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Romanticizing Addiction, Part 2

Yesterday I posted a conversation between two well known news commentators about the addictions which presumably lead to the death of Whitney Houston.

People die every single day. People die as a result of disease, malnutrition, violence and neglect. People die defending their countries. Some people die simply because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Regardless of hows or whys behind their deaths, I don’t imagine the mourning process is any easier for the ones they leave behind. I suppose what’s so unsettling about Houston’s death is that no one was particularly surprised by it. Her death saddened me. I’m know I’m not alone.

But my sadness is not what I’ve been struggling with.

It’s my anger. And perhaps the guilt associated with where that anger lies.

I’ve done the blame game. Her ex-husband is an easy target. Her life seemed to turn south quickly after she began a relationship with Bobby Brown. Maybe he introduced her to addiction, but unless he held her down and forced drugs on her, he’s ultimately not to blame.

I’ve blamed her entourage. Surely they knew the downward spiral she was on. But rather than help her, they enabled her. How could they allow her to destroy herself? But who am I kidding? Celebrities often surround themselves with people whose soul purpose is to accommodate them.

I’ve blamed fame and fortune. Addicted celebrities are a cliche. Fame destroys people.

But ultimately, the responsibility for Whitney Houston’s death lies with Whitney Houston. Whether she did so intentionally or accidentally, she killed herself, robbed the world of arguably one of the purest, most beautiful voices we’ve ever know, and robbed her family of a life spent with them.

My anger is fueled by the knowledge that not only is her daughter without a mother, but the fact that for all intents and purposes, she has been without a mother the majority of her young life. Because while addiction is a horrible disease for the addict, not much is said about the other victims of it–the people they love. I’ve been around enough addicts to understand this undeniable truth: Everything and everyone is secondary to the addiction. When an addict is in the midst of his addiction, nothing else is more important than their fix. Not their kids, not their spouses, parents or friends. They will often justify bad behavior, they will lie, they will manipulate and take advantage of people. Is it any surprise that the vast majority of all reported child abuse and neglect cases are at the hands of a chemically dependent caregiver?

I’m not angry at Whitney Houston specifically. I’m angry at a society that romanticizes addicts as heroic yet helpless victims to their addiction.

I will not be so flippant to say that addicts just need to get their shit together and sober up. I know the addiction is the symptom of other underlying issues and sobriety is a life long, difficult road. But I also refuse to believe that because addiction is a disease, the addict is helpless to do anything about it.

I started smoking when I was 14 or 15 years old. I tried to quit several times, but it wasn’t until I found out I was pregnant with my first child that I gave up tobacco. Because when you come to understand that you’re not only endangering your own life but the life of someone else, you begin to take the damage you’re doing seriously. Quitting smoking was a no-brainer for me. I simply wouldn’t risk the health of my unborn child to feed my addiction. Was it easy? Heck no. Have I slipped since them? Honestly? Yes. The craving may go away for some people, but I’ve never found that to be the case. Even though getting pregnant is no longer in the realm of possibilities for me, being around for as long as I can for my family and setting a good example while I’m here is too important to give in to addiction.

There’s such a thing as personal responsibility and caring more about the people who love you than your own immediate cravings. When all you want to do is give in and numb the pain, remember that numbing your own pain comes at a high price–the pain of the people who love you and that are terrified they’re going to lose you. You’ve got to get honest with yourself, break the cycle of guilt and ask for help before it’s too late.

Whitney Houston didn’t have to die. She embarked on that road years ago. She could have gotten off that road but chose not to. I’m not suggesting it would have been an easy choice, but it is a choice.

Editor’s Note: I apologize if this post seems mean spirited and judgmental. It’s not meant to be. As I said, my anger is not directed specifically at the death of Whitney Houston. I suppose it’s in part the result of attending too many funerals of friends who died as a result of their addictions, and seeing first hand the emotional wasteland their deaths leave behind for those who loved them.

Romanticizing Addiction, Part 1

I’ve thought a lot about the death of Whitney Houston this week. I’ve struggled with it. I want to share more of my thoughts about that in a subsequent post, but before I do that, I wanted to share a portion of an interview I watched this morning. I’m not going to mention who the participants are because we’ve become such a polarized society that I fear if I told you who the two men were, you would make up your mind about the content of the interview and the validity of their arguments based upon your personal feelings about them. Both can be polarizing figures.

Guest: Whitney Houston wanted to kill herself. Nobody takes drugs for that long if they want to stay on the planet. The hard truth is that some people will always want to destroy themselves and there’s nothing society can do about it.

Host: Addiction is a disease. And if you are suffering from a disease you can’t make the choice. You have no choice.

Guest: Well then they don’t believe in free will, and I don’t believe anyone is a slave to addiction. I do believe it’s a disease. It’s a mental disease, but you have free will and you can get through the disease, as millions of people have chosen to do. It’s a lot of free will. You don’t have free will when you get lung cancer. You do have free will when you’re a crack addict. But, it’s very difficult. My point is that there are self destructive people, and that society does not grapple with them. We, the media looked the other way on Whitney Houston. Everyone knew she was a drug addict for decades.

Host: You said in your column, “The media has no bleeping clue how to cover the death of Whitney Houston. That’s because she was slowly dying for years and many in the press simply averted their eyes.” Guest, I have seen dozens of stories over the years detailing the addiction, the erratic behavior, the denial of the addiction on the part of Whitney Houston.

Guest: They were sensationalized to exploit the woman’s condition, not try and help her. When’s the last time you saw a public service announcement from a famous person–a singer, an actor–to the American public to say, “You know, you don’t want to be like Whitney Houston. Don’t be like Elvis. Don’t be like Janis Joplin.” When’s the last time you saw that? They don’t exist. Do you know what we do in the media? We wink-wink it. We Snoop Dog it. We Willie Nelson it. “Hey, oh yeah. They’re stoned. That’s fine.” And what message does that send? “It’s okay.” It’s not okay.

Host: I think it’s apples and oranges you’re comparing. On the one hand, the media did detail her troubles and highlighted it…

Guest: They exploited it.

Host:…but at the same time I would agree that they celebrated her talent and stardom.

Guest: Name me one media commentator outside of myself who said, “Hey Whitney, you’d better knock it off or you’re going to be in the ground.” Name me one.

Host: Maybe people don’t come out and say it like you do because that’s the style of your show, but by covering her behavior, and detailing her actions…

Guest: They exploited her.

Host: …over the years. In a way, that’s shining a very bright light on it.

Guest: If everyone in the show business community had said to Whitney Houston, “Hey. You’re gonna kill yourself…”

Host: But that’s different. Are journalists supposed to be in a position of conducting intervention?

Guest: They’re supposed to be in the business of telling the truth. And the truth is, if you get into hard drugs you can go at any time.

Host: And by showing her behavior over the years, didn’t we shine the light on that?

Guest: No. Because it wasn’t put in any kind of judgemental capacity at all. It was like a sideshow.

Host: (incredulous) Do you think she was cast in a positive light over the past 15 years?

Guest: It wasn’t positive, it was, “Oh look at this. Now she’s going to rehab.” It wasn’t, “Hey Whitney, knock it off.” It wasn’t that. It’s never been that. Ever.

Host: Let’s move on because you and I could argue for hours.

Guest: That’s right. And I’d always be right.

Host: On the subject of the flags flying at half staff in New Jersey on Saturday, the day she’s laid to rest. Governor Christie has called for that. Is that the right idea?

Guest: Yes. I think we should respect the life and talent of Whitney Houston. I said a prayer when I heard she died. This isn’t a personal thing, it’s a preventative thing. And I want society and the media to tell the truth about drug and alcohol addiction. It’s hell. It’s a horror. Let’s stop exploiting it and start explaining it.

So what do you think? Do you think our view of celebrity addiction and addiction in general is flawed?

I’ll post more on this topic tomorrow.