It has been several weeks since we lost Michael K. Williams and I am still processing. I read almost every thoughtful obituary and reflection on Williams over the past month and am still trying to wrap my head around the loss of such a talented actor. For me, it takes me weeks (sometimes months or even years) to help my brain process what my heart feels when it comes to loss. Even though I never met Williams and did not call him a friend, the loss feels real and painful, nonetheless.
Many fans were introduced to the brilliance of Michael K. Williams from his role as the same gender loving, drug dealer robbing, shot gun toting, Baltimore gangster in HBO’s “The Wire.” Others knew him from roles on “Boardwalk Empire” and most recently “Lovecraft Country.” I even loved his guest role on an episode of the comedy “Community” when he played an adjunct professor. It didn’t matter the role, Williams brought a level of depth and dignity to each character he embodied.
I have never suffered from drug addiction and have never had someone close to me who had to deal with the demons that follow. Williams spoke about his long battle with illicit drugs. He spoke eloquently about giving up on himself and having the love of a mother who would never give up on her son. Even with the accolades and career successes, Williams still struggled with substance abuse, as so many people continue to.
What I have learned from Williams and the subsequent reading I have done about those who struggle with addiction is that we must view this journey as a real disease. We must treat our loved ones as if they have a disease that is beyond their control at the moment. The grips of addiction are something psychologists and health care professionals are still trying to fully understand.
I have been trying to understand how people work through and love with their addictions. I am realizing more and more it is about patience, releasing judgment, listening, and so much more. All of the literature essentially states, if you do not suffer from the disease, it is difficult for you to fully understand how substance abuse is a real disease.
If you or someone you know needs help with substance abuse, there are several free services. One service I found was the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline, which is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Let us honor Michael K. Williams and so many others by supporting those in our lives who may need our help as they live with the challenges of substance abuse.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.