Have you ever uttered the lead in phrase, “If they could put a man on the moon then they should be able to _____” How would you fill in the blank? Perhaps find a cure for depression? Wouldn’t that be nice?
It was forty years ago today that we did put man on the moon and one of those men was Buzz Aldrin. On July 20th 1969 Buzz Aldrin followed Neil Armstrong onto the lunar surface of the moon making world history. Since then many a young child would declare that they wanted to become an astronaut when they grew up. But there are few people who could actually accomplish this feat. One could easily romanticize the fulfillment and glory of such an achievement. What could possibly top walking on the moon?
And as Buzz Aldrin soon found, out success sometimes isn’t always what it is cracked up to be.
Tragedy preceded Aldrin’s historical lunar mission when his mother (coincidentally born with the name Marion Moon) took her own life because she worried she could not handle her son’s fame. In addition to dealing with this great loss he also found it emotionally difficult to handle the aftermath of becoming an instant celebrity.
In a 2004 Psychology Today interview Aldrin talks about how he was ill prepared to be in the public spotlight. After traveling around the world he attempted to return to the Air Force. This was not a good transition for Aldrin who had to contend with jealousy among his former peers. In the interview he states candidly: “I was an outsider. I was the egghead from academia who got in because the rules had changed. While I looked for validation from my fellow contemporaries, I instead found jealousy and envy. I did not find team spirit. This led to dissatisfaction, an unease.” This seems to be a common ailment for those who achieve success and can lead to feelings of isolation.
His comments for Swindle Magazine tell us that Aldrin fell into depression and alcoholism in the years following his famous walk on the moon. He explains that his mother’s suicide, having grown up in an alcoholic family, and the degree to which NASA had drummed out any emotions in him led to his sinking into a depressive abyss. These emotional woes would eventually result in two failed marriages.
Fortunately Aldrin was able to reclaim his life. He found lasting love and stability with his marriage to his third wife. Aldrin has also managed to achieve over thirty years of sobriety. In some ways Aldrin’s personal accomplishments seem greater than even walking on the moon.
I personally find much inspiration in a quote he gave to National Geographic News. He said: "“Do you continue to descend into an abyss? Or do you try to make a difference with what you know best?” Aldrin, who once described the moon in terms of “magnificent desolation” has created an autobiography with the same name. In sharing the details of his life Buzz Aldrin makes a difference to those of us who dream of something seemingly more unobtainable than going to the moon. One man’s recovery from depression and alcoholism gives us hope that we too can find our way back from the desolation of despair. Man is capable of going to the moon and of finding personal happiness. The life of Buzz Aldrin reminds us that anything is possible.