Imagine being hailed as one of your generation's most talented artists. Imagine being held in such high esteem that your record company pays for you to stay at deluxe island resorts for months on end.
Imagine that your record company's expenses also include salaries, room and board for your six minders.
Imagine all this -- being wealthy, blessed with two loving parents and millions of fans ... and being just 25 years old.
In other words, imagine being Amy Winehouse.
These last few months, far from her London home, she's been on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, where Universal Records hopes she'll dry out, write, and record. At resorts, paparazzi snap her crawling across bar floors, begging tourists for drinks after bartenders refuse to serve her. Winehouse is one of those stars now ubiquitous at gossip blogs and tabloids, which all say the same thing: Amy's a wreck. Some say it with worry, others with delight. She really is an amazing talent. The first time I heard her singing "Don't Wanna Go to Rehab," I was frozen in place: It was so sly, so smooth, so new. (Little did I know, never having yet heard of her, how ironic it was.) Ever since the huge success of her second CD, released in 2006 and selling over 11 million copies, Winehouse has been in self-destruction mode. We've heard so much about her raging addictions to heroin and crack, now to alcohol. On her skeletal frame, skin riddled with bruises. Burns. Self-cutting scars. She seems never to be cogent or sober in public. Seeing her picture, one wants to save her as one wants to save a fawn that wanders too close to the road. The headline of a recent article about her, during which she was already quaffing shots during a 9 a.m. interview, is typical: "Will Amy Winehouse live long enough to make another album?"
According to that article, Universal Records has spent £500,000 on Winehouse's island stay so far. That's almost $1 million, and not only has she written or recorded nothing of note, she has also cancelled show dates and run off in the middle of a performance.
For all its tragedy, this is a captivating glimpse into the drama of addiction -- captivating because it's larger-than-life, illuminating the question of incentive, i.e.: What would it take to quit?
As I noted in my book Stuck, while addiction is a horrific life-wrecking state that clearly has a biological component, to some extent it is a matter of choice. Those whiskey-and-sodas don't drink themselves. I know about the agony of urges. I know the meaning of the word "irresistible." Even so: hand, glass, liquid, lips, throat. It's a complicated series of actions. Beseeching addicts to quit, we hold out potential rewards: You'll get your job back, your family, your home, your health, your self-respect. You can drive again. You can watch your kids grow up.
Those are mainly immaterial but deeply significant spiritual rewards. In Winehouse's case, the spiritual rewards are part of the package but the material rewards are enormous: a vastly successful career that comes with incalculable admiration and riches, for decades to come. She seems, literally, to have everything to live for.
Still not enough? Or is she too young to see this? Too young, or too far gone?
Also larger than life, this situation illustrates the roller-coaster emotions of loved ones whose efforts to help addicts have proven fruitless. Many of us know all too well that frustration, anger, anguish and grief. After desperate international flights, dashes to hospitals where their daughter lay in dire straits, and several interventions, Winehouse's parents have now announced their plan to retreat:
"At the end of his tether, her father told a documentary crew two weeks ago that he was stepping back from attempting to save Amy. 'After she almost died twice ... she has progressed so much,' Mitch [Winehouse] said. 'But now, if it's alcohol instead of hard drugs -- I don't think I can go through the same thing again. I've decided to distance myself, and whatever happens, happens. It's her life and it's her decision.' ... Amy's mother Janis said they can only stand back and hope she would decide to stop drinking. 'It's another demon she has to beat,' Janis said. 'She came off drugs on her own, so I know she'll stop drinking so much, too. It has to be her decision, though. No one else can stop her.'"
Imagine staying in a $3,000-a-night villa for months on end, your bill footed by an international media powerhouse that wants you to create, to sing, to make music in a balmy, white-sand-beaches paradise.