We’re a funny people. We tend to see things in extremes. Whitney Houston’s death is a prime example.
The first rush was to canonize her as one of the greatest voices of our time, perfection. And this is true. So she’s a saint.
Then came a second round of judgment, vilifying her for her addiction, resulting in the loss of her fabulous vocal range and, perhaps, of her life. So now she’s a sinner.
Maybe it’s difficult to be the vessel for a voice like that. Maybe it’s a burden as well as a blessing. Maybe she did not always make the best choices. Maybe she’s a saint and a sinner. Maybe she was just doing the best she could.
During an interview with Oprah where Oprah was pushing Whitney pretty hard about her drug use, Whitney said about her husband Bobby Brown, “He was my drug.” She shared how she asked God to give her just one day of strength and she would leave what the whole world witnessed in their reality show Being Bobby Brown as a toxic relationship. That one day came and she left. Here’s where we get into that extreme thinking again. She was out of the toxic situation so she should be fine now, right?
Well, no. See, the thing with addiction is that walking away, breaking free is only the first step. After that the real work begins. At that point, free from him and trying to free herself from drugs, she may have experienced painful clarity about how deep in the mire she was. She might have been looking back in disbelief, wondering how and why she allowed what she did. There’s a lot of shame and a lot of pain. Shame and pain are emotions that are tough to bear when you’re feeling strong but when you are vulnerable? It’s easy to understand why the numbing effect of drugs would be a temptation.
Relapse is the norm, not the exception.
So maybe Whitney Houston was neither a saint nor a sinner. Maybe she was just an immensely talented woman trying to find her way. Maybe we can remember her for her glorious voice and her love for her daughter and family. And we can choose to believe that she did the very best she could and hope that she is finally at peace.