By Ke’Ana Lampkins
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a die-hard Whitney Houston fan. Growing up my mom had four major artists that she loved: Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Tracy Chapman, and Bob Marley. But Whitney was always my number one favorite. Her voice can make you feel a range of emotions you didn’t even know why you’re feeling. After my mom died, Whitney’s song, My Love Is Your Love, always makes me think of her and reminds me of happy memories from when I was a child. On my wedding day, I walked down the aisle to I Believe in You and Me because it was the only song that described the love I had for my husband. Her death hit me so hard because it was something that my mom and I shared, but also because I just loved everything about Whitney– her attitude, her voice, and her outlook on life.
On February 11, 2012, we lost an icon, a legend, and one of the greatest entertainers our world has ever known. Though her official cause of death was coronary artery disease, cocaine use was listed as a contributing factor. Recently, I was able to watch the documentary of her life, Whitney by Kevin Macdonald. I was astounded and taken aback learning of the adverse childhood and adolescent experiences she endured as a child and young adult. It was also enlightening to see what she had to navigate as a young adult through her life experiences, psychosocial development, and superstardom at a young age. While I won’t regurgitate everything I learned from the film (you should definitely check it out on Hulu, though!), I think it’s important to explore how trauma can adversely impact someone’s life and the importance of seeking help.
Whitney and her brother were molested by a close family member when they were children. Unfortunately, 95% of children are molested by someone that they know and 50% of that are family members. She never told her mother out of fear of what her mom would do to this family member.
Withholding sexual trauma is quite common. 73% of children who survive a sexual assault do not tell anyone for at least a year. It’s a secret that children don’t want to keep to themselves. One way to help a child feel comfortable enough to share is to initiate the conversation. As a parent, we need to check in regularly with our children. Simply asking your child directly if someone touched their genitalia can prompt them to share. Remember to remain calm and assure your child that you’re not mad, that they didn’t do anything wrong, and that they’re not in trouble. Finally, connect your child to a mental health therapist that specializes in childhood sexual trauma.
Whitney Houston also struggled with her sexual identity as a result of being molested by another woman. According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, ” Youth who identify as heterosexual—or have not yet actively examined their sexual orientation—may think that being abused by someone of the same sex makes them gay, lesbian, or bisexual.” As adults, how we discuss sexual orientation can impact what children share with us. Whitney Houston is a 1960s baby, a time where heteronormative rhetoric was prevalent. I wouldn’t be surprised if Whitney struggled to find safe spaces to explore her sexuality. While we may have various views regarding sexual orientation, how we express those views could negatively impact a child’s willingness and level of comfort discussing their sexual orientation with you. With that being said, it’s important to be mindful of our conversation and the language we use.
One thing that was clear while watching the documentary is that she loved to love. Her relationships became complicated with fame. Everyone wanted something from her and she had a hard time saying no to people’s requests and needs. She loved her family, and she loved having them in her life and enjoying it with them. At some point, almost every one of her close relatives and friends was on her payroll. This created conflict with money being wasted, embezzled, and her family’s fear of eventually being cut off.
It’s important to look at all these factors because her drug use may have started as recreational and something to do to have fun. But perhaps it became something she was able to hide behind, to numb the very real pain she was dealing with daily. Every generation in our history has struggled with substances at some point. In the 1950s, alcohol was the drug of choice. In the 1960s, LSD was all the rave. Heroin was popular in the urban communities, and the hippies loved their weed which bled into the 70s. Near the late 70s into the 80s, crack-cocaine was cheap and highly addictive, making it the drug of choice for many Americans. In the 90s, we found our way to meth and ecstasy. Now in the 2000s, we are a bit everywhere. While alcohol and marijuana have stayed in the forefront for many years, through each decade. We now face “legal drugs” as a huge source of addiction, through pain relievers and other over-the-counter medicines.
I say all this to say that drugs have become the norm for us to cope with life and trauma, but certainly a critical barrier to healing as families, individuals, and as a people. Whitney Houston had many adverse experiences that impacted her as a woman, as a wife, mom, sister, daughter, and as what we know and loved her–an entertainer. But what is clear is that she was hurting. And like many of us, she covered her pain and did her best to numb it so she couldn’t feel it anymore.
When we confront our pain, we have two choices: we can cover up your pain or we can do our best to address it by doing the difficult, yet, vital work essential to our healing. The cool thing is that you don’t have to do it alone. Whether it’s family and friends, online communities, or a mental health professional, there are many forms of support available to you. Don’t numb it with alcohol, substances, food, or anything else that temporarily masks your emotions. Invest in your healing by approaching your wounds head-on so that you can be a healthier version of yourself– not just for your kids, spouse, friends, or your family but for you because you deserve to know and love the best version of you.
Ke’Ana Lampkins is a contributing writer for The Pedestal Project, LLC. Ke’Ana is a Christian, wife, and mother dedicated to empowering young girls and women through counseling, mentorship, and education. Connect with her on Instagram @Beautifully_Yanni.