gratitude-a-thon day 360: addiction and depression, not funny at all

484f7c1c7f0bdfb9d9b6df4ba348f68fe4ad96daYesterday I talked about addiction and depression, and about how all the funniest people have them (trend alert: addiction and depression are the new black). But the truth is there is really nothing funny about either of them, although humor is so frequently used to deal with both. I know for myself, the daughter of an alcoholic, I have used humor all my life to minimize the self-doubt, fear, and anxiety my father bequeathed me. He’s not getting a thank you note for that inheritance, I can tell you.

So many people I’ve known who suffer from addiction and depression are highly intelligent, hilarious, and extremely compassionate. They are, in fact, some of the best, brightest, most interesting and creative people I’ve known. Underneath my dad’s alcoholism was a super smart,  curious, and funny man. He was quirky, liberal-minded, and open. He loved theater and music and good books, and worshipped at the alter of the kitchen, and the New York Times (You can read more about him here).

But seeing anything good about him was, and still is hard for me, because I still have so much anger toward his unacknowledged addiction to alcohol, his associated depression. I have never forgiven him for not getting help, for not admitting that he had a problem. If he had tried and failed, I believe I would feel differently, but the pain he left in his wake, the havoc he wreaked, by looking at us like we were the crazy ones when we pleaded with him to get help, made all of us suffer in a profound, long lasting way. And that is something that I can’t seem to forgive, no matter how much money I spend on therapy (and let’s just talk about how many summer houses I have provide the therapeutic world).

I don’t like carrying anger around, like a hump on a camel’s back. I don’t want to continue lugging this part of my life with me everywhere I go. And yet, I can’t leave it unguarded for even a minute’s time, as if protecting it is somehow proving something, allowing my dad to get off free of responsibility. I know, I know, if he had cancer, would I feel the same?

As I watch celebrities publicly lose their lives because they are addicts, or suffer from depression, or bonus points: suffer from both, hear all the social media chatter, read and watch endless accounts of what addiction does to a person, I find interestingly that I can have compassion, and feel genuine sadness for John Belushi, Chris Farley, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Robin Williams. I can see the tortured souls in them. I can see how it’s not a choice, but a sickness. But when it comes to my own father, there is no softening, nothing remotely like forgiveness that I can muster. He remains separate in my mind. A criminal of sorts. I give him no get out of jail card for his illness, no understanding. All I have is anger at the amount of baggage he left his family to check at every pit stop on the road of life. “Porter! Over here. I need some help.”

I wonder how many more celebrities I will watch lose their battles. I wonder how many more will tug at my heart, before I understand that my dad was one of them.

gratitude-a-thon day 359: “O Captain! My Captain!”

His eyes always twinkled. He had one of those faces that looked like the sun just broke through the clouds.


Some of the pee-my-pants funniest people I know have struggled with addiction and depression–those two lovers, that so often go hand in hand. They are diseases we look down on, think that they come from a lack of willpower. We say “buck up,” and yet, oddly, these take-over-your-life afflictions seem to result in people who often make us laugh the hardest. Oh, the fucking irony.

Robin Williams was one of those people, born with the twin demons. And he made us guffaw and giggle our heads practically off of our bodies. He did jokes and voices with the agility and speed of an olympic skier on a slalom course. And just as adeptly he could make you cry with his sincerity. A quick wit and a big heart. His range was boundless in movies as diverse as Mrs. Doubtfire, in which he played drag better than the pros, and Good Will Hunting, in which he played a therapist who changes the life of a Southie genius, while healing himself at the same time. And then of course, there was Dead Poet’s Society. “O Captain! My, Captain!” I seem to be one of the only people in advertising who was dramatically moved by the recent Apple iPad commercials, (legions of people hated these) in which Robin did the voice over, and quotes Walt Whitman:

“O me, O life of the questions of these recurring. Of the endless trains of the faithless. Of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer: that you are here. That life exists and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

He sold those words to me like nobody else could, with a depth and emotion that got me in my gut. As I type them, I can hear his passionate resonating voice echo through me. He contributed more than a verse. He contributed a million volumes. If we’re really lucky, he will have contributed more awareness to addiction and depression, too. Ah, nanu, nanu.