On July 20th, 1969, the United States became the first country to put human beings on the moon. In the 50 years since the unprecedented feat, America is still the only nation to achieve what was once thought to be the stuff of science fiction. A half a century later we have mapped more of the moon – an object 238,900 miles away – than we have the human brain. We know more about lunar composition than mental illness; perhaps the human mind, not space, is humanity's final frontier to explore.
One can't help but marvel at the genius and steadfast determination that resulted in the successful voyage of Apollo 11. Countless people worked together to find a way to safely transport Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins from the Earth to the moon and back. The significance of the voyage is unmatched and proof that the sky was not the limit for humankind.
The success of Apollo 11 made the three-person crew instant icons around the globe. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first and second to walk on the moon respectively, became household names. While safely returning home from the lunar walk was likely Aldrin's crowning achievement, it was perhaps not his most arduous journey.
Buzz Aldrin severely struggled with depression and addiction; mental illness ran in his family. Even though he was an active player in the most magnificent odyssey, he reported feeling largely unfulfilled back home on Earth. His depression, like many others, led him to seek the comfort of alcohol, Biography reports. The drinking and untreated depressive symptoms contributed to both professional and personal losses.
Magnificent Desolation: Hopelessness and Despair
Buzz Aldrin's mother, Marion, battled with depression up until her suicide in May 1968—a little more than a year before Apollo 11. Marion Aldrin's father had also battled mental illness and committed suicide. Buzz believed he inherited depression from his family.
In the early 1970s, Buzz did something relatively unheard of when he opened up about his mental health in an LA Times article. Around the same time, Aldrin began serving on the board of directors of the National Association for Mental Health (NAMH). He would eventually go on to become the national chairman of NAMH. At the time, he was traveling around the country, speaking about his experience with depression. However, Aldrin was also drinking heavily and had trouble fulfilling his obligations.
In August 1975, Buzz did a 28-day stay in an addiction treatment center and got involved with Alcoholics Anonymous, Biography reports. Unfortunately, the retired astronaut had a challenging time staying sober despite the support he received in AA.
He was arrested for disorderly conduct after breaking in his girlfriend's door while intoxicated. Having reached rock bottom, Buzz gave up alcohol for good in October 1978.
Buzz Aldrin's journey to free himself of feelings of hopelessness and despair was rocky, but with the support of the fellowship, he was able to overcome. In the years that followed, he helped others who had issues with alcohol find what he had found in recovery. He published two autobiographies, Return to Earth (1973) and Magnificent Desolation (2009), he shares at length about his clinical depression and alcohol use disorder in both memoirs.
Seeking Treatment for Mental Illness and Addiction
Resilience is what humans have and resilience is what humans need to take advantage of—their ability to explore and to understand and then to react positively and with motivation, not as a defeatist, to the constant flow of challenges," Aldrin tells Biography. "Negativity doesn’t get anybody anywhere. It takes reacting to all of life in a positive way to make the most out of what you’ve experienced and to make a better life and a better world."
The Apollo 11 astronaut’s story is unique in several ways, but not his road to addiction and recovery. More than half of people who meet the criteria for alcohol or substance use disorder also contend with another mental illness, such as depression.
When the symptoms of mental health disorders are not addressed, individuals are at higher risk of turning toward drugs and alcohol for relief. Self-medicating mental illness is a path to dependence and addiction. Fortunately, treatment methods have come a long way since the 1970s. Scientists and medical professionals have a much firmer grasp of the mechanisms of mental diseases.
Evidence-based therapeutic treatment approaches help people get to the root of their issues and take steps to lead fulfilling lives in recovery. If you are an adult male who is experiencing problems with drugs, alcohol, or co-occurring mental illness, then please contact PACE Recovery Center. Our gender-specific treatment center gives clients the tools to fulfill their dreams.