A Drunk’s Perspective on Whitney Houston…

I am watching all the media “hype” associated with the death of Whitney Houston somewhat with “amazement,” I suppose.  I am to the point now, when something about it comes on TV, I walk out of the room… this whole thing has been gnawing at me.

I have heard reports that upwards of 70,000 folks will be attending her “private” funeral – and that the blessed event will be streamed on the internet.   The governor of New Jersey has commanded that flags be flown at half-staff… really?  

There is no doubt that her death is a “tragedy,” but not from the perspective being presented.  It’s had been kind of interesting to hear “celebrities” and “talking heads” share their takes on her death; about how sad it is, how tragic it is and so forth.  But I am seeing it from a different view – that of a recovering alcoholic.  There was a time when I was where Ms. Houston was, perhaps just before she stepped in the tub…

What comes to my mind however is something I heard very early on in my Air Force career.  While it has to do with flying, it also conveys a very strong perspective with respect to drunks.     

                                            The Troop Who Rides One In

                                    “We should all bear one thing in mind
                                 when we talk about a troop who rode one in.
                                         He called upon the sum of all his
                                       knowledge and made a judgement.
                                        He believed in it so strongly that
                                          he knowingly bet his life on it.

                                   That he was mistaken in his judgement
                                              is a tragedy…not stupidity.
                                     Every supervisor and contemporary
                                         who ever spoke to him had an
                                 opportunity to influence his judgement.

                                         …so a little bit of all of us
                                 goes in with every troop we lose.”
                                                                                           Author Unknown

So, with each of those 70,000 folks attending Whitney’s funeral, I wonder how many of them took the opportunity to express their concern about her drinking, and “using.”  I don’t know if it would have made a difference; probably not.    But I hope that every one of those 70,000 folks who attend her private funeral, and the people who watch via the internet, take pause, and reflect – did I say something to her, about her drinking?  Would it had made a difference?  Who knows? Perhaps, not.  But we will never know, will we?

In my 20 years of drinking in the Air Force only 1 guy ever had the courage to say something to me about my drinking – to my face.  He didn’t do it maliciously; he said what he wanted to say with love.  I know that now, but at the time,I couldn’t “hear him.”  Maybe if I had heard it from a few more of you out there it would have made a difference – we’ll just never know.  I know I will spend the rest of my life looking for Dennis Bell; to thank him for his courage to tell me what he had to say…

There is a program in the Air Force about being a “Wingman;” and I think it’s a very good program – if used as it’s been designed.  Show your concern for the folks you work with; for the folks who work for, and on occasion, the folks you work for.  I had the occasion once to “speak openly” with a boss I really respected, and yes, loved.  We were at a 2-week course in Southern California and I told him of my concern for him – at the bar.  He asked exactly what I had to say, and I went on to tell him I would tell him more, when I was sober.  He in turn, invited me over to his room the next day to watch a football game.  When I showed up, he asked about “my concern.”

I sucked in a breath, then I began.  I told him how I knew how much he wanted to be a general officer (he was a colonel at the time – me, a major).  The I told him why I thought he would never make it.  I told him he drank too much.  “God damn it, Bob,” he replied, “I know it!  I know it!”  He then went over to his refrigerator, and poured a glass of straight vodka!  I could see how tormenting it was to him… I don’t know if this ever had any influence on him, but it sure did on me!  I also, was “tormented” with my drinking for the rest of my “drinking career.”  Aside:  John never did make general, but he did get sober!  On his own…

Once someone tells you something, you can not “unknown it” anymore.  You hear something enough, it has to begin having an effect – like it or not.  

So what am I advocating here?  Take a “positive” from Whitney Houston’s death.  Be a “wingman;” be a friend.  If you see someone suffering from drinking, say something – in private at first.  Own it yourself.  I never want to ever hear someone say something to the effect, “I always knew he/she had a problem with drinking; we all knew it.”  Then did you say something to that individual (you dumb shit? – (my words)).  At the end of my drinking, I was incapable of taking care of myself – and I didn’t care anymore.          

I am saddened by Ms. Houston’s death for sure; but not any more or any less than any other person who dies of alcoholism.  Whitney was 48 when she stepped into that tub last week and died; I was 48 when I stumbled into that Lutheran church 17 years ago, and cried for help… it’s all about ‘”choices.”

To my supervisors, to my peers, to my contemporaries who ever influenced my judgement – I am so grateful this morning.  For there, but for the Grace of God, go I…. Thank you!

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