Death by Addiction

I have to admit, I was never  a huge fan of Whitney Houston.  It’s not that I didn’t like her or didn’t like her music– how could one NOT like an angelic voice like hers?  Her voice was beautiful, but I never ran out and bought her CDs or anything.  I’ll never forget witnessing on TV the night she performed her awesome rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XXV on January 27, 1991.  The USA was only 10 days into the Persian Gulf War and she stirred a patriotism in the hearts of American citizens like never before.  It was a proud moment that sent chills throughout my whole body.  I was proud to be an American as was everyone sitting in that football stadium and everyone watching on TV that night.  I learned later that Whitney Houston donated her part of the proceeds from that evening.  And after the September 11, 2001 attacks on our nation, when Arista Records re-released her version of “The Star Spangled Banner”, she again donated her share of the royalties to go towards helping the firefighters and victims of that tragic day.  No doubt, this woman who was both beautiful and extremely talented, did a lot of good in her life.

Then there was the dark side to Whitney Houston–  her addictions to drugs and alcohol.  I tried not to judge her, but always felt so sad for her.  Visibly, you could see the toll it was taking on her body and over the years you could hear the toll it was taking on her voice, which became raspy and strained.

I remember seeing her on our local news station two nights before she died.  It showed a disheveled and disoriented Whitney Houston leaving a night club.  There were pictures of blood dripping down the outside of one leg and scratches on her wrist.  There were reports of “unusual” behavior  on her part such as doing hand stands by a pool and skipping around like a child.  Other reports say she was acting “wasted” and “moody” and that she had been drinking heavily and had acted belligerently.  She was said to have been sweating profusely and shaking.  I remember watching that news report and thinking, “Oh Whitney, you better get yourself together girl.”  I thought of Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse.  Two days later, Whitney Houston was dead.

I read multiple articles on-line about her death and sometimes read the comments people wrote.  I remember being floored by one comment by a woman who wrote that she hoped it turned out that Whitney Houston’s death was due to a bathtub drowning and not drug related.  I remember thinking: forty-eight year old women just don’t drown in a bathtub! Then it was reported that various prescription meds were found in the hotel room.  I read that she had prescriptions for Valium, Xanax and Ativan.  What??  Why would any doctor prescribe three different benzodiazepines?  There IS no reason for that to happen.  It never said, but my guess is that they were prescribed by different doctors.  Just a few days ago, the LA coroner reported that the cause of Whitney Houston’s death was an accidental drowning (which I found a little odd since I thought it had already been reported that there was not enough water in her lungs for her to have drowned).  The coroner also reported cocaine and its byproducts were found in Houston’s system and that from all indications, she was a chronic cocaine abuser.  I can’t say I was surprised at that finding.  Also found in her body, was marijuana, Flexeril (a muscle relaxant), Xanax (a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety and panic disorders), and Benadryl (an over the counter antihistamine), and none of these drugs were reported to be the cause of her death.  I’m no doctor or coroner, but I can’t believe you could mix all these drugs and NOT be incapacitated in some way.  There was also speculation that heart disease may have contributed in some way to her death– heart disease caused by chronic cocaine abuse.

It all just leaves me feeling incredibly sad.  I can’t help but think I know what her family and close friends are feeling now.  A part of me feels that someone in her entourage HAD to know she was still abusing cocaine and these other drugs.  How could they NOT know?I’m guessing we’ll never really know the whole truth.  Things tend to get swept under the rug and covered up.

Two years ago I lost a very close friend of mine to an addiction.  I think this is one reason that I can’t stop thinking about this whole Whitney Houston thing.  He was a very close friend and colleague, and someone I admired and respected deeply.  He had a kind and gentle spirit and would give the shirt off his back for anyone.  He had an old-fashioned integrity and honesty about him that is not seen often in people today.  He was all about helping others, but unfortunately, couldn’t seem to help himself.  He was perhaps one of the smartest people I knew and had a genius level IQ.   He had traveled around the world and had seen and done a lot.  I always called him my “walking encyclopedia” as he was  knowledgable about so many things.   I could ask him anything and he just about always knew the answer.  He was a Veteran who served three tours of duty in Vietnam as a Medevac helicopter pilot.  He didn’t talk about that much, although I did know that he was shot down three different times while in Vietnam, receiving severe burns to most of the lower part of his body when his helicopter burst into flames.  He did tell me about that.  It was only after his death that I learned he had been the recipient of the Purple Heart.   He was easy to talk to and we talked about most everything in the twenty years that we knew each other, but never much about his military career and NEVER about his Purple Heart.  I respected him on those matters and didn’t pry.  I felt that if he wanted me to know those things, he would share them with me.  He did share a few of the terrible, horrible things he saw in Vietnam and I can’t help but wonder if this contributed to his alcohol addiction.

The sad thing about  my friend, is that he aggressively denied he had an addiction, or for that matter, even a problem.  Even when he was caught hiding his bottles, he strongly denied it.  I became alarmed when evidence started showing up that he was driving while impaired.  More and more I started noticing multiple dings, dents and scrapes in his car that he couldn’t explain.  There were other very worrisome signs for me.  His work ethic which was always extremely high and important to him, began to slip.  He stopped paying his bills.  I became terrified for my friend’s health and for his life.  I decided I had to step in and talk to him…. and I did…. many, many times.  Unfortunately, it all fell on deaf ears.  I finally decided to write my friend a heartfelt letter.  I thought maybe if he had something in writing that he could read over and over and refer back to,  that I would somehow get through to him.  I remember the day I sealed that letter and dropped it in the mailbox.  I knew I was risking losing him as a friend, but even more, I knew I was going to lose him if I DIDN’T take some kind of action.  I told him I was writing because I cared for him deeply and fully knew I was risking making him angry and risking even losing his friendship.  But I told him I could never forgive myself if I sat back and did nothing while his life fell apart before me.  And I told him I could NEVER live with myself if he hurt himself or even worse, hurt an innocent person.  I held nothing back.  I told my friend how concerned I had become at his personal appearance which had deteriorated over the years.  How I had been shocked by his loss of weight, his often disheveled appearance and his weakened condition, his stuttering, his unsteadiness and trembling, his overall health in general.  I told him how he was putting himself in grave danger by mixing certain prescription drugs he was on with alcohol and that I knew he was smart enough to know that.  There were other things that I won’t go into, but I let  him know there were way too many red flags and something had to be done.  Even though I told him I didn’t mean for it to sound like I was threatening him, I threatened him.  I threatened him with calling the Department of Human Services (Adult Protective Services), I threatened him with an intervention, and threatened to have him removed from his apartment.   I told him I would not sit back and watch him, my dear friend, deteriorate any further and that at the risk of destroying our friendship, I was intervening on his behalf.  I told him I loved him dearly, that I respected him as a very intelligent, kind, caring, and one of the most sincere people I had ever known (and I meant every bit of that).  I told him he had led such an extraordinary and honorable life and I didn’t want to see it end in how I was predicting it would end.  I told him as plain and simply as I knew how, that he was in denial and needed professional help.  I have been around many alcoholics in my lifetime but never had I seen anyone in denial like this…. and I told him that.  I ended my letter telling him again that I loved him too much to see this happening to him, that I was here for him, and to call me when and if he wanted to talk.

Many days passed after I sent the letter and I didn’t hear from him.  I worried and wondered if I had done the wrong thing.  Then my phone rang.  It was my friend telling me he had received my letter and he had read it multiple times and thought about it.  We talked a  long time and he thanked me and told me he appreciated my friendship and he was glad I wrote the letter.  But again, he denied he had a problem or addiction.  He STRONGLY denied it.  While my friend did allow my husband and me to get him some medical care, I failed miserably on getting him help for his addiction.  Though his general health improved and he started looking better and getting stronger, the addiction was still clearly there.  Essentially, I was told by every professional that I contacted, that he was not breaking any laws.  Though his apartment was in a state of squalor and not livable in my opinion, his apartment manager told me he was a good tenant who paid his rent and told me “he was not breaking any laws by living in filth.”  They could do nothing and did nothing.  At the time, I was dealing with a terminally ill mother and she started needing more help from me.  As I devoted more of my time to my mother, I just drifted away from my friend.  I will admit, I was tired and I was frustrated.  I was frustrated with both him and the system.   And in truth, I didn’t know what more to do for him.  Yes, I’ll admit, I got a little angry with him.  I was angry that he was in such a state of denial about his addiction and he was doing nothing to help himself.   I didn’t understand how this could happen.  I felt I had pounded my head into a brick wall and was getting absolutely nowhere.  I had sporadic contact with my friend after that.   Gradually, he began deteriorating again.

Then I got the news that my friend had been killed in a horrible car accident.  I read his obituary in disbelief.  He had driven off the road, hit a tree, and had to be life-flighted to the local medical center.  He had no current driver’s license and no readily identifiable ID on him.  It was discovered later that his driver’s license had lapsed.  He had just a few surviving family members, all of whom were elderly.  I was able to reach one of them and get the bare details from her.  He died a few days after his accident.  His body was donated to science and there was no funeral.

I can’t tell you the sadness I felt and the grief I went through after it finally sunk in that my friend had died.  It’s been two years this month, and I can’t help but feel I let my friend down, society let him down, the system let him down.  Some people would say that you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help himself.  That may be true, but sometimes I wonder if he was so sick that he couldn’t even see just how sick he was.   I was disappointed in myself for giving up on him and devastated his life had ended in just the way I had feared it would.  The bottom line is that my friend is dead.  And he’s never coming back.  And I miss him terribly.  So I guess that’s why I feel so sad for Whitney Houston’s friends and family who maybe knew she was still struggling with addiction.  I’m in no way blaming them for what happened to her.  I’m just saying it’s going to be a long and painful road for them.  Trust me…. I know.

Gail ♥

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About Gail

I am a wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend, veterinarian, and wanna be writer. I love nature and animals of all kinds, music, cooking, and spending time with my family.
This entry was posted in Addiction, Death, Grief and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Death by Addiction

  1. Sorry to hear about your friend. There are no words to describe a loss. each day, hopefully the pain gets better. I pray that your friend, so is Whitney in a peaceful, happier place. Loss like this are always tragic and sad. Thanks for sharing a story that touches the heart. God bless you and your family.

    • Gail says:

      Thank you island traveler. I also pray that they are in a more peaceful, happier place and away from the sadness and stressors that they were trying to “treat” with their addictions. I think the sadness will always be there, but hopefully it will get better with time. I think part of the difficulty for me (in my friend’s case anyway) lies in the fact that I just don’t think I will ever understand the denial part of it.

  2. I meant, is in a peaceful ….

  3. iceman18 says:

    You were a great friend and did all you could to help. It is an absolute that Alcoholism is a self-diagnosis. It doesn’t matter what friends, family, employers etc. see, until the individual makes that admission and seeks treatment, the addiction cycle will continue. And, as you stated several times, your friend was aggressively denying his addiction.

    Honor your friend by remembering the beautiful person that he was. Honor yourself by knowing that you did not fail miserably on getting him help for his addiction. You did everything and more within your power to help.

    • Gail says:

      Thank you iceman18. I appreciate you taking the time to comment. You gave me some good advice in your last paragraph. I spent some time this morning reading your blog and am looking forward to reading more. I admire your honesty and the fact that you are sharing your story with others. There is a lot to be learned from others who have been there and experienced the pain. Thanks again.

  4. I think that everyone assumed that Whitney´s cause of death was related to drug use. It is hard to believe that people can even start using drugs after seeing how it ruins people´s lives. I guess that just shows how strong and powerful the hold drugs have on people. It is not as easy as just deciding to quite one day. It is a long and hard battle back up and for some like Whitney the battle gets the best of them in the end.

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