While not always the case, many addictions are fueled by emotional pain experienced early on in life. These experiences have a lasting impact on the person because it’s a time in life when you’re developing beliefs about self and the world. One core belief that is a primary culprit in fueling addictive behavior is the conscious or unconscious sense of “I am bad” or “not good.” The word “bad” in this context refers to the person’s essence, meaning at the very core of the person’s being he or she is “bad.” This is a terrible burden to carry. It comes with unbearable emotional pain which then needs to be covered up or momentarily forgotten. Drugs and alcohol and other destructive attachments become the perfect antidote.
Recently, a supervisee passed on an essay written by one of his counselees on his journey in healing from an addiction. While reading it, I was overcome with emotion. The writer so effectively takes the reader into the burden of being “not good” and the healing experience of finding freedom from it.
The author who wrote what you are about to read has given me permission to post it, something he has done as well. In fact, it’s his hope that others might benefit from it:
On the cusp of my 53rd birthday, it finally feels like I’m starting to emerge, to unloosen myself from the core of the truth that has existed inside me for nearly as long as I can remember. It has informed and guided every decision and life choice I’ve made. Whenever I think in these terms of this truth, I envision a golf ball. That hard urethane exterior, under which sits layer upon layer of crazily weaved rubber strands wrapped tightly around this hard little rubber core, a fraction of the size of the actual ball. That’s my truth. That little rubber core. It’s been there forever, well nearly forever. It probably turned up when I was about 9. Maybe a little before that.
The truth said this: “You are not good.”
Not you are not good enough, though (and it may have started that way) that was certainly implied. You are not good. Just that.
And then it leaves you to live with that. You’re left to navigate the next several decades operating from that singular fact. You are not good. Which is an untenable foundation to build upon; from which to move through a world that requires you be good. Of course the pain of that truth, you are not good, is really too much to be expected to bear. And so you begin to wrap the rubber bands around the truth-to hide it, to forget it, to numb it, to make it look like something else-and for that you use alcohol, and heroin, and bad decisions and bad relationships. Flights of fear and fancy. And lots of running. Always running. But you can’t run faster or farther than that truth and you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. So more rubber bands and the hard little rubber truth doesn’t even seem to be there after awhile. It just looks like a ball of rubber bands. And those rubber bands are the salve. Those rubber bands become the behaviors that become the hard worn grooves in your brain that become a way of existing that doesn’t necessarily make you good, but does make you enough of something else that you begin to forget that you aren’t. And being anything, even a heroin addict, is better than being not good.
And decades pass and more crazily weaved layers of rubber are wrapped around that thing you forgot was there. In fact, now you’ve added a hard shelled urethane cover, which has solidified and locked in all the rubber winding, which is really just a patchwork of fucked up, poorly executed and ill devised coping mechanisms that do more to you than they’ve ever done for you. But you can’t even see that, because the hard shell covers the ugly rubber winding. And your head hurts and your heart hurts and you are helpless to do anything other than what the well worn groove dictates. You have found yourself in absolute bondage to the device you created to hide the truth you couldn’t abide. You are the dog returning to its own vomit. Sisyphus. Except now you’ve forgotten that the only reason you push the rock up the hill over and over is because you’re not good. You vaguely sense that you’re responses and reactions to the world around you are not exactly normal, but you are so occluded and well defended that you persist in spite of this suspicion.
One morning, 35 years later, homeless, everyone gone, all dreams done, you are trying to scratch together $1.95 so you can buy that morning’s half pint of Popov vodka. And you can’t. Not because you don’t want to, only because you’ve lost all ability to hustle even $2 lousy bucks. And the evidence of the truth of your present and past hits you.
And the truth says this: “You are not good.”
And this time it’s not something handed you by your father, it’s something that is empirically evident in your life. Something that you created. In your attempt to hide from your not goodness, you have manifested that very thing.
That was December 17th, 2002. A strange thing happened that day. Well, two things happened. The first was that God stopped by, where I was homeless; trying to scrounge together some change. He was wearing a John S______ suit. The second was: a crack appeared in the urethane cover. And for the first time in years, I could see the inside of the golf ball; the rubber bands. John had a solution. And all I had was a negative balance of $1.95 and a cracked fucking golf ball.
So I let him drive me to a homeless shelter, and I let them drive me to a county funded drug rehab. And for the next 8 months, I let some guy named Fabian tell me what to eat, what time to go to bed, what time to get up, and how I should talk less and listen more. And maybe consider praying to a God I knew for sure didn’t exist…….And I did. Because there wasn’t anything else to do. And the crack in the golf ball widened and then it slowly fell off. And for the first time in forever I was left with a handful of tightly wound, misguided behaviors and hard won patterns. And I saw them for what they were. And I asked for help in peeling them away. All those rubber windings underneath the shell, I started peeling them away.
If you’ve ever peeled the rubber innards off a golf ball, you know how that works. Sometimes quickly; sometimes slowly. Sometimes they spin off wildly in sections before stopping, and sometimes they come off only through intention and grit. Through consistent work. It takes patience and it takes time.
A funny thing happened on the way to a spiritual awakening: as I was peeling away, the hard little rubber core came into view. I’d forgotten it was even there. For so long the ball just seemed like it was made up of rubber bands. And then for so long after that, it just looked like an ordinary golf ball. In the years that it took me to unwind that ball; to let go of my unhealthy, destructive coping skills, I’d forgotten that there was that core. That truth. The one that said I was not good. The shell was my denial. The rubber bands were my behavioral responses to pain. The hard little rubber ball was me. My core. My truth. And here it was right in front of me after all these years.
And the truth said this: “You are not good.”
Except this time, it didn’t sound like the truth exactly. It sounded slightly hollow and very nearly like an untruth. And so it was. What emerged was this: that my entire life, my reactions, my beliefs, my actions, all the decisions I made, all the people I tried to love or failed to love, all the harm I caused to myself and to those around me, all the pain, all the hurt, all the failed attempts at self soothing and a million other tiny little constructs…had been predicated on the always, false belief that I was bad. That I was undeserving of love or goodness, because at core, I was bad.
This is what sex abuse at the hands of my father, did to me. It stole what was good and hopeful, loving and trusting. It removed the innate knowledge of the truth that I was good. It scooped out whole parts of me. It hollowed me out. It left a dark and confused vacuous space and set in its place a small, hard rubber untruth.
Once upon a time my untruth said to me, “You are not good.” And I believed it, and spent the next 40 years acting accordingly.