Saturday, February 18, 2012

Whitney Houston: A Lesson on Addiction

Whitney Houston's debut album was the soundtrack of my summer in 1985. Along with about every other girl in her teens and twenties, I sang Saving All My Love into an imaginary microphone. I played her follow-up album and danced my heart out to I Wanna Dance with Somebody. The vocals soared and the melodies were infectious. She was incredibly talented.

Watching Whitney's character fall for Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard, I almost believed he was sexy (almost). Hearing her sing, I Will Always Love You inexplicably brought me to tears each time. I had loved the Dolly Parton song for years, but Whitney transformed it into something completely new. She was amazing.

Bobby Brown had three children by two different women and a rumored history of drug use before Whitney married him in 1987. Like a lot of her fans, I wondered what the daughter of a gospel singer who had grown up in church was doing with the New Edition bad boy. It wasn't long before rumors of Whitney's drug use started appearing in the tabloids. In 2000, she was arrested for drug possession and a succession of rehab stays began shortly thereafter. She was an addict.

Her long-time champion Clive Davis spearheaded an intervention for Whitney. In 2011, he worked with her for what was hoped to be her comeback. During several concerts, the woman with the angelic voice was booed off the stage. The damage to her vocal cords couldn't be hidden. By February 11, 2012, she was dead.

The callous, cruel jokes began almost immediately. You've read them - "Houston, we have a problem." "Whitney Houston died. Did she fall off the wagon and hit her head?". What surprised me was reading these cold-hearted remarks from some people who had battled their own demons. It seems, "There, but by the the grace of God, go I" is a forgotten saying.

"Whitney Houston caused her own death." "She had everything going for her and threw it all away." I won't argue with either of those statements. However, I will ask for at least a modicum of compassion for a person made in the image of God who fell into the pit of addiction and couldn't find her way back out.

In his excellent book, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, Ed Welch points out that addicts feel trapped and out of control. They feel they can't let go even when the addictive behavior yields few pleasures and a great deal of pain. Something or someone other than the living God controls them. That controlling object tells them how to live, think and feel. Drunkenness, for example, is a lordship problem. Who is your master? God or your desires? Creator or creature? At root, drunkards are worshiping another god, alcohol. The drunk is controlled by alcohol as if he is its subject and it was his ruler. The alcohol worship is a form of self worship. We worship people and things to get what we want even when what we are wanting is destroying us.

I have a great deal of respect for Houston's mother Cissy Houston and Clive Davis for never giving up on Whitney. Mel Gibson, who has publicly crashed and burned and battled back numerous times with his substance issues, reached out to Whitney several times, which is why his name was on the funeral guest list. Addicts need people to love them enough to confront them and keep confronting and caring - as long as it takes.

I pray those who mocked Whitney Houston's death never find themselves needing such longsuffering compassion.