“One day I walked into a store and I saw a little bottle of Jack Daniels. And then that voice – I call it the lower power- goes “hey. Just a taste, just one drink.” I drank it and there was that brief moment of “Oh I’m ok!.” But it escalated so quickly. Within a week I was buying so many bottles I sounded like a wind chime walking down the street……Robin Williams.
I scanned the news stories early this morning with regard to Robin Williams passing. My most vivid memory of him is wearing his space suit while playing the character of Mork. It was mine and my sisters favorite show when we were kids. Of course the media is saturated with articles about his death. I knew today that the tone of the stories would have changed from one of shock and dismay to a frantic questioning of why. Now there’s talk of financial trouble and problems with ex-wives. But we can debate and assume all we wish. Nobody will ever be able to put into words what he felt or thought, because nobody ever discloses all that causes their pain. Only another alcoholic could understand that deep loneliness hidden behind the humor in the quote above and even still each person’s pain is unique.
I avoided writing anything about it yesterday. Why? Because I was hoping that the cause of his death was misunderstood. That really he had had a heart attack and that actually his well documented struggle with depression and addiction had not managed to wipe him out. Unfortunately though, I didn’t come across anything that hinted at his passing being caused by an unhealthy heart. No, it was his illnesses that I also share that took him from the earth. And while the loss of such a man, who had the gift to make us smile and induce the sound of joy from our bodies in the form of laughter, would always be devastating, the irony of him feeling such sadness and desperation at the time of leaving us is quite profound.
I had hoped to find evidence that he had found at least some peace and contentment in life and that such a prominent figure with such destructive illness could give those of us struggling also, hope. And for many years he did bring hope. He was an example of how addiction and depression, albeit with much hard work, could be overcome. How, just because you are assaulted almost daily, by your own mind and emotions, you can still be successful, happy and loved. So when a person, like me and many other’s I know, read that yet another fellow has been struck down, it instills fear and sadness and a little panic. For me the tragedy is not so much that he was such a famous person that’s been lost, but that he was just a person. Regardless of his fame and money he was made of flesh and bone and as vulnerable as you or I. That despite having the money for every possible top notch therapy, and recovery resource available, he still lost the fight.
And as I talk to people who are recovering from addiction and living with depression on a daily basis about this tragedy, I see in their eyes that uncomfortable question that I too am contemplating. That question that we try to hold back because if we say it out loud it might manifest. If such a great person couldn’t overcome this, then what hope is there for me? So fragile a creature are we, that we can turn on ourselves in the blink of an eye and believe that there is no way out. And the horrible fact of the matter is that for some of us there isn’t. Some of us cannot continue to live with our endless attempts at recovery and our search for serenity. It may be a strange thing to say, but I don’t fear death; but I do fear suicide. I fear it because of the stomach churning grief that is present even just contemplating it. That grief that is mixed with acceptance that you just can’t and don’t want to live anymore and it seems so perfectly simplistic as a means of escape. How many of us have skated on the fringes of that final and ultimate tragedy. Such an event changes our society. It stays forever, with a zillion questions demanding to be answered.
There are some questions that can never be answered. Sometimes when our time is up, it’s up and while we may not like how we exit, death is the only thing we can be sure of in this life. Today I’m grateful not to be in that suicidal abyss I once was. There is nothing like personal hell to make you or break you. So far it’s made me. I am in the midst of a dreadfully difficult recovery and learning how to cope with the onslaught of uncertainty which is depression. But I feel like I have something to live for. I feel like I can overcome all my illnesses and that the good really does outweigh the bad. But it’s a daily battle and it takes planning and strategy just like a physical war. One of the biggest obstacles I face each day is judgement and ridicule from other human beings because I have a mental illness. There is still a massive misunderstanding by the general public of what addiction and mental illness is. There is also a massive under resourcing of funds right across the world to treat such issues. In America alone there are over 1 million people incarcerated in prisons who are mentally ill because there is simply nowhere else for them to go. According to the World Health Organization, approximately one million people commit suicide each year worldwide, that is about one death every 40 seconds or 3,000 per day. For each individual who takes their own life, at least 20 attempt to do so. Suicide has a global mortality rate of 16 per 100,000 people.
Those are pretty shocking statistics. Imagine if you managed to gather all those peoples pain into one place how overwhelming that would feel. The fact is that the consequences are utterly overwhelming and devastating to the entire world. Look at how the death of just one person we loved has impacted us. Only by love, compassion and understanding both for ourselves and our fellow human beings can we help to heal this situation. We have become so disconnected from ourselves and each other that everyday thousands chose to opt out in the most tragic of circumstances. Robins loss will be felt deeply for a long time. Let us hope that we can learn from this and his passing is not in vain. Let us remember in times of grief that it is our fragility that binds us together. Therefore we must become connected once more to survive.