Sunday, February 12, 2012

After Whitney Houston's Death: Reflections From A Grateful Alcoholic

Jamie is a family friend, a soccer coach to our younger son and a beloved neighbor.
By James McCrone
I celebrated eight years sobriety last week (Feb. 3). Whitney Houston died last night.

My wife and I will commemorate and celebrate those eight years with dinner out tonight. While our discussion will not dwell on things past, whatever we end up talking about, the subtext will remain that this dinner, the health and well being of the children and the continuation of a (now) happy marriage, could not have been foreseen eight and a half years ago. We’ll certainly talk about Whitney Houston, who was barely six months older than I am.

Amy Winehouse died this past summer.

Both women were mocked in life and now in death for their struggles. I googled “Whitney Houston Jokes” and “Amy Winehouse Jokes," and came up with over 4,600,000 entries and 400,000 respectively. Certainly our dysfunctional societal relationship with the cult of celebrity explains it somewhat, but the fact that Houston’s and Winehouse’s struggles with alcohol and drugs could be regarded as funny shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of addiction and its ramifications.

As a society, we are only now beginning to get an understanding of mental health issues like anxiety and depression as illnesses. A woman with post-partum depression can be treated and counseled, as can someone suffering panic attacks, and the success in reaching people who suffer is a direct result of a shift in society’s attitudes. To mock or belittle someone afflicted this way would not be regarded as funny.

No one wonders at why smokers have such a hard time giving it up. They’re addicted. An alcoholic/drug addict drinks because he is addicted. It is a tragedy individually and collaterally; and our collective refusal to confront what addiction is, keeps people sick and families suffering.

I was lucky. I am lucky. I’m not dead, for which am I profoundly grateful. Much has been put right. I am a grateful alcoholic. The point, however, is that I cannot go back to drinking now that I have worked through my personal shit. Addiction lives, lurks, hovers at my shoulder, like an over-eager waiter, ready to fill my glass. I am often reminded of the Nobel Prize scene in A Beautiful Mind. John Nash accepts his award, and in among the crowd stand the three “ghosts” of his illness—at a distance, but always there.

The deck is stacked against addicts. Houston and Winehouse might not have made it to old age anyway. But a better understanding of their suffering might have increased their odds. Whatever else it is, it ain’t funny.


  1. Great post James. Congrats on the eight years! Miss you guys -- Elaine and Dan.

  2. Thanks for posting this Allison. Being a recovering alcoholic myself I applaud your friend's well written way of saying what this disease is like. I agree...there is nothing funny about it...not for those of us who suffer with it...or for the family members that have had to watch the disease destroy the person they were meant to be.

  3. While the death certificate of my father-in-law reads "cancer," it really was alcoholism that prevented him from recognizing -- and taking action to treat -- the mole on his chest that became melanoma. By the time gangrene set in, the melanoma had spread to his brain. He died within two months. Like a slave owner from colonial times, alcohol captured a funny, intelligent, sensitive man and beat him senseless until he was incapable of maintaining a job, was estranged from his wife and children, and could barely carry on an meaningful conversation. My own memories of him are seeing him in a bathrobe, shuffling around the house, mumbling. The ivy league education. The many works of literature and history he read and loved to discuss. All of it gone.

  4. So sorry to hear of your father-in-law's suffering, and that, I am sure, of his family. Addiction knows no boundaries of class, intelligence, race etc.

    I pray he has found the peace that eluded him in this life.

  5. Well done James on 8 years free from alcohol, you have great will power, all these drugs rob people of their health, wealth, families and happiness in the long run.

    They all seem so harmless and enjoyable at the beginning, it's when they start controlling you instead of the other way round is when we start to worry.

    I am so sorry for people on here who have lost loved ones to drugs. It is so tragic about Whitney such a wonderful talented lady, her daughter left without a mother and her mother without a daughter.

    People who pedal these drugs have no idea the heartache they cause, and indeed don't care, it's all about making money.

    It certainly isn't a joking matter, for the addicts or their families and friends.

    Keep up the good work and have a lovely meal with your wife tonight.