Anthony Bourdain is gone at 61. He sadly chose to take his precious life responding to an internal demon that robbed him of remembering how much he was loved. He was the archetype of the bon vivant, void of snobbism, showing us how to share the joy of breaking bread with new and old friends. Tony will be profoundly missed, but he left us his archived adventures so we could also celebrate traveling to Parts Unknown never forgetting how much we are loved when we face our darkest moments.
As a clinical psychologist I have worked with many celebrities who, at the top of their careers, became suicidal because of their inability to accept their good fortune. I do not think however, this was the case with Bourdain. He enjoyed his success, loved his work and his family. So what could have gone on that lead him to the ultimate act of self-destruction? Some celebrities like Robin Williams, another one of my heroes, understandably chose to avoid the ravishes of a terminal illness, but Bourdain seemed to enjoy excellent health, despite his previous history of drug abuse that he courageously traded for a joyful life of wellness.
The Internal Demons
Independent of how much wealth and fame we achieve, how much we are loved and revered, we still have a private darkness that hijacks us to a place of self-loathing void of hope. When we allow these Sirens of destruction to lure us into a prison of nostalgia from unrequited love, or remind us to relentlessly punish our misdeeds, there is one way out of our temporary hopelessness: Contact friends or family to let them know how much you love them. If you can’t reach them when you try, write them as if you’re talking to them, and immediately send them your message of love. What I am suggesting here, although deceptively simple, has profound value in how it allows several deep existential processes to emerge:
- The experience of sending your love at a time when you are unable to love yourself is a powerful antidote to hopelessness. But this love is sent not as a farewell, but as a reminder that love does not differentiate between the giver and receiver. Love is a universal force that does not assess worthiness before engaging.
- By reaching out to those who love you during your temporary hopelessness and possible self-loathing, an awareness of your emotional elegance surfaces to challenge the demons enticing you to surrender the love that remains invincible in your Braveheart.
- By focusing on those you love in moments of darkness, you’re reminded of how they love you with all your imperfections. And if you were to share with those who love you, the darkest secret that entices you to self-destruct, they would smile and hold you in their loving arms.
- Since what is missing in our darkness hour is the self-love that protects our worthiness, we can temporarily postpone our demise so that we can love others without loving ourselves. Given enough time of this unselfish love, we have self-preservation mechanisms that can bring us back to self-love again.
- These suggestions should not replace seeking professional help when considering ending precious life. Instead, these methods are powerful tools to help you transition from impending despair toward continuing to love others until you can love yourself again: In some cases, for the first time in your life.
I propose that love is our most exalted emotion, and if we are temporarily disconnected from its inherent source, reaching out to love others, even when we’re not ready to love ourselves, will trigger our preservation mechanism that is more about experiencing the meaning of love than passing on our genes.
Anthony Bourdain left us with a beautiful challenge to travel our Parts Unknown with tools he did not have to save him from the Sirens of self-destruction. Rest in Peace my dear epicurean.