Robin W., Alcoholic

Note: This is the first time I’ve written about something outside my own personal experience, but it’s been on my mind enough that I felt moved to.

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When Amy Winehouse’s body was found with a blood alcohol content of .4% (five times the DUI level), lying among scattered vodka bottles like so many smoking guns, most of the media and public understood that her death was caused by alcoholism.

Not so with the loss of Robin Williams – also caused by alcoholism, but in a much subtler sense.  The press does note that he had checked into rehab a few weeks prior, but his prolonged suspension of active drinking causes them to dismiss his addiction as conquered.  It seems to me only my fellow alcoholics are able to intuit the close relationship between his alcoholism, depression, and the unbearableness of being that led him to take his life.

Williams was very open about his 2003 relapse after 20 years’ sobriety.  He told Parade:Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 3.06.06 PM

“One day I walked into a store and saw a little bottle of Jack Daniel’s. And then that voice — I call it the ‘lower power’ — goes, ‘Hey. Just a taste. Just one.’ I drank it, and there was that brief moment of ‘Oh, I’m okay!’ But it escalated so quickly. Within a week I was buying so many bottles I sounded like a wind chime walking down the street. I knew it was really bad one Thanksgiving when I was so drunk they had to take me upstairs.”

A Guardian reporter asked if friend Christopher Reeves’ death was what triggered his relapse.

“No,” he says quietly, “it’s more selfish than that. It’s just literally being afraid. And you think, oh, this will ease the fear. And it doesn’t.” What was he afraid of? “Everything. It’s just a general all-round arggghhh. It’s fearfulness and anxiety.”

He added, about the demise of his second marriage in 2008, years after he’d managed to get sober again:

“You know, I was shameful, and you do stuff that causes disgust, and that’s hard to recover from. You can say, ‘I forgive you’ and all that stuff, but it’s not the same as recovering from it. It’s not coming back.”

If you’re an alcoholic, you don’t just read these words; you identify with them because you’ve lived them.  You know that wheedling voice of the “lower power,” that all-pervading fear of existence, and the burden of shame Williams describes.  And if you’re like me, you feel tremendous empathy for this man, who had recognized his depression as a spiritual malady linked to his alcoholic disease and had tried his best to combat it by strengthening his spiritual connection in treatment.

According to the press, over the previous year Williams had been shooting movies and shows back to back, maintaining a “manic pace.”  To me, this frenzy of activity seems a way of trying desperately to live, to stay engaged in life.  My friend Dave McC  fought depression in a similar way in the year before his suicide, hiking the Cascade Mountains at a furious pace.  But the disease catches up.  It gets to us when we’re alone, worming into that inmost chamber of self where no one can reach us – except god.  What most pains me and frightens me about Williams’ death is that he knew the solution.  He had a program.  He was trying to help himself.  And yet for reasons we’ll never know, he could not access that “Power which pulls [us] back from the gates of death.”

So often, I want to think of sobriety as a set equation rather than a blessing.  That is, I want to believe that if you take certain actions, working the three sides of the triangle by going to meetings, working with a sponsor, and doing service work, then you’re guaranteed a certain result: lasting sobriety.  Williams’ death reminds me that’s anything but the case.  In fact, it’s all grace.  We’re guaranteed nothing.  We’re never home free – not even with twenty years’ sobriety and all the talent, intelligence, and accomplishment a person could ask for.

Rather, the fact that I – an alcoholic child of alcoholic children going back many, many diseased generations – write this with 19 years and 7 months’ sobriety is nothing short of miraculous.  The fact that you’re reading it with however many days or years you have sober – you, who are also hardwired to drink – is likewise a miracle.  Every day that we live in the light of sanity and sobriety is a gift.  It’s another day we can be grateful not to find ourselves in that tortuous nightmare of spiritually starving depression that led Williams – knowing alcohol and drugs would not help him – to choose the one-way exit of suicide.

From a broader perspective as an Near Death Experience survivor, I do believe Williams found not only relief but bliss in leaving his body.  For whatever reason, though, we are born into these earthly lives with a sense of mission to carry them out, and a love for the material world that anchors us here for their duration.  I’d like to live out mine, certainly.  But my sobriety, my faith in a higher power, directions to love and honor others through kindness and service, and the happiness I’ve been granted by pursuing this path all unite to remind me I am never in charge.  Certainly, I’m not in charge of my sobriety.  I can take the steps I know to nurture it, but the results are out of my hands.

In the end, the loss of this talented, accomplished man who could no longer stand his life reminds me to be grateful for today.  I don’t have a lot of  the stuff our culture equates with success.  But no gifts are more precious than sanity, sobriety, peace of mind, and the strength they grant me to love others freely.

 

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304 Comments

Filed under AA, Alcoholism, Recovery, sober, Sobriety, Spirituality

304 responses to “Robin W., Alcoholic

    • Anonymous

      I struggle on a daily basis! But the old guy who started aa thank you but it’s 2015! Go to meetings, strive daily! But the sobriety birthday shit is killing people! Charlotte woodruff

      Like

  1. Any of us who have loved or currently love an alcoholic, clean and sober, or not, can empathize with this author’s writing. It’s an insidious disease and drinking is only a symptom of the disease. It’s a lying disease that damnifies and condemns its victims. It can drive a victim insane and to death. It’s a tortuous, haunting life without the higher power of Christ Who is the only Grace-Filled Redeemer, Forgiver, and Lover of a soul. My heart is filled with love and prayers for all those addicted. And my Hope and Prayer is that they truly invite Christ into their hearts and accept His Mercy, Grace and Forgiveness so that they can freely live in Him, and not in the bondage of self or the disease.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chris L

      I really dont want what I am about to say to come off as rude or for you to take offence in any way, and if you or a loved one has found sobriety and sanity through Jesus that is amazing and i cant express how proud i am of that. But I urge you when speaking in an open forum such as this to use the term higher power over Christ, i know you are only trying to show your appreciation and love toward your savior and that is fine but i know from personal experience that for new people who are just finding AA or NA hearing that and not understanding that just because Christ is your higher power and it works for you doesn’t mean that it has to be mine. I only say this because it was hearing something like that which originally scared me away from the programs and away from getting the help i really needed, it was only after someone explained how a higher power could be whatever i were to chose that i was able to work the steps and overcome mt disease.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Jesus IS the only higher power. Period. Using our Lord and Saviors name clearly does not detract from the mere term high power. I have known folks who use a door knob as a higher power. Yeah, it doesn’t work that way. There is no higher power than He who saved us. If you don’t have Jesus, you got nuthin.

        Like

      • Anonymous

        Thank you chris. People need to understand that AA recovery is spiritual. ..NOT religeous. If the recovery program were religeous, church would have fixed us.

        Liked by 3 people

      • In my humble opinion, someone’s definition of or name for their Higher Power is none of my or your business. Bill W. spoke of the God of our understanding. Whether that is Jesus, Allah, Jehovah, L. Ron Hubbard, G.O.D. (group of drunks) or Pinocchio only makes life in recovery more interesting. The less I exert my attempts to control what other people say the better.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Re Cassie – I get myself into a meta-ethical conundrum if I say people who inform others their spiritual beliefs are wrong… are wrong! However, I do feel this way about religious people who insist their way is the only way. Fortunately, my friend Kacie, who is strongly Christian without any need to push her beliefs on others (see https://aspiritualevolution.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/reaching-for-god-healing-in-the-mountains/) gave me this tidbit she adopted from the child she nannies. I can just say, “It’s not my favorite.” So… a position like Cassie’s? It’s not my favorite!

        Like

      • Linda

        I’m a 24 year sober gal who is a Christian, as well…was raised a Christian, but alcohol took that away from me for a while…or rather, I handed it over to alcohol during my 20 years of drinking. I, too, believe we should not identify our personal higher power as anything but God or Higher Power. Even though, for me, it was by finding the loving God I have now in AA that I was even able to go back to my roots. I use the big guy’s name, God, in meetings. Everyone can relate to God…whether they call Him Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Allah or “Fred” (I knew a guy that always called God Fred, because he said his best friend as a kid was named FRED). We shouldn’t bring our religion into meetings…although for many of us, AA brought us back to our religions or helped us find a religion/church to be a part of thru our sobriety. AA is not a religion. I don’t bring my big book to church and read from it, although it is part of me and my beliefs. Therefore, I shouldn’t bring my religious books or scriptures into an AA meeting. It is very true that many of my beliefs I take into my church come from my learnings from the Big Book, my sponsor, and AA, but the “normies” at my church wouldn’t want to hear it. They wouldn’t think it applied to them. What we should do, or rather what I was taught we should do, is show the love that Jesus showed others (if we are Christians) and the love that other religions teach to each other, especially the new people. Love and understanding and being there for others is probably taught in all religions, although I don’t know that for sure. I love you all, whether I know you or not! I might not like you that much, but I would help you and show you love if you were struggling. Okay, off the soap box! Love and hugs!!!

        Liked by 2 people

      • fran

        you can believe in jesus or not believe in jesus or even think you area jesus and still get sober in AA; that’s what I was taught.

        Like

      • It’s a spiritual program, not religious. It took many years of tolerance to finally realize that people have a right to choose what they feel work’s for them without becoming opinionized ….. Let’s remember it’s a program of attraction, not promotion. Think about the other guy and helping them find what work’s for them.

        Like

      • Dale P.

        Thank you. I sponsor a few guys, that if I used language Like that in the beginning I would have lost them quickly. I too call God “Jesus” my Higher Power but this is a program of attraction not promotion. Most of the time, as people go through the 12 steps they find it difficult to acquire solid sobriety without spirituality and more than likely call that HP God. Thanks for sharing that and with such class. Keep on keeping on my friend.

        Like

      • Claudino

        Christ may scare people out of AA but alcohol
        will bring them back.

        Like

    • It’s unfortunate that AA’s, knowing that people of all faiths are tortured by this disease, insist that only belief in their version of a Higher Power will restore us to sanity. Thankfully, the founders of AA knew better than to force any particular version of a Higher Power on an alcoholic. My sober brothers and sisters in AA include Jews, Muslims, Hindi, and even Atheists. I am so glad that they weren’t frightened away by the beliefs of others. Anyone of them could be dead because they were frightened away by others insisting that their only chance was to conform to someone else’s version of a Higher Power. I am delighted for everyone who has been graced with belief and implore them to adhere to the “program of recovery” as it is stated in the 164 pages of our text, Alcoholics Anonymous. Perhaps GOD reveals HIMSELF to everyone in different ways.

      Like

    • Gim J.

      You tell lies!

      Like

  2. Sandy

    Thank you , that was a great write up and an awesome tribute to dear Robin Williams. One day at a time.

    Like

  3. rjs12

    I truly appreciate this piece! As a person with many years of non-relapsing sobriety, I can look back and say I was not always in recovery even though I was/am a 12-step member. (I see recovery as a holistic balance of life domains.) At 20 years sober, I literally left meetings for about four years and went to live in a yoga community to strengthen my spiritual life. It worked. But, years later, I still found myself struggling with other compulsive behaviors. I don’t think the desire to want to ‘escape’ ever completely leaves. In my case, unprocessed grief is my Achilles heel. I have lost three family members to addiction. The one thing that AA says about ‘contingent on my spiritual condition’ is the key to finally holding onto the brass ring.
    Namaste!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Katie

    I enjoyed reading the story but knowing that people suffer from illnesses that can cause us to really want to step away from life in general is extremely sad. Church. Unfortunately you mentioned nothing about the bipolar disorder that Robin Williams suffered and like many do, we have to hang on every day whether we are adicts or not. I have suffered with this illness since before they had a name for it and believe me I have been to that point that I could have just gone away. Why did I choose not to, because of the strength of my conviction and my believe in my God that I would be able to conquer it because through him all is possible! Please do not be little the fact that he suffered a mental illness, one that goes untreated properly day after year, after decades, after centuries! it’s not fair that even epilepsy was still considered a mental illness till 1971. When will these doctors wake up and realize that this is a medical problem and try to do more about it. I miss Robin and I will always miss him but as I said with my belief I will see him again to all suffer from bipolar or alcoholism I pray for you and your families to be strong! I beg everyone that needs it to see counseling, to get the help that they rightfully deserved. Thank you for allowing me to leave a comment, thanks so much, a true fan!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Suzie Konrad

    Please remember that Robin Williams had been diagnosed with Parkinsons disesase. Many people who suffer from Parkinson’s, also contract a disease called Lewy Body Dimentia (see link:
    https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/lewy-body-dementia/introduction). I am an alcoholic, and I fully understand the cunning, baffling, powerful disease (having relapsed three times), however, I believe Lewy Body Dimentia could have been a causitive factor in Robin’s suicide. My husband died of LBD, like Alzheimers, it is a fatal disease, the symptoms can often be mistaken for other conditions, people who have any kind of dimentia, become very skilled at “hiding” those symptoms–even from those who are close to them.
    Often the hallucinations associated with LBD are accompanied by paranoia. My husband was tortured by his hallucinations (he “saw” bugs, rats and snakes) and was indeed paranoid (he thought that people were stealing things from him). If Robin Williams did have LBD (I have heard stories in the media that indicate he did suffer from hallucinations and paranoia), I can understand his reasons for ending his life, and suffering. LBD and alcoholism are both insidious diseases, either one, or both could be enough to to push anyone to drastic measures. So, to Robin, and to my late husband Vern, may God Bless You.

    Like

  6. Anonymous

    I keep it simple one day at a time for the last 36 years

    Like

  7. Penny

    We have the strength to love others unconditionally (born with it) and in doing this we find sanity, sobriety, peace of mind and live with a peaceful heart! DOS 1/29/68

    Like

  8. Nelson Peebles

    My prayer is that one day, just as happened in 1935, with Dr Bob, Bill W, and the good old timers, we will conclude that we are powerless over mental illness and that our lives have become unmanagable. We will also come to believe that a power great than ourselves will restore us to sanity. The elephant in the living room with most suicides is that the pharmaceuticals work the same way as alcohol – temporarily We must not choose the psychiatrist, medical doctor, or pharmaceutical company as our Higher Power. No human power can relieve us. Today, as we speak, 20 veterans wil die. This number is greater than those dying on foreign soil. They are committing suicide. They are under the care of a psychiatrist and they are heavily medicated. The pharmaceutical companies have rooked us into believing it is politically incorrect to even speak out. We must stop the political correctness and speak out that we have in fact been restored to sanity.

    Like

  9. Anonymous

    It’s about God’s grace. I “try” to affect my behavior by being of service, going to meetings, and (currently looking for a) trying to sponsor, yet — I am blessed by God’s grace. KEY WORD: T R Y
    Thanks for the inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Anonymous

    Wow. Lots of religion here, but then AA/NA are religions. All the there but for the grace of God, etc. One person actually wrote “if you ain’t got Jesus, you ain’t got nuthin'”. I didn’t realize this was an AA board. My bad. 30+ years without alcohol. However, I have to use and do not abuse prescription opioid analgesics. So I guess those decades don’t ‘count’.

    Like

    • It does count! Congrats! AA and NA are spiritual but not religious – keep that straight. No one tells you what to believe. You’re urged to look inward for a god of YOUR understanding, an anchor of truth for you – not what some religious dogma would force on you. And if you prefer to rely on the group, or your love for life, or whatever else keeps you sober, that’s fine. A few AA groups around Seattle do have sticks up their asses in terms of what constitutes the RIGHT way, but I steer clear of them. To be helpful is our only aim.

      Like

  11. Frank Walker

    He died so many alcoholics may survive.

    Like

  12. Donna

    Bill W also touched on mental health in the big book, saying a whole chapter could be written about it. Robin suffered not only from alcoholism but depression as well. After I got sober I had a breakdown. I needed, and still do need, medication. If you have a chemical imbalance you may need the help of medication. Sobriety may not be enough. I hear to often mental illness being glossed over in the rooms. “You just need to do the steps”, “You don’t need medication”, it’s a crutch…..blah, blah, blah. Sponsors are not doctors so they should not give medical advise to ANYONE!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Mel

    There are several comments focusing on the Chritstan or Catholic idea of God being the true and right idea of what the higher power is “supposed” to be. I am the daughter of an alcoholic, whose alcoholic parent was the son of two alcoholics…..I’m married to an addict in recovery, participate in the fellowship by association and work with adults suffering from dual diagnoses…meaning they are struggling with a severe mental health diagnosis as well as substance addiction. I live in a community, as many do these days, that is rife with heroin addiction and death by overdose of many young people. I have noted in our community an openminded concept of the higher power and agree with a wider definition both personally and professionally. To believe that one cannot achieve recovery or participate in the fellowship if they do not conform to the Christian belief of a higher power is both naive and terribly detrimental. Times, they are changing and I am thankful that many are welcoming and embracing the many faces of the addicted in our community. The 12 step fellowship isn’t the only path to recovery, but the door shouldn’t be closed to those that find their path through a power that isn’t someone else’s definition off the higher power. Kudos to the many working hard on their recovery, whether it be one day at a time or by the seat of their pants. May peace be found through whatever supports or efforts work for the person struggling to survive.

    Like

  14. Anonymous

    Controversy, NOT GOOD

    Like

    • Jelle Schöttelndreier

      Do you refer to tradition nr 10? The controversy here is hardly about an outside issue. I see it more as a healthy discussion of our internal culture.

      Like

  15. Anonymous

    Will you update this blog post now that it’s come to light that Williams suffered from Lewy body dementia and played a significant factor in his behavior and untimely death, not his addiction?

    Like

    • I will not. Nowhere did I indicate that the “subtler sense” in which addiction contributed to his suicide was related to relapse. Rather, I wrote of “the close relationship between his alcoholism, depression, and the unbearableness of being that led him to take his life.” The misfolded protein deposits (Lewy bodies) identified in the autopsy are associated with Parkinson’s and/or early signs of dementia – its most common form among the elderly.

      I never claimed to know the last straw that led Williams to exit life. I claimed only to know – as so many alcoholics know – a glimpse of his pain. Those who think addiction has more to do with substance abuse than the difficulty of living will not understand. Williams fought long and valiantly, but the pain became too much. And there but for the grace of god – the miracle of recovery – go we. That’s all I wrote.

      Never in my wildest dreams would my post be read by more than 50 people, let alone half a million.

      Like

  16. Amen… Robin Williams is a huge role model and should be to everyone. Thank you very much for this amazing article. Robin Williams is still my favorite actor and am waiting for someone to top him. Sobriety is and will always be a struggle, thinking about the past, re-runs of old experiences to help me not pick up, the now, if what’s in front of me. Being careful and noticing my surroundings, and what I want for my future. But it’s always one day, one hour, one minute, one second, one step at a time. R.I.P. Robin Williams. Suicide, thoughts, and actions like this is part of an addictive behavior. And I behaved these ways because of what alcohol and drugs did to me and what I did to myself. I’M PROUD TO BE AN ALCOHOLIC!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you. You spoke about addiction and mental illness so clearly. I feel grateful to be in recovery and to have the opportunity to read articles like this to understand self and others more and to continue to grow.

    Like

  18. Dan

    Sometimes we let the life that AA gave us , get in the way of our AA life, its a testimony either way, Sober by grace, lest you boast, we must be rid of self, or it kils us, alcoholism lays in wait to perform treachery on us, if were alcoholic. ABC

    Like

  19. Anonymous

    Bless your heart, THAT is beautiful, mindful, and well written!

    Like

  20. Anonymous

    I’m glad that your sobriety is in tact. That’s great. But to pretend that you have insight into anyone’s depression or addiction is part of your ego having gotten the best of you. You have no idea what Robin was thinking or why he took his own life. It’s hurtful for you to pretend that you do. Stick to yourself.

    Like

  21. jackie

    Wow wow wow it’s amazing how many people jump on the band wagon to preach that they know best get back to basics one day at a time and I can only say my head got me in to the mess I was in so sure as hell was not going to get me out of it so another Alkie helped me to a new way of thinking it’s my thinking that causes my depression self pit etc so have to keep it right sometimes people can muck that thinking up like all different opinions on here so watch what you post you have the power to help or hinder !

    Like

  22. Chris

    Great article, I read it and empathize with Mork 😕 but I can’t agree with all of it. I believe I am responsible for my sobriety, half measures avail me nothing. I am responsible for the maintenance of my spiritual condition, also I am responsible when anyone reaches out.
    I think Robin Williams struggle like so many others of fame or ego. Going to meetings and working with others must be tough when so many people would want to know them for their character they played.
    All the more reason to respect and protect everyone’s anonymity.
    Just my .02

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Thanks for your beautiful writing- you are very talented!

    Like

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