Can you see the real me? Can ya? Can ya? – Pete Townshend
As a person who has struggled with addictions and depression throughout my life, I took the news of Robin Williams’ passing hard. Like the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman earlier this year, it just hit close to home. It reminded me that 28 years of sobriety is no guarantee. It’s still one day at a time.
I staggered into my first twelve step meeting in 1985 with depression and constant suicidal thoughts running through my mind. The cumulative effects of a dysfunctional childhood, years of binge drinking and PTSD were proving too much for me carry by myself anymore. I wanted out. Twelve Step meetings were my last ditch attempt to help myself.
At first I wasn’t so sure I even wanted to stop drinking. But I wanted the pain to go away so I listened to what was being said. I put down the drink and went to meetings. At some point during that first year I understood that I had been given a gift and from then on I pursued recovery as hard as I had pursued the high.
It took something like a year to learn to feel comfortable in my skin. I will always remember with gratitude the unconditional love and support I received from the motley crew at the Brooklyn meetings I got sober in. Because of them, I started to learn to believe in a Power that was greater than myself. For a while GOD = Group Of Drunks worked for me. Further in my spiritual journey my understanding of that Power came to be God the Father and his son was Jesus Christ. In Twelve Step Speak we said “first we came, then we came to, and then we came to believe.”
I’ve been blessed with four children in recovery. We decided to start homeschooling in 1996. With no healthy frame of reference to draw from, I bought many of the recommended parenting books at homeschooling conventions and tried to follow it all. It all seemed good.
There was only one problem with this…I was slowly trading the unconditional love and grace I got sober with for a lot of rules and “shoulds.” Amidst the constant drone of biblical womanhood, godly families and purity talks, I stopped talking about my past and pushed it to the background. No one needed to know. Like the frog slowly simmering in the pot, I didn’t see the danger I was putting myself in. I never felt like I really fit in. Never felt good enough.
You see, “in the rooms” they told me that I could only keep what I had by giving it away. And the Bible says that we overcome by the word of our testimony. But I had hidden it all away for fear of gossip and judgment. I didn’t talk about the bad memories that I was struggling with or the depression that was engulfing me at times. Three of my four children have special needs of some kind. Without any supportive extended family, I was completely overwhelmed.
In 2010 I was diagnosed with a neurological disorder similar to Parkinson’s called dystonia. The symptoms came on fast and furious. I was crippled and unable to do much of anything for myself. Searching online for answers, I found a few stories about people who started drinking upon their diagnosis as well as lots of talk about oral medication. I didn’t even have the luxury to do that without a lot of careful thought. I was in terrible pain and the depression and anxiety went through the roof. I was horrified and wondered where God was in all this. But I set my face to the path ahead of me and was determined to push through this thing.
Since my diagnosis my spiritual journey shifted. I wanted to find the authenticity and grace I knew before. I felt God speaking to my heart that it was okay to be just myself; that I wasn’t going to be able to help anyone else if I was not going to be transparent and real.
The real me still struggles with bad attitudes, depression, anxiety and fear. But I’m slowly learning that it’s okay to talk about it. I’m not a failure as a Christian, a wife or a mom. I know that the grace of God is magnified in my struggles and weakness. Frequently confined at home and in bed, I began to find grace-filled women bloggers who ministered His love to me through their words. Women like Ann Voskamp, Sarah Bessey, and Rachel Held Evans. My old online friends from the homeschool boards I used to frequent were also agents of His grace when I sorely needed it.
I’m doing physically better now. I’m starting to venture out more to IRL Bible studies and meetings. Because it’s important to have that on the journey too.
There is no cure for depression or the disease of addiction. It’s managed one day at a time. I’ve learned to live with it in a way that works for me; that way may not be the right way for someone else. We’re all on our own journey.
I have often remarked that we wished the Church were a little more like a twelve step meeting- a place where we can just come as we are, share our burdens and help others where we can. That’s how Jesus ministered, isn’t it? He met needs and then He preached the Gospel.
Robin Williams’ death has hit me especially hard because he has always been a part of my life and because I understand some of what he was struggling with. I’m also thinking about friends from long ago who were also unable to escape their turmoil. Many of us tried hard to reach out to them but we could see them just slipping away. Some of them were Christians but they were still struggling and sadly passed away.
Nothing pisses me me off more than hearing someone issue platitudes and call any of this “a choice.” For those of us who are addicts, we were seeking to put an end to the pain the best way we knew how. I can’t speak for those who suffer from depression who aren’t addicts but will emphatically state that they are in need of the same love and grace from the Church that addicts receive from each other in meetings.
The one good thing to possibly come out of the passing of Robin Williams and Phillip Hoffman Seymour is to open up constructive dialogue about the very real issues of depression and addiction.
How will we, as followers of Christ respond?
“Instead of being identified as a community that memorizes scripture, why not be identified as a community of professional lovers that causes people to say ‘how they love one another!‘”
“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”
― Pope John Paul II