By Ken Wells - 06/29/2020


Series One: Blog Thirty-Two

Addiction can be like paralysis. How many stories do I hear where addicts swear with great resolution that they have finally hit bottom, only to fall off the wagon again. The junkie worm with its beguile and cajole paralyzes the most earnest intent and renders the addict powerless to addictive response.  People forget that addiction is bewitching with its magic spell. Painfully, addicts are ones who forget the most. Millions find themselves paralyzed and impotent to the powers of addiction this very hour.

My mom knew paralysis of a different kind. She was cut from a different cloth, a different type of cat. She was second born in a tribe of 5. Having burned her sister to death in a tragic accident at age 9, she lived the rest of her life paralyzed with this harrowing memory penetrating and dominating her life experience with paralysis. Her mother thought it to be her fault, not my mom’s responsibility. Yet, no one bothered to explain to my mom it was an accident. Privately, she buried deep inside her heart the blame. Both died believing that each was responsible. My mom’s motivation to attune for the catastrophe was relentless throughout her life. She became a great baseball player in an attempt to restore her mother’s approval. She became a zealot in the Christian holiness movement and spent the rest of her life trying to save the lost with unstoppable acts in service to the poor. Forever gathering food and clothing for the poor, her life was one of unrelenting acts of kindness inherently seeking grace from God for her tragic sin as a little girl. There were few holidays that we did not share with poor folk. Many Christmas Eve nights I had to share my bed with some poor kid who otherwise didn’t have one. It wasn’t exactly like we were rich. My mom and dad raised 12 kids. She spent 50 years being the janitor at our church among other cleaning jobs around town. Her last days of life were spent paralyzed with Alzheimer’s. During her last days on earth, she looked at my sister with sadness in her eyes and said “I burned my sister to death” which occurred 90 years before.

Trauma has a way of paralyzing all of us toward inaction about healing. Trauma reenactment, trauma bonding and trauma shame are common experiences for those who struggle their entire lives from their own unresolved traumatic quandary. Albert Einstein touched on trauma when he said “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Yet, it is not really insanity, it is trauma repetition. The insanity is what happened to you. You just keep trying to do the same thing over again, acting on the delusion that you will get it right this time, only to fall off the wagon again in your addiction. Physical reactions, unnerving memory recollections, intense anger outbursts, and flashback experiences all point to paralyzing trauma that seems insane. No wonder you are dominated with a desire to numb out with addiction.

When my mom was 94 years of age she was walking down a sidewalk with my sister complaining that she must have pulled a muscle in her groin. My sister reminded her that she had broken her pelvis and her response was “when did I do that? – you can’t let pain get you down” and kept walking. Her response was a mixture of a lot of Alzheimer with her classic stubbornness to stuff down her deepest pain like she had throughout her entire life. It has been my experience while working with addicts that most do exactly what my mom did— push down their deepest pain with avoidance and keep walking. On the surface it looks good- brave and courageous. Yet, inside there is a hole in the soul of every addict that ultimately is filled with the paralysis of addictive numbing out.

Every addict chooses to embrace the improbable-(I’m fine, can do this on my own, etc) in order to ignore the obvious (my life has gone to shit). It takes guts and backbone to embrace the obvious and address the paralysis of trauma in addiction response. Here are a few considerations:

To address the obvious you must be willing to face the shit.  

Addicts are great at building rationale as to why they must do what they do and cannot stop. Even though it is destructive and painful, it is familiar. Addicts hang on to the familiar like it was their last dollar. It doesn’t work but “by God I’m gonna do it anyway”. Addicts revel in how much alcohol they can handle and how much craziness they can put up with. Just before my mom turned 90, she was at my dad’s grave, digging out some weeds with a trowel. She suffered from osteoporosis. In digging she jammed her fist and dislocated her middle finger grotesquely into the back of her hand. She took her finger jammed it back in place, finished her weeding and then drove herself to the ER to get a splint for her finger. Tough she was. Yet, throughout her life she was unwilling to stop and embrace the shit of shame that chased her like wolves through the woods, running from trauma shame with a never ending pursuit toward caring for her world. Why? because the childhood trauma was too scary — too painful. It takes a courage of a different kind to face the pain of traumatic abuse. It is my experience that addicts may find sobriety but not deep peace and serenity without marshaling the courage to face the shit of trauma in life.

To move away from paralysis in addictive behavior you must be willing to read the tea leaves. 

Have you ever caught yourself going over the top in responding to something that happened in your life? You ever wonder why you got so worked up? Colleague Marilyn Murray suggests that in the context of life on a Likert scale from one to ten (one being low and ten-high), most of life’s happenings require a normal response of four or five. When you find yourself responding to a situation at a nine that normally merits a five, likely, the extra four on the scale has nothing to do with the current issue at hand. It suggests that the current situation triggered a traumatic response to a historical experience that has been left unresolved. Addicts can utilize this response as an indicator in knowing where to look for unsolved trauma. The same is true regarding under response. My mom’s tough guy response to a dislocated finger was an index to emotional trauma she chose to remain paralyzed to her entire life. Overcoming addictive paralysis requires a deep courage to read the tea leaves in order to embrace the obvious.

Addressing the paralysis of the obvious requires that you scrub the wound that is found in the improbable.  

You will have to stop walking around the dead dog in the living room. Overcoming paralysis means that you must immerse yourself into the world of reality. You have to smell the stench of odor from the “dead dog” that you have been avoiding through denial. Waking up to reality from denial, is like waking up a foot that has gone to sleep. At first it can be unbelievably painful to face what is real. Then, astonishingly, you have to scrub the deceit of the improbable with the truth of the obvious. It is like scrubbing the back of someone suffering extreme road rash after an accident. It will hurt like hell, yet, it is the only way to get at the infectious misbelief about your life of trauma. Unless this infectious belief is scrubbed clean you will remain paralyzed. My mother has lore and legend about being a tough cookie. Yet, she never chose to scrub the trauma wounds of her childhood. She died never knowing her childhood wounds were never her fault. Running from her shame through religious endeavor created a portal for that shameful paralysis to be passed on to the next generation. It takes courage to face the obvious and let go of the paralysis of addictive behavior.

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