Addiction can be extremely isolating, and despite the storylines you may see on shows like “Intervention,” overcoming substance abuse is very much an individual battle. You can have relatives cheering you on from the sidelines and friends who hold you accountable. You can have a spouse who knows your triggers and helps you navigate them like a field of personal landmines. However, regardless of how many stakeholders are invested in your sobriety, the only person who can actually do the work of staying clean is you – and it’s hard AF.
I’ve had the unfortunate privilege of front row seating to the struggles of loved ones battling addiction. I witnessed my grandfather drink himself into an early grave despite multiple warnings of doctors and countless hospital stays. I can personally attest to the fact that regardless of how badly loved ones want sobriety for an addict, the only person who can make that happen is the addict themselves. For this reason, I’ve always been particularly troubled by the inordinate amount of credit Mary J. Blige would give now ex-husband, Kendu Isaacs, for her sobriety.
From VH1 specials to magazine interviews, the Bronx native would not hesitate to sing the praises of Isaacs and the role that he played in helping her to turn her life around — including getting and staying clean. Blige told Parade back in 2007 of Kendu’s intervening:
“He said, ‘Mary, I’ve got something to tell you that’s going to hurt, but it will help you heal.’ Guys didn’t ever talk to me like that. ‘You’re scarred inside,’ he said. ‘It’s like you have a cut, and it’s infected. You have to let me put proper medicine on it so it can heal.’ I remember lying on the bed with my head on his chest. I decided to stop drinking that night and forgive all the people who had hurt me and to forgive and love myself, because I loved him and I wanted to be true.”
As much as Kendu probably wanted better for Mary at the time, he didn’t rescue her from the clutches of alcoholism. She rescued herself. He may have very well been a supporting character, but she had always been the primary protagonist and heroine of her own epic story — whether she recognized this fact or not. He didn’t have to endure the insomnia, nausea, vomiting, shakiness, or anxiety that often comes as a result of alcohol withdrawal. He didn’t have to resist the temptation to reach for a bottle each time painful memories from the past flooded her mind like hurricane waters seeking to destroy everything in its path. And he definitely doesn’t have to continue this fight against addiction for the rest of his life because every addict knows that receiving that 30-day sobriety chip is only the beginning of the lifelong journey of remaining sober.
Thankfully, Mary has since come to recognize the fact that she’s been her own champion all along. In a recent interview with Self, the Queen of Hip Hop Soul confessed that she gave her ex-husband too much credit because she was looking for a savior.
“Well, when I look back, I see that we all want what we want. And we want it to be the way we want it to be,” she said. “I wanted a savior. I’d been hurting so long, and so much, and so bad…He did not deserve that credit.”
I’ve always deeply admired Mary for her strength as well as her transparency. The fact that she continues to do self-work and is still open enough grant us glimpses behind the curtain of her personal evolution is laudable. Her story has already helped so many women, but now that she has cast herself as the hero versus the damsel in distress, I’m confident that her story will inspire so many more.