Present Tense

Newsflash: Booze and drugs can kill you

Amy Winehouse is dead.  She was 27.  If you aren’t familiar with her, she was a British singer; I’d call her a ‘pop singer’, but it really doesn’t fit.  She was a soul singer, with a little jazz and a little pop tossed in. In this era of over-produced, shallow, synthetic pop that passes for music, she was unusual. thanks to the rawness of her voice and her performances.

Unfortunately, she was probably more famous for her messy, boozy, drug-addled personal life than for her singing career, particularly in the U.S.  So, when news of her death broke, the common reaction was, “that’s sad, but not surprising”.  A lot of people wonder why nobody helped her; why she was allowed to kill herself with booze and drugs, why she didn’t seek help or see that she was harming herself.

I’ll tell you why.  Alcoholics and addicts can rarely help themselves without strong intervention.  I know.  I’m an alcoholic and if it weren’t for various friends, family members and courts, I’d be as dead as Amy Winehouse.   I’m shocked and thankful that I survived my 20s and that I’m as physically healthy as I am, at 51.  However, I’ve had several relapses, as have most addicts and it’s a faster descent and it’s worse than the last time.

When you’re in the grip of an addiction, the only thing that you can focus on is your next drink/fix.  If you allow yourself to sober up for a few hours, you are counting the seconds until you can slip back into the loving arms of your drug of choice.  People who’ve never battled addiction see it as a character flaw or selfishness or weakness and although I believe those things might be components of an addictive personality, the physical craving and need for the drug is a far stronger urge.  Imagine that you can barely breathe and how panicky that feeling is.   You know that once you can take a deep breath, that feeling will go away.  That’s how addicts feel all of the time, even when they’re high.

The problem with addiction is that you lose all sense of clarity; you want to stop, but you can’t.  You think you’re functioning normally, but you’re not.  You lie, you sneak, you justify, you say you’re fine and you can handle your booze/drugs.  You get to the point where you know that you’re letting down the people who love you and depend on you, so you start to think that maybe it would be easier to die.  You’re so broken, that you can’t be fixed; it’s too hard.  Dying is easier.  Addiction makes you that selfish.

So, I won’t be laughing or joking about Amy Winehouse’s death.  I understand.  I empathize and I wish that she had someone who she either trusted or feared enough to allow them to help her.  I’m sure her family thought they did everything they could and maybe they did.  Here is what I want to leave you with.  If you know someone who is struggling with alcohol or drugs, step in.  Talk to them.  The most effective thing you can do is call them out.  Make it clear to them that you know they have a problem and that you will keep an eye on them.

You must hold them accountable for their actions, even though they’re in the grip of the drug.  Don’t think they’ll outgrow it or that it’s just a phase; it’ll only get worse without some sort of intervention.  For me, it was the very real possibility of the end of my marriage that motivated me to get help, most recently.  In the past, my career was in grave danger.  You’re never cured and you can’t ever forget that.

Drunks and addicts aren’t funny or romantic; they’re sick and scared.  And there are a lot of us.

July 24, 2011 Posted by | Musings | 22 Comments


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