Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Leslie, Of Blessed Memory

I knew it would happen one day.   

We all did. Any of us who are recovering addicts or who love addicts know that if he/she doesn't get into recovery, one day we will find out that the disease of addiction has claimed them.

I knew one day addiction would kill Amy Winehouse.

Addiction kills: ... overdose, HIV/AIDS, murder, liver disease, stomach disease, suicide ... the list of how we die goes on and on.

So it was with great sadness that I listened to the details on TV of how Amy Winehouse was found dead in her apartment. They've done an autopsy, but ...

I felt a great kinship to Amy Winehouse. Mainly because she was Jewish and an addict. Statistics claim that the rate of addiction among Jews is very low.

I remember once going to a recovery gathering in West Palm Beach, Florida. I was visiting my grandparents at the time and as was my habit, I sought out recovering people wherever I traveled. It was so funny. Us Jews in the room recognized each other right away. We were all looking at each other like, "Hey, we're not supposed to be here!"

But meeting other Jewish addicts probably helped us not to feel so isolated and like a freak in our Jewish communities.

Yes, I know plenty of Jewish addicts.

And Amy Winehouse's death reminded me of one Jewish addict I was very close to in particular. Amy's death washed fresh waves of grief over my heart and made me take a trip down memory lane to think of my friend, Leslie, of blessed memory.

Yes, Leslie, is dead, too.

She even looked a lot like Amy Winehouse. Or maybe Amy looked like Leslie, lol. The hair, the tattos, the slim frame.  This picture was taken when we vacationed in Puerto Rico together.  Leslie was so crazy about butterflies that she tattoed them all over her body.  She was so happy when we visited the Butterfly Gallery in San Juan:

Leslie had another chronic disease, one that is ultimately fatal.  She found out very early in her recovery and she stayed clean and sober for over 10 years, serving as a model and example for others that anyone can stay clean no matter what.  And this was very early in the days of this particular disease.  We didn't have the treatment and medications we have now that help people live a long long time.  In Leslie's time, one's days were numbered.

She was a substance abuse counselor in a treatment center where I was working, and that's where I met her.  We had close friends in common and we hit it off right away.  She was a great lady, full of fun, always doing something, and always going somewhere.  She was in a relationship with a great guy.  Those were the days one puts in the bank.

Years later, Leslie started to get sick.  Her lab work wasn't good, and she felt a lot of fear.  To make a long story short, she relapsed and started to use drugs again.  The addiction was back in full swing and it exacerbated her "other disease." 

Leslie was back to reckless and self-destructive behavior.  No one could help her.  She wouldn't listen to any of us. 

Like Amy Winehouse, Leslie was found dead in her apartment.  I still think about her a lot, and still love her. 

At her funeral, we released butterflies.

Next year Insha Allaah, I will be clean 30 years.  This is the first time I've "come out" online about my own addiction.  To people who know me personally and professionally, it's no secret that I'm a recovering addict. 

Maybe now that I'm out I can write more about Islaam and addiction!

In the meantime, if you know anyone who is suffering with the disease of addiction, get them help.  Don't stop trying.  No matter how much they resist your efforts and push you away. 

I wish I would have tried harder to help Leslie. 


Adventurous Ammena said...

:( such a waste of lives from these horrible things.. but then we have to remember that addiction isnt just to things that we deem as 'bad' or 'horrible' they can also be from seemingly average and normal things.. even personalities can be addictive

Safiyyah said...

Indeed Ammena! One can be addicted to food, sex, shopping, etc., and even to other people (dysfunctional relationships). A broad definition of addiction would be when someone "uses" against their will (loss of control) and suffers negative consequences in major area of their lives as a result (health, family, financial ruin, legal problems, etc.).

EphemeralMe said...

Saddest part about addiction is that the ending of an addicts life does not end the suffering, especially for those family and friends who has to live on. Understanding addictions and making an addict understand his addiction are two different things, sometimes no matter how much we try they may never find a way out. May Alllah keep you far and away from all things harmful...

Matthew Smith said...

As-Salaamu 'alaikum,

The toxicology reports on Winehouse have not come back yet, so we don't really know how exactly she died. There is even a suggestion that it may have been from withdrawing from alcohol too quickly after habitually drinking a lot. They were discussing it on the local BBC radio station in London the Monday morning after, and one caller (who had experience of it herself) suggested that her recent "performances" were more likely to be down to drink rather than drugs. Significantly, it was assumed by everyone that her death was drug- or drink-related before any reports came out about how; she could have been murdered for all people knew.

Regarding what you said about not giving up on people who have addictions, I was watching a programme on BBC TV yesterday (it was the last of a four-part series) called Small Teen, Bigger World, about a young girl with severely restricted growth whose mother is similarly affected and whose father was a drug addict. The mother had a relationship with him during a brief clean phase in the early 1990s, but he relapsed and she was not willing to have him around in that state, so she ended their relationship, and he became homeless on the streets of Manchester. When the young girl, named Jasmine or Jazz, was 16, she decided to contact him. By this time, he was on a methadone programme and was trying to get off drugs for good. The two of them hit it off extremely well and seemed to rediscover what they liked about each other the first time round.

Unfortunately, the father briefly dabbled with heroin again and when this was discovered, both women decided they would have nothing to do with him again until he was totally clean. He still lives near them but is now alone. This, of course, is how he first ended up on the streets, because his social network cut him off. I found it a terribly judgemental attitude, because Jazz (and, for the most part, her mother) had never really had to deal with addiction or addicts; they had always had a relatively protected, middle-class life, and the mother knew he came from a difficult background and had grown up in "care". If he had been abusing them or stealing from them, it would have been a different matter.

Matthew Smith said...

By the way, the assumption of not being addicts (or drinkers) applies even more to Muslims than to Jews. Years ago, a brother (who is a doctor) told me a story in which an elderly Pakistani man was being treated for "cancer" on his liver which never seemed to go away, but didn't kill him (as it should have done). After he died, the doctor talked to his son, who said to him "oh yeah, my dad could drink anyone under the table". The man actually had cirrhosis of the liver, but the doctor did not even consider that possibility, nor ask him about it because of his religious appearance.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom,

I too mourned Amy Winehouse. Her last duet with Tony Bennett was really endearing. I hope you got to see her interviews about it because she was funny and sweet and incredibly charismatic.

Those of us who draw people to us like a magnet don't always know what to do with them once we've got them. Maybe some kind of numbing helps to isolate ourselves from too much of a good thing.

I have an addictive personality and knew that eliminating alcohol from my life (even before Islam) was a good thing. I didn't realize at the time that eliminating MEN would be a good idea too. LOL!

What a nice tribute to your friend Leslie. I love her butterflies :) She wanted that transformation and in the end she was transformed by death. She went into a cocoon of sorts. Inshahallah on the Day of Judgement she will be forgiven the misdeeds and rewarded for those she strived to help. Inshahallah you'll see her in Jennah. Allah is The Most Merciful.

Thank you for sharing yourself. It's a bit nerve-wracking to hit "POST" but the deed is done and I'm sure you're relieved. You are who you are---imperfect and loved by those who matter.

I appreciate others who are imperfect and refuse to claim perfection. Let's be kind to each other about our short comings because all of us are recovering from some faulty way of thinking or being.

Good for you for being OUT :)