Greatest Love of All

I remember where I was when the announcement was made; sitting on my brown couch, thinking it was just another day. Another evening. I remember checking every site in hopes that it was a hoax. A mistake. I recall finally accepting the news accompanied by the ominous feeling I felt.

She’s the celebrity I felt I knew. I grew up listening to her, straining my vocal chords to hit the notes she hit so effortlessly.

February 11, 2012

Her death hit me all at once. For the longest, I didn’t understand why this particular death bothered me the way it did. I didn’t even know this woman outside of what I read about her; outside of following her music/acting career, outside of what my brain processed about her.

Whitney Houston was so much more than America’s sweetheart. She was a daughter, sister, friend, mother, wife. She was Nippy. The girl from around the way. Free spirited. Tell you how it is. Endured trauma. Let it sit. Let it fester. Found healing in all the wrong places.

It’s not everyday a person like me feels more than I should when I hear of a person passing. I remember crying and refusing to watch the funeral. I remember playing her music religiously as if it’d bring her back to life.

As a young girl, I idolized her. As I grew up, I watched her struggle publicly. And now I realize,

We’ve all got a little Whitney in us.

I recall her many roles. The role she needed to play to be accepted by the masses, just to say she could have it all. The role she had to play to appease her husband; be his body guard while diminishing her success. The role she played to make her mother proud, being left with nothing. The role of trying to be the perfect mother, but motherhood isn’t filled with sparkle especially in the public eye. Trying to fill all those shoes all at once proved to be impossible. I imagine she felt she was always choosing someone else’s definition of how she should carry herself. The incessant inhalation of everyone’s requirements of her combined with the constant placing her needs on the back burner literally broke her heart. How she saved her love for everyone else. How she waited to exhale, while her world began to crumble around her.

Then I wonder, isn’t that what most of us endure?

Earlier in the year, I decided to separate from teaching in a public school setting to pursue another sector. Everyone around me poured their well wishes on to me. My mother constantly tells me how proud she is of her PJ (pride and joy). How she’s in awe of my gumption. How I inspire her. This outpour of encouragement should feel good, right? Should encourage you to move more intentionally in your purpose, right?

It had the opposite effect. I shut down. I started to feel everyone’s expectations closing in on me.

As an artist, you are so in tune to the world around you, your feelings, and the feelings of others. You constantly feel like your insides are on fire. There are these synapses that communicate consistently and leave you in a state of heightened awareness. You have an impulse to try to be everything everyone wants you to be and since you don’t want to disappoint, you perfect that shit for the sake of their peace/comfort. And as you continue to follow this dysfunctional behavior, you allow pieces of yourself to wither, you feel this indescribable pain all the time, and you find you need an escape before you implode.

For Whitney, it was partying and drugs. Perhaps it was the only place she could venture, where she didn’t care to fit into anyone’s idea of what she needed to be. Maybe it was where she entertained an alternate life where she didn’t have to stifle herself.

Pain from childhood is beyond real and manifests into adult destruction if not properly addressed.

From childhood, expectations are communicated. As children, we acquiesce. We fall in line. We do not know how to be advocates for ourselves because we trust the adults in our lives to show up in that capacity. It’d be grossly irresponsible of me not to mention the obvious hurt/pain Whitney endured. Because her mother traveled frequently, Whitney was often left with family members. During these times, she was violated. These instances left her scarred. The thing we learn in our community is that we don’t talk about it, we move forward. We pray the demon away, and before we call that aunt or uncle the problem, we are led to believe it is our own miscreant behavior that is being labeled “demonic.” That hurt that goes unaddressed will eventually be a thing of a past…until it’s not. Things that go unchecked become the very demons that haunt us into adulthood.

Naturally I think of the things from my own childhood that have gone unchecked. The way they show up and leave me paralyzed by fear. The way I attempt to take control and react negatively to escape what I’ve been taught to bury. The way I view certain experiences and take blame for something that wasn’t my fault. We keep running from a past that won’t leave us alone. We think all the actions we do in the present can absolve us from the inner child that needs rescue or that is unhealed from the trauma we endured. We think we shouldn’t still be affected by a certain occurrence. Or incidences. The truth is, we topple over into a state of mind/being that essentially dictates many of our decisions.

She found solace in drugs. I found solace in toxic people. She became reckless. I became reckless. She needed saving. I craved to be saved.

We watched addiction leave her emaciated. We watched her spiral out of control. We judged.

I hate that her life ended the way it did. I despise the fact she never got to heal in a way that allowed her to live a longer life. It has been one of the things that has plagued me over and over.

Rehabilitation and restoration is one of the hardest acts of self-love you can do for yourself. As I continue with therapy, unfortunately and fortunately; I am dredging up all the things that I’m angry with, all the things that hurt me, all the things that have me in bondage, all the areas in which, I am completely undone. Therapy forces me to address what I’ve put a bandaid over. The process is excruciating. The process isn’t pretty. But, I’m healing one session at a time, one journal entry at a time, one epiphany at a time, one day at a time.

We witness so many people in the public eye become undone by family trauma and secrets. We chastise them for their choices. We judge them for their weakness. We never stop to think we are them. We simply have the luxury to suffer in private or on a smaller scale. We all are iconic in our own way. I will not pretend and say it’s easier on us or diminish the pressures that comes with being legendary in our own circles, but, we must remember, before we can please anyone else, we have to choose ourselves first.

Correction: fuck pleasing others. Get you right. It’s ok to be esoteric. Not everyone in your corner is rooting for you. Some want to witness the demise. These are the individuals that don’t mind seeing you make an absolute mess of yourself. The ones who love toxically. And yes this can be family members also. Remove yourself from all the shit that doesn’t assist you in your journey to be your best self.

You owe it to yourself to be all that you desire in a way that is healthy.
To all the Nippy/Whitneys in the world, create a space where both are welcomed, where both can be nurtured, where both receive proper care. And that is the greatest love of all.

Continue to rest on, Whitney. Thank you for the lessons.

6 thoughts on “Greatest Love of All”

  1. Ashlee your insight on my favorite singer of all time is illustrious and provocative! I have always felt a part of Nippy in me but you dissect her life in all of us so eloquently. Well done and well said. Bravo to your growth and sharing your insight so we all, too, may grow!

  2. That was an amazing read, I really liked the line about what separates “celebrity” and “civilian” and that is privacy. We all struggle with things we all may have to “code-switch” but it is up to us individually to not allow that to overcome us. Great read, I have really enjoyed the last two posts!

  3. Love this !!! This was amazing and I needed to read this !!! I wish I can like this 100 times

  4. This was dope! Another reminder to continue focusing on expectation. It’s important our loved ones have a high level of expectation on us living morally and pursuing our dreams and the like. It’s the details of how we do such things that our personal expectations are the most important! That’s what I got out of this post.

    Keep inspiring!

  5. It’s a hard truth that we too can relate to Whitney and that we do point fingers and judge when we have the ability to suffer privately. Grace has allowed many to throw their rocks and hide their hands but we should be humbled and grateful for our many coverings. And to learn that rehabilitation is needed to grow and prosper. This was a great read!!!

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