Robin Williams—The Human Factor

Let’s face it: Robin Williams’ life and work and humor were like the creation of one of the great novelists, bigger than life, his work astonishing and mature at its inception, his humor manic and cathartic and deeply insightful. In a forty-year career, he gave us laughter, tears, and an ongoing personal saga that will probably soon become material for a film at least as powerful as many of his own.

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Most of all, Robin Williams showed us humanity itself, in all its forms, from the brilliance of his creativity to the desperation of his often haunted spirit. Even in interviews he was on fire, quick to grab an oddity out of the air like a fugitive hummingbird and weave its startling presence into his patter, whatever the subject at hand. Or, to turn the metaphor around, his mind was like a hummingbird, constantly hovering and darting, busy and alert, using vast amounts of energy in its crazed but poised fluttering.

And sometimes that energy was fueled by drugs. Cocaine to keep the jam at hyperspeed, but with cocaine, it’s so easy to overshoot the mark and go into the heart-pounding, teeth-gritting darkness of overstimulation. The answer? Heroin, the ultimate but deadly elixir that fixes everything until it’s time to do some more. And, of course, overshooting that mark is the end of the game. Throw alcohol on top of this fire and you get an ongoing conflagration whose sparks and cinders we consumed as spectators.

What’s at the core of this self-immolation?

The answer is true not only for Robin Williams but for tens of millions in the US alone: stress, depression, and anxiety, and the self-medication that so often leads to all-consuming addiction and alcoholism. Robin found a solution in the recovery community that lasted nearly two decades. Upon his first relapse after long-term sobriety, he attributed his return to drinking to fear and anxiety. Once drinking, he isolated himself with denial.

When brilliance, fame, success, and the love of friends and family prove insufficient to serve as a foundation for sober living, we might want to take a look at what it was that Robin Williams had for twenty years, then lost and couldn’t grasp again with sufficient force to remain in the light. We can wish he had found it again, and held on dearly, but in his absence we should ponder what it is and—especially for the rest of us in recovery—cherish it for ourselves.

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