January 4th, 2016


Watching Amy Die

During my return flight from a recent trip to London, I watched the documentary, “Amy,” which depicts in horrifying detail the death from addiction and an eating disorder of the extraordinarily talented Amy Winehouse. Since watching the film, I have struggled to find some kind of positive angle to such a disturbing experience and I wanted to share some of my observations about the film from a clinical perspective.

Friends tried to help her; while family members enabled her addiction. Amy Winehouse was fortunate enough to have loving friends who tried to help her, albeit to no avail. The poignancy of their pain and feelings of helplessness are powerfully represented. The relationships supporting her addiction are also depicted powerfully. A destructive relationship with her addicted husband and the passivity of her mother would, perhaps, have been too much by themselves for her to overcome.

For me, however, the most chilling part of the film is the role her exploitative father plays. In her famous song about refusing to go to rehab, she sings, “My daddy thinks I’m fine.” She was, in fact, accurately describing how he obstructed initial attempts to get her into treatment for what was by then an obvious addiction. He later encouraged her to make a concert tour in the U.S. despite her obvious vulnerability.

I know that he is not unique in this behavior. One of my most disturbing clinical experiences was when I consulted on the treatment of a musician in the detoxification ward of a hospital and argued unsuccessfully about the need for treatment with his wife, who was insistent that he needed to go on a concert tour in Europe instead. Not long afterward, I read in the newspapers of his death.

The types of resources that clinicians recommend to patients must be carefully vetted. I often recommend memoirs about successful recovery to patients to reduce their pessimism as well as to provide a potentially positive model to follow. I am undecided, however, about whether to recommend that they watch this movie, which ends so tragically. Although the picture of addiction that emerges corresponds with my clinical experience, I am not clear about whether watching it will have a positive influence on the process of their recovery.

Is this film a good tool for starting conversations about addiction and recovery? Unfortunately, what this film shows will be very familiar to my colleagues in the field of addictions. I wonder, however, how it would be experienced by those with similar disorders—both in and out of recovery—as well as by those with no direct experience with addiction. I will listen with interest to the observations of my patients who do decide to see the film and would be interested in your comments if you see this compelling work and would be willing to share your responses to it.

Editor’s Note: I apologize to those who have already made comments to other posts and have not received a response as yet. Our blog site is flooded with spam comments, and we are trying to extricate legitimate comments from this deluge. Thank you for both your interest and patience.

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