I remember this because it was my birthday and I was gorging on tortilla chips and fresh guacamole with friends as I commemorated the fact that I was a year older; that’s when I heard that the uniquely gifted, 27 year-old singer had died of alcohol poisoning.
In many ways, Amy Winehouse’s death was not a shock; still, it rattled me. Maybe it was because it coincided with my birthday and the juxtaposition of life and death felt very real, or maybe it was because her public and arrogant defiance of recovery from addiction actually had me convinced that she knew what she was doing.
That’s one of the toughest parts about loving someone with active alcohol and drug addiction; the disease, at its most efficient, has addicts not only actively using but also whole-heartedly convinced that they either still have control over it or that life is better when they are fucked up (or both). So while the people who care about the addict watch the blatant unmanageability of addiction take over—causing the addict to lose jobs, relationships, apartments, money, health, their license—they often still aren’t dealing with a person who wants to get clean and sober. Amy Winehouse was a clear-cut example of someone who had hit several external bottoms and yet couldn’t seem to hit her internal one.
Winehouse’s single “Rehab,” was a compelling combination of her sexy, smokey, Motown-esque voice, a sound all the more shocking since it was coming from the lips of a scrawny white Jewish girl. Then there were those ballsy lyrics which boasted about how they’d tried to make her go to rehab but she’d said no, no, no. “Rehab” was an instant hit and probably became the anthem for every active alcoholic and chronic relapser who finally felt vindicated by the fact that they, too did not want to go to rehab. While I love the song, who knows how much Winehouse’s own recovery was held back by the fact that she’d, perhaps unwittingly, appointed herself unofficial spokesperson for using addicts around the globe?
Since I didn’t know Winehouse personally, it’s hard for me to say where she was with her addiction at the time of her death. What we do know is that in 2008, Winehouse finally did enter rehab for two weeks and claimed that she never used illegal substances again. Her father, Mitch Winehouse, corroborated this in his book Amy, My Daughter. The problem, of course, is that alcohol is legal and—if abused—can make you just as dead as heroin.
Here’s where it gets especially sad. In May of 2011, just three months before her death, Winehouse entered rehab again—this time for alcohol—at the urging of her doctor and in preparation for a European tour that summer. She stayed only two weeks; nevertheless, Mitch Winehouse confirms that his daughter had turned a corner with her addiction recovery and would spend long periods of time sober. But she was still having brief relapses where she would binge drink, and this is ultimately what caused her death.
So, when hearing about her death, there I was at a bar—seven years, eight months and eight days sober—sipping on a Coke and completely unaffected by the mirrored wall of alcohol attractively displayed 10 feet from where I was sitting. I was not only sober, as in not intoxicated, but also recovered enough from my disease that the obsession to drink and use drugs had been lifted and I could enjoy my birthday surrounded by pitchers of margaritas and non-sober friends. When we talked about Winehouse’s death, I gazed to the right at the stack of birthday cards and presents from my friends and was reminded that I was one of the lucky ones. If only Amy Winehouse could have been.
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