Sunday, February 12, 2012

Whitney, Addiction, & the Best Therapy I Ever Had

When people ask me how I manage to be as "normal" or "well-adjusted" as I am given my childhood, I almost never tell them this one key ingredient: Whitney Houston. Therapy is awesome. I pretty much think everyone could benefit from some therapy. It's important to see a professional. I spent time with a few. Some were actual psychologists and counselors, but more were professionals of another kind. The absolute best of the best-- musicians. 

It's not even just that Whitney's voice was perfect in 1991 and 1992...or effortless...or that she was an absolute first rate interpreter of songs. And that is so key, isn't it? Perfect voices don't mean much if there's nothing behind the eyes. If you aren't conveying the emotion behind the songs. 

It's not even that those songs on The Bodyguard soundtrack or any of Whitney's other hits were so applicable to my life situation as an abused 10 year old. But the depth of feeling behind everything Whitney sang-- that I knew. 

When I left my mom's house and moved in with my dad and my cold-as-ice step family in 1992, I had no where but the sanctuary of my own bedroom and my own mind. I locked myself in my room and sang at the top of my lungs to "I Have Nothing" so many times, it's actually no wonder why my stepfamily didn't like me too much. But I guess somewhere in my little kid subconscious, I knew that the only way out is through. 

I sang in front of the mirror. I cried a lot. I watched what it looked like and heard what it sounded like for me to feel everything I felt about having an addict for a mother, about being abandoned like that, about not feeling like I would ever belong anywhere. I looked myself in the eye and told myself everything I needed to hear. That's how I learned what it took to always land on the other side of whatever I was going to go through in my life. The cassette tape never gave out, never got sick of me. Whitney never felt that song any less, no matter how many times I needed to feel whatever I that level. 

You cannot opt out of these things if you want to survive. 

I suppose that's part of what makes me so sad today, thinking about Whitney's early passing and her own addictions. How could she so precisely feel it all in performing, but need the aid of cocaine, booze-- you name it-- in daily life? I think about how young she was when she got into the business. I think about what makes us secure and what draws us into our insecurities. 

Look at that video of the famous "Star Spangled Banner." There are so many levels. It's so rich. But the best part-- the part that reveals what was great about Whitney is everything about the word "brave" at the end there. Not because of the notes or the orchestra but because of how at home she was, how confident, how she knew herself and the world on that last chromatic breakdown. Watch her arms. Watch her face. How she knew exactly what the world was going to give her. And what her voice would do. Control. 

Which, of course, is a word I go back to a lot thinking about addiction. The difference between what you can and cannot control. Moments like the end of that National Anthem are so perfect, so perfectly full of emotion, it's hard not to look at her and think she's invincible. It's impossible not to think of my mother. How quickly you can go from an invincible heart to a young death-- either of the body or the soul or both. How unconscious it might be if you aren't just singing your guts out with feeling. And even if you are. 

I think about this all the time. But especially on days like today. Do what makes your heart strong. Do what makes you invincible. Do the thing that no one can ever take away from you. Drugs are never that. It's not a coincidence that cocaine weakens your heart. Alcohol is never that. It's not a coincidence that alcohol breaks down your liver-- the organ that filters out toxins. And they lose potency over time. Moments like this, however, do not. They will always make you feel. 

Just listen to this. RIP, Whitney. 


  1. What a beautiful, moving tribute...and thank you so much for sharing a bit of your world along with it. <3

  2. Thanks for reading Christa! Addiction awareness is one of my super important issues :)


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