I awoke this morning to learn of the very sad passing of Robin Williams, apparently from suicide due to his depression.
It was widely known that Robin Williams found recovery from his own addictions (cocaine and booze) after John Belushi’s tragic overdose, but perhaps less known that he had been struggling with relapse for the past 5 years, having checked himself into a facility for alcohol addiction and depression.
Alcohol and depression are so entwined when it comes to addictive disease, not least because alcohol is a liquid depressant that alcoholics feel is helping them (temporarily), when in fact it’s only making matters worse by forcing them into even more depressive thoughts and feelings.
As far as I knew Robin had re-found his sobriety in recent years, and so his apparent suicide bought on by his depressive illness sadly reminds me that the same way we recover from our addictions through a 12 step programme, also works equally profoundly with depression.
The key to 12 step recovery, such as Alcoholics Anonymous is the faith that we can call upon a Higher Purpose for our lives, and that once we adopt better behaviours and begin serving others rather than ourselves, we remove our own self deprecating thoughts and enter into a space of focusing on the challenges of others. This relieves us of ourselves and our own self defeating thoughts, actions and emotions.
Treating depression is exactly the same, though often tougher to combat because of the afflicted person’s ingrained attitude towards the world, asking for peoples attention (usually family) even though they present themselves as hiding.
It’s the classic self sabotage model – wanting someone’s attention but attempting to attract it by pushing it away. If we could just get the depressed individual to start focusing on the problems of others then they’d lose the search for their own significance through such debilitating processes and thoughts.
I believe the very best way to demonstrate this form of treatment would be through one of Robin’s films – the biographical account of Patch Adams.
Patch is a Doctor who learnt his trade working on the hospital wards of the very sick, often terminally ill, in particular the cancer wards.
What he discovered was that laughter is one of life’s natural healing properties, and so he would entertain the children on the ward dressed in clown outfits and he would always have jokes and bring smiles of joy to everyone he crossed paths with. He recorded his success by considering how much of a better quality of life his patients had whilst under his care, so much so that the remaining length of their lives was extended and prolonged and often healed, at least temporarily. He practiced love and compassion for his patients before he prescribed anything, as a way of establishing a base line in a patient’s human psyche and through this discovered one of the secrets to life – that helping others alleviates our own inner demons.
What his lessons have taught the world (or at least those prepared to listen and stop prescribing for a moment) is that laughter brings healing properties beyond conventional medicine that prolongs human life and certainly makes pain and illness more tolerable.
In writing this I’m reminded by Victor Frankl’s book “Mans’ Search For Meaning” which is based upon his thoughts as a Concentration Camp Holocaust Survivor during World War Two.
He realised that those around him let themselves die once they had lost all hope. And that if people maintained a degree of hope, whatever the circumstances, that they survived such terrible conditions, despite the physical surroundings they were forced to live in.
Which sadly tells me what I think we need to consider when thinking about Robin’s sad suicide.
The conclusion I come to is that he lost hope.
He lost hope in his own ability to heal and to recover from the darkness that he found himself in.
Taking his own life seemed like the logical next step in his own mental health illness.
Depression is something we can heal from, but only if we’re prepared to help others and not focus on ourselves.
Sometimes, tragically too frequently, that is a step just too far in our belief system.
Hope is the solution here.
And lack of hope is the death sentence.
I feel terribly saddened by Robin’s death.
Just as I do whenever I’m invited to help a family with an active addict or alcoholic, only to find that the family aren’t prepared to do what it takes for me for perform the Sober Intervention and assist the addict to a place of healing and recovery. I become sad because I feel I have failed in some way to explain to the family just how serious their loved one’s situation is, that left untreated they will almost certainly have an early death or at least experience prolonged trips to hospital.
But for whatever reason the family feels hopeless too, and lacking in the courage to confront their addicted loved one, they’re left to their own devices and coping mechanisms, more often than not with tragic consequences.
Robin, you may have left us, but believe me when I say you’ve left us with a whole treasure trove of beautiful stories, movies and cartoons thus ensuring that you’ll live on forever in our hearts, our minds and our spirits.
Sleep Well and Sleep Soundly.
“There’s three things in this world that you need: Respect for all kinds of life, a nice bowel movement on a regular basis, and a navy blazer.”
~ Robin Williams, The Fisher King
This article can also be read on www.soberservices.co.uk