Surprisingly enough, I just thought of this Case File about a week ago. My mind really has been out of whack recently. Good thing I’m still jobless and I’m not burdened by moving or graduating anymore. More time to blog and watch the Olympics. Oh yeah, and that whole “searching for a job” thing. Jeez, it is not the most fun thing I have ever done.
So, let’s talk about Amy Winehouse. Her story is relatively familiar to most of us, but I found some enlightening tidbits in my research that may explain a fair amount of Amy’s struggles with addiction, body image, and relationships.
Amy Winehouse passed away last year. While her death was deemed “sudden”, no one really seemed surprised. She had been battling years of substance abuse and other mental health issues. Reports had been that she was getting better and had ended her intravenous drug and crack use. Sadly, she found herself controlled by alcohol, something I’ve seen in my own clients/ Addiction is addiction and unless the underlying motivations are treated, the substance use doesn’t really matter. We will always find something to be addicted to if we need to distract ourselves from pain.
So what was Amy’s pain?
Childhood & Upbringing
Amy Winehouse was born in 1983 and grew up in a north London suburb called Southgate. From the outset, she was reared on music – her dad regularly sang to her and encouraged her own musical growth. Dad Mitch was a taxi driver and mom Janis was a pharmacist.
When I went looking to find Amy’s motivator for her addiction and other mental health issues – I didn’t have to look far – I discovered a glaring blemish on her childhood. Amy’s dad carried on an extramarital affair for 8 years before leaving Janis when Amy was 10 in 1993. On Mitch’s own account, the relationship he carried on with his mistress (and future wife) Jane was unconventional. The girls knew of Jane and called her “Daddy’s work wife”.
So that’s that. Amy grew up the majority of her life being very confused about the role a man played in a monogamous relationship. The lyrics of many of her songs allude to her frustrations and co-dependent nature in romantic relationships with men, referencing the affair in her song ‘What Is It About Men’, with the line ‘All the s**t my mother went through’.
Young Adulthood & Romantic Relationships
Amy learned to play the guitar and her musical talent, specifically her amazing jazz vocals, became impossible to ignore. She bounced through a few performing arts schools, slowly building her reputation in many regards. At a young age, she pierced her nose, which caused a fair amount of difficulty for her. She took pride in her rebellious nature at an early age.
“By the time I was 15, my parents realised I would do whatever I wanted, and that was it really.” — Amy Winehouse
She definitely did what she wanted and it seemed people were naturally drawn to her. While she worked on getting her voice and music out there, it seems she was magnetic. Amy was signed to a record label, writing and singing her first album “Frank” by the time she was 20. It was wildly successful in the UK, leading Amy toward fame and fortune.
“Frank” was inspired by one specific man, but this wasn’t the first or the last time Amy’s inspiration focused around her partner. The above picture pre-dates the signature beehive, tattoos, drinking, cigarettes, and drugs that came with Amy’s new found fame and her evolution on the album Back to Black. I find her rather pretty there, don’t you?
Back to Black & Blake
So, money rolled in from her first album. As she played the bigger bars and venues, she fell into the musician’s lifestyle and picked up the partying. As I alluded to earlier though, Amy had a penchant for co-dependence and found herself involved with one of the most toxic men in the London bar scene known by Blake Fielder-Civil. The two began their “courtship” while Blake was still in another relationship and Amy was drinking her signature cocktail, a mixture of Southern Comfort, vodka, Baileys Irish Cream and banana liqueur. With a concoction like that, I find it hard to believe that Amy didn’t already have a strong leaning toward self-loathing and self-harm.
The relationship with Blake was clearly one of the most toxic and addicting pieces of the puzzle. By all reports, Blake was the main motivator for Winehouse’s introduction and continued use of heroin and crack. Amy began to waste away, becoming waif-like, with tons of reports about her partying, her poor drug and alcohol induced performances, and her epic fights with Blake. Fielder-Civil reported the two had begun cutting themselves to ease the pain of their withdrawals.
Everyone was concerned, but Amy just kept on truckin’ and married Blake in Miami in May 2007 against her family and management’s hopes for the better. She just kept spiraling downward, continuing her on-off relationship with Blake, being with him one week and fighting with him the next. She was hospitalized and had her stomach pumped and she was given a shot of adrenaline from a bender fueled by heroin, ecstasy, cocaine, the horse tranquillizer ketamine and alcohol.
She and Blake tried rehab twice. The first time, Amy left rehab three days into an eight-week stint. The second, she and Blake were caught blatantly smoking crack. As Amy said when she was 15, she would continue to do what she wanted.
The chaos continued. Blake was imprisoned for drug-related charges. Amy began dating others, while still professing her love for Blake on-stage. Eventually, the two divorced when Amy reconciled that she must end her relationship with Blake to survive. The two divorced in August 2009.
Winehouse legitimately tried to get clean to the best of her ability. Unfortunately, the best of her ability included refusing mental health services (specifically counseling) and ending her use of crack and heroin. She retreated to St. Lucia to work on her next album, but fell into binge drinking. She put some weight back on and began dating a nice fellow, one by all reports really loved her and wanted the best for her. Unfortunately, the grips of addiction were strong and Amy was found dead by her bodyguard in July 2011 from alcohol poisoning.
The Case File
Some of us having small traumas or large traumas in our lives, but they all affect us in different ways. I don’t know the intricacies of Amy’s childhood or her adolescence, but I do know some basics upon which I can base a rough outline of how Amy Winehouse’s life unfolded the way it did.
Amy spent the majority of her childhood in a fractured home that she didn’t know was fractured. Her reality – and the societal implications of her upbringing – likely didn’t hit her until her parent’s divorce. Her father carried on an almost decade-long affair, torturing Amy’s mother (by Amy’s reports) and yet doing nothing to end the charade.
It’s no wonder that Amy perpetually got into relationships with domineering, aggressive, and toxic men who mistreated her. It’s also not surprising that she set a lot of her stock in what these men thought about her, never really having the strength to walk away. She watched her mother stand by her father for a decade. That sends a message to a child, especially a young girl, about her role in intimate relationships and how long she should put of with being mistreated.
Addiction is just a manifestation of internal hurt. Amy reported her own issues with depression and body image. We know a girl who grows up in a two-parent household with a relationship with her father will be less likely to struggle with various issues like addiction and eating disorders. Amy maintained a strong relationship with her father until her last day on earth, but I wonder how angry she felt toward her father?
Mitch regularly spoke to the press about his daughter’s private life, he profited off of her talent and fame, and he also set a poor example for being a partner in Amy’s childhood. While at some point we become responsible for how our past affects our present, I imagine Amy never confronted her father about the glaring selfishness this man possessed that bled into his daughter’s life and career.
We don’t put enough stock in how much our roles as parents affect our children. Parents set the tone for the life a child will model and expect. If you grow up in a home where your father overshadows everyone’s emotions and dreams for the future, you learn to expect that a man will do the same for you. If your mother never sticks up for herself or finds the courage to walk away and choose a better life, then you may find it difficult to that as a female in your adult relationships.
Adults become the things the saw and felt as children. I think Amy Winehouse is a prime example of this common family systems conceptualization to the way we live our lives and the people we become.