I was not aware that Robin struggled with alcohol dependency, or that in his childhood, like me, he suffered from extreme shyness and social anxiety. But, should I be surprised, really? It seems most creative geniuses struggle with addiction in one form or another, as a way of masking their own deeper pain and fears of unworthiness. I am not sure why that is.
But, what do I know about alcoholism or anxiety, you may ask? And it is a valid question. Twelve years ago, my life was a big hot mess. I too was drinking a lot, just so I could have the courage to be around other people. At that time, I was extremely lonely, tongue tied and insecure. Alcohol saved me from all of that. When I drank, I became this gorgeous, desirable woman, who, as one long-ago acquaintance put it, " You have a real personality when you drink". I was offended and at the same time reassured that booze helped. But, when I drank I did things that were not me! After one particular shameful drinking expedition, I remember feeling such immense moral pain, and crying to my mother on the phone. I said to her that I thought I might be an alcoholic. I was done. I did not want to do "that" life anymore. I was having some really strange thoughts, like what did it matter what I did anymore. I was a fallen angel. I was not going to go to heaven anymore anyway.
I started to think that my kids would be better off not having a mother like me. I thought I had already put them through so much embarrassment. I am not really sure what they would say about that, and how much of it was in my head. I won't ever really know for sure. It is too hard to tell your mother that she fell short of your hopes and dreams about what she should have been for you. I just know that I felt like such a waste and disappointment to everyone, including myself.
I have spent twelve years trying to over-compensate for what I thought were my short-comings to my children, So much so that I forgot to forgive myself and see all of the things I did do right (and there were lots). All I saw in my mind was a mother who let these kids down. I saw that I was not as good as other mothers. So often, I backed down and let others take my spot, because I felt less than, and figured they could do it better. I forgot that my kids needed "their mother". I wanted that spot, and did not want anyone else mothering my children for sure, but I just felt so inadequate that I often stepped aside while being extremely resentful. But I realize we have all done the best we could do. .
So twelve years ago, I was done, and I said a little prayer for God to help me find my way. I actually had a vision of me, as a tiny boat (interesting because it would be years before we would actually live on a boat together). This boat was lost in a stormy sea, being violently tossed to and fro. I knew I could soon be sunk if something did not give. I am not usually given to praying, but I was at my wits end (good thing I would say). Along came Barry, soon after this dream. I met him online and he was nothing like the guys I had dated before. Fist off, he was 13 years older than me. He was a "gentle" man. And he was newly sober. Four months sober actually. I shared my concerns with him and my heart ache. I told him everything I had done to that point that had made me feel less-than, and I will never forget that all he had to say in response to my self-flagellation was, "Is that all?" As I write this I can still feel how my heart melted into his in that moment. It was the beginning of a deep love, and the beginning of me learning to love myself, for the first time. We went to an AA meeting for one of our first dates.
Sitting in that meeting, I looked around the dark candle lit room to see a bunch of rough looking old men telling their stories about where the demon alcohol had taken them. I could not believe the depths that alcohol had taken them, and how one day at a time they had made a new life for themselves, one in which they could actually thrive again! I thought they were all so beautiful, they touched my heart, and I longed to have that kind of happy story for myself. Even more I longed to somehow leave a legacy for my family that would make them proud of me. I think I was the only woman in that dim lit room that night, and at 39 years old, I am pretty sure I was the youngest.
So began my own journey of not drinking. I went to meetings and poured out my "whatever I thought would impress others" in the rooms, as my story. I had found my people. I was still socially inept, and deathly afraid of being rejected from my new found addiction, "the people in AA" who for the first time in my life accepted me where I was at, the whole time me having absolutely no idea where I was at. I realize now, with such tenderness, that that girl, who only felt like she was "enough" when she could see it in reflected back to her through the eyes of another, did the very best she could in "coming out" sober.
Let's go back a little bit here. Is this story about Robin Williams? No this story is about everyone. I believe we all suffer from one "ism" or another. This week was so powerful. It seems that all the pieces of my life came tumbling together with the loss of that beautiful man. You see Robin died, on the same calendar day that I got to live. I can remember August 11th twenty years ago very clearly. I was on my way from Maple Bay in British Columbia where I lived, to Port Renfrew, to pick up my younger son, Ryan and my daughter Brittney from a stay at their aunt and uncles house. Because the logging roads were a much closer route I always went that way. My eldest son, Chris, who was 14, decided to stay home. Thank you God!
I am going to make a couple of admissions, here in this story, that I have been keeping to myself. First off, the day I left Maple Bay, I was so mad at my boyfriend at the time (which was nothing out of the ordinary). We had been having money problems, as usual, and I remember having the fleeting thought (the morbid kind we all get once in awhile and then as soon as we think it we try and take it back) that if I got in a car accident, and survived, and got a huge settlement, like my friend Richard had, my problems would be solved. I was angry and frustrated and tired of struggling. .
I had just gotten my car back from the auto-body shop, because it had been stolen from outside the theater, while I was inside with a bunch of kids, a week earlier. I guess how they do it is they break the steering somehow to get it going, or this is what I was told? This means absolutely nothing to me, and I may have it all wrong, but anyway, I got my fixed car back and was off on this journey on August 11, 1994. It took a couple hours to get there, so I had the music cranked, and it was a dry, hot summer day. I remember that I felt happier when I was finally underway.
I had my new puppy in the car with me. I was so excited to introduce her to the two younger kids, who still had not met her. I had not named her yet either, because I knew they would want to be involved in that. So off she and I went to pick up the kids.
When I got to the summit on the logging road, there is a sharp switch back, and when I steered to go around it, for some reason, my steering did not work. I put my foot on the brake and the car slid on the dry dirt road and over I went. I remember thinking as the car violently crashed and rolled for what seemed like an eternity, that this was it; my life was soon going to be over. I could hear the puppy bouncing around the interior like she was a pinball. All of a sudden I could not hear that little dog anymore. I said sorry to the Universe, because I was pretty sure the puppy was probably dead, and that I had killed her (that would have been my final thought, had I died in the crash).
I had no idea of how far down the bottom was. The car just kept crashing and crashing and finally with the jolt of a lifetime, it came to a stop, right side up. I was driving a soft top Geo Tracker at the time, so I had a 50% chance that it would land that side up. The way I see it, a chance at survival on one side, certain death on the other (my best coin toss win to date!).
When the car was finally still, I could not see straight. I had been shaken so badly that everything looked like I was seeing it through water? It was all ripply. I knew that if I was to survive this crash, I needed to get myself back up to the road, so I undid my seat-belt and climbed out the open window. I looked at the passenger side of my car, and the safety bar had come down like a sword into the passenger seat. I was so relieved that I did not have any children there with me. I knew if there had been a passenger, that they would have been killed. There was not much left to the car at all. A police officer would later tell me that the cliff I went over was approximately a 700-1000 feet!
I looked up trying to get my bearings, so I could figure out which side of the cliff my car had come down. The car had come to rest in a rocky dried up creek bed, with a cliff on both sides. I really did not know which way to start climbing, but I just started to climb up the side I intuitively thought would take me back to the road. I climbed and climbed, yelling in case there were any loggers around, or anyone really. I prayed to my dad to help me. I prayed to God, and I cried as I climbed. I had a sense that I was in shock, and intuitively knew I had a small window of opportunity to do that climb that day. On my climb I saw that little blonde puppy huddled in a ball, and miraculously she was still alive. I cried as I passed her, apologizing profusely for not having what it took to pick her up and carry her along with me. I was not even at all certain that I was going to make it. But I did know if I was to stand a chance it was going to take everything I had.
I climbed and cried some more. I came to a part where I did not think I had it in me to climb anymore, because it was much too steep, and I was in so much pain. I picked up a branch and wondered if I waved it up at the road above, if a by passer would be able to see it. I decided that they wouldn't, and I knew I had to get up that last five feet or I would die on that side of the cliff. By this time I knew my back was broken. Every move was accompanied by a sharp shooting pain and with it I saw a bright yellow streak. I remember thinking that pain actually had a colour? There was Scottish Broom growing on this part of the cliff. I knew Broom had a strong root system because we had tried to dig the stuff out of our yard before. So, I grabbed that broom and hoisted myself up the last bit to a pile of crushed rock on the side of logging road. It was all I could do to just get there. I could not even move myself one more inch to a more comfortable spot. So I lay there in a heap on top of a bed of sharp rocks.
As I lay on the side of the road on that beautiful August day 20 years ago, I thought about all the wild animals, bears and cougar who might like to find this bloody mess of a helpless woman that I knew I was. Perhaps the blood would entice them to come to dine on me. I was terrified as I lay there waiting for a car to drive along that logging road, which I knew was not that well traveled. I waited for what seemed to be about forty-five minutes when I joyfully heard a car come around that bend. Almost as if in slow motion, I saw the look on the passengers face as they drove by me. They looked like they were watching a horror movie. I thought, "they are going to drive right by me." They drove really slow with disbelief written all across their faces.
Finally they stopped, almost past me, and two guys got out. I remember that the one guy had really purple feet. I knew that they had been drinking. I am not sure how I knew this now, but at the time I knew it without a doubt. The taller of the two asked me what had happened. I told them that I was in a car accident. In confusion, they asked me where my car was.I told them it was over there, pointing to the cliff. They looked down and both said "Holy shit"! They wanted to know how I had gotten back up to the side of the road. I told them that I had climbed. They absolutely could not believe it. You have to imagine what I must have looked like to them. I was covered in blood and had pieces of branches and glass all through my hair. I was wearing short jean shorts and a tank top. They thought someone had beaten me, because already I was bruised and bloody, and then thrown me from the car. Later I heard that when they first spotted me, they thought I might die, and that somehow they would be accused of doing that to me. Thankfully they stopped. The one fellow who looked more fit, used ropes to climb down the cliff to makes sure there was no one else in the car except the puppy. He found the puppy and brought her up with him and told me that they would drive back to the Masachie Lake, which is about half an hour away from where my accident was, and report the accident and get me some help.
They left me there all alone again. I felt hopeful though, because now I knew help was coming. Before long another car came by with a family in it, and they stayed with me until all of the emergency vehicles and a helicopter arrived to take me on to do all of the recovery that was now before me.
There is more to this story, but the fact is that twenty years exactly, before Robin Williams, my beautiful hero, would take his own life, I had been given a second chance at mine.
So back to my twelve years of sobriety with my beautiful husband who is much like Robin Williams, gentle, sweet but thankfully much less manic. I have spent twelve years nestled in the incubator of our marriage. Slowly, I have been growing and learning to love myself in the safety of that love and alcohol free environment. But, lately I have had the thought that maybe I could have a drink. Maybe I was never really alcoholic (alcohol is cunning, baffling and powerful).
Barry goes away for weeks at a time for work, and in late June I ended up in Emergency, while he was at work. I had Bursitis in my shoulder and I was a walking mess. I was up all night, crying because I could not get comfortable to sleep and I was in so much pain. So finally I caved, because I am a bit neurotic about not going to doctors. I tried the chiropractor, and acupuncturist first, but was getting no relief. so finally I succumbed to orthodox medical treatment, and showed up at Emergency at 2:00 in the morning. I joke that if someone had offered me heroine that night I probably would have taken it. I was in that much pain. The doctor ended up giving me a shot of Cortisone (still can't believe I let him do that) in my shoulder and sent me home with some really strong narcotics. I was a bit hesitant to take the drugs and gingerly dolled them out to myself, being very aware that I was walking a tight rope with taking any narcotics. I needed to sleep and thankfully I finally did sleep a luxurious sleep that only someone who has not slept in days can appreciate. I pretty much slept for four days. Eventually I felt well enough to make an appointment with a Physiotherapist, who happens to live in a float home next to me, and she did Inter-Muscular Stimulation with needles, and I was amazed at how much that helped. By July first, which is Canada Day, I awoke feeling so much better. The marina, where I live has an annual celebration. For some reason I felt so good after all that pain that I got a ticket to go to the celebration by myself.
I was coming back to the boat with my ticket in hand, when I met the new neighbours, who just recently bought a float home down here. They invited me over for a drink before the barbecue . I told them that I don't drink, and they said come anyway. I went home feeling really good. I had just come out of this terrible cloud of pain and I felt like celebrating. This is my second admission. I had a small bottle of wine I use for cooking in the cupboard. There was about a half a cup left in it and I poured it into a glass and drank it. I felt kind of sneaky, like I was being bad, but also the wine made me feel really good. It was no big deal, and I went to the party and had a tiny bit of that old buzz of feeling beautiful and gregarious again. How I had longed all those years for those moments of reprieve from my own self-judgement.
Nothing happened after that, but I was aware of how much I wanted to drink again, romanticizing the idea in my mind, but I resisted. Barry came home and we went on a boat trip. I joked to him about drinking again, here and there, during our trip. To be honest I can not say for sure that I will never drink again. And I certainly can not judge Robin for drinking again. I understand how a person longs for those minutes of escape from your own self-condemnation. That reprieve does not last though. And for me it is always followed by immense feelings of shame. The kind of shame that eventually claims you, as it did with Robin.
So Robin's death has been a reminder to me about how fragile we really are. It is a reminder of how fragile I really am. It is a reminder that I am never cured. That life takes work, and my soul needs ongoing self-care and awareness.
I wrote my little status, that was the short version of this, on Facebook yesterday and it got a lot of attention. I realize how I do have a story to share. I also know that I am only as sick as my secrets, so I wanted to come clean about it. It is hard to give up 12 years of sobriety. My dad had lots of years like Robin, but he also had secrets about his drinking, among other things, that he kept to himself till his death. So, yesterday, two days after Robin Williams took his own life, I get a parcel in the mail from my sister Elizabeth, and I had no idea what was in it. I opened it up and she had sent me this beautiful picture of my dad. A coincidence about the timing of receiving that picture, that it should arrive while I am going through all of this right now? I really don't think so.
You see alcohol and depression claimed my dad at the young age of 49. He, himself, was also a gregarious, talented, beautiful man who never knew he was enough and spent his life searching for something, or someone, to show him that he was enough. He got drunk on October 18th 1988, for the last time, and walked home across a train trestle that apparently was a common short-cut, and fell to his death on the bridge below. I lost my dad that sad October day, and with it all chances of knowing him as an adult, working through our stuff, and delighting in his realization that indeed he was enough. No, he was so much more than enough. Because, like all of us, we are a reflection of God's creative imagination. But sadly, my beautiful dad, and Robin Williams, never lived long enough for their souls to realize this. I don't assume either of them is in a bad place now. I know in my heart they are in a better place. I believe this human existence, with its veil, is where we do our suffering. I believe when we pass over, we cease to suffer and are souls are once again set free to dance and celebrate and be in Love.
So, all of this stuff that has bubbled to the surface for me this week, with the death of Robin, an icon of "happiness" for everyone else, while secretly, he suffered in his own life. This has made me realize that life is precious, and that we are so fragile. "But for the grace of God go I" kind of stuff. I feel like I have been visited by the angels, and they are telling me that I am enough too. I am enough without an elixir. I am enough with all of my flaws. I am beautiful because of the fact that I fall. I am okay when I stutter. I am alright when I do not appear beautiful to everyone. To my own self I must be true. So here is me being true and not getting stuck behind my own secrets. I now have about six weeks of sobriety. I hope by me sharing my secret and my story with you, it may help somehow. I feel loved and I love back so much. I am honored to be on this path with all of you. Thanks for being real with me.