RIP Amy. It should have and could have been so different

A predominant bete noire for those who toil in the field of addictions therapy is the obvious contradiction between omnipotence and impotence.

The counselor may believe, due to the behaviors of a client, that he/she is at the top of their game and is making headway and is, goddamnit, saving a poor soul that was well on the way to the ghastliest perdition or death. And then the client goes and fucks it up and it’s back to square one – if indeed the client is still around.

Amy Winehouse isn’t any longer. I don’t know why. Nor, I suspect did she know why in the last few hours before she quit the planet in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that she would soon be going “the way of Janis/Jim/Jimi etc. etc. etc. And in her ongoing personal hell of substance and illness she no longer was left with the option of going the way of Eric Clapton or Keith Richards. All tragic. All predictable.

Something that has always confounded me, as both a counselor, and as a person who (and I am not embarrassed to admit it at all) who struggled with substance abuse himself (in my case alcohol) blessedly many years ago now.

So, I say, with no smugness implied, that I did it. And I have continued to do it on a daily basis for a decade-and-a-half. In other words, I ‘got it’. I got something at least that has kept me on a chosen path after I made what was arguably the most difficult decision in my life. In other words, I chose life. Amy didn’t. I don’t know why not.

Hence the omnipotence. Here you had a magnificent talent (I think she was the best singer of her genre since Etta James (and as a huge Etta fan that is, for me, saying a lot. And James, FYI, is an ex-junkie who kicked most successfully). And she had fame, and she had success and she had those that loved her and cared.

And yet she chose (and I use ‘chose’ advisedly) to continue on the path to self-destruction/martyrdom. I have known others like her, and I have seen a few buried over the years. A few that could not or would not do what to the non-addicted should be obvious.

Despite the fact that I worked as a counselor for a number of years, ran a rehab, and dealt with innumerable clients addicted to many substances. Some have made it into a blessed clean-living sobriety; some continue to go back on a perilous (and potentially lethal) path of recovery/abuse. Some of them may make it eventually. Where there is life, to lapse into cliché, there is hope. But, with Amy, and others like her, there is no life and no hope. Could she not do it? I cannot say. Would she not do it? That is, to me, more likely. Why would she not do it? I have no answer and I suspect nobody else has one either.

Just a sad loss that could have turned out differently.


11 responses to “RIP Amy. It should have and could have been so different

  1. One of your better posts, Ian. Sadly, I thought it was just a matter of time before this happened, but I hoped I would be proven wrong. Such pointless deaths are always sad, but it seems particularly tragic when one has as much incredible talent as Amy Winehouse. Maybe life is just not for everyone – I don’t mean that facetiously. Life is very hard, and maybe for some people, not worth the pain even with all the blessings they are also given. As one who chooses life, no matter what, it seems a simple choice. But I know it isn’t for some people. And as a woman much older than she, I am very sad for all the years she won’t have, the people and experiences she will miss, and yes, the potential for real happiness she won’t know, or give others.

  2. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. Addiction is absolutely harrowing and no amount of good intention will help anyone who refuses, as Amy did, the help of rehab.

    All we can hope for now is that her life and death put a face and a name to addiction not as something glamorous but destructive. I feel for Amy’s family.

  3. Great post, Ian, and the comments are bang on, too. I’ve been thinking about the nature of the addictive personality lately and though I have no first-hand or formal knowledge of it, yesterday’s tragedy made me look at addicts from three main (although there are probably a million sub-categories) types: the brave and generous, like you, who manage to put it behind them (though I know, for an addict, it’s always ‘in recovery’, never truly gone); the tragic and ‘romantic’ who make it their life’s work and ultimately their untimely death (like Amy Winehouse and a friend from my youth); and all the others, the functional addicts and alcoholics who maintain simply because they haven’t the courage to either quit or go all the way to the bottom. The first two categories get all the glory (for different reasons) whereas the functional addicts are invisible and truly merit our pity.

    Soapbox over. I need a drink. 🙂

  4. A moving post, Ian. Having lost a brother to suicide through drink and relationship addiction, and watching friends struggle, with varying degrees of success, with addictions, it really hit home.
    Having just, I hope, finally, conquered the smoking addiction – ‘in remission’ for over 6 months now – I can understand how hard it is, and how many times you have to try before something clicks and you realise that you, and life, is worth it. Sometimes people just don’t reach that realization in time. As you say, a sad loss that could have turned out differently.

  5. This was sad news, indeed. God bless you for writing such an insightful post.

  6. Wow! Powerful, insightful and thought-provoking words from your post and the comments given, Ian. I think I will just ponder it all for a while as well as lament the passing of Amy Winehouse. Asante sana.

  7. Nicely done, Ian.

    I was — adn there is no other word for me — struck at the news of her death. I am a fan of hers, love the voice, the intonation, the phrasing. That she should do so POINTLESSLY strikes me as immeasurably sad.

    But you’re right. As someone who has never had a substance-abuse problem — but as someone who has, it seems, attracted them all my life — I know that we will never know/understand why she could not stop. All those resources at her disposal, and it made no difference.


  8. That’s “that she could DIE so pointlessly”.

  9. First, thank you all for the compliments on the Amy post. It was heartfelt, as I indicated, at so many levels. I find it interesting and sad in its own way that the people responding here represent various ages and if only this sad young woman could have realized she offered a brilliant universal appeal in her talents and that had made her a giant amongst her afficonadoes (of whom I am assuredly one) and that put her so many miles above the tiresome and schlocky ‘big names’ in the biz that are all monumental bores and publicity hounds. I’ll put her brief offerings right up alongside Etta James, Janis Joplin and Billie Holiday. Just so sad she chose the Bille and Janis route rather than the Etta one.

  10. I loved her music and was desperately saddened by the reports that she wasn’t coping. I think life is just too damn difficult for some people.

  11. When I try to speak to my daughter about her own substance use, she says it’s not dangerous if done in moderation and it is people who abuse it who give it a bad reputation. I expect she will include Amy W in this group but it doesn’t stop me worrying about her.

    My experience has been that many people rely on substances to give them a better time, but there continued exposure means that good time begins to elude them – requiring larger and larger doses to feel even vaguely better. Unless you can provide them with something else that has a similar enhancing effect, they will continue to return to the old saviour.

    Perhaps what Amy was really looking for was the intense emotional response that inspired Back to Black. Dangerous and energising, a rollercoaster from ecstatic to deep despair. When life with Blake palled, her reliance on drugs to regain that incredibly productive working condition increased and the failure of that addiction eventually killed her as she pressed ever harder to succeed.

    I feel her loss as a fan and as a fear for the future for my own offspring.

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