When I was asked to start writing this blog it wasn’t a question of whether I would do it, but more a question of where do I start? I was out for a walk and it hit me, how does a kid who was called “durpy” which is pig Latin for “prude” turn out to be a sex and love addict?
The answer, as it turns out is simple and I believe it is the same for all of those who become addicted. In my experience addiction of any kind is almost always the result of incomprehensible feelings resulting from trauma. For me that trauma occurred when I was ten or twelve years old. I awoke in the middle of the night to find my mom passed out naked on the toilet. In that moment I heard an audible click inside my head and felt this wave of….something… pulsing through me as I said, “I’m changing, I’m changing, what is happening to me?” Couple that with an emotionally distant and overwhelmed father and it’s no wonder my life path included countless injuries and illnesses, alcoholism, sex and love addiction, spending addiction, tobacco addiction (I smoked and chewed tobacco), sugar addiction (I will still medicate with sugar at times) two horrific divorces, custody battles, bankruptcy, I played two professional sports I never wanted to play and I contemplated suicide.
As I have progressed in my recovery and knowledge, I have learned it is what we all do when faced with trauma. The only emotional education we have ever received has been, “don’t have feelings, or shake it off kid” whenever something happened to any of us emotionally. Would any of us tell a person with a broken leg, “just shake it off!” This isn’t about blame it’s about fact. No one taught our parents about emotion so they couldn’t teach us. Therefore, with no other options available, our default is to take that trauma and turn it against ourselves. I have observed that we choose people, places, careers, hobbies…literally everything in our life consciously and subconsciously to re victimize ourselves until we reconcile that original trauma. The process of re victimization shares three common traits; fear, shame and denial. It is universal. Since I have yet to meet a person who has not experienced trauma, I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t live this way in some form or another. How could we not?
Think about it. Over half of the population has grown up in a divorced family. Divorce causes actual brain damage, that is massive emotional trauma. Depending on who you cite, one out of 3 or 4 have suffered sexual and or physical abuse. Researchers recognize those numbers are probably much higher because of the societal stigma and fear around reporting trauma especially with men. When you start talking about those that have grown up with an addict, have experienced a death in a family, bullying in school, abandonment from both parents working or any other number of traumas the afflicted multiply. The chances that any person you know not having suffered immense trauma is nearly impossible. Add to this the complete lack of emotional education, our inherent societal prejudice against sharing anything emotional going back for centuries and the better questions become, “how could I NOT have become an addict and is it even possible that someone isn’t suffering from some sort of addiction?”
Behavioral science is barely 100 years old primarily as a result of a deal between Descartes and the church in the 1700’s with the church wanting full domain over feelings and emotions. In addition, science for the most part has ignored behavior because up until recently, without the use of MRI and other scans they didn’t feel it could be objectively quantified. Even when it has been shown how emotions rule our lives it has been discarded much like the discovery that the world was actually round and not flat. Breakthroughs in the 1970’s and 80’s like those of Candace Pert scientifically proving how emotions play a major role in driving our mind and body were largely ignored and marginalized. The groundbreaking ACE (adverse childhood experiences) study performed from 1995-97 which quantified how devastating childhood trauma is and the adverse impact it has on adult behavior and the ability to succeed was also virtually ignored because the solutions revolve around emotional growth instead of dolling out pills! Science can’t make money from emotional growth, it needs it’s funding form pills.
The other major defense I hear to all of this is our inclination to try and grade trauma as in, “it wasn’t that bad, other people have had it worse.” Most people would posit that a client of mine who’s trauma, arguing with his mother, wasn’t as bad as my finding my mother on the toilet, which in turn wasn’t as bad as a woman I know who had been raped over 300 times. The reality is that they are all the same. For each individual, they only know their own personal experience. For them, that moment or moments have been equally devastating and debilitating. We try and grade trauma in this fashion because we are ill equipped to understand it, thus we minimize it. We are in pure survival mode and quite literally in Fight, Flight or Freeze over the mere discussion of trauma!
The other prominent and most devastating way I see people attempt to avoid dealing with emotions and addiction is through denial. From my experience, denial is the single greatest killer in society today! It has gone from it’s true intent as a wonderful life saving coping skill meant to initially blunt and soften the original trauma to an all out life style.
I like to tell this story when I talk about denial because it demonstrates it the best. Every month I get my haircut by this wonderful young girl and because she knows what I do, she regales me with the latest details on “ the Jerk” she is dating. How insensitive, or hurtful he is. Because we have known each other long enough, one day I finally turned to her and asked, “April, let me cut your hair?” Emphatically she said, “No!” I replied, “why not?” A bit puzzled she said that I didn’t know how to cut hair and she wasn’t about to let me come near her with a pair of scissors. We both laughed at the truth in that. Turning more serious, I replied, “I find it fascinating that I come in here every month and you tell me all about how poorly men treat you and about how frustrating your love life is, yet neither one of you has ever taken any class or studied anything to do with emotions or love. Neither of you have any knowledge about how to love and nurture each others heart but you both place your hearts in each others hands and not only expect, but demand that the other care for it without fault. You both think it is perfectly natural to have that expectation of each other.
I let that sink in before continuing,
Me, on the other hand, I need to have a license to cut your hair, something that grows naturally and will repair itself no matter how I treat it!”
That story usually produces a gnawing feeling as reality sinks in? Some feel a bit of anger, disgust, a desire to stop reading and flee. They fear that by not knowing about emotions, they are inadequate and will therefore be rejected. That triggers shame, which is a feeling of no worth. Shame is placed into us from our original trauma. The combination of those two feelings and the lack of understanding about them becomes so overwhelming that the response can be to scoff at it all or fly into a rage and comment about how stupid and crazy my proposition is. In other words, massive massive denial!
Because none of us can ever fully deny our feelings we then further attempt to blunt them with our addictions to food, alcohol, caffeine (the three most prominent ways and socially acceptable) love, sex, pills, sleeping pills, drugs, injury, illness, disease, hobbies, animals, work, money, helicoptering our kids, shopping, social media, social status, seeking power, playing the victim….virtually anything so as not to have to endure the intense gnawing feelings we have no skills to comprehend! The consequence of our self victimization by way of the aforementioned is that we make those closest to us co conspirators in our victimhood. We manipulate care and empathy from them thereby backdoor victimizing everyone around us as well. I believe the denial of our covert abuse of them must be faced and overcome to fully recover and reach our full potential as individuals!
Therefore, because of my life experience, the research and study I have done on trauma, feelings, addiction, and how the brain, mind and body react to try and cope, I recognize that whether I am working with an individual, a couple, an athlete, a company or a CEO, the need to educate them emotionally will be a part of any growth or success they want to achieve. It literally can’t be excluded if a person wants to reach their full potential because it is the single least developed skill in us all.
What I hope to do in this blog is threefold. Initially I want to educate and give people permission. In my experience we are all screaming to be heard emotionally but we don’t know how. Just watch the current state of politics and TV/social media. Both political parties are screaming at each other in intense fear, shame and denial and even when shown proof of their humanness what do both sides do? Deny it. Look at reality tv, or as I prefer, denial TV/social media. I call it that because we get to sit on our couches, denying our own emotional pain and instead point the finger at them and say, “at least I’m not as big of a train wreck as they are!” Lastly, it’s time, It’s just time we start addressing the single greatest reason we don’t reach our full potential personally and professionally; Emotional avoidance and specifically, our relentless denial of our trauma, fear, shame and denial!
Over the coming weeks and months as I give voice to my own trauma, my own addictions, my own fear, shame and denial, I give others permission to sit on their couch and say….”Geez look at that poor bastards life, I’m not as big of a train wreck as he was, but if he can overcome it, maybe I can too!”
Coach and Speaker