“Holy shit. Not another fucking Robin Williams meeting.”
I remember thinking that a little over two years ago today. I was thinking this and fuming as I sat in one of those rooms where people who have what I have talk about trying not to drink, do drugs or kill themselves. It was a horrible thought to have, granted. But since his passing a week earlier, I had literally been to 7 meetings where the topic was how fucking sad people were that Robin Williams had died. I mean, I got it. I got that he was a special part of people’s childhoods. I got that for this dark and sad group of people, his comedy probably provided a lot of joy to folks who normally didn’t have any. I got that he was an addict like ourselves and whenever one of our own passes, its horribly heartbreaking, whether they’re famous or not. I got all of this and I was still annoyed. I’m gay and alcoholic so in truth me being annoyed probably didn’t have anything to do with Robin Williams. Annoyed is just sometimes my old crusty default setting. I was probably just irritated that we weren’t talking about me in these meetings and that we were obsessed with the celestial being that was Robin Williams.
As you may have picked up on, I am a movie snob and a half. Therefore, the later half of Williams’ career is something I resolutely turned my nose up at. Basically,1998’s Patch Adams and everything that followed it can be filed in Sean’s NMKOM (Not My Kind of Movie) file. Fluffy family stuff and flatulence based comedies are not my jam so the charms of films like Old Dogs, World’s Greatest Dad and License to Wed would most likely be lost on me. Still, as a performer his power was impossible to deny. I liked him best on stage and unhinged. Like most addicts, he was at his best when he was outrageous and honest. Like here when he talks about alcoholism.
When he died, before hearing sober people yammer about him for a week, I remembered my own Robin Williams moment from 2006. He came into the restaurant on Sunset Blvd where I used to work. It was one of those locals-and-cool-people-only places tucked away in and he was with a regular customer, Bobcat Goldthwait. They had just come from a meeting, Williams told us. His battles with drugs and alcohol were well-chronicled so he clearly embraced this part of this personality and seemed open about it. Seeing as it was a crowded Saturday night and the place was tiny, Williams and Goldthwait were undoubtedly in a fishbowl. It struck me how good-natured and sweet he was for a guy who was clearly being gawked at and watched. By this time he’d been famous for decades and overcome a lot of demons so he handled that dining room and everything with the kind of charm you’d expect from a star like Robin Williams. I was far, far, far from sober in 2006 therefore the triumphs in his personal life, like much of his film resume, were also lost on me. Suffice to say, two years after his death, I actually get it.
Here in 2016, the battle to overcome mental illness and addiction is still very real. Sadly, maybe even worse than it was then. With an exploding heroin epidemic and a healthcare system stacked against mental illness, Williams’ effort to simply stay afloat is nothing short of heroic. We know now that Williams’ committed suicide in 2014, something more than one of us on this journey has certainly thought about. Personally, a shocking relapse in my inner-circle of early recovery has my own head spinning today. Someone I love with years of recovery is no longer sober. It’s as simple and heartbreaking as that. So I guess what I need to tell myself on August 11th while thinking about Robin Williams and my dear friend is that I need to stay. I need to keep going and keep fighting. More than that, I want to. When doubt creeps in and tells me it’s too hard, I need to tell it to kindly fuck off and keep moving. Because, as a movie snob and a half, I know in my heart that a tragic ending is not the only way for this to end.