The actor and comedian Robin Williams took his life today. Beyond this, I personally know very little of the details of the death or the events leading to the suicide.
There will be (and already is) prolific speculation regarding his motives in ending his life.
I’ll confine my discussion to what I know and how it may relate to this sad event.
Mr. Williams was a self-identified alcoholic/drug addict. Media reports indicate he had over 20 years sobriety before a relapse in 2006. He reentered rehab this year as a maintenance measure to maintain his sobriety, according to his representatives.
If I was putting money on it…I’m guessing he died sober.
Here’s what I do know. The effect chronic alcohol and drug use, particularly cocaine (a substance Robin admitted abusing), has on the neurochemistry of the brain is devastating. It takes at LEAST 2 years of complete abstinence before the user’s brain chemistry returns to a state of being where the individual is able to experience the same level of “happiness” that they did prior to use. Chronic, long-term use further damages/inhibits these receptors.
I know of many in the recovery community that suffer from profound depression; surprisingly, quite often after several years of sobriety. Unless you have been afflicted with this disease, it’s very hard to impart just how cunning, baffling, and powerful the allure of these legal and illegal chemicals are on the biology and chemistry of the brain.
In short: years of alcohol and drug use will cause changes in the structure and chemistry of the brain…often leading to profound depression.
Here’s what I also know. Robin didn’t need to take his own life. There are a myriad of drugs that combat these chemical imbalances and help maintain the homeostasis of emotion needed to…well…live.
Again, I don’t know the precise circumstances. I’m as heartbroken as anyone over the news of his death. He was a beloved celebrity that brought all of us many hours of joy. But I also lost a brother. A brother in sobriety. We lose brothers and sisters every hour of every day to this disease.
And it is a disease…
When Phillip Seymour Hoffman died, I made the argument for the disease model of alcoholism and drug addiction.
It is a disease. Just like depression. Just like heart disease. Just like cancer.
But nobody seems to care.
As long as it doesn’t happen to you or someone you love, it seems much easier to judge…to question the “will”…the “fortitude” of the sufferer. God forbid one did that for someone with cancer, but we do it with alcoholics and addicts every day.
And they continue to die of the most insidious and hated disease in our culture.
And we lose a lot more folks from this disease then we will from the current hysteria over Ebola.
It makes me sick…
Rest in peace brother. I know you are…I’ve witnessed the aftermath of enough suicides in my professional life to know you didn’t kill yourself Robin…you killed the disease.
If only we, as a society, could have killed it for you.