It’s been about a year since Michael Jackson died, and the anniversary has brought him back into the news and into my thoughts. Michael’s path to addiction and, eventually, overdose, was typical of so many addicts.
It started with the childhood he never had. Many addicts come from families in which there is some type of dysfunction. Perhaps their parents were also addicts or they had some kind of serious physical or emotional illness. Perhaps the parents, for some reason, were simply unable to be preset for their children. Whatever the reason, the children get thrust into the role of caretaker to their parents–a role they can’t possibly fulfill, because, after all, they’re just children. So they fail and fail and fail again, and grow up believing they can never succeed.
For Michael Jackson, he was thrust into the role of family breadwinner at a very early age. And on top of that responsibility, he had a physically and verbally abusive father who was never satisfied with anything Michael did. Obviously, the nurturing, safe environment children need to grow up in, to make mistakes in, to be protected in, did not exist for him.
As an adult, Michael spent a lot of his enormous wealth trying to create a childhood for himself. He built an amusement park and a zoo on his property, he surrounded himself with children, and, eventually, he adopted children whom he regarded as his playmates. He also surrounded himself with reminders of his enormous popularity and with people who would always agree with him and never tell him that we was wrong.
It was all supposed to erase a childhood filled with messages of failure and demands that he be an adult. But, as we know, it didn’t work. Because we can’t erase our childhood. No amount of money in the world can buy back the past. We have to learn how to deal with it, move beyond it, get ourselves into the present. When we keeping living in our painful past, we end up medicating and numbing ourselves–just as Michael Jackson did.
But even when you have enough money to keep a doctor on payroll, so you never need to hustle for illegal drugs of questionable purity or potency, addiction eventually overtakes you. You need more and more drugs just to stay numb, and there comes a time when you go too far.
You cannot change your past. But you can learn how to live your life fully awake, fully alive, in the present moment. When you do that, you no longer need to be numb. As Michael Jackson’s sad end shows us, you cannot go back in time, full of regret. You can only go forward, full of hope and compassion.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is an experienced professional in the field of addictions and recovery. She is the author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery.” A licensed psychotherapist and life coach who attended the famous Coaches Training Institute, Sherry received her Masters of Social Work from the prestigious University of Southern California. With fifteen years of experience as a clinician, she has also worked at some of the top rehab centers including the famed Promises Treatment Center in Malibu, CA. The success of her private practice and coaching program made her the go-to expert for Dr. Drew Pinsky on VH1′s Celebrity Rehab 2 and 3 and its spinoff, Sober House, and she will continue as the Life Coach on Celebrity Rehab 4 summer 2010. Sherry’s expertise has been quoted in Cosmopolitan, New York Daily News, E Online, Elle Online, Huffington Post, and she has appeared on Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell, Hollywood Confidential, Inside Edition, Dr. Drew Live, Fox News in San Diego, and KTLA-TV in Los Angeles. Sherry is a frequent contributor to anthologies, blogs, and newsletters, is a sought-after speaker, and lives with her family in Southern California where she maintains an active private practice. Visit Sherry at www.sgabatherapy.com.