In the wake of actor-comedian Robin Williams’ tragic suicide, blogger Matt Walsh posted an article entitled “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice.” His main point was that, while Williams suffered terribly from depression, he was not a victim. He ultimately chose to leave this world.
“Whether you call depression a disease or not, please don’t make the mistake of saying that someone who commits suicide ‘died from depression.’ No, he died from his choice. . . . Your suicide doesn’t happen to you; it doesn’t attack you like cancer or descend upon you like a tornado. It is a decision made by an individual.”
Within 24 hours, Walsh’s post was viewed over 3 million times and received tens of thousands of comments (so many that, as Walsh noted, the Facebook commenting system on his blog crashed). Most of the feedback was negative—in fact, vicious, brutal and hateful. He was called every name in the book. More than one person “prayed” that someone in his family commits suicide. Even his wife was targeted and harassed.
Why all the backlash? I personally didn’t find Walsh’s article caustic or mean-spirited. He wrote with compassion and sensitivity. Whether or not you agree with his conclusions, the post was well-thought out and intelligently presented.
So why the rub?
I think much of it has to do with the victim-mindset so prevalent within our society. It reflects a culture that refuses to take personal responsibility.
I deal with this every day in the world of drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
As a professional in the industry for over 25 years, it is my firm conviction that alcoholism is not a disease. It may have disease-like symptoms (e.g., physical dependencies), but it is not something a person “catches” like a common cold or a sickness a parent passes on to a child through his or her genes.
Drug addiction is not a disorder. There may be bio-chemical imbalances triggering destructive behavioral patterns. There may also be deep psychological issues and misfirings of the brain contributing to an addict’s ruinous path.
But alcoholism and drug addiction are ultimately choices—personal choices individuals make. Just how “free” each person is to decide, only the Creator knows. Maybe Robin Williams was unable to choose life or death on Monday morning, August 13, 2014. Maybe he was paralyzed in his decision-making ability at that point. But somewhere in the days, months, and years before, he had the ability to make choices that would impact him—for better or worse—in the days ahead.
Each one of us, too, has the power to decide, to choose—however great or limited—and, thus, each one of us is responsible (lit., response-able). I am not trying to add more guilt to a person already overwhelmed with self-condemnation and shame. I am simply trying to restore human dignity and give hope.
You are not a helpless victim of Satan or your own sinful predispositions; you can fight sin, beat it, and succeed. This was the message of God to Cain just before he murdered his brother: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Gen. 4:7)
God was appealing to Cain and telling him that he could alter his hell-bent course. That he could do right. That he had a choice. But if he failed to properly exercise that ability, he would experience terrible consequences.
Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice.
Your alcoholic mother isn’t suffering from a disease. Your heroin-addict brother isn’t suffering from a sickness. Your pill-popping friend isn’t suffering from a disorder. They are all—each and every one of them—suffering from a series of choices they have made. But just as they have decided for the worse, they can decide for the better.
This isn’t about finger-pointing. This is about taking responsibility.
And that goes for all of us. We all have our demons. It may not be booze or Oxycontin; it may be food, pornography, anger, shopping. We all have bondages which prevent us from being all that we were designed to be. Let’s be honest about it.
And let’s call it like it is. It is not a disease. It is not a disorder. It is a decision.
I know this message may sound hard and unloving; but really it is kind and liberating. There is a way out; you can decide.
I encourage you to make that first decision toward God. Reach out to Him. Admit your wrongdoing. Ask for His forgiveness. Trust in Him.
And finally, like God did with Cain, reach out to those battling addictions and suffering from life-debilitating vices. Bear with them. Enter into their pain. Help them make right choices.