Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: drug abuse

Amy Winehouse: Dying for Approval

Update 7/24/11: Please see the blog entry about Amy Winehouse’s death.


I love writing this blog: one day I get to think about university-geek doctors researching neuroplasticity, and the next day I get to think about train-wreck celebrities who are flushing their enormous talent down the toilet by saying “no, no, no” to rehab.

Amy Winehouse


In other words, Amy Winehouse. Who today cancelled her European tour after showing up drunk and/or wasted on drugs in Belgrade, Serbia a few days ago.

Amy Winehouse is dying for approval.

Catch this video of Winehouse shot Saturday night, in which the audience boos her:

She stumbles around, stops in mid-verse a few times, and drags a band-mate over to help her finish her lines. Aside from the fact that she’s completely wasted, here’s what I noticed about Winehouse in this video (and this may be simple projection on my part):

  • She gives two of her tall dark and handsome band-mates prolonged hugs and repeatedly seeks their attention during the song.
  • She is wearing a corseted skin-tight sequined tiger-print “dress,” which pushes her breasts up to her collarbones.
  • Her posture: despite the fact that she’s taken off her heels, she still can’t stop jutting her tits out in front and her butt out in back. She has learned to “present” her body in a compulsively sexual way.

What’s driving Winehouse is so obviously her need for other people’s approval. … Extremely insecure. I say this because I notice the tendencies in myself, OK?

So, you’re thinking, Yeah, so what. This is what performers do, this is how they’re motivated—by looking for approval.

It’s not what performers used to do. Performers used to be allowed to focus on their musicianship and their skill, and not sacrifice their health and sanity and life for a buck. Musicians used to be straight when they played gigs and they received fees that were sane and reasonable, which kept ticket prices affordable. Musicians wore suits, and dresses that covered their bodies. Think the Beatles. Think the Supremes, or Aretha. I mean even Janis Joplin, who was also dying for approval, wore clothes! … Then came Madonna, and MTV, and music became as much about using spectacle and voyeurism and pretend narratives—Yesterday I was Marilyn Monroe; today I’m a henna-tattooed Indian yogi; tomorrow I think I’ll be a disco cowgirl—to raise ticket prices. It’s no longer much about the actual music. Because as everyone knows, the art itself never makes you any money. It’s the tours and the merchandise and the peripheral press coverage, the celebrity.

So Amy Winehouse, a dyed-in-the-wool alcoholic and addict with fantastic pipes and something of a knack for songwriting, arrives at 20 years old, just a kid, in the mid-2000s. She’s getting drunk and cutting and starving her body. Of course she can’t agree to go to rehab! Fuckin-A. Her voice is being compared to Sarah Vaughn’s and Ella Fitzgerald’s, which may or may not flatter her and make her aware of her extraordinary potential. What’s important is, she is being called “controversial.” Newsweek is saying she is “a perfect storm of sex kitten, raw talent and poor impulse-control.” She gets this. When poor impulse-control is part of what makes you so top-dollar, what makes people APPROVE OF YOU so much, how can you go to rehab? Rehab is all about regaining impulse-control. It’s all about saying “no, no, no” to things that are going to kill you.

Like, for example, drinking, and smoking crack and ciggies till you come down with emphysema.

Like, making more money at all costs.

I have a couple good friends who enjoy Amy Winehouse’s music. I must admit I’d never heard any of her songs before I listened to “Rehab” this morning. I’m trained in voice, and Amy Winehouse has an amazing gift. The tune is catchy and the words are perhaps more ambiguous and lyrical than they might at first seem. It’s unclear to me, at least, whether the singer in “Rehab” means her lines entirely without irony.

The man said, “Why you think you here?”
I said, “I got no idea
I’m gonna lose my baby
So I always keep a bottle near”

What I notice in the 2006 video for “Rehab” is, she is being produced in the same sleazy way that she performed in her Belgrade concert. She frankly looks like a prostitute. A “slut,” as we used to say in high school. Her lips have been pumped up to porn-star proportions. A year or two later, so will go her breasts.

Stacey Earle in performance in Pittsburgh, 18 June 2011.

On Saturday (ironically, the same night Amy Winehouse was stumbling around in Belgrade) I went to a house concert. Stacey Earle, a sister of Steve Earle, and her husband, Mark Stuart, performed a two-hour gig for 40 people. I took a friend of mine who blogs about rock music. He wrote me later:

Their performance was so beautiful and sincere. Her songwriting and his guitar—why aren’t folks like this more ‘successful’ and others like (fill in the blank) fill stadiums? Its not the songs—the songs are BEAST!

I replied, “Others (fill in blank) are more successful IMO because they sell sex and youth.” What they also sell is spectacle. In Amy Winehouse’s case, it’s the spectacle of sickness. Pete Townshend used to destroy his guitars onstage. Amy Winehouse is destroying herself. When you watch her onstage, you get to feel like you’re witnessing the ruination of something beautiful that has become iconic, as though you were present at, I dunno, the ripping in half of the veil in the temple? the self-immolation of the Vietnamese monk?—plus, as a bonus, if you’re lucky and Winehouse isn’t too wasted, you get to hear a bit of beast entertainment thrown in. Same with Charlie Sheen.

Or you can choose to pay to watch Mark Stuart and Stacey Earle, who wears no makeup and doesn’t dye or even style her hair, and who hasn’t bothered to “fix” her crooked teeth (“I think if she fixed them, her entire way of singing would change, and maybe not for the better,” my friend mused), who has a different and equally powerful vocal gift and who is able to play two hours without losing track of her songs or her lines. She’s not dying for approval. She’s not filling up arenas, because why?—she’s healthy and sincere? “Sincerity” doesn’t necessarily make a million bucks. But it makes great music. And when you’re an addict, it might keep you alive.


Tackling the Difficult Problem of Prescription Opiate Misuse

Doctors at Georgetown School of Medicine and Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto have published a good editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine about the need for better strategies to identify and prevent chronic pain patients from abusing opiate drugs.

Two strategies are currently being used:

1. The pain-patient contract, which basically requires patients to agree to consult only with that doctor (preventing doctor-shopping) and to adhere to the dosing schedule set up by the physician (i.e., not buy extra drugs off the street; not steal drugs or forge prescriptions; etc.). As if an addict in the throes of obsession would suddenly remember, “Oh right!—I signed that contract months ago (where did I put it again?), I CAN’T take those extra drugs.” If physicians think this piece of paper would prevent a pain patient from becoming addicted, then physicians do not understand addiction.

2. The urine drug-screen, which I always thought tested for drugs other than those prescribed (my doctor told me so), but maybe it measures for heightened drug-levels? To tell you the truth, I don’t know what the urine drug-screen does.

And the authors don’t know either—they say there’s little evidence that either of these tools does any good, and in fact they may create more stigma for pain patients without addiction problems who need pain treatment and don’t want to prove they’re not addicts by peeing into a cup every month.

One problem is the medical establishment/industry’s inability to define “addiction.” Even the panel rewriting the DSM V can’t figure out how to define it. The doctors write:

To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, although drug misuse and addiction are difficult to define, we all assume that we will know them when we see them. This attitude has had a devastating effect on clinical practice and research at the interface of pain and addiction.

They’re talking about that old standard about the meaning of pornography: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”

They add that a recent review on the safety of the use of opiates to manage chronic non-cancer pain noted the scarcity of addiction-related data and concluded that if there was no data, then addiction must not have been a problem. The editorial argues that addiction is a big problem that has remained hidden because of difficulties in diagnosing it when it intersects with pain management. We all know a junkie when we see her on the street, right?—but it’s harder to recognize the addict in the doctor’s office because she’s, like, not begging for money.

I know my doctor thought I had some kind of “problem” with my drugs. I think she lacked the tools to diagnose and treat me definitively, as an addict. She sends the people she thinks are “real addicts” to the psychiatric hospital. I don’t think she wanted to do that to me, however much I deserved it, and for that I am grateful to her. She was willing to help me taper, but instead I hired a detox doctor. He was what I needed. I could never taper off a full-agonist.

If you were on a panel advising these doctors, what strategies would you give them to identify the addicts in their offices?

Gannett running stellar addiction series in Ohio

Journalism is suffering in this country, and good journalists are no longer being given the resources to do their job—which is to dig into information, come up with life-changing stories, and ask questions that make people in power feel antsy. But there’s a journalist in Ohio who’s managing to do his job despite the cutbacks and layoffs—he’s been writing a continuing series about prescription drug addiction that’s apparently making waves among those who decide budgets and policy.

A must-see: the  hour-long video-chat he organized with a county drug-and-alcohol board exec and Dr. Richard Whitney, a rehab addiction-services director. Whitney is an exceedingly well informed doctor whose compassion for addicts and their families and deep understanding of addiction rivaled my own detox doc’s. He says:

We will wear a little red dress on our lapel to raise money for heart disease, or we’ll wear a pink ribbon or go out for a 5K or a 10K run to raise money to fight breast cancer. When’s the last time we had a 10K run or a little symbol to raise money for treatment for people with drug and alcohol dependence? It has this tremendous negative stigma in our society.

The world needs more of these physicians—and more of these writers.

Coming soon: an interview with Russ Zimmer, the writer behind the series.


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