Robin WIlliams

Robin Williams, Requiem for a Heavyweight

Robin Williams 1951-2014

Requiem for a Heavyweight

Robin Williams was certainly a heavyweight in his life. His comedy burst on the scene when he was quite young and successfully continued until his death. He became one of the chosen, and as a result of his celebrity he didn’t have to play by the rules of mere mortals. Or did he?

The press is full of his memories, and there are no shortage of tributes. As a local of Marin County he was frequently visible and, we felt, one of our own. In the days following his death I’ve yet to encounter a local who has a bad word or nasty comment about him. I remember a private performance ten years ago at Bicycle Odyssey in Sausalito, one of Robin’s haunts, where he entertained me and Tony Tom, Odyssey’s owner, for ten minutes. Tony and I were in stitches, and yet I have no recollection what he was ranting about. That was Robin, always performing and always on top of his game, yet I wonder if he was ever able to turn the performance off.

It’s no secret that Robin Williams suffered from addiction as well as mental health issues—obviously a lethal combination that became his downfall. Who among us doesn’t suffer from some form of depression and anxiety, even trace amounts? What is the difference between being blue, funky or down from depression? Similarly, what is the difference between nervousness, worry and anxiety? Clearly these traits are facts of life in Western society, and most of us find ways of coping.

The addict or alcoholic doesn’t have the same options for coping with mental health as the “normal” person. Admittedly a couple of beers or tokes are handy and possibly healthy means of dealing with stress. But what to do if your lifestyle doesn’t include these options? Robin made his method clear in a 2013 Reddit AMA: “My favorite thing to do is ride a bicycle. I ride road bikes. And for me, it’s mobile meditation.”

As an addiction specialist I find one of my greatest challenges with clients is introducing and exploring methods of coping with life. Once clean or abstinent, we don’t get a pass on the never-ending challenges. Drugs were an escape, and for a few hours we were able to forget our problems. Now that we don’t have that option, it’s essential to discover alternatives, for without them we too will end up like Robin.

Discovering techniques for stress reduction is one of the key elements of achieving and maintaining sobriety. I truly wish Robin could have taken a few more rides, not for my entertainment but for his own serenity.

Paul Pribuss MFT