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amy1000When I heard the news last week that singer Amy Winehouse had died alone in her London flat, like many people, I wasn’t entirely surprised…and I somehow felt ashamed by my lack of surprise.

While the cause of her death is still not clear, she was an incredibly talented singer who very publicly battled with addiction and, despite all of the resources available to her, still died way too young.

So as I was fixing my bike the other day, I found myself blasting Alice In Chains’ Dirt album and listening to Layne Staley’s tortured voice singing of pain, depression and struggling with addiction. Of course the lyrics were written by Jerry Cantrell, but in Layne’s voice you could hear the pain, anguish and despair he was describing. And for so many of us who were drawn to Alice in Chains’ music, didn’t we, on some level, feel it too?

After years of battling his own depression and addictions, Layne Staley was found by his parents alone and dead in April, 2002. Today his mother Nancy McCallum runs the Layne Staley Fund, a group dedicated to turning the tragedy of Layne’s death into hope for those that suffer.

And yet another member of Alice in Chains, bassist Mike Starr, died of a suspected overdose this past March.

It’s one thing for a public figure, whom we don’t know personally, to succumb to their addictions, but what about those closest to us? We all seem to know someone struggling with an addiction…and for whom we may not be too surprised if their struggle leads to dire consequences.  If you don’t know someone with such an issue, dare I say—you’re probably not paying attention.

So, who is your Amy Winehouse?

Is it a dear friend, your little brother or someone you’re in love with? If so, are you just accepting it or worse yet, enabling their behavior? Or, are you trying to be supportive without judging them?

Sure, you can feel like it will adversely affect your friendship with that person if you aren’t “cool” with their addiction, but if you want to help keep them among the living, that is a risk you may need to take.

It took awhile for me to realize that I was enabling someone and to further realize why; because it was the easiest thing for me to do. It led to less strife and allowed me to keep having fun with them without changing anything. Come on, it’s just one little drink! In the short term, being lazy in this way kept the good times rolling…but not for long.

Things did not change until I started to realize that if I wanted to be supportive, I had to dig in and do it. In short, I had to channel Yoda:

“Do or do not…there is no try.”

Being part of a good support system means not only holding your friends accountable, but holding them to a realistic perspective of where they are coming from and where they need to go. And that same support system should provide them with friendships and activities (hint: may I suggest yoga?) that support their new, addiction-free life.  This is important because having their social needs met without the trappings of addiction is one of the best ways to help them avoid a relapse.

One amazing thing to see it that as someone gains strength in recovery, they will also be more able to provide self-support. They’ll start to take the initiative in making life changes such as moving to a new neighborhood, making new friends, and developing new interests–all supporting their own recovery.

Both Amy Winehouse and Layne Staley no doubt had friends who loved them and supported them the best they could. As someone who lived for years supporting someone with an addiction, I can attest to the emotional exhaustion one experiences when your heart seems to run out of gas. And, of course, sometimes the person with an addiction will still fall despite all the support you’ve provided.

If you decide to make this commitment to your friend, be advised that you’ll need strength for the journey and at some point you may decide to let them drown, lest you be pulled under with them. It’s a fine line to walk so it’s a good idea to make sure that you, the dedicated friend of a recovering addict, have your own support system.

So, while we mourn the loss of another amazing talent, now is a great time to look around you, find your own Amy Winehouse, and see if you have the strength and commitment to help them toward a different outcome.

Resources:

The Layne Staley Fund uses donated funds, and proceeds from the sale of merchandise and tribute revenues, to support local chemical-dependency facilities, drug education, and outreach programs.

Alcohol Drug Abuse Resource Center America’s Online Resource for Alcohol and Drug Addiction Information.

SMART Recovery.  SMART Recovery® is the leading self-empowering addiction recovery support group. Our participants learn tools for addiction recovery based on the latest scientific research and participate in a world-wide community which includes free, self-empowering, secular and science-based, mutual-help support groups.