Buzz Aldrin, Who Is 37 Years Sober, Reflects on Family History of Mental Illness

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Buzz Aldrin, Who Is 37 Years Sober, Reflects on Family History of Mental Illness

By May Wilkerson 04/20/16

“You have to deal with obtaining sobriety first before dealing with other situations that are disturbing you. Today, I have 37 years of sobriety.”

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Buzz Aldrin, Who Is 37 Years Sober, Reflects on Family History of Mental Illness
Photo via Debby Wong/Shutterstock.com

Buzz Aldrin is famous for being one of the first people to walk on the moon back in 1969. But he's made significant strides on Earth as well, coping with his mother’s suicide, battling depression and alcoholism, and recently celebrating 37 years of sobriety. In a recent interview with National Geographic, the 86-year-old reflected on life, including his family history of depression and his recovery from addiction. 

Before Aldrin’s historic moon landing, along with Neil Armstrong on the Apollo 11, he had already achieved somewhat of a hero status in the U.S. and around the world for going to space on the Gemini 12 three years earlier. He believes his sudden rise to fame, combined with his family history of depression and suicide, contributed to his mother ending her own life in 1968. 

After her death, Aldrin says he feared he might be genetically predisposed to depression and suicide, which drove him to alcoholism. “I began to think [suicide] was a genetic, inherited tendency,” he told National Geographic. “That brought me to consuming alcohol more and more and, of course, you can't straighten out something in your head unless you have a clear mind.”

The pressures of his newfound fame after the moon landing didn't help either. "When I returned to earth I became a celebrity, a hero, with ticker tape parades and speeches," he recalled. "But that's not really what I looked for or desired."

In the decade that followed, Aldrin’s life grew increasingly tumultuous as he continued to drink heavily. He went through a divorce, unemployment, briefly worked at a car dealership and was arrested for breaking down the door to his girlfriend’s home. He got sober in 1978, which he says allowed him to finally deal with his underlying issues. “You have to deal with obtaining sobriety first before dealing with other situations that are disturbing you,” he said. “Today, I have 37 years of sobriety.”

Even in his eighties, Aldrin continues to battle alcoholic tendencies, like the occasional desire to isolate, which is common among recovering alcoholics. “If, occasionally, my mind gets the sense that the world around me is not doing what I'd like it to do, I may disappear for a day or even a week,” he said. “That's something I've needed to deal with.”

But despite all he’s been through, Aldrin doesn’t regret his journey into space, he said in a 2009 interview with the Telegraph. "I have gained so much by facing adversity,” he said. “I had a shrink who said, 'Buzz, you are so lucky that you had to change, to grow. You are a better person now.'”

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