Just like much of the world, I am shocked and saddened as I hear the news about Whitney Houston – dead at the age of 48.
I’ve always loved Whitney’s music – her voice was so amazing and until recent years, her onstage presence could make us forget all about the demons she battled privately. Not only did she fight an ongoing battle with mind-altering substance addiction, she also was in the spotlight several times as a result of domestic violence with her husband Bobby Brown. Despite her many gifts — such as her stunning beauty and enormous talent — her private life often seemed to be nothing to envy.
At the time of this writing, it has not yet been confirmed whether alcohol and/or drugs played a part in Whitney’s premature death. But those of us who followed her career are having trouble believing otherwise. We all know that she had several very public relapses, and that there were times when her performances suffered as a result.
Even with these struggles, Whitney’s repertoire includes many memorable award-winning hits such as “How Will I Know?” and “I Will Always Love You.” But my favourite Whitney Houston song has always been “The Greatest Love of All” – what a totally astonishing piece, both because of the richness of her voice and the lyrics she chose to sing.
In my opinion, the best part of that brilliant song goes like this:
Everybody searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone to fulfill my needs
A lonely place to be
So I learned to depend on me
I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I live as I believe.
No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me.
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all.
When I first heard Whitney sing this song in 1986, I was still in the throes of active addiction — drinking, using prescribed medications such as Valium, Demerol, and codeine (for Crohn’s Disease), and smoking pot daily for many years. Although I was still a fairly high-functioning addict holding down a good job with a nice place to live and a car to drive, I was miserable. My life was going nowhere – all I wanted to do at that point was smoke dope in my apartment with the phone turned off and the curtains closed. I didn’t realize until the following year that I was an ‘addict’ – the whole idea of addiction was not on the radar then the way it is now. But I was very depressed, with little knowledge about how to change that or any hope that I actually could.
As I look back nearly 25 years later, I remember the bleakness of it all as if it was yesterday.
And then I heard that song – that powerful, beautiful, amazing song — and something shifted for me. Even though I still continued to use and drink for a while longer, I felt some spiritual stirrings returning – I was just beginning to re-awaken. I somehow knew that the only hope for me was to learn how to love myself, just like Whitney was singing.
Could I possibly love myself? Did I even deserve to love myself? How would that ever happen? There I was in my apartment with the drapes closed, nobody else in sight, stoned out of my mind – but somehow I knew this was what had to change in order for me to want to continue to live.
Thank you, Whitney.
The following year, in 1987, I became so depressed that I felt suicidal. I was scared that I might actually take my own life, and I reached out for help. One of the places I found that help was in the 12-Step program of Narcotics Anonymous. In my early recovery I attended those meetings every day for many months, sharing my thoughts and, more importantly, my feelings. I learned how to socialize with like-minded people by going for coffee with them before and after meetings. When things were really difficult for me, I would sit in those rooms and just cry – and people would hug me and tell me to keep coming back. It was an extraordinary experience.
If anyone had told me at that time that I’d ever have a quarter of a century clean and sober, I would have laughed in their faces. But here I am. And if anyone had told me that I would indeed find the greatest love of all inside of me – and that I would now be able to help others do the same – I would not have believed that either. My life is rich and full today, and I honour myself by taking the best care of myself that I can. I give back to the world in ways that are important to me. Most days, I am very happy to be me.
And I know, deep within me, that it all began with Whitney Houston’s incredible rendition of “The Greatest Love of All” – and I am forever grateful.
Rest in peace, Whitney – I will miss you.