Help Yourself

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I can’t think of the exact period in time that I discovered Amy Winehouse. I want to say it was a little under two or three years after Frank was released in the U.K. It doesn’t matter. I heard her.

What I do remember is that after I watched the clips of Amy Winehouse performing posted on a message board, I had a feeling I would love her. After listening to the album constantly over the course of a week, I knew I did.

Most of all, I knew that I discovered her music at the exact moment I needed to. After ignoring the obvious for far too long, I finally accepted that the person I was in love with – the first man I had ever dated – did not feel the same way about me. His “confusion” was teetering on indifference, and after awhile I’d rather be told, “Fuck you!” versus “I don’t know.”

So, I started to pull away. And then I ended up essentially making the same mistake twice: falling in love with someone who would never give me what I wanted. I wasn’t trying to fall in love with him. I just did. And I did so deeper than the first time. That’s why I loved Frank so much. Before Amy would become swallowed by sadness, the varying styles on her debut showed as much versatility in herself as an artist as it did Amy as a person. She obviously had concerns about whether or not she would find love, but she was young — young enough to still give herself enough time to believe. Unfortunately, it seemingly was for the wrong reasons.

I could relate.

By the second album it was clear that she had been burned again. The way she sang about it moved me.  I can remember telling everyone I know, “You’ve got to listen to Amy Winehouse! Please!” There is nothing like a singer who not only can sing, but make you feel their pain. To the point where it reminds you of your own. I like my artists who fancy themselves as soul artists to actually have a little grit. Amy was full of it. Not to mention she was as interesting out of the studio as she was in it.

I started to print out all of her articles. I found out we were the same age, she started off as a journalist and fell into what she truly wanted to do with her life. She was smart, she was witty, she cursed a lot, and she allowed herself to be vulnerable. I admired for all of it.

“Please listen to Amy Winehouse. I will send you files!”

I told this to so many people, but in particular, him. I wanted him to listen to her. I wanted him to like her as much as I did. It was yet another instance of me wanting him to feel the way that I did about something.

He liked a few songs, but he didn’t connect to her the way I did. Merely another example of a pattern.

When I would get sad about it, one of the artists I turned on was Amy. I can still remember sitting in a dorm room with “Wake Up Alone” on repeat and crying. Hysterically. Disgustingly so. In ways I hate to admit even as I type this message. The vulnerability she conveyed through her music reminded me of the one person I knew I could turn to when I felt down. Amy reminded me of why I fell so deep in love with Mary J. Blige and in particular, her My Life album.

Being open about your insecurities, your fears, what you don’t like about yourself is such a hard thing to do in front of the mirror or in your own mind, let alone millions of people. But that is what I adore about Mary and ultimately, Amy, too.

I did not grow up in the most loving environment. I also started to develop shaky levels of self-esteem over time. About my body. About my deep-seated fears about my sexuality. I went to college for my career and to get away from the home I grew up in. I assumed I immediately would be happy after leaving. I wasn’t. I thought by coming out to myself that things would get easier. No.

I often worried if I would ever be happy enough. I worried even more that on top of these other lingering problems, I wouldn’t find anyone to love me the way I loved them. I needed to hear people who felt the same way as I did say it in the same way I said to myself in my head. It helped me deal.

Obviously, with Mary being older she learned over time to let go of certain people and habits that weren’t conducive to a better state of mind. She also grasped that in the end, you are the key to your own happiness and that happiness will manifest itself in the other ways it’s supposed to.

Over time, I learned to embrace, too. I also understood that you have to fight in order to stay that way. That’s what makes me so sad about Amy’s death: She’ll now never have the opportunity to conquer her demons. She died not understanding that the love she sought in others needed to come from herself first. As much as I loved Amy Winehouse, I could tell Amy Winehouse didn’t love herself all that much.

She wanted to be beautiful. That brought on the massive weight loss and breast implants. And people like Blake. When none of that obviously made her feel any better, she self-medicated. You can have all of the friends in the world, but none of them can force you to feel what they feel about you. We’re all responsible for own levels of self-awareness.

It’s so sad that she didn’t realize that she was never a bad looking woman, and more importantly, what she was gorgeous for simply being who she was. She was even more beautiful when considering how tapping into her own emotions forced people to acknowledge theirs.

My favorite lines from Amy aren’t even in a song. It’s from an interview. One of many I read of hers after trying to learn more about her. I’ve had this quote a part of my Facebook profile for years now:

“Y’know, so many people are so cool, & they never let their emotions out, & they never let anyone get close, & I’m the complete opposite of that. I believe in putting my heart on the line. I don’t want to grow old and bitter and full of what-ifs.”

Reading that changed my life. It made me realize that if nothing else, I should appreciate myself for putting myself out there. My emotions, my feelings, my fears, my regrets and what I wanted to make me happy. Who I thought I needed to make me happy. And if I failed, well, I can say that I tried. I’ve not perfected this, but I’m a lot less uptight than I used to be and every day since reading that I’ve strived to be better about saying how I feel.

I was always vocal about my opinions, but not necessarily my feelings. I thank Amy so much for that. This is what made her special.

So many people my age and younger hide behind superficiality and a false sense of importance. No one wants to let their guard down. Very few want to say something that actually means anything below the surface. It’s all a guise. A rather sad one at that.

The fact that Amy believed in putting herself out there is why so many other people have stories like mine about what she meant to us. She offered the kind of honesty missing from so many contemporaries. Her willingness to be so open even in its rawest and ugliest forms made her mean more than most of her peers.

It’s a shame, though, that she never reached the point to take those dark feelings she had and find help to be rid of them. I wanted her to see the brighter side of life. I wanted her to win. I’m not sure if she knew how much her work meant to people, but I’m so grateful to her.

Some people are fortunate enough to be born and raised to embrace and love themselves fully and completely. Some of us have that snatched away and have to work harder to get it back. Some of us never do.

I hope that she’s found the peace that escaped her.

Now as for the people who didn’t even wait a full hour for word of her death to leak before cracking jokes: I hope their own misery bitch slaps some sense into them.

As the son of an addict and someone aware of some lingering signs of mental illness in my familial history, I can imagine what Amy was going through. That’s why the punch line is lost on me. I don’t know why some people are so cruel, but I’m thankful that for every bit of hatred, disrespect, and self-loathing I’ve witnessed over the years that I never thought to spew any of it at a harmless person in the context of death.

Not even a full hour after Amy’s death was announced the obligatory asshole-inspired commentary arrived. I get it, humor doesn’t often have limits, though in some cases people ought to exercise self-censorship.

It’s distasteful to mock someone’s death and the causes behind it. It shows how little respect we often have for each other. It also highlights the ignorance people have towards drug abuse and mental illness.

To mock someone who in that great a pain says as much as about the mocker and as it does the targetv. Amy’s officially done with her misery. Good luck to folks who find that humorous on getting over their own.

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