Amy Winehouse had a problem. So does the rest of America. Watching the Facebook updates roll in, at first I was unsure of how I felt. The shock, the snark, the '27 club' and the sadness had a place on my wall but not within my heart. Within those walls I was angry. Not because the world had lost another one before her time -- it's no surprise when an alcoholic/addict succumbs to the beast of addiction -- but because of the collective denial and lack of responsibility we're not addressing. I've buried a husband, a brother and lost the father of my sons to it, been in the eye of the storm and dealt with the wreckage and I know that addiction kills more Americans every year than heart disease and cancer combined. It wrecks more marriages, abandons and abuses more children and is a greater threat to our pursuit of happiness than any other force in our modern lives. It is our dirty little secret, our national cancer, a dis-ease of our heart.
We are a nation of addicts, constantly craving a myriad of dangerous substances and ideologies. drugs and alcohol are only the first round. Power, porn, food, cigarettes and spending; our children are Xbox addicts, sugar addicts, YouTube addicts. Obesity is at an all-time high, we're in debt, senators walk out of negotiating a crisis, Congressmen tweet their Weiners, and the deficit is... oy! We need some major rehab!
Addiction is so rampant we don't even notice it, fail to see it for what it is, or deny the existence of a problem. It takes a great deal of humility to sober up and face this messy world, and we need to do just that. Most of what we choose to understand about the subject (unless you are engaged in it) we've learned watching train wrecks on Celebrity Rehab. You wouldn't believe how many naïve questions I got from people who didn't understand why my husband would "do a thing like that," as if it was a rational choice. Friends who are only beginning their dance with this devil are clueless about the scope of this disease, their part in it and how much bigger it is than any of the dancers on the dysfunctional ballroom floor. In living rooms and bar rooms across our country, at every level of society, we see the manifestation of a great spiritual break. More than just "pray it away", we need some introspection and the resulting increase in awareness. Here's what I suggest:
• Stop pointing the finger at poor-talented-destined-to-die-young-Amys of the world and take a deep, hard look within. That is your daughter, your neighbor's son, your sister's husband or maybe you. Extend empathy and seek to understand.
• Get honest and cop to your own demon drives. Whether it's sneaking the cigarette or controlling the idiots on the PTA, you've probably got those cooties too.
• Take a look at our true connectedness and our disconnectedness. Don't you wonder why we find it more exciting to search our computers for naked co-eds than to search for connection between those we've chosen?
• Learn how to just be. There is an existential emptiness we feel as human beings; not knowing who we are, why we're here or from whence we came. We fear it like a black hole and grasp at ideological certainties like a crack pipe. This is the natural state of what it feels like to be human, it doesn't need to be filled. Loading up at the drive thru, popping a cork, or jamming a needle in a vein or a straw in our nose will not make it go away. It hasn't gone away for a millennium, so perhaps like the mosquito it's just supposed to be here.
And about the loss of one so talented... Does the fact that Amy Winehouse was stunningly gifted make her death any sadder than the brothers and sisters in similar struggle who come to similar ends, leaving grieving husbands, wives and children? Most of the alcoholics I've known have been talented, vibrant, interesting people whose fire is/was greater than they could contain. How many were put in time out for being different? It gets lonely in that corner with your nose to the wall. A paradigm shift must occur in the way we see our artists, creatives and visionaries, for they are the ones who lead us forward. Perpetuating the starving artist archetype, we persist in the "suffering for art" mentality. Artists buy into it. Disregarded as having no monetary value, we often expect little more from the artistic life than living from our passions and the freedom to create. The 9-to-5 "real world" blames them for being dreamers, unable to make a living, projecting 'flaky-artsy-fartsy" labels on us and we upon ourselves. Until we value the creative personality as a fire-breathing innovator who deserves to be honored rather than shunned, these problems will live with us, landing our best and brightest on street corners with a cardboard sign.
Those who do make a living, from the layman's view, are the ones who've made it over the top. Perhaps their art is more deserving, or their market value is a higher commodity: over indulgent rock stars, rap stars, movie stars and lonely writers who make bank garner our contempt as we glut ourselves on their tabloid exploits. "They have everything, why would they screw it up?" we tsk as we plop down our Sugar Smacks on the rubber belt and feeding our own emptiness.
In her song "Rehab," the line that hits my ear is 'Cause there's nothing, there's nothing you can teach me that I can't learn from Mr. Hathaway,' a lesson Ms Amy did not learn. Perhaps there is something we can learn now as we remember the brilliant Miss Winehouse. Rather than looking forward to the next falling star, let's take a moment to look within ourselves for some deeper acceptance of others. The souls they've brought into this realm may be burning bright or burning out and we may hold the seeds of this same tragedy within our hearts and our homes. So let's cut the snark and begin to heal ourselves. Thank you for the gifts you gave us Amy Winehouse, I hope you took some with you as well.