Sunday 21 April 2019

No matter who we are, we all have a battle against our own mind

It happens every time a famous singer self-destructs: I feel shock, a sense of loss, relief, then guilt

HAPPY: Shane MacGowan and Victoria Mary Clarke. Photo: David Conachy
HAPPY: Shane MacGowan and Victoria Mary Clarke. Photo: David Conachy

Victoria Mary Clarke

When the news came through about this being George Michael's last Christmas, my first thought was "Why? Why George?"And this was immediately followed by a sense of relief because my partner, Shane MacGowan, has been famously self-destructive for as long as he has been a singer. So every time another famous singer dies of drug or alcohol-related causes, there is the usual shock and sense of loss - especially if we knew the person, and George was a very lovely person. But there is also this very mixed up and almost guilty feeling that we have survived, and someone else has not.

There are so many whys, and they are the same ones every time it happens to another icon. Why was George alone on Christmas morning when he was so talented and so very loved and wanted by so many people?

Earlier this year in April, Prince, who was another hugely talented, loved, and globally adored singer/songwriter, was found dead alone after an overdose of opiates. Why was Prince alone? Why was he struggling with opiate addiction?

Elvis, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Robin Williams, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, the list of famous, talented, beautiful people who self-destruct grows ever longer.

And yet every time it happens it seems impossible.

The impossibility is two-fold. There is the material wealth and good fortune on the one hand. For the many millions of people who struggle just to get enough to eat and keep a roof over their heads, the idea of having more than one house is a recipe for a blissful, ecstatic, happy ever after. For the ones who are stuck in a boring, anonymous job that just about pays the mortgage, with an equally unglamorous life, the idea of the fame, the excitement, the travel, the exotic friends and the freedom to express oneself creatively seem like heaven.

So where does it all go wrong?

It might be hard for anyone who has always wanted - and never had - fame, success, money and glamour to believe that it is possible to have them and feel bad. But the private rehab clinics are full of rich and famous addicts, desperately trying to feel good without destroying themselves with alcohol or drugs in the process. Why, when so many people love, adore and admire a person, would that person not be madly, gloriously happy? The answer always comes back to the same thing. It isn't what you have or what other people think of you that makes you happy, it's how you feel on the inside. And if you don't feel good because you don't like what you see in the mirror, you don't love, adore, admire and cherish yourself, if you look at yourself and think 'you are stupid, useless, pathetic, weak, ugly and not good enough', the chances are that you will feel very bad on the inside and seek out artificial ways to feel good. And because drugs give temporary relief, and even give a sense of euphoria and safety and of being carefree, people can easily get hooked on them.

As well as spending 30 years with a person who is famously self-destructive, I have endured my own share of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and suicidal feelings. As a result, I have developed a keen interest in psychology and in discovering what makes some people happy and well, and others miserable and unhealthy.

As you can imagine, within the global 'wellbeing' industry there is an enormous amount of gurus, information and ideas. Some good, some not so useful.

One person who stands out is an American writer and spiritual teacher called Teal Swan. Teal was sexually abused and tortured from the age of six until she was 19. She became suicidal and addicted to cutting herself, and she also learned to hate herself intensely. Reversing the damage and trying to love herself was not an easy process, she says.

"When you hate yourself and you come across bright-eyed, bushy-tailed individuals who are happy to be alive, the first thing you want to do is kill them," she freely admits. It took a dedicated process of learning to see that the child who was tortured and abused was not "bad", but was pure and beautiful and lovable to turn her life around and get her healthy and happy, she says. But it doesn't happen by itself, the healing requires work, commitment and perseverance.

It isn't only famous singers who self-destruct, self-harm or self-hate. It may be that creativity and sensitivity go hand in hand, so more artists are unhappy, or it may be that we tend to idolise singers and therefore we notice when they die. But most of us are self-destructive and abusively self-critical in some way, even if we are not doing drugs.

It may be that we eat foods that we know are unhealthy, or binge on sugar, or smoke, or can't be bothered to exercise. It might be that we drink so much at the weekend that we feel rough for three days afterwards. It might be that we berate ourselves constantly for not being thin enough, pretty enough, hard-working enough or clever enough. It might be that we wear ourselves out doing stuff for other people.

Whatever it is that we do to ourselves, the chances are that we would never dream of doing it to our children or loved ones.

We cannot stop people self-destructing, and we cannot make another person love themselves, no matter how much we admire them. But if a girl who was treated as badly as Teal Swan can turn her life around and learn to be happy, we do know that it is possible. And we owe it to ourselves to at least give it a try.

© Victoria Mary Clarke, 2016

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss