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Thursday, July 28, 2011


Hello. My name is Wilma, and I’m an alcoholic.

Simple words, aren’t they? And yet, they are the hardest words in the world to imagine, let alone say. There are, literally, millions of people that say those words every day. Some are new, in their first 30 days of sobriety. Some, like myself, are coming up to their 30th anniversary. Most are in between these two extremes. All of them came to the realization that they and they alone are the ones responsible for their addiction, be it alcohol, drugs, food, whatever. They all took responsibility for their addiction, and they sought help for it. Many, again like myself, have stumbled and fallen off the path of sobriety. Many, again like myself, have crawled (in my case literally, and more than once) back to an AA or NA meeting.

Most of us are sober now, and are working hard, every day, to remain that way. It’s a constant struggle, every day. It’s been almost 30 years for me, and I still remember how wonderful that first sip of Scotch was, how great it tasted, how much I enjoyed getting buzzed, how much I hated the next-day hangover headache, and how much I enjoyed that first sip of Scotch that would cure the hangover and make it possible to go forward with that particular day’s chores. I am what is now called a periodic drunk. I could go for months without drinking, but I was always saving it up for the time when the pain and boredom of my life got to be too much for me. I drank because I hurt, mentally. I drank because it felt good to be one step removed from my life. I drank because I felt like a failure. I drank because it was raining, or the sun was shining, or . . . well, think of an excuse. An addict can always find an excuse.

There are three stages of addiction. A Stage One addict has the same lines: “I drink (take drugs, eat too much, whatEVER) but it’s not my fault. (FILL IN THE BLANK) is to blame for my problems, I didn’t cause them. IT’S NOT MY FAULT. Besides, I can control it. I can stop ANY time I really want to. I just don’t want to at this point.” That’s all very well and good, but there are just two types of folks that are addicts that can claim that they were turned into addicts without either their knowledge or consent. These are Fetal Alcohol Syndrome babies, and Heroin Syndrome babies. These are the ONLY people on the face of the earth that can make this claim, and they are the only ones that have the right to make this claim.

Stage Two addicts have the same lines: “Well, I’ll admit that I MIGHT have had something to do with my problems, but it’s STILL NOT ENTIRELY MY FAULT that I’m a (drunk, drug addict, fill in the blank). Society, my parents, the doctor, the next-door neighbor’s cat (again, fill in the blank here) is the biggest contributing factor to my addiction. I can control it, I’m not really an addict. I can quit any time I really want to. I just don’t see any need to.”

A Stage Three addict has hit rock bottom. A Stage Three addict also has the same lines, with this critical difference: “I caused this problem that I’m suffering with. I am the only one that’s victimizing myself with this addiction. I can’t fix the problem by myself. I need help. Please help me.” If a Stage Three addict is really lucky, she/he still has one or two family members or friends that are willing to help. Most addicts have hurt their families financially, emotionally, physically – or any combination of the three, usually all three. I hit rock bottom when I backhanded a child 25’ into a wall because she jumped onto my bed while I was taking my first drink of the day, knocked the bottle out of my hand and broke it. No more booze in the house, either, which of course was the child’s fault too. She needed food, you see, and I couldn’t buy booze and food. So, I bought enough junk food to keep her alive, just barely, and I bought booze. And she broke my bottle.

I was lucky. I didn’t kill the kiddo. Didn’t break her jaw, or her back, or her ribs. I was also very unlucky. She has never, from that day to this, ever willingly come near me again. I’ve seen her maybe twice a year until she was 21, and not at all since then. Her father took custody away from me. Fair enough, I wasn’t to be trusted. Not while I was drinking and whining about how unfair my life was.

Losing my kiddo was my wake-up call. I took a good, long, hard look at my life, and I literally, physically crawled into my first AA meeting. I got sober, I stayed sober (fell off the wagon twice, but I always crawled back ON, and kept on trying) and I have done my best, over the years, to make amends to those that I hurt with my alcoholism and my irresponsible behaviour. There are family members that will never believe me or trust me again and I deserve that. My selfishness and my refusal to face up to the harm that I caused them deserve nothing less. Do I blame them? No, I don’t. I blame myself.

Self-inflicted addiction, regardless of how it starts, always winds up in one of two ways. Either the addict admits that she/he is the cause of her/his problems and seriously applies her/himself to fixing the root causes of those problems, or she/he dies. There’s no middle ground in this one, gangers. You’re never NOT an addict or a drunk. You have a chronic disease that you handle in the same way that all chronic diseases are handled: you work your program, you follow the path that you set for yourself every day, you discipline yourself to put the blame where it belongs, and you stay away from the people and the situations that allowed you to indulge yourself in the first place.

Which, inevitably, brings me to Amy Winehouse and her death earlier this week. I love her music, and I celebrate the genius that produced it. Unfortunately, like almost all genius, the person in whom the genius resided was insane. She started off with youthful rebellion, progressed into social activism, devolved into an alcoholic, and degenerated into a drug addict. In 2005, she went through a period of drinking, heavy drug use, violent mood swings and weight loss. People who saw her during the end of that year and early 2006 reported a rebound that coincided with the writing of Back to Black. Her family believes that the mid-2006 death of her grandmother, who was a stabilizing influence, set her off into addiction. This was, in essence, the triggering event that spiraled her drug addiction out of control. In August 2007, Ms. Winehouse cancelled a number of shows in the UK and Europe, citing exhaustion and ill health. She was hospitalized during this period for what was reported as an overdose of heroin, ecstasy, cocaine, ketamine and alcohol.

Ms. Winehouse told a magazine that the drugs were to blame for her hospitalization and that "I really thought that it was over for me then." Soon after, Ms. Winehouse's father commented that when he had made public statements regarding her problems, he was using the media because it seemed the only way to get through to her. Public shaming never works. It didn’t work in this case, either. In an interview released in June 2009, Ms. Winehouse's father said the singer was in a drug replacement program. He said she was gradually recovering but that heavy drinking was causing "slight backward steps". A documentary shot early in 2009 shows Ms. Winehouse apparently intoxicated according to a newspaper report. Pictures published by a magazine in July 2009 upon her return to the United Kingdom from her extended stay in Saint Lucia appeared to show that Ms. Winehouse had gained weight and that her complexion was improved. In an October 2010 interview, Ms. Winehouse said she had been drug-free for three years, saying "I literally woke up one day and was like, 'I don’t want to do this anymore.'” Unfortunately, while she had - apparently - kicked hard drugs, she was still drinking. Heavily. Ms. Winehouse entered the Priory Clinic on 25 May 2011, where she stayed for one week. She was there for an assessment, and wasn't required to stick around. 

Pity, that. Of course, if an addict doesn't WANT to get sober and straight, no power on earth is going to force said addict to stay in treatment. Ultimately, it's the addict's choice: get clean, stay clean or die. 

She also was being treated at the time of her death for early-stage emphysema, which her father claimed was cause by both her chain-smoking of cigarettes and her crack cocaine smoking. British Lung Foundation spokesman Keith Prowse noted this type of condition could be managed with treatment. Prowse also said the condition was not normal for a person her age but "heavy smoking and inhaling other substances like drugs can age the lungs prematurely". By 2008, her continued drug problems threatened her career. Even as Nick Gatfield, the president of Island Records, toyed with the idea of releasing Ms. Winehouse "to deal with her problems", he remarked on her talent, saying, "It’s a reflection of her status [in the U.S.] that when you flick through the TV coverage [of the Grammys] it’s her image they use."

British singer and songwriter Lily Allen was quoted in a Scottish newspaper as saying: “I know Amy Winehouse very well. And she is very different to what people portray her as being. Yes, she does get out of her mind on drugs sometimes, but she is also a very clever, intelligent, witty, funny person who can hold it together. You just don't see that side.”

At 3:54 pm BST on 23 July 2011, two ambulances were called to Ms. Winehouse's home in Camden, London. Ms. Winehouse was pronounced dead at the scene. The clever, witty and intelligent person that Ms. Allen remembers so fondly died. The drugs that she loved beyond all reason killed her. In the end, like all addicts that refuse to take responsibility for their own addiction and work HARD to correct the problems, she killed herself. What a real pity, and a real tragedy, that so talented a woman would make such fundamentally bad choices - and die of them.

She was a victim of herself, not anybody or anything else.

1 comment:

  1. The entire thing was a tragedy. I surely hate that she couldn't or wouldn't even make an attempt to save herself.