Saturday, July 23, 2011


Did I ever buy her records?  No.  Did I listen closely when she sang on TV?  Yes.  And here and there I heard snippets of rumors that she had serious drug issues and co-dependency with her partner.

I never knew Amy Winehouse, only some of her music. However, being exposed to such a talent as hers, with that certain Billie Holiday effusion, I felt closer to the woman.  Unique.  Talented.  Troubled.  Addicted.  So, tears came to my eyes for this artist who died before fulfilling her talent and actualizing herself.

Today I read some offensive and judgmental posts on Amy's death with disgust.  I am strongly opposed to denigrating a human being, regardless of their strengths or weaknesses.  Dying of an overdose is not new.  Hers is a tragedy not uncommon.  So, do we take the time and effort to mourn her in our own way?  Or do we say, "They got what they deserved."  "How can you mess up a career that gives you so much money?"  "Another one bites the dust!"  And on and on ad nauseum. 

Have we become so callous to this prevalent problem?  I guess we do what our abilities and interests allow.  Some think they have the answers, and some ask, "Why did this terrible thing happen to her, to so many others?"

Amy sang from her heart, "They told me to go to Rehab and I said, 'No! No! No!"  Therefore, some people think it is her own fault.  Do you think she didn't know she had a problem?  Do you think she didn't want help?  We don't know.  We don't know her personal history.  We didn't know her pain.  We can't judge.  And we often end up feeling helpless.

What we can do, however, is examine the state of our rehabs.  We can ask, "What do they teach people with addictions to help them?"  "How do they 'treat' them?" We can look at the stats to see if rehabs are effective in the long run.  We can investigate rehabs.

Most rehabs, the overwhelming majority, require you to go through the 12-Step program, i.e., AA, NA, etc.  If a person struggling with addiction went once to such a rehab, they probably know well what is expected of them if they go again.  They most likely can quote passages from the AA "Bible".  But most still leave (if they have a choice).  They give many reasons for leaving, even though they still want and need help. 

What keeps them from staying with the rehab program?  Obviously, what we are offering them (as a society) is not working very well.  Yes, there have been some notable successes, but MOST rehabs fail their clients!  Did you know that?  If rehabs deny this, in my opinion they are fudging their stats.

There are so many types of addictions and complications surrounding addiction.  People are unique, therefore, they need unique care.  Are there some similarities between people with addictions?  YES.  There are some.  There are signs and behaviors that we can track to understand at what stage they are in "the program" or "in their addiction".  Though they have some things in common, it is probably not as much as specialists and society want to believe.

All people are unique; therefore, people with addictions are UNIQUE.  They have different abilities, talents, intelligence levels, personalities, and issues.  So how can they all be helped with ONE type of abstinence program?  Or a limited choice of therapists? 

Effective therapy depends mostly on the relationship and the trust that the client and therapist create, so the match between them is crucial.  However, there are few therapists to choose from in most programs.  Therefore, it seems to me that because of our uniqueness, it is paramount that programs are uniquely tailored for the specific person with addiction.  However, such programs are costly and difficult to find, especially for people who are socioeconomically challenged.

Adding to the problem is that "burn-out" rates are generally the highest with addiction therapists.  Why?  It's so simple:  because therapists don't feel effective!  How would you like to spend your career trying and trying and giving, and, as a result, feeling like you have helped only a few?  Well, the few would thank them. However, can't we do better as a society to lower addiction rates?

Drug use has been with us since the beginning of recorded human history.  What does that say?  It says to me, that people will always use drugs and intoxicating substances.  Why?  Because it makes them feel better--for a time.  It works!

However, when people are in so much pain that, even when they know the dangers and consequences of their actions, they still take substance(s) that make them feel better (especially considering withdrawal makes them feel worse than they did before their drug abuse!), how can we judge them?

Let's go back a little.  The stats show that 60% of people with addictions quit on their OWN.  Yes!  You didn't know that, I bet.  The government agencies are so enamored of 12-step programs, that they are now mandatory in most of their facilities.  And some clients are really helped.  No doubt!  But what percentage?  The latest statistics I heard was 5-10%.  Does that low percentage rate mean we are failures as people, as professionals, or as agencies?  Or does that mean that some professionals, some agencies, especially those really making the money, like these "anonymous" societies BECAUSE OF their failure rates?  After all, if clients are told that they are "powerless" over their addictions, their false hope in the 12-step programs may keep them addicted and coming back to what they are told is the only treatment method that will save them, resulting in them becoming "addicted" to the program. 

Think of the money businesses and corporations have to gain by supplying them with repeated rehab care and "legal" (less harmful?) drugs to address other "issues"!  I just don't know for sure...but something smells bad here.

Probably a good percentage of the population and many agencies have their own special answer to this issue:  "Come to Jesus."  "Learn to trust."  "Listen to others in your situation."  "Believe God can help you." "You have the power within you (with God's help!)."  "Just follow the program."  "Trust the process."  And many other phrases and sayings are used by programs attempting to help those who struggle with addiction.  Hey, people with addictions are usually intelligent and intuitive enough to spot ritual, cult-like phrases and be suspicious of them!  One of the first rules of treatment is to inspire clients' trust (which is one of the most difficult things to do for people with addictions).  End result?  Not working.

Learning to abstain from addictive substances can, in some cases, seem simple.  But most addicted people struggle with deeply complicated issues:  there are mental illnesses to explore; past abuses and pain to discover and uncover; grieving and guilt to deal with.  When faced with the overwhelming task of processing excruciating pain and even the prospect of a life of boredom without their usual escapes, helping the addicted find motivation to abstain from substance abuse is crucial.

Who has THE answer to the issue of addiction?  If you find someone who claims they do, BEWARE.  We do not know of ANY positive treatment for all addicted people!

Perhaps one reason why the 12-step programs do some good is because they appear more attractive than other treatment programs.  They call addiction a disease that cannot be cured, taking away much guilt and accountability from addicted people.  In addition, 12-step programs do not require a commitment to absolute abstinence forever.  They can "take it a day at a time".  It all sounds so hopeful and soothing.  Less pressuring.  Therefore, the 12-step philosophy seems to help by initially motivating people with addiction issues.  Yet, there is much controversy surrounding these "anonymous" programs.

There are many people who think abusing substances is a crime instead of a health issue.  Their answer is to "lock them up".  If that worked, our prisons wouldn't be bulging at the seams with these types of "repeat criminals"!

I would like to see some statistics on people with addictions and their intelligence and creativity levels.  I have my own anecdotal evidence, having worked years with people with addictions.  My own subjective conclusion:  Most addicts are above average in intelligence, highly manipulative, distrustful, and hyper sensitive--and most have been abused as children OR have had very painful childhoods.  In addition, most are remarkably creative from a young age. 

Do we really want them isolated from society?  If so, we would be wishing most of our greatest thinkers, authors, artists, etc. out of society, too.  What a loss that would be!  If isolation was the only answer for how society deals with addiction, I wouldn't want to live in that world!

I don't have the "answers", but I have deep compassion for people who suffer and die of their addictions and, by doing so, cause great grief to those that care for and love them.  I grieve for people who cut their potential and lives short, denying themselves and others of so much joy.

I propose that perhaps the essential ingredient in substance abuse treatment is as simple as this:  TO LOVE AND ACCEPT ALL PEOPLE WITH ADDICTIONS UNCONDITIONALLY--and help them learn to love themselves unconditionally!  This kind of love has nothing to do with what they do or don't do.  It is without conditions.  Therefore, loving unconditionally excludes judging.

Amy Winehouse, I don't know you, but I mourn for you as a fellow being on earth who deserved love and respect from others but, mostly, from yourself.  May you find the peace, love, and self-acceptance you have been longing for!


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