There are all kinds of addicts, I guess. We all have pain. And we look for ways to make the pain go away.
It was the 80s and women singers were HUGE. In those days, my husband and I were raising two teenaged foster daughters and every day after school they would plop themselves down on the couch and watch music videos. Today, music videos seem quaint artifacts of another era. In those days, they were the only show in town. Whitney Houston, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Tina Turner, our girls adored them all.
They were all great performers, but there was something truly special about Whitney Houston. Young and beautiful and shining. When you heard her sing "The Greatest Love," you couldn't help but get tears in your eyes. "Everybody's searching for a hero/people need someone to look up to." Whitney was "someone to look up to," for our daughters. We believed in her and in them too.
The 80s were filled with bright shining moments. Our daughters were fabulous volleyball players and doing well in school. Whitney kept ringing up hits, seemingly just as beautiful year after year. In those days, I believed that our daughters were going to escape the curse of alcoholism that blighted the native community they came from. Sadly, that's not what happened. Both of our daughters are now in their 30s and struggle with alcoholism. Whitney's struggles with substance abuse were newsworthy and her death put substance abuse and addiction in the spotlight (again).
Unlike Whitney, our two girls are still alive. One is a binge drinker who manages to hold her life together just enough to stay alive. She's had more than one wake-up call over the years: a nearly fatal car crash while she was drinking, two stays in the hospital with liver and kidney problems, and other things I don't even know about. Our other daughter is one of those drink-every-day-kind of alcoholics. She hasn't - as far as I know - had any close brushes with death, but she has lost four brothers to alcohol or drug-related causes. I'd like to think that Whitney's death will serve as another kind of wake-up call for both of our daughters. One has already phoned. "Is it true," she asked. "Is Whitney really dead? What happened?" When I told her, she said, "That would never happen to me." If only that were true. Sure, she may never drown or OD in a bathtub in a fancy hotel room. But unless she stops drinking - I doubt she'll live to see 50. I really hated to write that sentence, but I think it's true. Just today, she phoned and told my husband, when he asked how she was, that "I am going to keep on drinking." (Photo above, one of our daughters on the beach in Vancouver)
Depressing? Yes. Hopeless? No. Today, I ate lunch at a lovely cafe and a man sitting nearby was working on his laptop and, as is my wont, we fell into conversation. They were talking about Whitney Houston on the television that was mounted on one wall of the cafe and, it turns out, the man had been in sobriety for 5 years. We spent some time discussing why it's so hard to "get clean." He thought that the person trying to get sober really has to want it or they won't work hard enough. He also thought that you need to get to the heart of the pain that fuels the addiction. And that's the connection to PTSD: both of our daughters have experienced significant traumas in their lives and they drink to ease that pain. I don't know why Whitney had substance abuse issues or what her pain was. I'm only sorry that whatever her demons were, they destroyed her.
One of the last things the man told me was that sobriety takes a long time to feel good. In his case it took over a year. Then, one morning, he said, he woke up and noticed that the sun was shining and the birds were singing. Here's an iconic poem for all those who didn't make it past substance abuse to the shining sun and singing birds.
Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Robert Frost
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so for an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.