An addict is an addict is an addict. We all know it, and it never changes even after they get sober. Some addicts abstain from their drug of choice and claim sobriety, yet they have replaced the addictive quality for something more socially acceptable to satisfy the desire. I don't think it's a great answer, but it's better than the alternative. There is a specific set of behaviors & thought patterns common with any addict regardless of the drug/behavior. To me, that qualifies it as a disease. There are commonalities between the addicts and it doesn't matter if they are educated or a drop-out, wealthy or middle class, male or female, young or old. Some of their thoughts are so subtly twisted you have to think about what they are saying very carefully before you realize it didn't make as much sense as you thought it did. The way they perceive their environment, and the way they perceive human interactions are quite different from someone without an addiction. The way they internalize all the information which assaults all of us second of the day is also part of the addict world.
I believe in personal responsibility. It is what has enabled me to grow into the woman I am today. Emerging from my childhood I could have taken the attitude "I can't help the way I am" and blame my parents for every mistake that followed in my life. Emerging from my marriage shattered & disillusioned, I could have blamed every mistake I made after that on what he had done to me. I was a victim of child abuse, an adult child of alcoholic parents, a low birth weight baby and an incest survivor. I have ADHD, Dyslexia, Aspberger's Syndrome, and a brain stem injury from the child abuse. I have attempted suicide, I am a battered woman. I have been homeless twice in my life & misdiagnosed as Bipolar. I have been beaten, sexually assaulted and raped. I have night terrors, anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, insomnia, panic attacks & PTSD. I recovered from anorexia/bulemia and psychosis induced from the medications to treat the Bipolar disease I didn't have. I have experienced crippling depressive episodes that stole years of my life away. I wanted to be a doctor, but failed at college despite a high IQ. I have physical problems that limit what I can do & I have severe asthma. There may be more things, but any one of those things could have taken me down a dark & tragic self-destructive path. I have had considerable obstacles, but I have also had a strong sense that I had the power to make my life better, whatever degree of better I could, anyway. The cornerstone of my life has been about personal responsibility. I judge myself harder than a hanging judge sometimes, but I own my shit. I also understand just because I was able to own my shit, it does not mean everyone has the same ability to do so. None of the things I listed were my fault. They were horrible things that happened to me. Believing I had the power to make my life better saved my life from becoming a tragedy.
Personal responsibility is rarely discussed because well, someone would have to be responsible. And that very theme is what I struggle with when I am in the company of addicts. This summer, Angel (Silent Screaming Wednesday July 27th 2011) reminded me of the humanity in an addict. It is easy to say an addict creates the prison of his own pain when we don't really have a clue what that pain is. An addict will destroy everything good and decent in their life before and if they seek help. Addicts are inherently selfish. We observe this sitting high on our comfy throne inside our glass house. Addicts display a wanton disregard for the people that love them and will not hesitate to cause the ones who love them immeasurable pain. An addict will lie, manipulate and use the love people feel for them to satisfy that internal craving for something they can't find here on earth. An addict leaves wide paths of destruction everywhere they go. It would seem they are oblivious to the pain they cause. Any reason is a reason to seek satisfaction in their addiction. "It's not my FAULT!" It is their mantra as they parade their addiction while demanding recognition for their disease. Here's a little secret. An addict is ashamed. An observer might miss the brief flash of shame in the eyes of an addict while searching for ways to find redemption in them. Maybe you missed the flash of shame because you didn't want to acknowledge it was there in the first place. Some addicts have buried their shame so deep inside themselves, they don't know it resides in their soul, ripping it apart each time they use.
Like any disease, the course of it varies from person to person. Unlike some diseases, how addicts recover depends to a great degree on their inner substance. Addicts who recover have to face terrible truths about themselves. I can tell you from my personal journey, I wouldn't wish that on anyone. The truth about yourself while healing can be pretty brutal and ugly. As far as I'm aware, though, it is the only path that does lead to healing. While I'm not sure I would do it again knowing how painful the process was (yes I would) the results are irrefutable. Addicts are medicating their pain through their addiction. Avoiding emotional pain is the driving force behind most addiction. Still, we know that addicts can and do beat their addiction. Many may relapse and climb aboard the wagon now and then, but it is possible to be sober. Personal responsibility. So now we are coming around to Whitney, but first we are stopping off by Amy Winehouse.
Amy Winehouse was not born into stardom or a powerhouse vocal family. Amy Winehouse was shades of all of us. We related to her. Her addiction was in our faces and we watched in horror as the concerts were cancelled or cut short, she spilled out of cars while clubbing, or allowed herself to be photographed looking like a family of rats lived in her hair....and abandoned the property for a better zip code. She mixed R&B, jazz, hip hop, rap, rock & pop to create music with such depth you couldn't help but to be captivated. She emulated any stereotype we could think of for a hard rocking, jazz party girl. We watched the train wreck of her life in a quiet fascination, almost in awe of her every drunken footstep. Her rebellion was admired by all even as we knew the ending to this story. It was never a matter of if but when. Still, as we watched her dying in the open air, we were rooting for her. We wanted her to be Keith Richards. That's one addict the disease just can't kill. Cigarettes can't get him, either. Hell, he is preserved better than Cher. Maybe area 51 isn't about aliens at all, but the secret life of Keith Richards. Anyway, Amy was the 'fuck you' rebel we all wanted to be. She was magnificent, even up to the very end. When she died, Facebook was ripped with tributes. Very few of the memorials talked about "her tragic" life. She lived her life on her own terms and cursed at anyone who challenged her lifestyle. She lived hard, shone brightly and burned out. We never degraded her for being an addict. It's almost as if she lived life so vigorously, the addiction was an acceptable companion.
We can't talk about addiction without talking about Charlie Sheen. "I'm WINNING!" soon became the catch phrase of crazy. I played in with the jokes as well. People often comment about how much energy, pep & enthusiasm I have. I was telling them it was because I had "Tigger blood." I had tried "Tiger Blood" and it was too strong for me. Besides with Tiger Blood you get Charlie Sheen. With Tigger Blood I get Winnie the Pooh. I like Pooh better. Even as I watched Charlie descend into insanity, I truly was horrified. It wasn't Charlie I was horrified for, it was for his family. We were watching a man die on national TV news and his family had to watch him dying right along beside us. Charlie wanted nothing to do with his father, Martin Sheen, or his brother, Emilio Estevez. Turns out, Charlie has been to area 51 with Keith Richards. Despite his cocaine fueled public rants, something got through to him and he has been quiet since his meltdown. He will live to melt down another day. With Charlie Sheen, he was so grandiose in his bizarre public appearances that I suspect he is either addiction secondary to Bipolar illness, or he has fried his brain for too long long with too much. Long term drug addiction can mimic acute psychotic mania. Since I am as guilty as anyone else, I might as well say it. I was glued to the television to see what side show Charlie Sheen had lined up next. What does that say about us as a society when we watch a man killing himself in real time? What does it say about a media network so hungry for ratings they allow him center stage? I watched intently, and at the very same time I am revolted by my own sick window into the rantings of a very sick man. Charlie Sheen needed help. I'm sure people did what they could, but the public and media could have just said no. We needed to turn the channel when Sheen TV aired, but we didn't. Had he died, each and every one of us, myself included, would have been complicit in his death as surely as if we had given him the cocaine chaser. I don't feel good about this perversion in my nature. It didn't stop me from tuning in, though.
Of course there have been other epic displays of addiction. Lindsey Lohan has been quiet for a while. I don't think anyone pays Lindsey Lohan's addiction much thought. We feel badly for her, the kid never had a chance with parents like Dina & Mike Lohan. We all look at that family mess and shake our heads. It reminds us too closely of our own family. Brittany Spears parents actually stepped up and did what they had to do to get her help. With Brittany, we don't know if addiction was the catalyst for her bizarre behavior or she suffers from a mental illness. I never have much respect for parents who market their children, but in the case of Brittany Spears, they stepped up when she needed them. That deserves respect. Maybe one day Brittany will be able to talk about what happened. She's not ready to go there right now. We have lost significant talent to addiction and drug overdose. Michael Jackson's legacy in music will be studied for decades. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison & Sid Vicous were hard living rockers. Before we understood the true nature of addiction, we accepted the rock & roll lifestyle would end in an overdose. That's how you die a legend. They could have been a living legend. Then there's Heath Ledger & River Phoenix, who were just starting to tap into legendary acting. There were the acceptable Hollywood deaths by alcoholism. Errol Flynn, John Barrymore and Richard Burton all died of alcoholism. Elizabeth Taylor and Anthony Hopkins must have been to Area 51, too. There are some people addiction doesn't seem to kill. It has only been in recent decades we accepted alcohol and drug abuse is not the curse of the creative. It was assumed in order to cultivate great talent, in order to exact legendary performances, you needed to use drugs.
Stephen King and Robin Williams have both battled cocaine addiction. When they were at the height of their talent, I remember thinking cocaine was the old Hollywood all access pass to talent. I wasn't sure the depth of their work could be tapped without it. Now I know better, when I tap the deepest darkest emotions I have and bring them to life here, it can be grueling. There are times I am so deep in the writing or in the story (Untitled has some very disturbing elements) that I am living what I am writing. It is not my idea of fun, but to bring the words to life for you, I have to believe in them. I can't believe in them if I'm not living them. There are times that a piece only takes a few minutes to read, but I spent a day or two retching through the emotions of it. Sometimes I will drink while I write, but I haven't found it gains me greater access. It does ease the pain of the journey. I think that's why great artists use drugs as an excuse to exact a performance. Living the character can be really disturbing to come back from. Both Stephen King and Robin Williams state they are sober now. In the case of Robin Williams, he is also Bipolar. People with serious mental illness often try to self-medicate through drugs and alcohol. It's not a course of therapy I recommend, but after my experience on those medications I understand why street drugs would be preferable to the side effects of pharmaceuticals. I don't know if years of drug abuse killed the talent, or they simply didn't want to be the center stage of the world anymore, but neither Stephen King or Robin Williams have come close to the work they did when they were high. Maybe experiencing the depth of their characters was too painful to do sober. Maybe they chose life with their family over the certain death of drug abuse. Creativity is not worth dying for when your family loves you.
Now we can get to the Whitney effect. Suddenly, the feed and media is burning in condemnation of this woman for her addiction. WHY did everyone else get a pass and she receives cruel and merciless judgement? As I said, I believe in personal responsibility. Clearly, she lacked what it took to clean up her life. Her daughter is surely asking herself "Why couldn't my mom do it for me? Why didn't she love me enough to stay off drugs?" Kids do that. We can blame Bobby Brown until the cows come home, but it doesn't mean he is at fault. Whitney was an addict, nothing Bobby Brown did or said changed that either way. They may have used together, he may have introduced her to drugs (the wealthy have easy access to drugs. Bobby Brown would not have been the only source of introduction.) It would be easy to sit in judgement of her from a personal responsibility viewpoint. The thing is, life is not that clear cut. It would be simpler if it were. I listened to the chatter on the feed, each time taken aback by the harshness of it. What does it matter how she died? Then I figured out why so many are angry. Whitney Huston made a spectacle of denial. Her famous words "crack is whack," were laughable. She was embarrassed for being a crack whore. Plausible deniability. She was a deeply spiritual woman and sang stunning hymns. Her talent, her voice were ethereal. She was an inspiration through her songs. And she was a crack whore.
America loves an underdog. We won't give up on the underdog until the underdog lies down. As long as someone is trying, we will be right there with them cheering them on. When we were introduced to Whitney Huston, she was a stunning woman with a wholesome spiritual image. She was everything America embraces, the girl next door innocence, the bright smile and talent like we had never seen. She was American royalty. She had every advantage for a beautiful life and a long meaningful career. She took Dolly Pardon's trademark country song "I Will Always Love You" and brought fresh life to it as the soundtrack for "The Bodyguard." We fell in love with her. It seemed as if her life was charmed as she belted out hit after hit and we sang right along with her. All the while, she carried herself with grace and poise. She represented family values, strength, spirituality and most of all love. She brought a love story back to a tormented nation. When she sang, her voice was so powerful we could feel the vibrations through the universe. It captured us in a single breathless void of time where all we wanted to do was to feel her soul through the words and notes of the song. She gave everything she had to us. We captured her soul in song and we held on tight. We didn't want to let go of the feeling. It was pure, clear and powerful. It was a majestic place in time to live. Whitney Huston brought this to us with her voice.
She met Bobby Brown and we were thrilled for her. She loved him as fearlessly and as passionately as she sang. We watched as their love for one another grew into an unstoppable force. They were soul mates and we knew it. We wanted to share in the power of their love. We watched the love story unfold and it filled us with hope we could find love that powerful, that consuming, that devoted and united. At first, it was everything we hoped it would be. They were one soul, one breath, one energy. We wanted our Whitney to be happy, but the stories of alcoholic fueled rages began to surface. The veracious fights were reported by the paparazzi. We couldn't imagine the Whitney Huston we knew to be responsible for any of this. It had to be Bobby Brown's fault. Then came the rumors of spousal abuse. We rallied around Whitney as she stood by her man. Still, we refused to believe Whitney was culpable in any of it. We didn't want to believe this woman could act in such rage and cruelty, so for every argument, every report of substance abuse we placed the blame on Bobby. Whitney's public behavior became increasingly erratic, and we were very eager to blame Bobby Brown. Whitney Huston's voice dwindled off into obscurity. Her performances we carefully timed and staged for her to present the image to us she wanted us to see. The reality was quite different. Whitney Huston's drug filled rages were becoming increasingly more difficult to hide or deny. Whitney was our Elizabeth Taylor. We didn't want to hear it. And we wanted someone to blame for destroying our vision of what Whitney Huston was. To his credit, Bobby Brown has born the wrath of public blame without any complaint. I'm not suggesting he is innocent or without responsibility for the wreck Whitney Huston became, but abusers generally take great pleasure in denigrating their ex's. He never has.
Whitney Huston did not live up to the image or expectations we had of her. You strip away her amazing gift, her voice, and what remains is a crack whore. That is not the Whitney we invested in. Now at the time of her death we turn our backs on her because we want the Whitney Huston we embraced and embodied. We fault her for ruining her beautiful voice. We fault her for not remaining in service to us through song. We fault her for not being sober. The anger surrounding her life and death is palpable. Whitney Huston did not betray us by not working at sobriety. We betrayed her by immortalizing her into an icon for everything we wanted to believe. We loved Whitney. She betrayed us by being a human being with her own demons. She had darkness in her soul we cannot comprehend and she did the best she could to hide it from us. She knew what we expected of her and she knew the truth of her wounded heart. She was fighting demons every moment of her life. She reached heights of fame & expectation that would crush anyone. It crushed Whitney and she did not survive. Whitney knew she was a flawed and damaged woman. She tried to be everything we wanted her to be, but we would not accept anything less than perfect from her. As the drugs and alcohol exacted their toll on her looks and body, the press was cruel. Instead of portraying a sick woman in need of help, they were brutal. As her reputation became increasingly more violent, she tried to be the diva and reassure us she was still the same Whitney Huston we fell in love with. She couldn't walk or talk straight anymore, the abuse her body was enduring could not be hidden forever. In the solitude of her hell, she put some music on. She started to sing. And when her voice wouldn't carry the song, she thought she just needed some rest and a return to health. Her voice, all she had, would be just fine with some rest. So she rested. Again in the solitude of hell she puts some music on to sing....and her voice cracks ever so slightly before it goes sharp. How do you recover when you realize the crystal clear clarity and stunning vocal range no longer exist? Can you recover or do you bury yourself deeper into the comforting warmth of hell?
We don't know the magnitude of suffering she endured. It is possible she was hiding a mental illness through self-medication. She wouldn't be the first wildly talented performer who hid it from the world. All I know with certainty is she suffered in ways we do not know. She let us surround her in radiance and beauty, but when her soul started to rip into shreds of darkness, she retreated. She did not want to share her pain with us, her struggles were private. We cheered when she divorced Bobby Brown, thinking we would have our Whitney back, but that didn't happen either. She was too broken by then. She wanted to come back to us. She needed us as much as we wanted her, but she couldn't find her way. And now at the hour of her death the public cries out in bitter betrayal. Our Whitney died a long time ago. We failed her. If we had loved her as much as she loved us, we would not be standing in judgement of her life now. We would recognize her pain, and be happy she no longer suffers. We fail her in death as we refuse to remember the Whitney we fell in love with. We fail her spirit because we condemn her for being human. We fail her memory because we have not honored her life before it was consumed. She was more than the last years of her life. She was more than a performer, a singer, a public persona. She was a woman, a wife and a mother. She was not ours to emulate into saint hood, nor was she ours to embody with love. Those are too great of burdens to be shouldered by one woman.
May you rest now in peace, away from what tormented you in life. I am in the solitude of my own home, and I swear I feel the reverberations of your voice rippling through the universe. Even the harps of Angels sit silenced to listen.