As I sit down to write this, only moments after seeing it on my Twitter feed, I am deeply saddened by the reality that Robin Williams has passed away. And since it is Robin Williams, I don’t think it’s in poor taste to admit that I immediately thought of the age-old comedic tag, “Too soon?” Which takes on a double meaning in this scenario, as it is feels both too soon for the world to have lost Robin Williams and too soon for me to be writing about it.
Williams’ cause of death is apparent suicide via asphyxia. His publicist issued a statement saying that he had been battling severe depression; which isn’t much of a surprise since people don’t typically check themselves into rehab when they are feeling on top of the world. Although Williams’ reps insisted that his recent stint at Hazelden earlier this summer was nothing more than relapse prevention, some suspected that to be a spin on a much more serious issue. And it appears that those people were correct.
Relapse or not, it is no secret that Robin Williams had alcoholism: a three-fold disease that is described as an allergy of the body, an obsession of the mind and a spiritual malady. Anyone suffering from alcoholism is in real danger if any of these facets of the disease are not treated—chemical abstinence is only a part of it. However, if a drug or alcohol relapse was involved, sadly, the taking of one’s own life is not an unfamiliar ending to those of us with addicts in our family, in recovery or working in treatment or in hospitals. “This is absolutely tragic and was likely entirely preventable,” says Richard Taite, founder and CEO of Cliffside Malibu and the co-author of Ending Addiction For Good. “As is often the case with individuals who have been in recovery for a long time and then relapse, accidental overdose and suicide must be guarded against. Mr. Williams needed more support than he got and tragically, the world has yet again lost a brilliant actor and comedian. A bright light has been extinguished.”
Addiction brings about a looming sense of hopelessness and despair that are hard to describe to people who don’t suffer with it. The impending doom and self-hatred that tend to be byproducts of untreated alcoholism often don’t make sense to the people around us, especially when so many things look good on paper. And nothing could look better on paper than Robin Williams, who leaves behind a comedic legacy few could reckon with. If the equation for comedy is indeed tragedy plus time, we have all lost a huge chunk of comedy gold from Williams, who had the tragedy but is now, sadly, out of the time.
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