Amy Winehouse is the latest dead too soon celebrity, as an Elvis fan, I can feel for Amy’s fans, wondering how a person so talented, famous and loved could be so pointlessly and wastefully dead at only 27.
My initial reaction was not quite the, aren’t they already dead response that I get to the tabloids at the supermarket check out line when they feature photos of elderly celebs who had last passed out of the public eye, but who were apparently not actually dead, just forgotten.
Amy Winehouse seems to have been determined to overdose, so in many respects, it was just a matter of when. My response was more to wonder, why with her money, didn’t she hire someone to be sober and watching over her?
But then, that didn’t work out too well for Michael Jackson.
So, the lesson seems more to not using drugs above your ability to remain a functional person – thus one should avoid physically addictive drugs – and to know your limit and toke within it.
What’s incomprehensible to us mere unfamous mortals is how can a person who is famous – and famous for actual talent who worked hard to become famous – as opposed to insta-fame of infamous for anti-social actions or behaviours or reality program famous. People becoming famous for stunts or crimes makes more sense than unreality programs – which are a bizarre form of escapism that makes little sense to me – certainly, far less sense than drugs or alcohol – at least they can be entertaining and thought provoking.
But what we mere mortal fans can’t understand is our fave celeb being unhappy while at the same time, being that celebrity.
Being famous doesn’t solve any of the problems that you had before – it makes money problems less, but not family dynamics, it lessens your ability to trust people, it puts you in unfamiliar territory with precarious staying power – if anything, being famous – especially if at a young age or too fast, will destabilize you and becomes almost a gateway addition of it’s own – unless you maintain a level head (assuming you had one to start with) and a supportive family structure to keep you grounded.
The love of fans does simply not compare to the love of family and friends, which is for you the actual person, before the fame and money, to the best and despite the worst.
Fan love is blind to faults, while being fickle and often unforgiving – it is not dependable – and perhaps drugs are the easiest way to simulate that sense of being cared for, protected and a well being of knowing you’re the centre of the universe.
We love our celebrities to death, yet we seem constantly surprised by that same death.
I am not a health care professional, I am not a social worker, what I am is a person who has worked in many sectors of society, with a wide range of people and an apparent unique ability to reduce any subject down to its most painful (aka truthful) essence. I have no book or program to sell you.
I would also like to categorically state that I was not abused during my childhood, I was not raped or beaten or tortured physically or emotionally by any family member, family friend, or person in a position of authority in a social institution.
This is despite the statistics that most girl children, lesbians and female science fiction geeks did experience abuse – and I would also like to point out that abuse does not cause one to become a lesbian or science fiction geek.
People who are different tend to be abused by conformist bullies for our failure to conform – and abuse does not encourage one to conform to the norms of or demanded by the abuser(s).
The only way to break an addiction, short of taking chemicals that block reward receptors in your brain specific to whatever you’re addicted to, is by being a self control and personal responsibility freak.
Addiction is not disease, you can’t catch addiction or give it to someone else. Addiction is a mental illness and a learned pattern of behavior – specifically, seeking reward with minimal effort and no personal responsibility.
Addiction tendency may be genetic or they may be learned behaviours or a combination of these, plus variable life circumstances. But like how a group of people can experience a trauma and be in various degrees of healthy functioning afterwards, so to can people go through life’s variables and respond with a range of resilience and thriving and escapism and addictions.
It is important to be aware that any person is at risk of addiction and that the object of the addiction can be literally anything and is not at all limited to drugs and alcohol. Addiction is anything that impairs your ability to function in daily life, your job, your family and friends, your society at large, or your participating in the world at large.
If you are addicted then you do not have control, whatever you’re addicted to has the control and it defines you – be it drugs, sex and alcohol or a particular person, object, idea (religious or political ideology), power, wealth, fame, whatever single item you put above all else in your life, to life’s detriment and resulting malfunctioning.
To stop being addicted, one must accept personal responsibility for losing and giving away control, and to take back control – to rebalance your time, energy, money and focus on life itself and the mechanisms that support life and make life worth living. Something each of us must individually decide what makes life worth living and experiencing.
Taking back control can be tricky if the addiction is drugs or alcohol and some more chemical help to break the reward cycle of consuming drugs, cigarettes, alcohol is reasonable and needful. The brain is a very expensive organ to operate and uses about 20% of the energy available to the body, so it makes sense to get your doctor to prescribed you specific medication that blocks the reward/pleasure receptors, so that when you slip into old habits, the addictive substance isn’t able to access the receptors and you are able to resist, since that old magic just isn’t there.
Deciding to stop is hard enough, without making it a daily, hour by hour and sometimes minute by minute battle – it was easy to become addicted, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be as hard as possible to break the addiction. There are tools to help and not using them is the same as giving up before you start.
I read once that that was the way to tell a good habit from a bad one – good habits are hard to start and easy to stop – like exercising several times a week and bad habits are easy to start and hard to stop. And it’s overdoing the habits that become addiction, and even good habits can become addictions.
So, to break addiction, you need to take back control, which means owning the loss of control and deciding that you are worth being in control of, you are worth more and deserve more than the reward that giving into your addiction gives you.
You have to be worth it to you, and not because of some external validation, for external approval is too flimsy and fickle a basis for self worth. External validation can too easily be taken away, and then you are left back at square one – so that doesn’t serve you – you have to serve yourself – this means internal validation; which no one can take away from you, you are the gatekeeper of internal validation and don’t give it away to anyone or anything external to you.
Addiction is to give away your personal sovereignty, control, identity, your time, attention; and it doesn’t serve you at all.
To get an addiction under control, you need to assert control over the addition, to make it serve you, by taking back your attention, time, identity, control and sovereignty. Run a cost benefit of what it costs you to be addicted versus what you get from the addiction. Addiction in moderation, is just a habit, not an addiction. If you can hold your preference for a substance to a habit, then you are not an addict and you are in control.
You also have to be aware that there are some substances that cannot be mere habits, or at least, not mere habits for prolonged use, such as heroin, that’s an all or nothing proposition. Know your limit and use within it.
The problem with 12 step programs is that they are religion’s attempt to deal with addiction that are often caused by religion. Before I detail that, keep in mind that addiction takes away your sovereignty and self control, so taking these back are the only way to end addiction and get your life back – attending meetings and turning over this same sovereignty and control to a vague “higher power”, you are giving away all these things and trading addition to a substance to addition to meetings, it is to continue to deny personal responsibility and being accountable.
It is not enough to tell a person that you have harmed that you are sorry they were harmed, you have to admit that it was you who harmed them, by acting or failing to act in a manner that was personally responsible on your part and that recognized their personal sovereignty.
“I am sorry that you where hurt” is a lot less meaningful and sincere than “I am sorry that I hurt you.” Worse is “I am sorry you were hurt, I was an addict and not responsible, it was the whatever making me do it.” That’s excusing, not apologizing, so don’t be surprised when it’s not enough and your victims don’t want to hear it.
Yes, I wrote “your victims”. Think about that the next time you get a craving to hand off your personal responsibility.
Time given to the addiction is time not available to family, friends, work, life’s responsibilities. Taking time for yourself to recharge your batteries, to rest and regroup is not possible if you are addicted, addiction means you are using your time, energy and focus to service the addiction, to get from one fix to the next and nothing and no one else matters as much as the next fix.
The Quick Fix
We are very much a reward seeking, instant gratification creature. We don’t want to work harder or longer than we have to, so we take shortcuts.
The most dangerous shortcut that we do is subscribe to a religious worldview. It’s dangerous because it says that the answer to everything is that goddidit, so we don’t have to worry our pretty little heads and only have to follow some simple rules to get the heavenly afterlife reward, obey our superiors and not think too hard – anything hard, like higher education, well, learning in general and science in particular, is bad and elitist.
The problem with this lazy and uncritical thinking, is that after you get soothed that you don’t have to bother with understanding the world you live in, because hey, as a member, you’re the centre of the world that you live in, and it’s that a kick in the rubber parts – which, you shouldn’t play with, btw or share with others, unless you’re married, but only to have kids and not fun with.
The basis of Christianity is that as a person, you’re not good enough for god unless you jump through all the hoops that deny your basic human nature and cast you as sinful, that establish rigid gender roles and behavioral standards that guarantee failure and misery, thus, create the need for escapism, to feel for a while, some happiness and bliss – leading to alcohol and a whole of other isms.
Further, religion sets up an idealized standard of how families should be – think 1950’s sitcoms – that are impossible to achieve but also no one but Dad is a fulfilled and sovereign person – it’s called a nuclear family because Dad is at the centre and everyone else is in orbit around Dad.
That presumes that Dad is a) physically present in the family and capable of emotionally supporting the family b) employed to the degree of supporting financially the family and c) competent, capable, compassionate and a whole host of other qualities that it’s little wonder that so many men aren’t capable of living up to such an impossible standard and instead become work and alcoholics and absent themselves physically or emotionally or abuse the family in order to avoid dealing with their own shortfalls and short comings.
Seriously, isn’t it just better to take all the pressure off ourselves instead of holding dearly to impossible and unreasonable standards – especially since achieving them isn’t going to make anyone meaningfully happy anyway?
Traditionalists, conservative and religious folk like to wax poetic about glory days that never existed, the old day were categorically not better than now and certainly not better than how the future can be.
The glory days were only glorious for very few people and relied on the gross exploitation and discrimination of many, and on uncritical conformity and exclusion of those unwilling or unable to conform. There’s just no such thing as a girl you have fun with and a girl that you marry – if you are inclined to marry a girl, then marry a girl that you love and, quite bluntly, have sex before marriage to make sure that you are compatible, because lack of sexual compatibility is a leading cause of marriage misery, adultery and divorce.
If the family sitcoms of the 50’s reflect a glory era, then, only technology would have changed and we’d still be living that way – not that we ever did, but family sitcoms generally represent an idealized dream, or as the 1980’s saw, idealized nightmare, of what family life was like – the Cleaver’s gave way to the Bundy’s on TV because TV became more reflective of the realities of family life, we don’t always like each other or even love each other, and we don’t always get along or resolve differences.
Sometimes the best thing that you can do with your family is to cut them out of your life. Something that religion would never allow you to do, and, given the number of religions where there have been sexual abuse of children and adult women members, financial frauds and money schemes, abuse of power, it’s little wonder that religion sees no problem in allowing adults and children to remain and attempt to uphold a family structure, no matter how malfunctioning that family is. Religion is no better than a malfunctioning family.
So turning to religion to cure the addition that basically, religious thinking gave you, is completely counter intuitive to ending the addiction.
Let’s take back the night, take back control, reassert personal sovereignty & responsibility and remember that rewards, like respect, must be earned to be meaningful. Anything that lacks meaning, isn’t worth the effort of achieving it.
Published in 1991, this book remains the definitive account of Elvis’ last year and the aftermath of his death.
This book is not for the faint of heart, as it contains very graphic autopsy descriptions, which can be disturbing on their own – but are more distressing when it’s about a person for whom you have strong feelings. Even when it’s a celebrity rather than a family member.
With the exception of Peter Gurlanick’s two volume masterpiece, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis – this book may have the widest range of interviews than most Elvis books.
The usual suspects – Memphis Mafia members, Linda Thompson and Ginger Alden are interviewed – but also Dr. Nick and other health care providers, Memphis Baptist Memorial Hospital staff, Medical Examiner’s office staff and the autopsy team.
For me, the most shocking aspect was the Pharmacist who filled Elvis’ final prescriptions – he participated in the 20/20 investigation and initially expressed concerns that he deflected onto Dr. Nick. So it was a bit of an about face when the 20/20 team discovers that this man had concerns about the drugs and failed to make any report to the State medical board. He even said that knowing what happened to Elvis – he wouldn’t see himself doing anything different.
Several theories of the specific causes and contributing factors are considered in the book from the obscure to the sensational. The most likely cause was not genetic heart problems or straining to go to the bathroom or regular heart attack; but the drugs.
Elvis had long been addicted to prescription drugs which resulted in a variety of health problems which increased the stress load on his body and it’s ability to function.
There are many claims about illnesses that Elvis had, yet, the drugs he used were not used to treat illnesses. The pills were for symptoms of illnesses – pain, insomnia and uppers for energy.
Elvis’ drug use was not on display like other musicians of the era who developed their public image around recreational drug use.
Elvis, keeping to the prescription drugs, could justify his using as medication and probably obtained a far better high with pure pharmaceuticals than the so called street drugs of the 1970’s and earlier.
While it’s only been 30 some odd years, the public attitudes towards drugs, understanding of drug use is very different now than in the pre-Betty Ford Centre, Celebrities revealing their own drugs use, childhood abuse and other matters that were previously kept on the down low as a rite of passage or a badge of credibility.
Elvis had been using drugs for a long time – possibly starting with Gladys’ amphetamines that was prescribe for weight loss well into the 60’s – and then the drugs supplied to him in the army.
Elvis received the stamp of approval for drug use from three authority sources – his Mother, the Army and Medical Doctors.
That Elvis doctor shopped and knew the pharmaceutical reference manual inside and out was beside the point.
Elvis died with a cocktail of drugs, many at toxic and even lethal levels – however, as a long time user, likely had a higher tolerance than a person just starting out.
What the most likely culprit that Aug 15th and leading into Aug 16th was a drug that Elvis didn’t take often – as Linda Thompson tells the authors, Elvis appears to have had an allergy to codeine.
The dentist Elvis saw that night gave him codeine and some additional pills. Mixing this drug into multiple so called “attack” packs of his more usual drugs stressed his breathing and his body too much.
Elvis took three sets of drugs, which likely began to work all at once and when combined with the codeine that caused respiratory distress, he couldn’t breath, tossed the book he was reading and fell to the floor.
He landed face down, but not flat – his knees were bent, meaning his weight was pushed onto his head, shoulders and chest – compressing and making his breathing even more difficult. He also threw up, making breathing near impossible.
A body in distress from multiple sources – drugs, body position – combined with restricted breathing – the unattended Elvis had no chance of rescue.
That there was no coroner’s inquest also supports the death by drugs, as Memphis was very aware of it’s tourist status being directly related to Elvis. Further, Elvis’ image was not yet tarnished – the body guard book had been released a scant 6 week prior and most fans were resistant to the book.
Elvis’ death ensured it would be a best seller through multiple printings.
The 1980’s became a bad decade for Elvis – punished by the public for the drug use and then the various people claiming to be a secret offspring.
With thirty plus years passed and a far more drug/addition sophisticated public has lowered the scorn that has been heaped on Elvis. Even Elvis’ weight issues seem fairly minor compared to the obesity problems faced by most North Americans today.
It’s taken those 30 years for Elvis – who electrified the world, who topped the music, movie and television charts – to be taken as a serious artist. Perhaps he was just too exciting a performer during his life for the focus to be on the work rather than on the man.
This book reveals that man in trouble and unwilling to accept help.
I recommend the book to the full range of Elvis fans and general readers – who aren’t squeamish about autopsy level details.
Perhaps not for the fans who are in denial about the drugs, though.