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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Not just another celebrity death.


My name is Fiona, and I'm an alcoholic.

I say these words a few times every week at my AA meeting. It's a term I finally had to admit to myself almost 7 years ago when I relapsed after the suicide of a dear friend. It's also a term I could only fully comprehend after I woke up one morning - having drunk the week away - and realized that for the first time in my life, I had to ask for help. The bottle was my safe haven, my escape from the evils of the world, my oversized comforter. Nothing could penetrate my skin if it was filled to the brim with my perfect elixir. I had been through far more than anyone should ever go through in their life and still be expected to remain sane: my best friend's murder, bullying all throughout my school years, a rape at 14, suicide attempts and breakdowns, a decade-long failed marriage, other friends taking their own lives, and sadly, someone killing themselves right in front of me. And all of these happened before the age of 30.

Dealing with more than I could handle, my mind turned on me in my early teens . The voices in my head told me on an endless loop that I was no good and deserved everything that happened to me. Alcohol numbed me from the pain that was all too real, and carried me away to a place where I didn't have a care in the world. The only way I could help myself, was to not think about getting help.

I heard the news of Robin Williams' death only 5 minutes before my meeting was to start tonight, and it shook my entire foundation to the core. I cried for the entire hour, but felt grateful that I was at a meeting when I found out. In that safe room, I would not be judged for the way I reacted. I'd be able to take part in a discussion about addiction, and hear the other people in the room share the same thoughts and feelings. Once I got home, I scrolled through Facebook posts, and articles on IMDB, Variety, and Huffington Post. Everyone was in a state of shock, but a lot of the comments I saw were criticizing people being so emotional over "someone they didn't even know". Those comments made me realize I had to write about why I had the reaction I did. What it comes down to is this:

He was not just a celebrity, he was another member of my fellowship. It is our duty in the program to "carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers". We are all in this together, and I'm not just talking about AA. We're all in this world together, and must rely on each other to help get through both good times and bad. I speak openly today about everything that I've been through, because not only does it help me shed myself of the shame and horror I carried for decades, but it also helps others who are suffering realize that they are not alone. The preamble at the start of our meetings lays it out pretty clear:

"AA is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism."

I'm doing my best to not to have this come across in a preachy way. I'm just trying to help you understand how the mind of one person in recovery works, and that it is a long, hard journey that requires working on it. Every. Single. Day. I may be sober now, but the voices still pop into my head. The only difference is that today I tackle my demons head-on by breaking down problems piece by piece, instead of drowning them away temporarily with alcohol.

The last thing I want to do tomorrow is go to work. I just want to hide in the apartment and cry all day. Every fibre of my being just wants to be left alone and grieve for the beautiful soul known as Robin. His pain was too much to bear, and as sad as it is that he is no longer with us, I hope with all my heart that he has found peace at last. That's why I have to get out of bed tomorrow and go out and face the world. I have to keep living ... and laughing. He brought joy to so many of us through laughter. It's the greatest lesson I learned in those early years. Though there were many years of turmoil still to come, I found temporary salvation from the pain. From my transistor radio hidden in my pillow every Sunday night in the 80s, I discovered the Dr. Demento show and from that, Weird Al Yankovic.

Just like the AA fellowship I'm a part of today, I understood the term "You are not alone" when I listened to Weird Al's songs. They made sense to me and helped me immensely. As fate would have it, just over 7 years ago, I got a chance to call CHUM FM here in Toronto one morning when he was in town promoting his concert. I didn't go into details, but I was able to tell Weird Al one-on-one how his songs helped me get through depression and difficult times as a teenager, and that I just wanted to say "thank you." He was deeply touched, and it's one of the most precious memories and moments I cherish in my life. Once again, this was about "someone I didn't even know". Knowing that we were in this together helped me more than I could dream possible, and being someone he didn't even know didn't matter either: there was still a connection.

Maybe my post here can help someone I don't even know realize that they are not alone. So please don't judge me for mourning the loss of someone who still mattered to me in my own personal way.

Thank you.

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