Monday, December 12, 2016

25 Songs About Addiction and Recovery: THE A TEAM, Ed Sheeran

Far too many people have irrational ideas about addiction, and those ideas encompass the full spectrum of addiction. This has gotten some media attention in the last couple of years as the heroin epidemic has exploded, and in some areas, minds are being pried open on some aspects of the disease of addiction. There is a growing, and often grudging, realization that people do not stop being people because they become addicted to drugs--grudging because the innate need to feel superior to those less fortunate and worse off than we believe ourselves to be is one of the tendencies that human beings have indulged in since the Cro-Magnons were exterminating the Neanderthals. And it has taken huge numbers of young white people becoming addicted to opiates after their initial exposure to that type of drug was through prescribed painkillers for even that tiny opening in our collective minds to take place.
But judgment is still passed on addicts in a hundred different other ways, even by other addicts. And none faces more stigma and more societal revulsion than the woman that have to resort to prostitution to get the next one. American society has always been very uptight and repressive toward sex, even more than most other Christian and most Muslim societies, and the "loose" or "wanton" woman gets cut few breaks by most people who have not found themselves in that situation. Even in 12-step fellowships, there is often open disdain showed, by both men and other women, toward women that have sold themselves in their addiction. It's an unfortunate and devastating fact of life, and one that is only receding at the pace of a glacier melting.
We can't blame Ed Sheeran, though. My daughter turned me on to Sheeran a few years ago; he is one of the Taylor Swift-generation singer/songwriters, and he is actually quite good apart from this song, as well. But this song absolutely blew me away when I first heard it;  it is an honest portrayal of a woman caught up in a deadly addiction--the "grams" and "pipe"  references makes me think it's crack, but it could be meth, too.  I'm not sure I've ever heard a more graphic and accurate description of the reality of The Life ("burnt lungs, sour taste;" "long nights, strange men;" faces crumbling like pastry; flying "in a pipe";). But there are a bunch of little touches that tell me that Sheeran actually knows what he's writing about, that he is or was close to someone caught in the nightmare--"Loose change, bank notes, weary-eyed, dry throat, call girl, no phone".
Or as we call it in the rooms, when you get to the point of the "Everything Must Go!" sale.
And other references, too--"the worst things come free to us" is something familiar to anyone who has relapsed, because the dealers will always get you going with the free one, to get you sucked back in to where you can't say no.
But where Sheeran does his greatest service, the great point of the song, is calling the woman an
angel. Because, as much as the Puritans among us would like to believe otherwise, women selling themselves for drugs are somebody's daughters, and often they are somebody's mothers, too. The sex is simply a way to get more; there is no emotional involvement in it. It's hard for men to grasp this, because if a man is not emotionally involved in sex, it doesn't happen-- the physical equipment does not rise to the occasion. But this is exactly how it is. It is not the real person that is getting paid for their presence; it is somebody merely doing what someone is willing to give them money for so that they can get high. There is no moral involvement, no "falling," no lustful element to it whatsoever. And Sheeran's song beautifully makes the point that the true nature of the woman is something other than what she is doing.
I know this, too. I have been in four long-term relationships with women with prostitution in their personal histories. None of them are the proverbial "scarlet women." All of them have turned out to be women of some substance and depth, when not getting high. And another thing I have noticed over my years in addiction and recovery--I have not met a single woman that prostituted for drugs that was not sexually abused or raped before they were 16. Not one--and since the mid 1990's, I have come to know somewhere around 50 of them. You may see someone selling themselves on the streets and be repulsed... When I see a woman engaging in that, I see a girl in grade school or middle school whose father or uncle or neighbor or first boyfriend raped or fondled or did other things to her that should not be a part of anyone's story. And a trip to the "motherland", even as it is costing her her existence, doesn't seem so inexplicable when you can envision that girl.
And just for the record, this is why drug addiction treatment needs to be rethought in this country. A lot of men also turn to drug use as a response to trauma--but I would bet that 95%, at a minimum, of women that end up in full-blown addiction could benefit from PTSD counseling. And 100% of women that have a history of prostitution.
Sheeran gets it.
The song does not have a happy ending, at first glance. I am sure Sheeran would have have preferred his friend to get clean and live. But to go on the way she was--well, perhaps death was a release, a gateway to a better place. A place where angels are real.


White lips, pale face
Breathing in snowflakes
Burnt lungs, sour taste
Light's gone, day's end
Struggling to pay rent
Long nights, strange men

And they say
She's in the Class A Team
Stuck in her daydream
Been this way since eighteen
But lately her face seems
Slowly sinking, wasting
Crumbling like pastries
And they scream
The worst things in life come free to us
'Cause we're just under the upper hand
And go mad for a couple grams
And she don't want to go outside tonight
And in a pipe she flies to the Motherland
Or sells love to another man
It's too cold outside
For angels to fly
Angels to fly

Ripped gloves, raincoat
Tried to swim and stay afloat
Dry house, wet clothes
Loose change, bank notes
Weary-eyed, dry throat
Call girl, no phone

And they say
She's in the Class A Team
Stuck in her daydream
Been this way since eighteen
But lately her face seems
Slowly sinking, wasting
Crumbling like pastries
And they scream
The worst things in life come free to us
'Cause we're just under the upper hand
And go mad for a couple grams
And she don't want to go outside tonight
And in a pipe she flies to the Motherland
Or sells love to another man
It's too cold outside
For angels to fly
An angel will die
Covered in white
Closed eye
And hoping for a better life
This time, we'll fade out tonight
Straight down the line

And they say
She's in the Class A Team
Stuck in her daydream
Been this way since eighteen
But lately her face seems
Slowly sinking, wasting
Crumbling like pastries
They scream
The worst things in life come free to us
And we're all under the upper hand
Go mad for a couple grams
And we don't want to go outside tonight
And in a pipe we fly to the Motherland
Or sell love to another man
It's too cold outside
For angels to fly
Angels to fly
To fly, fly
For angels to fly, to fly, to fly
For angels to die

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