Music

Loving addicts, whether they're Amy Winehouse or Betty Ford

Maureen Herring

In every discussion I’ve had about Amy Winehouse’s death, “saw it coming” seems to be the universal response, often communicated with cynicism and lack of grief. There even were a couple of websites running contests to predict her demise. On the other hand, people responded to Betty Ford’s death with nearly universal affection and admiration. Considering Proverbs says that the tongue can bring death or life, I wonder if pointing fingers at Winehouse not only fails to reflect the attitude of Christ, but also sends a message to the addicts in our lives.

Betty Ford and Amy Winehouse were addicts. Some addicts get sober like Ford, while others go into rehab but can’t stay sober, like Winehouse. Ford remained a recovering drug addict and alcoholic for 33 years until her death earlier this month. Whether she was using at the time of her death or not, Winehouse was an addict until the day she died. Addicts don’t stop being addicts. They remain in recovery.

For the former first lady and the popular singer it was impossible to deal with addiction in a private manner. Famous addicts become the butt of cynical jokes and endless public scrutiny. The sympathy or judgment from the public and constant exposure in the press has to be processed along with everything that goes with addiction and rehab.

People cared about Ford and Winehouse and wanted them to stop poisoning their bodies. Ford’s family staged an intervention that worked. After she publicly admitted her addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol, she got clean and advocated to change public perceptions about addiction. She was instrumental in having it recognized as a disease and established the Betty Ford Center.

Winehouse wrote songs about her addiction. (“They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said no no no…”) She did eventually enter rehab twice, but both times left before completing the program. While she had support, she also seemed to have people in her life influencing her to continue using.

Ford and Winehouse serve as reminders that addiction is a disease. In a moving tribute to Winehouse, recovering addict Russell Brand, a friend, wrote, “All we can do is adapt the way we view this condition, not as a crime or a romantic affectation but as a disease that will kill.” I doubt that either of these women got up one day and decided it might be fun to become addicts.

Addiction is a creeping, insidious, devouring illness. It is full of lies. Each woman believed the lie that the behavior would end her pain because she legitimately needed relief and comfort. Recovery takes love and support, forgiveness and restoration on the part of friends and family. Even with support, walking through pain and waiting for relief is counterintuitive for people who use substances to feel better.

This sounds a lot like sin. My pastor is fond of saying that “everybody is a recovering somebody.” Winehouse and Ford became entangled in the sin of addiction. Both women needed deliverance and forgiveness and restoration. In I Peter 5:8, the enemy of our souls, the father of lies, is described as “a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” As Christians we don’t want to participate in devouring, but in restoration. Amy Winehouse and Betty Ford were beloved by God. He didn’t want either of them devoured.

(Photo of Amy Winehouse courtesy of Rama/Wikimedia Commons. Photo of Betty Ford courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

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