Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tears dry on their own or: Amy, Amy, Amy

Since i was on my way to the Bay Area when the Amy Winehouse news hit, i didn't have a chance to write anything about it until now. Sorry it's not more timely.

I don't pretend to have the same embedded, in-the-shit experience with addiction that Amy Winehouse did, but i have some. While thankfully not an addict myself, i've spent the bulk of my life around addicts in various stages of use and recovery, from family members to former girlfriends. It was with the empathy gained from a lifetime of relationships that i mourned Winehouse's passing when the news hit on July 23. Was it a surprising death? No, but that doesn't make it any less sad.

Of course, the running joke with Winehouse's death was "she should have gone to rehab," which, ha ha, douchebags--she did, several times. While most of that sentiment probably shouldn't be read into as any more than cynical celebrity snark, i can't help but observe it as evidence of how little people really know about addiction. While treatable, it's naive to think of it as curable. Even those who are able to get past their substance abuse know--the addiction stays, and they're changed forever as a result.

A common mistake happens when the drug gets blamed for the addiction, when in fact, something in the addict's life generally is what pushed them toward a need for some sort of chemical release. That misdirection is the fate of so many recovering addicts, who often transfer their addiction to something else (food, other drugs, caffeine & cigarette...even recovery programs like AA can be addictive) instead of combating the reasons they became addicted in the first place. After all, it's easier to blame a faceless substance than it is yourself.

I've spent most of my life learning another important lesson about addiction--it affects and changes those closest to the addict as well. In fact, a large percentage of addicts come from families with an addictive history. So far, i've avoided giving over control of my life to a chemical, but i've only recently begun to recover from my addiction to, well, addicts. As a codependent, my relationships for a long time were dominated by girls who i arrogantly assumed needed my "help" as much as my family needed the oldest kids to compensate for the parent hanging out at the bar from quitting time to closing time. From letting one move in with me to "save" her from her parents, to constantly trying to convince another that her selfish, dramatic behavior was the thing keeping us from a successful relationship, it was a trap i continually, eagerly fell into--finding personal value through subjugating my emotional needs to the far needier requirements of others.

Eventually, the patterns of behavior became so apparent that i finally was able to break the cycle, biding my time and finding a relationship that doesn't come with the emotional imbalance of power that accompanies addict/codependent relationships. But i would never pretend that i'm "cured" of my behaviors; on the contrary, i find myself occasionally putting myself on guard, bracing myself during situations that would have escalated into emotional rollercoasters with former girlfriends, only to be reminded when the ride doesn't leave the station that--oh yeah--my lady doesn't make mountains out of molehills. It's pretty awesome, but i fully recognize that it was my past struggles with codependency that led me to this point, where i can appreciate and enjoy a stable, awesome relationship. I wouldn't change anything i went through; it's gifted me with unique experiences and loads of fuel for my art.

I don't pretend that my experiences with substance addiction (and just as often, the addictive personality type, regardless of the presence of actual drugs) is anything like that of, say, Amy Winehouse or another member of the 27 club. Of course not. But as i think about my own history, and how in its own, strange way, it was a gift, i'm offered some cold comfort as i reflect upon the death of a magnificently talented siren cursed with unconquerable demons. It is the same tortured, addictive soul that crafted the classic Back to Black that also indirectly killed herself, just like how the man who wrote "I Hate Myself and Want to Die" eventually managed to fulfill his wish.

It's a question i often ask myself, knowing that there is a certain breed of artist that, for better or worse, is transcendent not only despite their imbalances, but also because of them. If Amy's demons were the tameable kind, would we have borne witness to such a fascinating single as the nakedly autobiographic, infectious "Rehab?" Had Kurt Cobain been a more well-balanced individual with less of a need to self-medicate with heroin, would we have the unrelenting, largely uncompromising In Utero?

These are hypotheticals, of course, because we know how these stories ended--the same demons that inspired these brilliant works also, in the end, claimed their artists' lives.

If i knew any of these people personally, i obviously know what my response would be to a jerk pointing all of this out: if i had to choose between "Rehab" existing and my friend being alive, well, it wouldn't be much of a choice. But as a fan, saddened by the twists taken in the tales of these people's lives, bummed because Back to Black will now live on in the context of a harbinger, not as a prelude to redemption? The knowledge that there was nothing that could be done, that this is how the story had to end...there's an acceptance in there somewhere.

Amy, Amy, Amy...i'm sorry you could never tame your dragon, and i'm sorry that you could never find peace in living. I'm sorry that your recorded output will be remembered as the genius of a life that was destined to burn out instead of burn long. But i thank you for it just the same. And while you're no longer with us, know that through your music, you live forever, while many less tortured souls will fade into history. There's something to be said for that, i suppose.

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