The Girl With the Falling Beehive

Amy Winehouse via VHI BlogThe posts were pissing me off.

“She was a nut. Too bad she didn’t try harder to live.”

“Coming soon, the Michael Jackson/Amy Winehouse reunion album.”

“Boxed Winehouse.”

I realize that making fun of messy celebrities on Facebook is the new American pastime, and I run the risk of appearing way too earnest here (I pretty much always run that risk here) but there was no part of me that found anything about her death funny.

I’ve been sober nearly eleven years, with the help of other drunks and drug addicts. Stay sober long enough, and well-meaning friends who don’t have the addictive personality, or the disease, or whatever it may be that kept you from applying moderation to your life, will praise you for your strength and willpower. (We call these well-meaning friends “normies.”)

But here’s the thing that every sober drunk and drug addict knows. Strength and willpower had little to do with it. None of us can say with any certainty why we were able to “get it,” and hold on to it, when so many couldn’t. The statistics were against us, rehab or no rehab.

Listen to enough of our stories, and you’ll hear a common thread. There was nothing special about the last time we got drunk or high. It was rarely the worst day or night of our lives. Rarely did it involve the worst consequences we’d faced. Sometimes no matter how much we drank we couldn’t get drunk that night.

Maybe the right friend said the right thing at the right second, or the perfect stranger opened a new door. Maybe that afternoon we just got tired of the emptiness where our souls used to be. Every story involves luck, or coincidence, or, if you prefer, a bit of grace. It took more than five or six tries until it happened to me.

I was late to the Winehouse bandwagon. I often stubbornly resist the zeitgeist, and her “Rehab” song turned me off. But during one visit to Hawaii, the Manly Fireplug added Back to Black to our iPod. We listened to it nonstop that week. There was something about our hotel, a rather seedy, down-at-the-heels tropical outpost called the Queen Kapiolani, that fit Amy’s lyrics.

Back in San Francisco I developed a back-up singer hand gesture routine to my favorite song, “Tears Dry On Their Own,” which I’d perform in the car while the Fireplug was driving. That song contained my favorite of her lyrics:

I cannot play myself again
Should just be my own best friend
Not fuck myself
In the head
With stupid men

Here’s the thing about Amy. She knew who she was. A drunk, an addict, a cheater. She slept around behind her boyfriends’ backs. She had bad taste in men. She didn’t whitewash her sins or blame it all on the other guy, which so many pop songs seem to do.

She made me feel less alone with my own sordid past. With the part of me that is still, to this day, less than virtuous.

I don’t know Amy’s story. I know she did, despite her song, attend rehab, more than once. I don’t know what it was like for her to wake up in the morning, to want to write her next record but find it impossible. I only know the smallest slices of her life, fed to me through headlines and grainy photos.

I don’t know how badly she wanted to get sober. All I know is that her time ran out before grace found her.

15 thoughts on “The Girl With the Falling Beehive

  1. Thanks for illuminating the space between apathy and self-righteous indignation. And thank you for still being here; though thank you is so obviously not the right expression, I’m not sure what is.

  2. your writing is like a cocktail party where the whispers are meant to be mistaken…refreshing and relevant for me…

  3. Beautifully written and thoughtful. We lost our beloved aunt to addiction and know it’s something she didn’t choose. It chose her, got a hold of her and she was helpless. It’s not about will, or choosing to harm your loved ones or the world. Good luck with your path in sobriety. Peace.

  4. thanks for this … nicely said. I get that same feeling each time some celebrity gets condemned for not trying hard enough. It’s not really a choice. Reposted on FB for my friends of Bills.

  5. The CBC here in Montreal called the AA hotline asking for comment on the death of Ms. Winehouse today. But we do not have opinions on outside issues. And we redirected them to the CPC.

    It is very sad that the demon got her so young in her life. Those of us who know the darker side of addiction can appreciate in some small way the fight she was in.

    She just couldn’t “get it.” And in the end it got her. She suffered and now she suffers no more. Maybe this story will help someone defeat the demon in their life.

    We mourn her loss. Like every great entertainer lost so young.

    One good thing about sobriety is that with time, comes perspective and understanding and compassion for the one who still suffers.

    Thanks for the writing.


  6. This is lovely; you told my story, as we say.

    Thank you for finding a way to express the real tragedy of addiction – anyone’s addiction – that takes them out way too soon.

  7. Thank you. I hope this hits a bit of a reset button in some folks. I’ve been especially frustrated with those saying feeling sadness/loss for Amy is unworthy in spite of the Oslo shootings/bombings. I believe there is enough compassion to go around. Beautiful, important words.

  8. I’m not going to whine about it too much, but quitting an abusive relationship where drugs and sex were being used to control me was about the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was sunk in depression (and the relationship and it’s terms where a big piece of that), and you can reach a place where you will do anything to make the pain stop, ever for a little while. And a little piece of me will always look back to the bright, crazy times with fondness and longing; i just now know they were the conjoined twin of the pain and dark desperation.
    And since kicking the drugs and that dude, I haven’t felt much like making art. Of course, the life of a single parent in this shitty economy, and the difficulties of those i need to care for have made artmaking a bit theoretical..
    We don’t know what demons drove the poor thing. I regret her squandered talent, and can’t fathom the meanness her sad death seems to have engendered.

  9. Thank you for accepting whatever twists of fate are involved in keeping sober. I believe it’s sobriety that fuels your creativity, which provided a path that led me to you. Finding you is a gift I hold dear.

  10. It breaks my heart when young people succumb to their addictions. The loss of someone I admired last year made me think so much about what life means and how fragile it is.

  11. Kind of sad that most of the people who’ve expressed frustration to me about reactions to Amy Winehouse’s death have all cited stuff they’ve read from their “friends” on Facebook. It makes me relieved (again) that I pulled the plug on that particular social network.

    Compassion is never wasted–for an individual lost, or a nation in mourning. Sometimes people use humor to cope, I know, but some things just aren’t funny. Addiction is one of those things.

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