'The journey I am on': Andrew Gillum reemerges after self-imposed exile from public life
Former candidate for Florida governor Andrew Gillum was back in public view Monday, taking to Instagram with an 11-minute video message for supporters that touched on his struggle with alcohol addiction and depression.
"I am thankful to so many of you who have wished me well during this especially challenging time," he also wrote in a post. "I wanted to provide a personal update on how I have been doing. Take good care of yourselves during this season and I will see you on the other side. Warmest, Andrew"
Gillum, also a former Tallahassee mayor, said he went into rehab shortly after it was reported that Miami Beach police found him in a hotel room in March too intoxicated to speak coherently when they responded to a call about an apparent drug overdose of another person in the room.
He also hired a high-powered media consultant that specializes in crisis management and damage control, campaign records showed.
"I went away to rehab to focus on my issues with alcoholism, having grown up in a household where my father battled addiction to alcohol, and later died from that addiction," Gillum said in the video. "I knew well the toll it took on my father's dreams and ambitions."
Gillum said he went into therapy to deal with the issues he was facing, and the depression he sunk into after narrowly losing the 2018 governor's race to Republican Ron DeSantis.
"I had totally underestimated what losing the race for governor had had on my life and on the way those impacts started to show up in every aspect of my life," he said.
In the aftermath of the election, Gillum was found to be in violation of state ethics laws and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine for accepting a gift of more than $100 from a lobbyist.
Federal investigators issued a subpoena in March 2019 demanding records dating to January 2015, Gillum’s first year as Tallahassee’s “leadership” mayor, along with more recent records involving his gubernatorial campaign and Forward Florida.
Gillum didn't want to talk about the impact losing had on him because it was a "constant reminder of my failure, my personal failure."
Losing his role as a public official and access to that platform after 16 years in office also chipped away at his self-worth, Gillum said.
"All of that was all of a sudden gone, and caused me to think about my own purpose, and my own value and what I could contribute if anything," he said. "I didn't want to face any of those things so I numbed. I tried to suppress. I tried to ignore."
But he traveled, made public appearances and did television interviews, posting on Instagram and Facebook "as if I was living my best life" and perfecting the art of wearing a mask.
As a longtime public servant, he said, being out of the political limelight has not been easy.
"This is a tough moment not to be out in the world and contributing ... although I can't be what I would love to be for you and for myself and for my community at this time," Gillum said. "I hope you know that I couldn't be those things because I couldn't be what I needed to be for me first."
The personal crisis came to a head when he was found in a Miami Beach high-rise hotel room with an alleged male escort and bags of methamphetamine. Police found Gillum in the room with two men: Travis Dyson, the reputed escort, and Aldo Mejias, a self-described Gillum friend who paid for the room, according to police reports.
Gillum was not arrested or charged. He stepped down from public life, including the nonprofit group Forward Florida Action he helmed to register voters to "turn Florida blue."
He had funded the group using over $3 million leftover from his gubernatorial run. While at least $1.5 million went to groups engaged in registering voters for the 2020 election, records show more than $1 million was spent covering Gillum's legal fees related to a federal investigation into his political committee.
Dealing with such embarrassing personal issues hasn't been easy, he said.
'My stuff had to be public and cause great embarrassment and cause rumors, false, some true," Gillum said. "The shame I felt from all that from the harm that I caused was tearing me up... I needed help to unpack that."
He thanked his wife, R. Jai, "a woman who knows everything that I am and everything I am not. And she chooses to love me anyhow, a woman who is literally God's grace on earth."
He also brought up the Black Lives Matter movement.
"I know as a black man what it means just to have to convince people that your life has meaning, convince people that your life has purpose," he said. "Not to be set above anybody but just to be treated on a level that's equal with everyone around you."
The current social and political climate in the U.S. just adds to the pressure of coping with depression, and he urged people to be kind to themselves. He said he watched his mother struggle for over a month with COVID-19, "as we watched on helplessly, not sure how that was going to turn out."
Gillum made a public appeal to other people who are also dealing with depression and urged them not to suffer in silence.
"All of us are struggling and trying and clawing at trying to be something else when we really ought to be trying to be at home in ourselves. That is the journey I am on right now ... not having to be one thing in one place and one thing somewhere else," he said.
Contact Jeff Schweers at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.