Could Rehab Have Saved Amy Winehouse?

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Amy Winehouse performs "Rehab" on June 3, 2007, in Los Angeles

Amy Winehouse died alone in her bed. Although the coroner's report on the cause of death has yet to be released, there is something tragically fitting about that, because every addict is, in some way, alone in the dark. A lot of us figure out early — even as children — that something is different about us. We feel like we never fit in, like we're separated from everyone else by some kind of mysterious moat that we don't know how to cross.

And then inevitably we're offered something shiny and promising. Take this and you'll feel better. The poisons are always pretty at first, and we believe they'll make that feeling go away. It doesn't take long to realize the foolishness of that illusion, but by then it's too late. We're wrapped in the arms of demons, floating there, and we don't want to escape. I went from tablets and capsules of speed to white lines of cocaine. I was warned that I was killing myself, and I didn't care. It was better than accepting the dark, lonely place that was too familiar.

When I eventually quit — after many years — it was for the simplest, most childlike reason: my father had taught me to trust God, and I didn't want to disappoint Him. I didn't want God to be angry with me. I didn't go to rehab, although I probably should have; it's hard to quit on your own. In the late 1970s, it wasn't as common to enter a treatment facility as it is today, and I had kept my addictions hidden from my family.

As we all know, Winehouse wasn't a fan of rehab and wrote a hit song about it. "They tried to make me go to rehab but I said no, no, no," she sang. I know that people will probably think that if she had just checked herself in, she could have walked away from the pretty poisons. Some are now blaming her for failing to commit herself to the path to recovery. As a recent article in the Daily Mail noted, "Generous Amy Winehouse spent £130,000 sending her friend Alex Foden to rehab, when perhaps she should have spent it curing herself."

The truth is, overcoming an addiction is a solitary journey whether you drive through the gates of the best facility or sit in your room alone staring into the cavern in your soul you've tried so hard to run away from. Rehab can give you tools, but you walk the road alone. And as all of us who have made our way out of addiction will tell you, part of it was luck. There simply is no formula that can guarantee a way out, no trail of bread crumbs leading out of the forest. You grab onto something inside you, some part of you that has decided to live without the poisons you love so much, and you hope like hell you can hold on.

We still don't know whether Winehouse took an overdose of drugs or a lethal combination or bad drugs (or none of the above), but her demons were visible for a long time. Those of us who have experienced the treacherous landscape of addiction and have lived to talk about it have known nights when we teetered on a dangerous boundary line. We held on and made it through. We got lucky. Others who tried just as hard couldn't hold on — and faded to black.