I was hit surprisingly hard by the death of Amy Winehouse last weekend. I am a huge fan of her music and identified very much with her willfulness. Amy struck me as self-reliant to the point of self-destruction. When she stalked around Miami on her skinny stick legs in this video, I wondered, “Why isn’t anybody doing anything for this girl?” But there’s nothing anybody can do for someone who isn’t ready to change. One in three families is affected by addiction – mine included – so that futility is probably not news to anyone reading this.
But what about addicts who are ready to seek treatment? For some, simply attending 12 Step meetings in the midst of everyday life isn’t enough. Especially for young people, taking substantial time away from the people, places and things that influenced their drinking and using is an important part of detox and recovery. Those services are rendered by qualified professionals whom we’d never expect to donate such skills; they come at a cost. But as others have pointed out, there’s not a lot of popular support for helping addicts with fundraisers and awareness-raising:
Perhaps we owe it to Winehouse to take a step back and consider the impact of substance abuse…on our friends, families, neighbors, co-workers – and how these struggles are stigmatized by media and society. We run marathons for lymphoma, wear red for heart health and convince pro athletes to don pink cleats for breast-cancer awareness. What about…eating disorders? Alcohol abuse?
I was shocked to see people on Twitter saying, in the hours following Amy’s death, that they found it hard to have empathy or respect for a drug addict. That absolutely floored me. Would anyone say the same of someone struck down by cancer or asthma? We have a long way to go before the general population grasps that knowing substances are going to kill you, and even being gripped by the desire not to take them, is often no help in avoiding drugs or alcohol. This tears apart the addict and, in a scenario many of us (myself included) are familiar with, their family and friends.
This year, I started doing some volunteer work with Caron. I have many friends who have benefited hugely from treatment at their centers. In fact, Caron has saved many lives of those who are close to me. I also have professional contacts who have sent many employees to Caron for help with addiction. After meeting one of their staff members at a fundraiser for another non-profit, I started helping to get donations from corporations and individuals for the Gregg’s Gift stand-up comedy fundraiser. (Gregg’s Gift raises Caron treatment scholarships for young people, in honor of Gregg Grossman, who would have been 29 this past Wednesday if he hadn’t lost his life to an overdose.) I then had the honor of doing a tiny bit of work at Caron’s annual gala, where artists like Paul Simon, James Taylor, Taylor Swift, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Art Garfunkel, Rosanne Cash, Steve Earle, Yoko Ono, Patti LaBelle and many others gave their time and auction items to help us – and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Dr. John played his heart out on stage.
Soon after that, I started pitching in with Caron’s Young Adult Recovery Network. YARN was formed because young Caron grads come out of rehab and often lack a strong support network in New York that can help them make the transition to living a sober life outside of a treatment center. In many cases, the recovering addict’s social life had previously revolved around drug and alcohol abuse, and she can struggle to figure out how to enjoy a full life that doesn’t include substances. As with everything in recovery, there’s no need to tackle this challenge alone – and that’s where YARN can be of service. In addition to helping newly sober young people to live their best lives, YARN gives them the opportunity to help others in the same situation, building a vital support network that can provide fun, strength, and compelling incentive to avoid relapse.
So in a week where the lack of support for addiction sufferers weighed heavily on my mind and heart, I was honored to be invited to join YARN’s board. There’s a lot of work to be done to build it into a nation-wide network of reinforcement, and I’m excited to be of service to a cause that means so much to me.
Here’s a small secret: I have long wanted to do meaningful work in the area of recovery. I didn’t see how it would be possible, since I don’t have a social work degree, medical qualifications, or any of the other credentials necessary to do work in rehabilitation. Well, as ever, just because I didn’t see the way didn’t mean that the way wasn’t there. I’m so grateful for this opportunity to serve in a volunteer capacity, and to spread the message that addiction is as deserving of visible, vigorous support as any other illness.