“It's really not that difficult to overcome these seemingly ghastly problems. What's hard is to decide.” –Robert Downey, Jr.
In 2004, Robert Downey, Jr. described his comeback to Oprah. His filmmaker father introduced him to marijuana and cocaine between the ages of six and eight years old. From 1996 until 2003, he repeatedly went to rehab and was jailed and eventually imprisoned because of challenges with drug addiction and bipolar disorder, and many assumed the exceptionally talented actor wouldn’t live long enough to realize his potential.
Ultimately, Robert Downey, Jr. found his way forward. Several Hollywood actor friends stuck by him, including Sean Penn kicking down his door to force him into rehab and Mel Gibson supporting him financially when he had lost everything. He became a student of Wing Chun Kung Fu, and credits intensive daily workouts with supporting his healing and becoming more grounded. And, he shared with the New York Times in 2003 when reporters again asked about his father’s influence that he had given up the hate and resentment, preferring to focus on his father’s ability to entertain and bring humor to the family.
Perhaps it was all that background channeled masterfully into the troubled hero Tony Stark that endeared me and millions of others to 2008’s Iron Man, a character we would follow clear through ten blockbuster movies that told his amazing arc to the end in 2019’s Avengers End Game.
Everyone’s recovery journey is different, and it feels a bit overly simplified from the perspective of someone who hasn’t struggled with severe addiction and mental illness. But… I’m confident the leader of the Avengers has it right. And, certainly, our most pressing struggles in 2020, whether COVID-19, systematic racial inequality and continued oppression, and “treatment” of those in psychiatric crisis that includes punishment (often including detention and handcuffs, and not infrequently jail)… yes, the real challenge with many of our most wicked problems is we must yet make the hard decision to overcome them.
David is CEO and President of RI International. He’s a behavioral health innovator, entrepreneur and storyteller, and the creator of HopeInc.com.