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Monday Reflection: Living With Addiction ...

By Rae Lewis-Thornton

July 25, 2011

Amy Winehouse

This piece originally appeared in Rae's blog, Diva Living With AIDS.

When I heard about Amy Winehouse's death the first thing that crossed my mind, is that you die how you live. It's a sad but true reality and it's not just about drug and alcohol addiction but anything that has a hold on you, and that thing dictates your life.

I understand addiction. My mother and father were heroin addicts and my step-grandmother who raised me, was an alcoholic. My father died a violent death when I was about three years old and my mother used for half of her life. She was clean for over 20 years, to start using again. When I went to see her on her death bed, I almost fainted when the doctor told me that she was on Methadone; and all this time I thought she was clean.

But during those years of being clean, she never got help for the thing that started her addiction. She was a tormented soul and using again was inevitable.

And my step-grandmother didn't stop drinking until the alcohol started to burn the cancerous tumor in her mouth. And she was the mean ass in death that she had been my entire life. It didn't matter that I was the only one caring for her, Mama would cuss me out in the hospital room like I was a bitch on the street.

What I learned half way through my life is that addiction is a sickness that affects everyone that comes in contact with it. This was further confirmed after living with an addict, the love of my life. I began to understand this sickness in a way that I never had. The chaos it created daily, wondering if when he walked out of that door would he make it to his intended destination, or to that corner of the world where he used.


That sent me to Al-Anon. I knew I was out of my league. I instinctively knew that if I didn't get help for myself, that his addiction would kill me as sure as I got to die.

STOP! I can't believe I told all that ... Little nervous here. Go on and gossip, but don't bring that shit to my face. Just Sayin!!! It's interesting, when I first started this post it was about putting your demons in check. But God seems to be leading me in another direction. So this post is for everyone who loves someone who has an addiction. Just some insights that I hope are helpful.

How they choose to live, does not have to dictate how you live. You cannot allow their addiction to control your life. Addiction is a very dark place and it enjoys company. They have to ultimately do the hard work that is required to not only get clean, but stay clean.

Rae Lewis-Thornton

I often wondered about my mother and what would make her use for over half her life. And while I understood some of the root of my lover's addiction, my compassion and love for them both could not interfere with my love of self. It's deep, we spend so much time trying to make them happy, they become our addiction and it affects everything we do, from the people we see to the things we do or don't do.

What I have learned is that no matter how much you love them or alter your life for them, they are who they are. And a word of caution, even an addict that is clean, but not seeking some kind of professional help is still guided by addictive behavior. While you are relieved that they are clean, they still tend to be the narcissist, self-serving person they were while using.

Addiction is an illness that needs professional help and until they get the help that sickness will continue to manifest, just in different ways. And everyone who comes in contact with addiction needs help, whether it's your brother, lover, sister, aunt. Don't be confused, the drunk aunt at the dinner table affects everyone.

The sad thing is, while you may try to control the environment, and sometimes that person, the only one you actually have control over is yourself. And if the truth be told, there is a sickness spending your life trying to control someone else's life. How they hell you gonna control something that they have no control over? You become sick trying to make them well.

Another word of caution for the high, mighty and opinionated. Addiction is not something you can simply rule away. Addicts need help, but they have to want help. Part of the problem with getting clean and staying clean is facing the demons that drove their addiction. And then on top of that, having to face all the damage that has been done during the addiction journey. That's a lot of baggage for one person to have to address in addiction.

Amy Winehouse

I hope you get the point ... I may not have an addiction to drugs, but I have lived an unhealthy life as a result of addiction from my childhood. I know how hard it is to live whole and healthy. I was man crazy, clothes crazy and just plain old fucking crazy. I didn't know what was normal and what was not. It took years of therapy, to get to this place I'm at today and there are still days I struggle to do the right thing. Then I fell in love with an addict and my world stopped as I tried to stop his addiction. I thank God that He had a plan when my plan crumbled before my eyes. Addiction should not be taking lightly, not for the addict or the ones who love the addict. In the end you will both die how you lived.

I understand why they say "one day at a time," because truly, thats all you have is this day. Tackle tomorrow when it gets here. Sadly for Amy Whinehouse her tomorrow was death. What I'm suggesting, is to not let their death become yours, either, physically, emotionally or spiritually. Get the help that you need even if they are not at the place to get the help they need.

Amy is in a better place. There are no more demons. May she rest in peace.

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See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
More First-Person Stories on Substance Abuse and HIV/AIDS

Reader Comments:

Comment by: jennifer g. (mead wa) Mon., Aug. 1, 2011 at 2:55 am UTC
i just read about addiction in October i will have been clean one year I see things verry differently I can honestly say i take things one day at a time god has kept me clean and sober life is so much better sober however my addiction is what has lead me to this disease dont give up or give in embrace your life with vigor becaus its a whole new world to us thanks
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Comment by: Miles (Los Angeles, Ca.) Fri., Jul. 29, 2011 at 9:47 am UTC
Thanks for this powerful piece. Recovery is so very hard...input from each other is the major source of help.
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Comment by: D.K. (San Diego) Thu., Jul. 28, 2011 at 2:17 am UTC
Very helpful and thank you for the insights.
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Comment by: Terri (NYC) Tue., Jul. 26, 2011 at 10:01 pm UTC
I'm a little confused. You said your mom was on methadone. Isn't that treatment for heroin use? I consider that being clean.
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Lindsay (San Diego) Wed., Jul. 27, 2011 at 2:34 pm UTC
You're right Terri, Methadone can be used as a treatment for heroin use, but it is also a substance an individual can become addicted too or misuse. a person can become dependent on methadone and when stopping use will encounter some withdrawal symptoms. This is a helpful blog about Methadone as a heroin treatment but also get's into the possible side-effects like taking up to 7 years to wean off of it. After all, it's technically still an opiate

Comment by: Lindsay (San Diego, CA) Tue., Jul. 26, 2011 at 3:13 pm UTC
I think my favorite part of this post is "How they choose to live, does not have to dictate how you live. You cannot allow their addiction to control your life. Addiction is a very dark place and it enjoys company. They have to ultimately do the hard work that is required to not only get clean, but stay clean."

this is so true. once people realize that fact about drug addiction they can take a more constructive role in helping the addict the right way. Enabling is such a strong factor with loved one's, because we allow the addiction to take over our lives too, even if it means just letting the addict borrow money to get out of a jam... I found this site pretty helpful on teaching families their role in addiction which can be a defining factor in life or death:

Great post! thanks for sharing :)
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Rae Lewis-Thornton Speaks

Rae Lewis-Thornton

Rae Lewis-Thornton

Rae Lewis-Thornton is an Emmy Award-winning AIDS activist who rose to national acclaim when she told her story of living with AIDS in a cover story for Essence Magazine. She has lived with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 19. Rae travels the country speaking and challenging stereotypes and myths about HIV/AIDS. She has a Master of Divinity degree and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Church History. Rae has been featured on Nightline, Dateline NBC, BET and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as in countless magazines and newspapers, including Emerge, Glamour, O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Jet, Ebony, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. She earned the coveted Emmy Award for a first-person series on living With AIDS for Chicago's CBS News.

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