From the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous:
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
If you or someone close to you has been in a 12-step program, you’re familiar with steps 8 and 9.
Singer/songwriter/philanthropist Elton John’s new book, Love is the Cure, documents his climb out of addiction and how he continues to make amends, most importantly through his AIDS charity.
If you’re a fan of his, like me, you probably wonder how he managed to come out of the 80’s alive and healthy. So does he.
Honestly, the book was a surprise to me. I expected it to be mostly about the important work of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and how it came to be. It is, but it’s much more. It’s about him working those steps every day.
Elton John cruised (pardon the pun) through the 80’s and into the 90’s, a privileged gay man whose addictions were hurtling him towards an early, inevitable demise. But he came out of it HIV-negative. How the hell did that happen? Luck, he’ll tell you, pure luck. By all rights, he should’ve died a long time ago.
But he didn’t. Deep in the fog of those addictions he knew he was killing himself. It wasn’t until he heard about the horrific treatment of Ryan White, the Kokomo, Indiana teenager who’d contracted AIDS from tainted blood products to treat his hemophilia, that the change began. It was a slow change, though; even White’s death wasn’t enough. People who loved him were scared.
It wasn’t until his lover checked himself into a treatment center, and Elton raged for a while, that he himself faced reality and got the help he needed, too.
What followed was survivor guilt. He knew writing checks to AIDS charities wasn’t enough. He knew he’d spent over a decade watching his friends die (there’s a plaque for each one hanging in the chapel he built at his home): watching, but not helping, not using his celebrity to help others.
And so EJAF was born, and it is the greatest passion of his life. He has surrounded himself with the best and the brightest in the international fight against AIDS. He’s not just a name on the letterhead; he is involved in a hands-on way.
But it is that first experience, the sweet friendship between Elton John and Ryan White, that drives him most of all. His life has changed completely, and he knows exactly who to thank:
“I miss my friends Elizabeth (Taylor), (Princess) Diana and Robert (Key) more than you can imagine, and every single day. I think about them constantly, and EJAF would not be here but for their herculean efforts, inspiration and support. With their help – and David’s (his husband) – and thanks to John, our small but dedicated staff , and our wonderful board of directors – within only a few years, we were becoming a major player in the fight to rid the world of AIDS. There was much work to be done, huge mountains to climb. But wherever he was, I hoped with all my heart that another dear and departed friend, Ryan, was proud. Indeed, I felt a sense of pride in myself as well. I was sober. I was giving back. I was alive. For the first time in years, I was really, truly alive.”
And we’re glad he is.
For information on how you can support the Elton John AIDS Foundation, click here.