Autopsy from Afar: Whitney’s Deadly Cocktail

This is all speculative, as I wasn’t at the scene, or invited to the maudlin funeral tribute, but it appears that Whitney Houston died of a toxic cocktail of stupidity, selfishness, entitlement, and irresponsibility. Other critical elements reportedly found in her hotel room included Xanax, Valium, Lorazepam, sleeping pills, and alcohol; all drugs designed to inhibit the firing of brain cells. (Note A to drug abusers: If you persist on taking drugs designed to stop your brain cells from firing, eventually they will work. Note B to drug abusers: In addition to enabling thought, brains also regulate rather important bodily functions such as breathing and that organ you see on Valentine’s cards, you know; the heart. Note C to drug abusers: When your brain cells no longer fire you are dead.

I’ll break the cocktail down with a particular emphasis on irresponsibility:

Stupidity: I may already have sufficiently made this point, but let’s suppose you have a habit (yes, I said “habit”) of ingesting cocaine. Very simply, cocaine excites certain brain cells, in other words it makes them fire more, giving you fake experiences of pleasure and arousal. Once in the habit of taking coke you need more and more to have the same effect. As you take more to fire your brain cells you will soon find that you need to take counteractive inhibitory or depressive drugs in order to relax and sleep. Hence the need for drugs ordinarily prescribed to control anxiety, but readily available from doctors to whiney needy stupid superstars. Now you’re in a situation where you are, without the benefit of any personal medical knowhow, trying to pharmacologically balance increasing your brain’s firing with decreasing it, while drinking copious amounts of alcohol. I could go on, but I believe I’ve made the case for Whitney’s stupidity well enough. Okay, one last point, (in case you’re currently being stupid); alcohol, among other things, inhibits the firing of cells in your frontal lobes, making you even more stupid.

Selfishness: I have been counseling for 20 years, and I will tell you that there is generally no more selfish self-centered person in the world than an addict. Everything is about them and their desire to feed their addiction. An addict will sacrifice truth and any person at the altar of her addiction. Whitney’s devastated daughter provides sad evidence of that. You may not like to hear this, but when you make babies, you are responsible for putting their health and well being ahead of any rights you may have to feel artificially good. Any unnecessary self-serving behaviour that threatens your ability to care for them is profoundly selfish. Any treatment for addiction must start with treating your addiction to self.

Entitlement: The case for Whitney’s death by entitlement is easy to make. As a famous person, she was likely surrounded by the usual cadre of suck-ups and parasites, all of them trained in the philosophy that Whitney must get her way (so they could continue to get theirs). Spoiling doesn’t just happen in childhood. A spoiled brat can be any age. Entitled people live with internal slogans that they are all too willing to spout. “I want”, “I need”, and “I deserve” are all thoughts that would make Whitney witless. If you can’t handle “No”, you can’t handle life.

Irresponsibility: Am I being too harsh? Maybe you’re thinking that I’m underestimating the impact of addictions and the torment that drug abusers suffer. By now you may also have noticed my use of the words, “habit” and “choice”. Don’t I realize that abuse of drugs is a DISEASE! Well, no I don’t. That’s the kind of reasoning that contributes to the irresponsibility that may have helped kill Whitney. Selfish behaviour has become legitimized through the mislabeling of addictions as diseases.

Let me be clear, drug abuse is NOT a disease. Cystic Fibrosis is a disease. Multiple Sclerosis is a disease. Leprosy is a disease as is Alzheimer’s and so is Cancer. Equating addictions with diseases is a slap in the face to people who suffer from real diseases and it robs addicts of the responsibility that is required to make changes.

An addiction can lead to a disease. For example, alcoholism can lead to Liver Disease (Cirrhosis). Smoking addiction can lead to lung disease and Cancer. Food addiction can lead to Diabetes. Sexual addiction can lead to STDs. See the pattern? The latter are all medical conditions caused by a behavioural problem. Somehow we’ve mixed up the cause with the consequence. Dare to mention the word “choice” these days in reference to any addiction and see how quickly you get shouted down for not being sufficiently sympathetic and understanding.

Addicts these days are apparently sufferers from diseases that they are born with and have very little control over. And that is just the thing addicts crave to hear because it arms them with even more excuses to justify their selfishness. But every addict I have ever met who has been able to overcome his addiction has told me that recovery began with a choice to do so. Addictions are not diseases. When I was told I had the disease, cancer, I did not have to first “hit rock bottom” in order to recover from it. That would have been as ludicrous as it is to deny that each time a person does something to their bodies they could be making an addictive choice. Take away personal responsibility and you take away the capacity for making healthier choices.

Some truths: A) People can be born with a vulnerability to develop certain addictions but they are no more born with an addiction than the person who later develops cancer was born with it. A case could be made that Crack Babies or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome babies might be exceptions to this rule, as they could have had their not-so-loving mothers pass on her addictions to them in the “protective” womb. B) The primary thing that addicts need is neither sympathy (as they will typically take advantage of it) nor another justification for their behaviour. What addicts need is a good dose of reality and the development of empathy for the people whose lives they are destroying. C) The fact that addictions can be very painful and extremely hard to stop does not take away from the reality that addictions are based on choices. Sometimes choices are easy to make, and sometimes they are very hard, but choices they remain.

Whitney is dead and buried. If you’re reading this, you are not. The more you avoid the stupidity, selfishness, entitlement and irresponsibility cocktail that may have killed her, the better chance you have of staying that way, at least for a while

Theo Selles, M.Sc.

My first blog

My first blog! I feel as if I should be brandishing a champagne bottle over the bow of an about to be launched ship. After years of speculation, wishful thinking, and planning, “Integrity Works” is ready to set sail. Those of you who have started a company can identify with my mixed feelings of excitement and fear. It’s a great concept, but will enough people care? And will some of those caring people pay?

“2009”, an experienced business executive said, when I’d come to him for advice, “is perhaps not the best time to associate integrity with business.” But then he stopped, and said, “But maybe the concept of integrity is a good sell right now.” I knew what he meant. He meant that there might be more organizational openness to the concept now due to a perceived need to rebuild public and employee trust.

But I look back over the years I’ve spent consulting with employees and managers and executives and it strikes me that there’s long been this need, not just in recessionary times, and not just in the corporate world. In every sector there seems to be a general malaise, a lack of trust and a lack of excitement and joy about work. Work often seems more associated with stress than energy, conflict than harmony, manipulation rather than transparency, obligation rather than pride. “It’s just a job”, is a phrase I’ve heard muttered with resignation countless times. Usually that’s said by people trying to come to terms with their increasing disenchantment with their job, their declining health, their struggle to balance their lives, their STRESS. These are the people who say they hate their jobs, or, marginally better, “I like my job, but I hate my manager”, or maybe, “I like the people I work with, but I hate my job.” It’s them trying to put those bad experiences in perspective-“it’s just a job”.

Remember when you got your first job? Do you remember how proud and excited you were? Your first job meant so much. It meant growing up, responsibility, independence, a chance to prove yourself. Wasn’t looking at your first pay check great! You knew it wasn’t “just a job”. What happened to all of that? What did you encounter that took your idealism away and turned it into obligation?

Now I know that many of you still have those feelings, and still love your jobs and what you get out of doing them aside from money. And I’ll bet there are good reasons for that. Maybe you found the job that exactly fits your skill set and catches your imagination. I’m willing to bet that two other things are part of the equation for you. I’ll bet that somehow your job has meaning to you, and I’ll also bet that you’ve met some pretty special people while doing your work.

I’ll write more about the need for meaning in my next entry, and focus a bit on people before I sign off from my maiden blog voyage. “Downsizing, outsourcing, layoffs, contract work, cut-backs’, all these are terms associated with poor employee morale. But do you know what really upsets people at work? Injustice, insincerity, favouritism, harassment, rudeness, hypocrisy
People will generally grit through tough times, and accept hardship if they believe that everyone’s in the same boat. People generally love to feel like they’re part of a team that shares in successes and in failures. That’s why there’s such outrage when executives manage huge bonuses while others in the company are getting laid off or just getting by. And that’s why there’s such disgruntlement when people gain advancement, not on merit but by seniority or preferred relationship. That’s why morale is eroded when behaviour clearly inconsistent with organizational values goes undisciplined. “What’s the point, it’s just a job.”

You should have seen some of the looks I’ve received when I’ve talked about wanting to bring joy into people’s work. JOY!? How unrealistic and idealistic, and, well, “young” of me. But I know that it’s possible. When organizations set values, and live by them, and everyone feels a vital part of a team; when people feel like they’re valued, and their work has meaning, when they feel like they’re taking part in a cause more than just doing a job, then that sense of purpose, that pride, and yes, that joy, is possible. That’s my mission; in fact, it feels like a calling. I want to work with you to build integrity into your organization to bring you meaning, purpose and joy. I know that integrity works.

Thanks for “listening”.



P.S. Check out the forum and let me know what you think.