Monday, February 13, 2012

Addiction is a Waste of Life

I was reading an article this morning about Whitney Houston, and one of her colleagues declared her "…a fighter and a survivor." She was neither. She succumbed to drug use and now she is dead. If anything, she was a victim. She was a victim of whoever talked her into doing drugs in the first place and of herself for giving in to that insistence.
I can still remember the first time I ever heard Whitney Houston sing. I was driving back to school from home and had the radio on for noise when her song came on. It wasn't the kind of music I was into, but I was struck by how perfect her voice sounded. No wavering. No searching for the pitch. Each note was dead on and absolutely solid and clear.  This perfection of voice was continued in every song I heard her sing, right up to and including when she sang the U.S. National Anthem at Superbowl 25. I strongly recommend to every celebrity who wants to sing the Star Spangled Banner at any public forum to carefully study Houston's rendition before they perform it. Every note was precisely what it should have been. None of those "artistic" undulations that sound like the singer was having a pulmonary seizure. Her voice was as clear and pure as a bell! Her singing was absolute vocal perfection! I have yet to hear anyone sing the anthem as well as she.
And then, she was gone. Houston got into drug use and her career came careening to a halt. She disappeared from the public eye and thence public interest. Her career was only just starting to roll when she fell into the abyss of addiction.
In recent years, she was starting to work towards making a comeback; getting herself clean from years of drug abuse and getting back on her feet. A number of accounts I read at random during this period were not kind to her. The drug use had taken its toll on her once-perfect voice. Though, apparently recently she sang at the funeral for her mother-in-law, and the pastor claimed her voice was perfect.
Perhaps Houston had finally beaten her demon and was poised for that comeback.
Only now, we'll never know. She's dead and we'll never be able to hear whether or not that perfect voice had been resurrected. She now joins that lengthy list of could-have-beens. Genius artists who were cut down before they even reached their prime. Janice Joplin, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, River Phoenix… The list goes on and on, and sadly will get longer with time.
But this isn't a tribute to Houston, it's about addiction and what it does to people. How it ruins their lives. Houston said in an interview that she smoked marijuana laced with crack by her ex-husband, Bobby Brown. My impression from those comments is she was implying that she wasn't into hard drugs until that point.
I've heard the same story from many other people. "They offered me a joint that was laced with something…," are words I have heard so many times, it now comes across as a weak excuse to hide their culpability. Second to that is, "They put something in my drink."
What is sad, those statements and many others like them are both absolutely true.
My message to children is once you hear that a friend of yours is doing drugs, that person can no longer be trusted as your friend. They will do anything and everything they can to obtain drugs from that point on, including dragging you and anyone else down with them. The first stage is they will push hard to get you to try the drugs, because in their mind if you are doing drugs, then it must be okay that they are doing drugs. But as their addiction grows stronger, they don't even care about justifying it anymore. They'll steal from you or sell you out just to get anything that will let them obtain drugs.
My second message to children is that if your parents are doing drugs, your parents love those drugs more than they will ever love you. To drug-using parents who are insulted by that statement and object to those words, my answer to you is, "Prove it."
Walk away from the drugs. Throw them away and never use them again. Prove that your children are more important than the drugs.
As any addict can tell you, it's not that simple.
They want to love their children! They want to tell their children how important they are! But the siren song of drugs to an addict is just too powerful. Children of addicts all too often tell stories of being beaten when they confronted their parents about their drug use.
Have you ever been intensely thirsty? So thirsty that the first chance you got, you sloshed down a glass of water as fast as you could and then followed it with another? How about hungry? Perhaps you missed breakfast and lunch, so by dinner you were so hungry you were almost feeling lightheaded? You bought two hamburgers instead of one and practically inhaled them?
That is what life is like for an addict.
Every day.
Every hour.
And for some, every minute.
An addict's life revolves around one given chemical or another. They have absolutely no control in their lives whatsoever. Some give the illusion of having it all under control, but it is still only illusion. Like a rotting apple, things look good on the surface, but once you peel back the skin, you can see the rot hidden beneath. Eventually, like the rotten apple, the rot will come through to the surface and by then it is far too late for them to recover anything. Even when they desperately want to turn their lives around and clean up, they cannot.
I worked with one man who I can only describe as the poster child for D.A.R.E., in that they could have put his picture on a poster with the caption, "Do drugs and this is what you will become." His life revolved around alcohol and drugs.  He clearly once had a mind that could be described as brilliant. His ability to remember and recall sports statistics was nothing short of impressive. A few times I actually looked up some of the things he said, and he was dead on. If nothing else, he could have easily had a career on sports radio. But the drugs and alcohol pretty much guaranteed that the only jobs he would ever be able to hold would be straight labor jobs that didn't require any skill.
As further proof of the strength of mind he possessed, he did give up drinking. Cold turkey. After decades of abuse, he discovered that a co-worker was in Alcoholics Anonymous. That was enough that he put down the bottle and walked away from it.
Sadly, the damage of addiction had been done, and he quickly turned to other substances to fill in the gap left by the missing alcohol. One thing would lead to another that had a stronger effect, and so on. He disappeared eventually, fired from work for doing drugs on the job.
Addiction doesn't end when the addict stops taking the substance to which they are addicted. It is a life-long battle. Even if you've gotten the substance out of your life, your life will still revolve around the need to avoid that substance at all costs. You will forever be chained to it and feel the yearning for it. It does get better and easier with time, but the hunger never really goes away. It will always be there gnawing at the back of your mind and your sanity.
So, I look at Whitney Houston not as a lost star but as a waste of life. Think of what she could have been and where she would be today had she not given in to substance abuse! Instead of being the icon and pinnacle of the music industry, she was a corpse drowned in a bathtub because she passed out from drugs and alcohol. Instead of being the role model to follow for new up-and-coming singers, she'll forever be the bad example of how to destroy your career and your life.
I hope Lindsey Lohan and Britney Spears are paying attention, because this is their future if they don't clean up.