The Winehouse in Our Houses

I must admit to a fair amount of angst over the reaction to the loss of Amy Winehouse.

She had an awesome talent; her voice brought to life just a small part of the pain she obviously carried. When listening to a Winehouse CD, you’re transported to a jazz club where a sister simultaneously ministers and self-medicates with a shot glass in one hand, a mike in the other.

Her death (joining Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison in Club 27) reminds us that in the midst of fame or anonymity, wealth or poverty, ballin’ or project livin’, it’s all irrelevant when it comes to the plague that is drug and alcohol addiction.

People are quick to share their opinion that addiction is a deal-breaker, a non-conversation, a reason to get up and go. But how many of us have a brother, father, ex-husband, or friend with the same struggles as Ms. Winehouse?

Addictions tear marriages and families apart every day. The heroin scourge that tore through Harlem in the 1950s hit my family hard and the vestiges of that drama are still at play today. If I post that my Uncle Bubba died from a drug overdose, will you respond with an outpouring of concern or will you share a kind word while quietly wondering how “one of them” ended up in my family?

Families are hurting because of the shame and the stigma of addiction. Children act out in school, rather than share the root of the problem. Women go to work, holding on to their sanity by a wing and a prayer, in fear of revealing that the monster of addiction is wreaking havoc in their home.

The next time you hear of a brother struggling with addiction, say a prayer. Understand that his pain is no less tragic, his walk is no less painful to watch, his need for grace and mercy is no less warranted than that of any media celebrity.

Take a minute and look for the good in him, too.

When Its Really for the Children

This posting is taken from my response to a thread (shout out to Nicole McLean and the DC SistaGirl’s) regarding wives hanging in when their husband had done….well, just any number of tacky and terrible things were given as real-world examples. Thought I’d share my answer (with a small edit or two); I get really concerned about “its for the children” response.

Here goes.

The “for better or for worse” in the marriage vows refers to the commitment to the marriage, but not necessarily the way in which we honor the commitment. In other words, if your husband is an abuser – and there are so many different ways, as you all have stated – you can be committed to the marriage and not have to be in the house. When my husband left, he said he was committed to our getting back together but we both were clear that somebody needed to go somewhere (I had not yet worked on my non-violent philosophy…). As it turned out, when he thought about returning to begin his “marriage work” I had already gotten a divorce, but up until the very day I made the decision to file for a divorce, I was committed to the marriage. There is a time, however, when you can be committed to something that has died. That is a personal decision and no one can make that call for anyone else.

Having said that, the concept of living with someone for the kids is just hooey. I talk often about the day I asked several classes – high school students – what they would change in their lives and the majority of them said the relationship between their parent. That was amazing to me; still is. A good number of those were kids whose parents were living together, hating each other, and fooling absolutely nobody. Living together without love may allow you to maintain your standard of living, to not have to get a job (or not have to get a second one), to postpone the inevitable, but it does nothing for the kids. Children know intuitively when the lights are out in the camp, and by staying you do them a disservice as you show them that marriage is not about love and trust, it’s about avoidance and maintaining the status quo. It just confuses them and makes them angry.

The part that is missing in the “for better or for worse” scenario is not the staying, but the forgiveness. You can stay and not forgive and accomplish nothing. If you stay with someone through whatever, you have to love them through whatever. If you don’t love someone enough to sleep with them, or if you love yourself enough to realize that sleeping with them is harmful to you, but you continue to stay then you’re not upholding anything but martyrdom. Holding anger towards someone is like taking poison and expecting someone else to get sick. If you love them, love them. Forgive. Try to understand. Accept what you can – and can not – live with.

But get up off the ‘children’ tip. If you do it for the children, do it with love, not “I haven’t spoken to him in 5 months, but I want my children to live in a house with 2 parents”. Really?