By Nick Perkins, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@WesternRebel)
It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything. I’d like to say that I’ve been busy or that my “real job” has taken the majority of my time lately. This is true to an extent; I work at a hospital and most of us are working 12-hour-plus shifts because if we don’t, nobody does. But, to be completely honest, I just haven’t been in the mood to watch, much less write about wrestling, all summer. The world around us is burning and we’re all just trying to survive. Some of us don’t, and that has been what’s been taking up the majority of my headspace.
Simply put, I just haven’t cared about wrestling. I’ll tune in occasionally to a Raw or a Dynamite or an NXT show, but I find myself hitting the fast forward button more and more. I can get through about six hours of weekly wrestling in one. It’s not that the content is necessarily bad (but a lot of it is). It’s just that it no longer feels as important to me, that’s all. I haven’t cared enough to really sit down and try to enjoy wrestling. Of course, it doesn’t help when various scandals are rocking the industry that I love. I don’t have a whole lot of extra room in my life for added negativity, and negativity seems to be plaguing professional wrestling these days.
Which is why, in my first article in a couple months, I want to focus on something negative. I know, I know. I’m a hypocrite. But out of all the wrestling happening currently, the one story I actually keep thinking about is the one involving Jeff Hardy.
For those who have missed it (and ratings suggest that’s a lot of you), WWE is running an angle focusing on Jeff Hardy’s battle with alcoholism/addiction. This comes complete with DUI allegations (of which Jeff is no stranger to), piss tests, and police involvement. Even if professional wrestling didn’t have an utterly terrible track record of presenting these types of stories (see: Road Warrior Hawk in WWE or Scott Hall in WCW), this would still be an ill-advised angle to run, simply because Jeff Hardy is currently still in the midst of battling his proverbial demons. He hasn’t defeated them yet, addicts never do, but I’m not even sure he’s putting up much of a fight.
Now, that’s not a fair statement to make and I know it. I don’t know Jeff Hardy from Jeff Harvey and I certainly don’t know what he’s been going through during this dumpster fire of a year we call 2020. I also don’t fault Jeff Hardy. I’m not mad at him; I’m mad at the situation.
Addiction is a funny thing. Some people call it a prison; others call it a battle. Others, still, call it a disease – a second cousin to cancer, if you will. The truth is, it’s all of those things and none of those things and more. And less. Addiction means different things to different people and nobody’s journey is the same.
What addiction looks like to me is a mother who died from cirrhosis of the liver on the day of my senior prom, because she just couldn’t stop reaching for the bottle and was too proud to reach for a hand. Addiction looks like a young boy, soon to be a man, who pledges that he will never drink because of what happened to his mom. But then, three years later, he found himself going down the exact same road. It was on that road of self-destruction that the boy acquired three DUI’s, the fourth of which would be a felony. He soon realized that if he continued down that road, it was going to lead to either jail or death. By the grace of God, he was able to reach out his hand like his mother never could and, luckily, someone was there to grab it.
That was five years ago. I’ve been sober for five years and there’s still not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it. Sometimes, I congratulate myself on making it another day (in addict lingo – we take things “one day at a time.”). Other times, I desperately wish that I could just pour a glass of wine or crack open a beer (definitely not a White Claw, though – that’s one fad I’m not bummed about missing). What I don’t do, or at least try not to do, is become involved in wrestling storylines in which my addiction issues (of which I’m still decidedly ashamed of and terrified by) are the core focus.
Now, as I’ve said, everybody’s journey is different. There is a chance that Jeff Hardy is so secure in his sobriety that the story he’s involved in right now is “just another day at the office.” The best-case scenario is that Jeff, like many artists before him, is using his preferred medium as a way to confront his “demons.” Instead of writing a book or making a movie, maybe Jeff is using the art of professional wrestling to express himself and, most importantly, to heal. That’s the best-case scenario and I hope against hope that’s what is happening. But I don’t have a lot of faith in Vince McMahon or WWE these days. I don’t think they could be compassionate, subtle and nuanced enough to allow Jeff a story that would actually calm his spirit and challenge him to become an even better man than, addiction issues aside, most people say that he is. Any hope I had of that story fizzled out as soon as Jeff threw fake piss at Sheamus.
I want good things for Jeff Hardy. I’ve been watching the dude since the moment Kane chokeslammed him back in ’98. I’ve been a fan of his for 20 years and he has given me moments that have raised goosebumps on my arms and brought tears to my eyes. He took me, and millions more, with him as he reached the highest of highs and, whether he knows it fully or not, we were there with him when he was in the depths too. We were there when he and his brother first etched their names in stone during the first-ever tag team ladder match against Edge and Christian. We were there in 2002 when he was fired from WWE the first time because of addiction issues. We were there when he came back in 2007 and when he won the WWE Championship from Edge in 2008.
We were there for his feud with CM Punk and his departure from WWE again, when he told us that it wasn’t “goodbye forever; it’s just goodbye for now.” We were there when police raided his home and when he got his first and second DUI’s. We were there at Victory Road when he was in no condition to perform. We were there when he embarked on his first, second and third “redemption tours.” We were there when he came back to WWE at WrestleMania with his brother and we’re here, still. We will always be there for Jeff Hardy, and I can only hope the company who is literally profiting off his issues will be there for him as well, if the bottom falls out, again.
In my experience, addiction is a hard thing to break if you don’t have a support system. This is why organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous exist. People need accountability, support and, most importantly, love. They need grace and mercy and forgiveness and love. Even if it’s tough love. What they do not need is a multi-million-dollar company exploiting their issues for television ratings or network subscriptions.
I hope that this coming tonight’s “bar fight” on Smackdown is the end of this particular story. I hope that Jeff got whatever he needed from it, and I hope, more than anything, that Jeff can remain clean and sober and that he can finally, and fully, defeat those demons. I hope he got some peace out of this story, otherwise it was stupid at best, and just exploitative at worst.
Still, though. Maybe there is healing in art. I know there is. I just don’t know if WWE is the proper canvas for it.