Even before the siren-voiced Amy died, the word "addiction" was scratched onto the yellow pad where I jot ideas for things I want to write about. This past couple of weeks, I've chosen other ideas on the list, stepping away from the topic of addiction the way I might if I came upon some poor soul, dirty and bleary-eyed, slouched on the corner of Wilcox and Sunset. Addiction scares me. The mumbling denizens of rough streets evoke a cocktail of sympathy, fear, and revulsion--and the addictive behaviors (notice how I've added the word "behavior") I see in myself and friends and family scare me just as much.
"I detest an unmitigated drunk," I said the other day, ranting to my daughter about someone I had recently been at a party with. She insisted that drunks can be a lot of fun if they're happy drunks. As a mother of two twenty-something daughters, I worry about that street corner where a wild good time and addiction intersect. Do we really kmow when we've turned the corner, or do we delude ourselves the way I do in the dressing-room before I come home with some hideous-on-me trendy thing that I can't wait to return? Unless the video goes up on YouTube, we can't see ourselves, and maybe even then the infatuation with our fleeting fame blurs our judgement.
Maybe this is a good place to mention how much I like to drink. I loved the sensation of the room spinning the first time I tried booze with my friend Gwen in the 8th grade. That filched bottle of bourbon paved the way to sloe gin and cornfields and boyfriends by high school. I wasn't an excessively awkward teen-ager. I could have had fun without drinking, but drinking was what my friends did when we thought we could get away with it. Spared by an anti-social phase and a spartan budget, I hardly drank at all the first couple years of college. But as my entry into the "real world," with all of its problems, layered itself on top of my own personal woes, cheap wine was balm in a bottle. In my twenties in Los Angeles doing theater was an endless party, and I just might have been that happy drunk. During the lonely years of my marriage, I often sat in the twilight on my patio drinking alone. Divorce brought on the really big drinking. I'd confess to you the details of my blackout on an airplane, but I don't remember it. All that said, I don't think I'm really at risk for addiction, because whenever I sense that I am about to physically harm myself, I turn things around.
The people I know and love who are addicts don't seem to have that fear of destruction. My mom, whom I love very much, is addicted to cigarettes; and cancer and two lung re-sections have not deterred her. She's tried the patch, the gum, hypnotism, the graduated filters, and god knows what else. I'm pretty sure if eight days on a ventilator lying at death's door can't make her stop smoking, those more benign methods of quitting don't have a prayer. Maybe Amy Winehouse didn't have a prayer either. She had a voice that Odysseus would have pitched himself, mast and all, into the sea for. She had parents who loved her, and more adoring fans than any of us will ever have, but she couldn't quit--or perhaps, more accurately put, did not survive long enough to get to the point where she might have found the strength to quit.
Addicts do quit. I have a couple of friends who have been clean and sober for years. They stood at that chasm and looked down for a long time and even returned to the brink more than once. While their stories make me weep, I don't pretend to understand how they turned themselves around. And I don't think any of us not addicted should pretend to understand what the pull of the hideous gravity of addiction is like. Doctors and scientists don't understand it, yet in the political arena all sorts of high horses are trotted out while conservatives (and some liberals) take pot shots at these "self-inflicted" sicknesses, moaning about tax dollars and social programs.
Tax me, Mr. Taxman. It's too late to save my mother, and even the National Health and a pharmacist parent couldn't save Amy Winehouse, but in the good old USA where we defend the right to do everything to excess, let's put some funding into understanding and curing addiction. Yes, there are worthier causes, but maybe a truly enlightened society should be a place where even the unworthy are tended to. And who knows, maybe it's not money we need after all; maybe it's just compassion, or understanding, or humility, or courage. But whatever it is, let's find it. Let's find 27 things and let the number 27 become a salvation instead of death knell before another family loses a beloved and talented daughter.