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


  1. Bravo. Wise, wise words. Thanks for posting..

    Comment by Francesca Amari, Cabaret singer | July 24, 2011 | Reply

  2. Incredibly well written, Jane. I am not an addict or a drunk, but I have had been involved in the lives of those who struggle, who fail, and who survive. It is so extremely difficult for me to wrap my mind around what they’re thinking. But I’ve learned it’s best to not. It’s better to apply your logical thinking, especially if you want what is best for them.

    Comment by Sarah R | July 24, 2011 | Reply

  3. me more positive insight as to steps I need to make in my own life, Jane…I am almost 51 and finding myself with quite the same stumbling blocks…thanks for the mental “coffee”…your blog gives me reason to think about my big picture…

    Comment by Marcia Bischof | July 24, 2011 | Reply

  4. I really liked your way of talking about addiction-my daughter is an addict-it never goes away-We sent her to a facility after intervention and her finally coming to terms with it-however, again, it still haunts her because of what the drugs did to her mind.
    I know the effects of it on families as well-In my family it’s mostley alchol that goes way back before there was talk of alcholics. I didn’t take that path, however I do like to eat!! Thank God for Weight Watchers!!

    Comment by debbie plmb | July 24, 2011 | Reply

  5. Very well written, and thought provoking. Thank you for sharing your story, and lending insight into what a horrible disease addiction is.

    Comment by Rosemary Gentry | July 24, 2011 | Reply

  6. Just being addicted to cigarettes is bad enough, can’t imagine how tough it would be to have drug/alcohol addiction; thanks for your thoughts, Jane

    Comment by Imasink | July 25, 2011 | Reply

  7. I could not agree more Jane. The problem is that people who have not struggled with addiction do not understand the power of the disease. Like you said, it is viewed as a moral deficiency which is such a destructive attidtude. Thank you so much!!

    Comment by Shelly | July 25, 2011 | Reply

  8. This is beautifully written Jane. You are brave to tell your own story. The strength it takes to have survived it is immense. The second of my exes is dying now. Tragedy surrounds the disease. To vilify alcoholics only sends them deeper into the abyss. I am so proud of you and I treasure your contribution and gifts through your life. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Comment by Margie | July 25, 2011 | Reply

  9. Good article – you have learned a lot of hard lessons in life!!! I think your next career should be a therapist!!!

    Comment by Marsha | July 25, 2011 | Reply

  10. Jane, thank you for your brutal honesty. I’ve always appreciated your radio persona’s honesty, but now have the utmost respect for the “real” Jane.

    Comment by Christina | July 25, 2011 | Reply

  11. Thank you for taking the time to remind us all that there is true tragedy behind the tragedy in the tabloids. Walking forward can be hard.

    Comment by The Malia Way | July 25, 2011 | Reply

  12. Jane, thank you so much for your very candid and personal story. Can you shed any light on whether a person at the brink will look at Amy Winehouse’s death and say, “ok, it’s time to stop; this can happen to me”? In your life, did you ever look at, for example, Janis Joplin’s life and death, and think, “that could happen to me.”

    Comment by Leona | July 25, 2011 | Reply

    • Well, Janis Joplin died when I was 10, so that meant nothing to me. And no, I NEVER gave it a thought when someone in the public eye died of drugs or alcohol. Those people are too far removed from one’s life. Addicts are selfish and so in my experience, it takes something much more close and personal to get our attention. Everyone is different and in some cases, maybe they want to die. As I said in the piece, it can seem to be an easier solution.

      Comment by janelondon | July 25, 2011 | Reply

  13. Thank you, again, Jane for your most valuable insight. I figured you were very young when Janis Joplin died but thought that her lifestyle might have had some impact just as I thought that perhaps someone today might look back on “famous” people like Jimi Hendrix, John Belushi or Jim Morrison and think twice before getting into drugs or alcohol. But you’ve cleared us that misconception on my part.

    My husband and I have worked in the area of child abuse and neglect for over 20 years and about 70% of all cases filed involve drugs and alcohol. I understand everyone is different but your comments will certainly help us when working in this area of law and, particularly my husband, when he’s dealing with his clients on a one-on-one basis.

    On a little different note, if you don’t mind, what’s your feeling about legalization of marijuana and/or medical marijuana. I really can’t see any good coming from any of this.

    Comment by Leona | July 25, 2011 | Reply

    • My viewpoint on the marijuana legalization is evolving. I’m at a point where I’m leaning toward pragmatism. In my experience, there has never been a time when obtaining pot took anything more than a well-placed phone call. Human nature tends toward intoxicants of some sort or another. The money and lives lost in the “drug war” might be better spent on treatment. I really believe that the genie is out of the bottle, with pot in particular. Legalizing and taxing can’t be any worse than the current wink and nod policy, that is enriching drug gangs. I’m becoming more and more libertarian, the older I get!

      Comment by janelondon | July 25, 2011 | Reply

  14. Again, thanks, Jane, for your thoughts on this subject.

    Comment by Leona | July 25, 2011 | Reply

  15. Thanks Jane! I too am alcoholic and was fortunate enough to get into treatment before I ended up as sooo many do….all alone and desperate and evenetually dead. As you are probably familiar with, alcoholism is referred to as “the long, slow, suicide” and I think that nails it well.

    The stigmatism still assoicated with it is still so prevalent and perhaps that will never change. The best thing I can do for those who still suffer is stay sober. I may get to be of service to them someday. Thanks for your honesty. Your story has most likely helped many today. I was in fact screwing around my house this morning and considering blowing off a women’s meeting I attend when I read your blog. I smiled inwardly and got my butt in the car!

    p.s. if you have never head of Phoenix Multi-Sport check them out. They sponsor hiking, biking, mountaineering events, etc….for those in recovery. They have two gyms, yoga instructors, etc….They do it at no charge, surviving on donations and benefactors. They were started in Boulder and are truly an awesome organization to be involved with. Just google their name and you’ll find their website if you’re interested.

    Thanks for the forum and take care.


    Comment by Kristyn Winn | July 25, 2011 | Reply

    • Krystyn,
      Thanks for the comment and for the info on the organization. On an unrelated note, my mother’s maiden name is Winn; we’re probably related and you know about that genetic component in alcoholism:)


      Comment by janelondon | July 25, 2011 | Reply

  16. jane this is so profound!! I do not share much with anyone but I can not express the appreciation for this particular post. You are an amazing woman to me. Thank you for posting this it is fantastic!!

    Comment by Marge Beem | July 25, 2011 | Reply

    • Thanks Marge! That means a lot to me.

      Comment by janelondon | July 26, 2011 | Reply

  17. Hi Jane,

    Winn is actually my married name. Fortunately for my husband he is a total civilian when it comes to an addiction. He has zero. I have heard you speak about your maiden name on the show before during a discussion on geneology. Was it perhaps a niece of yours that was tracing your family tree? I remember the discussion becuase of the last name tie. I actually have an Aunt that is helping me plod the Winn history as my husband has very little family left and there really isn’t anyone else to do it. I will pass along anything that might be of interest as we go along.


    Comment by Kristyn Winn | July 26, 2011 | Reply

  18. You are so very honest. Thankyou, we need so much more of that instead of this pc crap

    Comment by audrey klein | October 5, 2011 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: