Addiction Mental Health Recovery

Are We Quicker to Judge Than We Are to Love?

Whitney Houston -  Concert in Central Park
Whitney Houston - Concert in Central Park / Good Morning America 2009 - Manhattan NYC (Photo credit: asterix611)

I wasn’t planning on writing about the death of Whitney Houston, because I try not to saddle up to the hyperbole surrounding celebrity and their downfalls. However, as news of her death began to unfold, what I noticed wasn’t kindness or compassion in the public’s reaction and commentary, but an uncensored, callous backlash referencing her addiction. Mind you, the cause of her death is purely speculative at this point–the negative comments began without evidence of an overdose or confirmation from the medical examiner. Makes me wonder, would this commentary be the same if she’d had cancer? I don’t think so. Why? Because cancer is a disease without stigma.

Addiction is just that: a disease. When we talk about diseases, we talk about things we can understand: cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and so on. But when addiction is spoken of, it’s often considered a poor choice someone is making. No one consciously chooses to become an addict. Addiction is a disease, just like any other, but unfortunately, it comes with the stigma of oft-repeated failures and sullied reputations.

What I’m talking about isn’t really Whitney Houston and the tragedy of her death, but about addiction and recovery and all of the mixed-up perceptions that come along with it. Can we, with all of our amends and life changes recreate our image in the public sphere? What about the private sphere?  Or will we always remain the person who “can’t make a good choice.” In cases like this, it would appear that no matter what we do in our recovery, no matter how long we stay clean and sober, if something goes wrong, drugs and alcohol are the first accusations that come to mind. But I call foul, because I know far too many people with long-term recovery who have turned their lives around and become outstanding, respectable human beings.

Addiction doesn’t give a hoot if you’re rich, poor, famous, infamous, fat, thin, talented, ugly or beautiful; all it cares about is sinking its hooks into you. Where addiction differs from other diseases is in its effect on those who come in contact with it: families, friends, classmates, teachers, fans, or the cat pouring your coffee at Starbucks. There’s no doubt it’s a selfish disease, but it still requires compassion and kindness. When I first got sober, I was a bit screwball—my sober big brother loves to tell people I was feral—but ultimately, the thing that kept me coming back wasn’t judgment, it was kindness. When I heard “Let us love you until you can learn to love yourself,” I thought it was hokey. But you know what? It worked a hell of a lot better than damnation and shame.

So, whatever took Whitney, be it drugs or some anomaly with her health, perhaps we should honor her for the woman and legend she was rather than berate her with misunderstood perceptions of a disease. Reverend Al Sharpton echoed this sentiment when he said, “Don’t remember the rumors. Remember the voice God gave this lady and she gave that voice to the world. (She) was an international icon. Whatever she did was on the front page. Don’t delve in the mess. All of us have some mess.”


Remember, though our past may have influenced the way we see the world, it does not define us unless we allow it to do so. In recovery, we do have a choice: we can choose how we interact with the world and how we engage in the present.



Love this from Voice in Recovery: Whitney Houston’s Death and Addiction Stigma 


Mental Health

The Process of Grief

“To spare oneself from grief at all cost can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness” Erich Fromm

Image via Wikipedia

Grief is an experience, and while it differs from person to person, one thing is certain: there isn’t a predetermined end time for grieving. It is, in and of itself, a process.

We often hear this process of grief described in stages:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

This grief cycle, which is often referred to as DABDA, was described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her famous book On Death and Dying, written in 1969. She did not, describe this cycle as a rigid depiction of grief, but rather as the framework with which to view and work with the process of grieving.  It’s also important to note that this isn’t a linear process. In fact, everyone who’s experienced loss may not experience each of these factors; if/when they do, they certainly won’t experience them in any particular order. In fact, if you are grieving, you may notice that you transition between these emotive states from moment to moment, much like the ebb and flow of the tides.

Adolescents process grief differently than adults. While they may be feeling a wide array of emotions, they may not exhibit them outwardly. For teens in particular, the vulnerability brought about by the onslaught of emotions associated with death and dying is sometimes too much. Developmentally, they are in the process of discovering their autonomy and independence, so cleaving to family in times of loss may seem “uncool” to a teen, regardless of need. That said, teens tend to do particularly well in peer support groups, which provide an ideal environment where kids help each other as they stand on common ground.

This doesn’t mean that adults can’t help their teen during this time. As Dr. J. Earl Rogers writes in his book The Art of Grief, “Most teens will respond to adults who choose to be companions on the grief journey rather than direct it.” This, then, requires a role change, one that may prove difficult for some parents, who are accustomed to presiding over most situations. Still, what is paramount, regardless of our role as parent or peer is to actively and deeply listen. Summarize what you hear, and repeat it back; Listen deeply, without judgment; Retain a regular schedule and routine. Remember, there is great comfort in regularity, something that death defies in its very nature.

We know that death can be sudden or expected. A sudden death can be described as an accident, homicide, suicide, drug overdose. The feelings associated with this type of loss are varied and often intense. You may experience:

  • The shock and disbelief last longer;
  • Sudden death can be more confusing, bringing up many feelings to process all at once;
  • There is not time to say goodbye;
  • You may have strong feelings of guilt because:
    • Of something you have or have not said about the person that died
    • Of something you thought or felt or wished about the person you died
    • You think you  could have prevented their death
    • You survived and your loved one didn’t
    • Wanting to feel normal again
    • This may seem unfair, especially if the person is young;
    • You may experience reoccurring thoughts, dreams, or flashbacks. These are normal and should decrease. If they don’t, ask for help.
    • You may feel the need for more information about the incident to gain a better understanding of how the person died. Be sure you can handle this. (It’s my experience that what we think we can handle and what we can actually handle are two different things.)
    • You may feel vulnerable or jumpy and nervous.

Someone dealing with expected loss, as in a death of  someone who’s been fighting cancer or another terminal illness may find themselves:

  • Grieving little losses along the way (not being able to do the same things or go to the same places with your loved one)
  • Experiencing symptoms of grief even before a loved one has died;
  • Having strong feelings of guilt because
    • Of something you said or didn’t say about the person who died
    • Of something you thought or felt or wished about the person that died
    • You think you could have prevented the death
    • You survived and your loved one did not
    • You want to feel normal again.

In the case of an expected death, you may also have had time to prepare and honor the wishes of your loved one. You also may have been able to say goodbye, which would give you a sense of closure.
So, as we begin to sit with the discomfort of death and loss, hopefully, we can also take the opportunity to recognize its transformative nature. Instead of regretting the past, perhaps we can remember the footprints of those who have left our sides, allowing them to blossom in our own hearts as we continue to forge our own paths.

Remember to be kind to YOU in this process.