The truth is, overcoming an addiction is a solitary journey whether you drive through the gates of the best facility or sit in your room alone staring into the cavern in your soul you’ve tried so hard to run away from. Rehab can give you tools, but you walk the road alone. And as all of us who have made our way out of addiction will tell you, part of it was luck. There simply is no formula that can guarantee a way out, no trail of bread crumbs leading out of the forest. You grab onto something inside you, some part of you that has decided to live without the poisons you love so much, and you hope like hell you can hold on.
We still don’t know whether Winehouse took an overdose of drugs or a lethal combination or bad drugs (or none of the above), but her demons were visible for a long time. Those of us who have experienced the treacherous landscape of addiction and have lived to talk about it have known nights when we teetered on a dangerous boundary line. We held on and made it through. We got lucky. Others who tried just as hard couldn’t hold on — and faded to black.
Part of what drew me into the Amy Winehouse story, as with any story of addiction, was the “there but for the grace of God…” factor. Even with 19 years of recovery, I don’t consider myself much different from her or from other addicts who still using or just didn’t make it. If there are any differences, maybe it’s that I made different choices at some points, and maybe I just got lucky at other points.
What choices? Well, obviously I chose to quit and to work a recovery program. I grew up with the Len Bias story, so I was scared to death of heroin and cocaine. My main drug of choice was alcohol, which was hard enough to quit in and of itself. I now know that, given my predisposition to addiction, I’m almost certain I’d have become addicted to them if I’d tried them.
What luck? I went into recovery relatively early in my drinking “career.” I’ve also been blessed with a “spidey sense” or intuition that tells me when I’m close to getting into trouble I can’t get out of, or when a sitaution is about to become unstable or dangerous giving me enough time to get out of the situation or change course before things head seriously downhill. I was lucky that when I was ready for recovery, there was a college-based AA group literally steps from my front door.
Maybe I was just lucky enough to find a recovery program that equipped me to deal with the issues driving the addiction.
A preliminary autopsy has yet to determine what caused Winehouse’s death, but regardless, Prentiss thinks that the singer never received the kind of treatment she needed for her very public struggles with addiction. He maintains that the centers she attended were focused on getting Winehouse clean instead of dealing with her motivation for turning to drugs and alcohol in the first place.
“I believe she was dealing with deep psychological pain,” [Pax Prentiss, the co-founder of Passages, the California rehabilitation center] told TheWrap. “To get her sober and keep her sober rather than treat her for alcoholism, you have to go to the root cause. The drinking and the drugs are a symptom of deeper problems.”
…“I don’t know what Amy’s issues were, but I do know from experience that artists have a tendency to be sensitive,” Prentiss said. “they’re talented yes, but the outside world effects them differently and they’re prone to turn to drugs in order to cope with the pressures put upon them.
“I think Amy had an image that she was a tough rock ‘n’ roll girl, but she was delicate, sensitive and she needed help,” he added.
My experience is addiction is really the way that addicts cope with things — things that are emotionally or psychologically difficult or painful — that other people learn to cope with in other, perhaps healthier ways. When I started recovery, someone told me that “mentally, emotionally, an addict is really stuck at whatever age they were when they started using.” In general, addicts stop growing or maturing emotionally at the point where addiction takes over, because that the point at which they stop learning how to cope with whatever is too difficult, painful or stressful to deal with in their lives. Addiction takes the place of coping. That’s why it’s never enough to “just stop.” That’s why I think most recovery programs are basically about addicts learning how to cope without drugs, alcohol, etc.
After 19 years, I can’t tell you “how I did it,” except for pretty much the same thing that Davis wote. Even with a recovery program to help me, there were times when I’ve had to “white knuckle it” I still can’t tell anyone else “How to do it,” except that they’re probably going to need help.
And, they have to want it. Otherwise, it won’t happen. It’s hard enough that no one’s going to do it if they don’t want it.
From all appearances, Amy didn’t seem to want it. But we’ll never know whether some small part of her did but wasn’t strong enough, of whether she didn’t want it until it was too late.
Wanting it, of course, is no guarantee. There are plenty who want it, and try over and over again without success. But wanting it at least give you something that nothing else will: a shot at actually getting better.