POSE shows the financial barriers to quality treatment, too, as Pray’s family tries to earn the money necessary to get him into a good treatment center. Eventually, Pray does get treatment and enter recovery.
In Feel Good, Mae (played by Mae Martin) has been struggling with drug addiction and codependency. In season 1, she had entered and ended a relationship with a closeted woman. The relationship was tumultuous and partially led to Mae’s relapse. In season 2, Mae and her ex get back together, as Mae tries to figure out if she can love someone without feeling addicted to them.
But this season, Mae is also dealing with repressed trauma from her early teens. When she was around that age, she got kicked out of her parents’ house and had a decade of using drugs. You find out that one of her good friends, who is now in his mid-40’s, took her in when she was 15 and he was 30. He ultimately coerced her into a relationship she didn’t want to have; Mae is now realizing that she had many relationships like this with much older people as a teenager.
This season, any time someone mentions that period of her life, Mae is frantic to forget. She uses any drug in sight, at one point drinking an entire bottle of mouthwash. In this case too, both her partner and partner’s roommate try to help, but Mae (a comedian) often deflects by making jokes.
Throughout the season, Mae slowly begins addressing her trauma. She talks to her girlfriend and some friends about it, and even goes back to her hometown to confront the former friend. Her relationship with her partner deepens. At the end, Mae says to her girlfriend, “I don’t think I need you anymore. But I want you,” a sign that she is changing.
Both of these shows portray the rocky relationships that can happen during active addiction and the ways that we might use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate emotional pain. They are a reminder that, while it is the person’s decision alone whether they get sober, having support can make a real difference.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for mental health disorders and addiction in facilities across the country. We offer trauma therapy and other modalities to help you process traumas and start building the life you want. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.