The death of Robin Williams has almost everyone I know shaken. People are talking about how “shocking” it is.
The sad thing is – it’s not shocking. It’s tragic, yes. But to me, and to countless others who struggle daily with the one-two punch of addiction and mental illness, it’s not shocking when someone succumbs to it.
Williams had always been open about his issues. He maintained sobriety for 20 years, then relapsed. It’s an altogether too common story, but the public at large only hears about it when a celebrity stumbles, falls, and can’t for the life of him pick himself back up.
And this is what so many people fail to understand. Mental illness and addiction are still looked upon as matters of “willpower.” And when we are active in our addiction, our brain chemistry is so profoundly fucked up that reason and willpower have nothing to do with correcting it.
“Get over it and move on.”
“Things could be so much worse. Try to have a little perspective.”
This is the advice we invariably get from people who don’t understand the depths that we can find ourselves in.
When a celebrity dies from the complications arising from these illnesses, there is a period of online hand-wringing. How we wish he could’ve gotten help. Depression is bad. Addiction kills. We post updates begging people who are depressed to get help. And then we go back to taking the “How Crazy Are You” quiz on Facebook. 53%! LOL.
Because it’s still misunderstood. It’s an issue one minute, and a joke the next.
My friend Kay put it this way last night: “Addiction and depression walk hand in hand into the mouth of hell.” As an addict in recovery with a mood disorder that requires regular and carefully administered medication, I am well aware of how close I can get to the mouth of hell, how many times I’ve dipped a toe into it and felt the blast. I am not waxing overdramatic here. This has brought me to my knees and has destroyed friendships, relationships, and trust. I know what to do to take care of myself now. But I also know how easy it is to go on autopilot and believe that I no longer need to do those things.
You hear this a lot in recovery: “Your disease is doing pushups.” It’s always there and always ready to take control. And when it does, it is exponentially stronger and subsequently exponentially more difficult to get out of its grasp. This, I believe, is what happened to Robin Williams. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Vic Chesnutt. My friend Caroline. I have watched people I know and love circle the drain and all I can do is stand there, holding out my hand. Some grab hold. Some don’t. This is the reality of it.
There’s help. There’s hope. And it begins with understanding.
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For those seeking further understanding of the brain and how it functions with addiction try Charles Duhigg’s insightful book: The Power of Habit.