A couple of friends think I’ve been a little harsh in my disgust with Whitney Houston. Yes, I may have referred to her as a “crack whore.” And that was not nice, and probably not even true. So for that, I am sorry.
The media coverage is the thing that has probably disturbed me the most, with her funeral being shown live in so many TV markets and her photo gracing the cover of many magazines and newspapers. Was it news? Yes. But did it deserve as much coverage as it received? I guess that’s a subjective call.
She was not a hero, although I know a number of young black performers saw her as an icon. Was she talented? Very. But like Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, John Belushi, Judy Garland, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse and many, many other talented performers, her addictions ultimately led to her death.
And she has left behind a young daughter who needs her mother. That’s what I have the most difficulty with. For the rest of her life, Whitney Houston’s daughter will wonder, “Why wasn’t I enough reason for her to get sober and clean? Why didn’t she love me enough to do that? If she’d really loved me, she would have overcome it and not left me.”
Yes, she will wonder those things, because every spouse and child of an addict or alcoholic wonders those things. Whether we are in program or counseling or not, even if we know better deep down inside — that an addiction cannot always be overcome for others but must be battled because the addict has reached the point of wanting to overcome it — there is always a tiny voice inside the head of everyone who’s loved an addict that is saying, “He/she didn’t love me enough to give it up.”
More than 35 years after my own father gained sobriety (when I was 15), I can still remember that voice. And I can still remember how incredibly horrible it made me feel.
We were a lucky family. Dad got sober and stayed sober. The emotional scars stayed with all of us, but they faded. And even though he didn’t need to, my father spent the rest of his remaining years trying to atone to our family and others for his actions during his years as an active alcoholic.
With Whitney’s death, her daughter will never have the relief of a truly clean and sober parent or the years to come to the realization that her mother’s love could not be measured by sobriety.
Because sometimes love is not enough to make an addict get clean. It’s a harsh reality in our world. All the love and support a family can offer still doesn’t help an addict gain sobriety in every case. I was lucky, but a lot of friends I grew up with were not as lucky.
As a college student I sometimes passed the local OTB (Off-Track Betting) parlor while switching buses en route to campus. On occasion I saw a man sprawled outside, passed out drunk, sometimes lying in his own urine. It was the father of a girl I’d known all my life. Our mothers went to Al-Anon together; she and I attended Alateen together. My father got sober. Hers did not. Today she battles with her own sobriety, having been in and out of detox several times. Two young girls, a 50-50 outcome.
If a parent can’t get sober for the sake of a child, they may not ever be able to get sober; most parents I know would willingly throw themselves in the path of a speeding train to save their children. But time and again we see that some addicts just can’t do it.
If I’ve been a little harsh in my judgment of Whitney, I do apologize. I don’t like to be judgmental. I appreciated actor Kevin Costner’s eulogy: yes, Whitney, you were good enough to sing and perform and act. And maybe if you’d truly believed that you could have overcome your demon addictions. But the problem is: We’ll never know, and there’s an 18-year-old motherless girl out there today who now has a whole new heap of doubt and insecurity to deal with.
Countless children throughout the world struggle with their parents’ addictions every day, and celebrity will not make it any easier or difficult for Bobbi Kristina. Counseling, if she gets it, will help. But there will always be a voice inside her head saying, “I wasn’t enough reason for my mom to get clean and sober.”
It’s not true, but she may never, ever believe that.