My husband, Mike woke me up at night to tell me the tragic news. The last time he woke me up was for the sudden death of Princess Diana. My world of glamourous celebrities is not of much interest to my earthy, fishing boat captain husband, however these two ladies had obviously touched his heart.
I had mentioned to Mike that I had designed dresses for Whitney, as I had previously dressed her mom, Cissy Houston. Cissy and I had met in a dressing room in a posh shop in New Jersey; in the custom couture department. I was making her gown for the 1993 Grammy's. Whitney was to appear, and Cissy was to sit with her at the row, as was Dionne Warwick, Whitney's aunt.
As it always happens, my nearly nude client in the dressing room unravels as I measure her and the sad details of her daughter emerge. The sorrows and joys that encompass the events of my customers always emerge and suddenly, I am listening to the story of Whitney's derailment with her new lover, Bobby Brown; a hopeless coke addict. Her mother was totally against him, but could do nothing to convince her hardheaded daughter to leave him, she was used to always having her way.
I had my own story of hope to warm the heart of Cissy. I too, had been drinking too much French Champagne, overdoing pills and pot, and had a two years of sobriety at that point. Cissy asked me how I stopped and I told her the story I tell everyone.
After a year of raising my hand at AA meetings to declare my sobriety, I met some fellow addicts downstairs after a Paris AA meeting and invited them back to my apartment on the Seine to smoke some good California pot. They immediately informed me they would not join me, and urged me to go to the "other" meeting; the NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meeting, as I was clearly in denial. Drugs counted, and I had to stop raising my hand that I was sober.
The following week I went to my first New York NA meeting at St. Vincent's hospital, with over 100 people in attendance. There, a young, very large, athletic looking, man spoke on stage and said his mother was responsible for his sobriety. He owed his life to her. After the meeting I walked over to him and asked him what his mother did, thinking I will follow her lead. He simply replied, "She prayed to God."
There is much said about addiction being a disease. That is true. We have choices in life, towards happiness or towards misery. Our sense of self gets in the way, our sense of power gets in the way. We want to be in control -- especially the beautiful, the famous, the celebrated, and the stars. They remember when they weren't famous, they need proof of their power every second of every minute.
To be rid of any addiction from drugs to sex to gambling one has to turn power over and pray. Sadly, people who can't pray, who can't turn it over to any "higher power," have a rough go of it. It doesn't generally work. The disease part stays and becomes another addiction, often an addiction to meetings! Happiness and the peace it brings is not achieved.
Whitney a few years later became my client. I dressed her just before she stopped touring. She was my favorite female singer. Her stylist told me the floor-length, skin-tight, mummy jersey dresses I made for her in many colors had to have long sleeves to cover her arms; to hide "you know what." May she now rest in peace with the higher power she couldn't find in life.
Vicky Tiel began designing clothes 40 years ago in Paris and still owns a boutique there. Her couture dresses are available in Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, and her perfumes are carried in Perfumania. Her memoir, "It's All About the Dress: What I Learned in 40 Years About Men, Women, Sex, and Fashion" was published by St. Martin's Press in August 2011.