Robin Williams: The Power of Choice?

Photo by: Steve Jurvetson

Do we have control over our thoughts through the power of choice? 

Do we have control over our thoughts? Think about it for a second; do you believe that you control your thoughts? Sure, there are times when random thoughts pop into your head, and sometimes they may be downright twisted and strange, but if you become mindful, aren’t you able to direct your thoughts elsewhere? As a matter of fact, test it now; direct your thoughts in a direction of your choosing. When other thoughts creep in, as they sometimes do, simply think of something else. Did you do it? For some it may be easy while others may struggle a bit, but with practice, you can do it. It’s called mindfulness, and it is the only known “cure” for the world’s most common behavioral and emotional problems.

We suffered a sad loss this week; a man that spent nearly his entire life bringing joy to millions. Not only did he dedicate his life to entertaining us, but he made it his personal mission to help people in any way he could. He was generous with his money as well as his time and energy. Robin Williams touched the lives of those who grew up listening to his standup and watching his movies and television shows. He seemed, at least on screen, genuinely kind, gentle and caring. I remember two specific movies where his characters were more serious, Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society. Those characters depicted deeply introspective, caring men, who seemed to carry a heavy burden, and I remember thinking that his acting seemed so real; in fact, too real.

I knew about his struggles with addiction. It became a common thread in his stand up routines. And like so many comedians he used his struggles to mock himself and make others laugh. But underneath, we now know there was enormous emotional turmoil. That happy-go-lucky, easy going exterior may have actually been a mask for intense unhappiness and pain. As I have never met the man I can’t begin to tell you what he was thinking or why he decided to end his life. What I do know is he spent the better part of his life believing that he was powerless; believing that he suffered from an incurable disease called addiction. He spent nearly all of his adult life within what I have come to know as the ‘recovery society’, which ends up being a bit like a roach motel; you can check in but you can never check out; that is, until the day you die.

While I didn’t personally know Robin Williams, I do know a whole lot about the ‘recovery society’ having been part of it for many years. While in it, I too struggled with anxiety and bouts of severe depression. I contemplated suicide and became preoccupied with my own death and spent many hours thinking about it. Meetings were a bastion of negativity with everyone focused on how damaged we all were and how different we were from those close to us. We talked incessantly about what we couldn’t have or do and how we would be like this forever. While I was supposed to be building relationships with the people in “the rooms”, instead I became alienated from my family and close friends, and I felt more and more alone.

I am so grateful that I did find a way to escape the perpetual gloom of 12 step teachings and the recovery society, and thankfully I didn’t have to end my life to do it. I systematically refused to internalize the teachings of powerlessness, disease and helplessness. And even though I, too, struggled with emotional pain, severe anxiety and depression, I learned that I didn’t have to live with it and that I had the power to direct my thoughts in a positive direction. I learned the power of becoming mindful.

I would advise you not underestimate the fear, guilt and negative self talk that are an integral part of the 12 step program and treatment programs based on the addiction disease. Taking on negative labels such as addict and alcoholic and accepting you are powerless over substances and behaviors are completely counterproductive. Who wouldn’t begin to feel depressed and overwhelmed by life’s problems. Robin Williams seemed to do everything right, yet he continued to struggle. He accepted his disease and powerlessness, learned the lingo, talked the talk and walked the walk, yet he continued to struggle.

My question is did Robin Williams know he has the power of choice? Could he have learned to control his depressive, negative thoughts that ultimately led him down the path to think death was his best option? Could he have thwarted those raw emotions that exist deep in the pit of your gut that make you feel as if nothing will ever be right? What if he had been given different information so long ago? What if no one ever told him he was forever powerless? What if he didn’t come to believe he had a lifelong disease called addiction? What if he had come to believe he was not damaged at all; and he was, in fact, a great guy who had simply developed self-destructive habits over which he had complete control to change? What if he learned that he was not that different than everyone else; and that all people struggle with depression, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, fears, and feelings of isolation at points in their lives; because, all people do. Maybe, just maybe, things would have turned out much, much different. RIP Robin Williams.

Photo courtesy: Steve Jurvetson;  https://www.flickr.com/people/44124348109@N01

  • http://aarmedwithfacts.wordpress.com/ Juliet.roxspin

    Awesome blog. I am grateful to read this, such honesty and clarity! I remember the constant negative speak at meetings. I really have improved away from AA, to borrow from them “sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly.” It isn’t right or appropriate to tell other AA members you feel worse after working the steps in your life. They make you feel as though you’ve just told a lie, you feel guilty for feeling bad in AA. Even though, that’s how the steps operate.

    I’d sincerely like to use some of your quotes in my next blog about 12 Steps & depression, with your permission: “I would advise you not underestimate the fear, guilt and negative self talk that are an integral part of the 12 step program and treatment programs based on the addiction disease. Taking on negative labels such as addict andalcoholic and accepting you are powerless over substances and behaviors are completely counterproductive. Who wouldn’t begin to feel depressed and overwhelmed by life’s problems. Robin Williams seemed to do everything right, yet he continued to struggle. He accepted his disease and powerlessness, learned the lingo, talked the talk and walked the walk, yet he continued to struggle.”

  • http://www.soberforever.net/ Saint Jude Retreats

    Thank you Juliet. Of course you can use a quote from this blog. If you don’t mind, please share the source with your readers… Again Thank you

    • http://aarmedwithfacts.wordpress.com/ Juliet.roxspin

      Thanks, I wrapped up what I was working on last night, but just loved what I read here. And am sharing this story wherever I can. We need more people to read the critical arguments against AA, the facts that support other treatments, and why accepting the disease theory isn’t helpful for so many.

  • zachary vergara

    i to find myself in between the whole 12 step thing and doing things on my own after my cousin passed away from an overdoes when i had a year clean i moved away from NA bc i realize that the “fellowship” is really friends and friends pulled me away from another tragedy of going back out. and now where I’m at, at this point in my life is i had friends in NA but i have made a lot of friends in college the only issue i have with NA is that they say you can’t hangout in bars and clubs well I’m 24 with 3 years clean and I’ve been in both and worked in both settings and i was fine. I feel as though they shouldn’t place limits on you as to what you can and can’t do thats bullshit. But as with you i myself agree with a more cognitive and Behavioral approach when it comes to staying clean and really recovering because i feel its really a learning behavior and lack of coping skills that i had n i used substances to “get by” but since I’ve grown up and learned healthy ways of not only dealing with life but deal with my feelings as they come i find out more and more as the days go on that i no longer need NA. It helped me get where i need to be and i have the so called, “tools” that provide me with a happy life one where I’m in my second year of college, going on dates, hanging out with friends but no stuck down in that whole “recovery society” as you called it. Its nice, i feel like I’m a “normal” 24 year old that can go out with friends and have fun but at the same time not feel bad bc i went into a bar with friends and just joked around and had a good time. All with the satisfaction of coming home completely sober i like this. I hope in the future to see NA become more OPENMINDED like they all preach in them rooms. You have some people there that will talk about being openminded but really when you get down to it its all a joke they just put on an act. All well I’m done talking thank you for the article i really enjoyed reading it take care.