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Monday, July 25, 2011

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse
What's more surprising to me than the death, at age 27, of Amy Winehouse, is the judgmental, even harsh denouncement of her life.

Many were surprised to learn that, according to news reports today, her autopsy immediately failed to establish a cause of death. The London Metropolitan Police said Monday that further toxicology tests are needed and the results are expected in two to four weeks.

Police have said her death is being treated as "unexplained" but not suspicious, and have said speculation that she might have suffered an overdose was inappropriate.

"Inappropriate" for the police to say publicly, perhaps, but I think we can pretty safely assume that her death was "drug-related" - in some way.

Her addictions to drugs and alcohol have been played out on the public stage for years now. She even immortalized her struggles in her song, "Rehab" which contained the lyric, "They tried to make me go to rehab but I said 'no, no, no'."
I ain't got the time and if my daddy thinks I'm fine
He's tried to make me go to rehab but I won't go go go

I'd rather be at home with ray
I ain't got seventy days
Cause there's nothing
There's nothing you can teach me
That I can't learn from Mr Hathaway

I didn't get a lot in class
But I know it don't come in a shot glass

They tried to make me go to rehab but I said 'no, no, no'
The references to "Ray" and "Mr. Hathaway" are Ray Charles and Donny Hathaway, both of whom influenced her music.

Her song makes it painfully clear: she knows what she's doing. She's drinking and using drugs to ease the pain of whatever it is she's feeling and doesn't intend to stop.

Which makes some people - especially those in recovering from addiction or those who are affected by or live with people with an addiction - C.R.A.Z.Y.

I am stunned by the anger and the high-handed moralizing and harsh judgment being pronounced on her, post mortem. It is ugly and painful to read.

I understand. Watching someone with an addiction - especially those who refuse to get help ("No, No, No.") - is maddening. There's no reasoning with them. They can't listen to or hear reason. All they can think of is getting their next high so they won't feel the pain anymore.
I don't ever wanna drink again
I just ooh I just need a friend
I'm not gonna spend ten weeks
have everyone think I'm on the mend

It's not just my pride
It's just 'til these tears have dried

They tried to make me go to rehab but I said 'no, no, no'
Yes I've been black but when I come back you'll know know know
I ain't got the time and if my daddy thinks I'm fine
He's tried to make me go to rehab but I won't go go go
I won't romanticize the destruction addiction does to the addict and his/her family by talking about the "tortured soul" of a "struggling artist".

Yes, I know all about Jimmy Hendrix and Janice Joplin. Got it on River Phoenix and Michael Jackson.

Grunge-rocker Kurt Cobain? Actor Richard Burton? Singer Judy Garland? Actress Marilyn Monroe?

Check, check, check and CHECK.

Yes, and I know that Sigmund Freud died of a physician-assisted morphine overdose.

I understand about the connection between art and brilliance and addiction and "accidental" or intended suicide. No, wait. That's not true. I don't understand it. I only understand that it exists.

I just want to say to all my friends in recovery - and all those who are family and friends of those whose lives have been deeply troubled and rendered chaotic by addiction - I understand your anger and rage. I even understand your need to harshly judge.

God know, my own life has been touched by addiction in violent and destructive ways.

That being said, it is important to remember that addiction is a disease. Like diabetes or cancer. There is some evidence that there are genetic predispositions. Other researches show a link between depression and bipolar disorder and addiction.

We don't judge people for those illnesses - even those who don't manage their diabetes or decline surgery or treatment for cancer.

Addiction is not a moral deficiency. Neither is it a romantic idea about artistic brilliance.

It's a disease.

It's not illegal to drink alcohol or take or smoke or snort drugs. It's illegal to sell them or to have them on your person. It's not illegal to have them IN your person - unless you are a danger to yourself or others while intoxicated or high.

It's a disease.

Addicts need help. They don't always get it or appreciate it when someone convinces them to say "yes" to Rehab because the truth is that Rehab, besides not always being effective, doesn't take away the pain. Rehab helps you to live with your pain and find other, more healthy ways to deal with your pain.

Some people, like Amy Winehouse, are as addicted to the "pain - relief - pain" cycle as they are to their drug of choice. For artists, it can become the double-edged source of their creativity and artistry, making the prognosis for full recovery even more remote.

In any event, the sad, tragic fact remains: Amy Jade Winehouse is dead. She was 27 years old. She was a brilliant vocalist and songwriter. She won five Grammy awards, tying the record for the most Grammys by a female artist in a single night. She was also the first British singer to have won that many Grammys.

She accomplished a great deal and entertained millions in her short time on this earth. That's more than many people can say about their own lives.

Does such a waste of talent and life make me angry? Yes, yes of course it does. But it does no good to turn that anger into judgement - not for Amy Winehouse or for me.

As my anger abates, I may be able to feel pity, which can lead to empathy - a good thing. When its source is anger, however - especially over something I can't control - pity is a sorrow that can have a slightly contemptuous edge.

It is dehumanizing, witnessed by the fact that I hear myself saying, "Oh, poor thing!" Wait! Did I just say, 'poor thing'? Why yes, yes, in fact, I did.

I have discovered that that kind of pity is not good for my soul.

When I can channel that angry energy into compassion, I am able to see the bigger picture. I am humbled to explore my own failings and shortcomings and work on them. In my vulnerability, I can be more empathic and more emotionally available.

Most importantly, I stop my "savior behavior", thinking I can save the world - or this person or that situation - or sit in judgment of others. Instead, I can learn to love more deeply. Unconditionally. The way God loves us and Jesus wants us to love others.

Judgment makes you feel righteous and good (or better) about yourself.

Compassion, however, makes you a better person.

May the death of Amy Jade Winehouse bring us all to a greater sense of understanding, empathy and compassion for all who suffer in any way - even those who seem to bring it on themselves - helping us to let go of anger and judgment over what we can't control and better able to bring more love into a world broken and made dark by suffering.

Understanding. Empathy. Compassion. Love.

God knows, the world is in short supply of all four.

Rest in peace, Amy. Your music will live on, even though you couldn't.


RENZ said...

I have also read that she was bi-polar and refusing treatment so she was essentially self medicating with other substances. I am a representative payee for a schizophrenic gal who us currently refusing her medication. Independent adults have the right to make their own choices, even bad choices. As a nurse I've had to explain that to family members.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

In talking with folks who are medicated for schizophrenia, they tell me that the meds make them feel them like they're walking through fog. I can understand why they would not want to take them. For goodness sake, we can put a man on the moon, we can't find medication for people with mental illness that helps to make them feel more normal?

I understand. I don't like it one bit, but I understand.

Thanks for your work and your ministry, renz. I'm sure you make Jesus smile.

walter said...

I believe, Elizabeth, that the moral failure’ model is inappropriate when trying to understand and receive keen awareness of depression, bipolar disorder and chemical addiction. I am also very prudent when using the disease model. The last approach in community psychiatry in the States support the bio-psycho-social model; a combination of genetic predisposition, psychic conflicts and social stressors. Since the days I worked in community psychiatry I have grown even though then as well I believed in intensive psychotherapy and some medication support to build ego strengths. These days I cannot do without the religious contribution of existential analysis and the spiritual-psychological concept and experience of the transcendent You. That is why I believe that that powerful distinction in this case is the Transcendent You and the Resurrection of the Legacy. 143

Walter Vitale

Red said...

great piece. It is incredibly sad about Amy winehouse.A sit is with anyoine suffering additcion. I ahve someone close to me who has suffered for years with an addiction and it is so heart breaking to watch, but ultimately until the addict wants, or is able, to begin the healing process, rehab is futile. I have learned the hard way, that I need to be the support, be there when needed and to hand-hold. Trying to convince someone to get help or offering advice is usually pointless. But I have hope, until the end.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I once asked someone why she drank and she said "Because I like the taste and the way it makes me feel."
It's not an illness; you can't cure it with a "higher power". You drink until you decide you don't want to drink anymore.
Now cigarettes, on the other hand, do something terrible. I've seen lung cancer patients one week away from their own funerals, with oxygen masks on, try to sneak a few puffs. Truly pitiful to watch.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous - I'm printing your comment only because it gives me an opportunity to say something I want you to hear. I will not print your response unless you identify yourself.

Addicts often tell you want they want you to hear - or, what they want to believe.

It's a disease. Once you take those arrogant blinders from your eyes and get off that high horse and take a closer look at the human being in front of you, you'll be able to see that.

Matthew said...

I love your approach. My father was an alcoholic -- and he died of it. His death certificate under cause of death read, "cirrhosis of the liver." Most people in recovery are not judgmental however I occasionally run into someone from AA that rubs me the wrong way because they come across as judgmental and self righteous because they got clean and sober and look down on those that haven't. I also have a hard time with those that are judgmental towards me because in truth I was an enabler for many years because I did not know it was a disease or if I "knew" it I only knew it intellectually and did not know how it should transform my behavior. By the time i got it it, it was too late.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew, my father never identified himself as an alcoholic but "quit cold turkey" the same day he stopped smoking. He never sought help, never went to an AA meeting. His attitude was "no drink, no problem." Unfortunately, not only was he a "dry drunk" most of the damage had already been done.

I sat in judgment of him for a long, long time. For years, I was content to believe that, when I got to heaven, part of the joy would be knowing that he wouldn't be there. Once I learned that everyone - even my father - gets to heaven, I had to do some serious work on forgiveness and realized my own "addiction" to needing him to be the bad guy.

It's taken a lot of work, but, having been blinded by arrogance and now healed from that, I see my father's humanity. Now my joy is that I will be able to see him whole and happy and healthy in heaven.

try compassion said...

Frequently I hear radio talk show host and television commentators equate drug and alcohol dependency with evil and opening up ones self to the darker energies. Their ignorance is frustrating. Shouldn't the word disease shed some light on the subject. Wouldn't all disease be affected by the same. God bless Amy. Her music is heaven to me.

Anonymous said...

For the life of me I cannot understand why Amy Winehouse has left such a huge hole in my heart. I am actually grieving her death. I have studied her life and troubles after she died and became too involved. But even this is strange. I've studied other performers before with no effect.
God rest you, sweet troubled girl!
You've left your mark on this world and my heart.

Anonymous said...

Never have read a post that shows so much emotion. I don't know quite what to say. A disease indeed. Destruction, pain, anger, sorrow, chaos - what that Disease creates in it's path. There is no clear answer. I don't believe Rehab's work, let alone Detox's; but with a lot of love and compassion then can it be overcome and the will to get better too. A strong subject, a fantastically written post and Amy Winehouse; of course it was an Overdose, accidental, in my opinion and a huge amount of sorrow to her family. A very powerful post.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for your posts, all of you. I still miss Amy. I heard one of her songs as I was walking through the mall not long ago and it stopped me in my tracks. What an amazing voice. What an amazing talent.

Gone way too soon.

Helen Brooks said...

I hope we can help those with this silent disease. There are many people walking around with this disease and they don't know they have it. So I pray for them .252