An Interview With John R.
(Alcoholism, Anger/Violence and Birth Trauma)
Bob: How long have you been here now?
John: I started here [The Denver Primal Center] in July, 1978. People like myself who are addicts and have constant pain, agony all the time that they can't deny, have trouble settling down anywhere. I always think I can find some place where I won't have the pain. But I have never been able to find a place where I didn't have the pain, and I have never been able to stay any place. Finally, I was hospitalized in a private hospital.
Bob: Tell me about that.
John: Well, I had done a lot of psychiatric work on myself and had had quite a bit of psychiatric therapy, enough to realize that I was hopelessly addicted to alcohol and that my life was not manageable. So I went to the Milwaukee Psychiatric Hospital - voluntarily. By then, I didn't have a choice. My life had become such a hell, and I had no place else to go. When I got to Milwaukee, the doctors there, having taken a look at the number of places that I had gone, the number of therapies I'd left, attempted to get a court order and keep me there.
I had gone voluntarily and felt that I was under my own control and could control what happened to me there, and when they threatened to get a court order and keep me there for an indefinite period of time, I got into the same feelings of death and desperation and being trapped, that at other times have caused me to get violent.
I really flipped into these feelings. They are feelings from my birth, of being trapped, of violence, of a physical agony that's indescribable. It was this agony that drove me to Milwaukee.
In the hospital I began to have spontaneous birth primals that I was able to actually connect, and felt because of it that I must really be crazy! I just could not believe that what I was experiencing was true. It was very hard for me, but very important in that I was able to make a connection between the feelings I was having and my birth.
But what I wasn't able to connect to very well was the violence, and all of the different facets of my birth that caused me to do so many destructive things in my life. All I was able to really connect with was the fact that this terrible agony that I have felt all my life was connected to my birth.
And those early primals would cause the pain to dissolve for a short period of time. Feeling it, just feeling it, would put me in a feeling of peace which I've always sought after in some way or another - through buddhism, self- psychiatric therapy, and now in primals. Alcohol has been one way to stop the horrible pain.
Bob: What kind of support did you get for those first primals that you began having in Milwaukee?
John: That's a difficult thing to say objectively. The woman therapist that I had encouraged me to feel and accept my feelings. She was a transactional analysis therapist. The hospital believed in deep, intensive therapy, and did not believe in simply treating the symptoms. They believed in treating the causes, and that was another reason for their attempting to get a court order to keep me there, so that they could hold me in one place long enough to treat me.
And I know from the running I've done since, from the feelings I've had in primal therapy, that it was a wise decision on their part. At the time I didn't see it that way because I couldn't connect any of my behavior that to me seemed so normal and natural to do. I knew no other way than to run. The realization that to feel the feeling might dissolve what made me run, no one had ever presented to me. And I was not able to make that connection til I came here.
I had problems with accepting my own feelings as being right. I brought up in groups that I was reliving my birth, and no one believed me. I felt really frustrated and a failure at therapy because of that more than anything else.
To say it now makes it sound like I was saying I really knew what was right and they didn't. But at the time I only knew that something was just really screwed up because I felt one way, they said another, and my life was really in their hands.
There's no way that I can express the agony I felt there, thinking I had failed at therapy, while in actuality I was opening up to early birth feelings - and doubting my own feelings and believing that I must be getting crazier all the time.
The doctor in Milwaukee helped me because she encouraged me to feel. But since I looked good - in the TA sense - after three or four months, they were wanting to move me out of the hospital. But in the course of experiencing spontaneous primals while working out my TA script, I was so much more open to pain than I'd ever been, that I was terrified to leave the hospital, yet unable to stay in what I felt was a trap whenever my feelings would begin to come up.
The doctor's whole orientation was a very logical, adult approach to life, and she couldn't understand why, since I understood logically, all the factors in my TA script, why I wasn't able to control my drinking and other behavior. I, on the other hand, after having experienced what I had in working out my script, couldn't understand how she would want to base her life on an adult, goal oriented, achievement direction, with setting goals and achievement more important than the way you felt. And my whole life just seemed empty because I wasn't directing my life by the way I felt. To achieve a bunch of stuff for someone else was just not going to do it for me. I wanted to live my life.
But one of the fine things about TA is that it is directed towards making a person free. That is what I've always wanted, to be free. Partly because of all the pain of my birth I was always connected to and wanted to be free from. This kept me always seeking a freedom that I thought was outside me somewhere, not inside.
Bob: How did you happen to come here?
John: I came here in really much the same way that I had gone to Milwaukee - out of absolute and complete utter inability to do anything else. My life seemed to be falling apart; my father had a stroke and needed care from me; I'd smashed my wife and she left me to save her life. All the feelings I'd only dealt with partially flooded me. I was not able to function. By this time I'd experienced enough years of sobriety to know that if I did run it wouldn't help.
I started to do some work in Denver with a therapist in transactional analysis who had turned me on to books about primal therapy, and I understood then that I must have had primals.
I had tried once before to get help from the Denver Primal Center, but I was so frightened of the violence and the feelings that were connected with my birth -- they were so horrible to me, so devastating and overwhelming, that I was afraid to come here. I thought I could do it by myself little by little. I didn't want to turn control of my life over to someone else again. But I didn't have any choice. The way I was, I couldn't escape from the feelings, and I just ran here, really. I called up and said, "I have got to get some help!"
Bob: And how was it here?
John: Well, I was really skittish about coming here. I was afraid I was going to be crushed by the therapy. It meant death because I knew I would have to face death in all the feelings. But I did come. (And I had a primal in which all the pain that I had been wrapped in all these years just seemed to be torn away from me, and it was one of the best feelings I've ever had in my life.)
When I came here I was afraid to have a woman therapist because I was absolutely sure that if I got into these feelings that were so frightening to me, that I knew were connected to my birth, and that I knew I would have to get to, that I would in all probability freak out and hurt somebody. I think violence was part of me from the day I was born, but instead of having it taken out of me, that violent part of me was always encouraged - partly by my Dad through athletics and the feeling that a man could and should be violent. And my mother was certainly violent in her way of settling anything.
Once she held my hand on a hot stove. She was in charge of my discipline until I was eight, and disciplined me with a pancake turner. She would hit me with it in a frenzy, the same kind of frenzy that I get into with my children or my wife when I feel that I'm not living up to what I'm supposed to be, and I get frustrated and act out of rage.
Bob: John, you said that you thought that violence has been with you since birth. Could you talk some more about that?
John: Since I came to the Center, I've connected many times with the sudden need for violence that I often feel. It's the need to pound and struggle to be born.
In times past that would explode into behavior. Something would happen, and I would explode into behavior. For example, I once drove my car off a viaduct that wasn't finished. I had failed at a job, my marriage was failing, and I felt frustrated. I didn't love the woman, but the failure stood out - and I couldn't stand to fail.
I'd been drinking for three or four days and suddenly, in a bar, I flipped out. I went home and got a gun. I put this gun in the back of the car and started down the highway. I don't know where I was going or who it was I thought I was going to kill. I came to a place where there was a road under construction and I somehow thought that the heavy equipment were tanks, and I went charging through this heavy equipment, got on an overpass that didn't have the center span completed, and drove off that thing at 60 miles an hour.
Since then, when I'd get that same feeling of having failed or not lived up to my own expectations of myself, I would flip into that same kind of behavior that my mother would exhibit with me, and that I have felt from my birth - - -
Bob: So there's a connection between failure and violence?
John: Yes. I've been in primals where I've felt how it was to try to fight my way out. It's not a thought, it's a feeling. That's the way you feel when you're fighting for your life, to get out. It's a life and death situation. You're being killed. Your body senses it - your mind doesn't - and your body just goes into a mindless violence that for me was pounding and kicking and beating with my head, and for me ended with my heart stopping, with suffocation and a period of my body's dying.
And events in the present that cause me that same feeling of frustration bring that same feeling up, and until I came here, there were times when I would not be able to do anything but act out that violence. There have been times when I have beaten on myself, when I've felt that I've failed. I actually knocked a lot of bridgework out of my mouth pounding on myself.
When I would quit drinking, or smoking, these periods of violence would emerge with all of the withdrawal. One example: I quit smoking cigarettes when I was 27. A few days later I was backpacking with my wife. I woke up in the middle of the night strangling her. It seems almost ludicrous now to think that I would have done that. There were other times too, when in anger I would just reach out and strangle, and that feeling of needing to strangle comes from having been strangled before I was born.
I understand it now as having been part of my birth and an automatic reflex to what I felt was a life threatening situation, triggered when I was overwhelmed with withdrawal symptoms. From quitting smoking in this particular case. Or in another case, when my Dad had had a stroke and I felt that my marriage was breaking up. By that time I was aware that primals were possible and was trying to do them by myself. But I would still get into the behavior where I would actually, in a fit of insanity, find myself strangling my wife. And she would passively submit to this thinking that I would never really hurt her until the last time when I just really flipped out in this same type of behavior.
Bob: Where are you now with violence?
John: I feel the same feelings in any situation - at my job, or with someone I love trying to solve a problem, or any situation that I feel frustrated in, or where I feel that I'm going to fail.
Failure to me means death. Death is connected with experiences with my family where I was told I must never fail, and then goes back to my birth where I actually did feel that if I failed in being born, I would die. I can make that connection now, and still have to make that connection whenever I'm in a situation where I'm faced with these kinds of feelings.
Bob: Are you still afraid you might hurt somebody?
John: No. I don't have the fear now that I did before I came here. I get angry, but I don't find myself raging out of control like I used to. It was the anger and frustration from my birth, and I would act out of that. There would be a set of circumstances that would seem to be the cause of it, but it was really the birth violence.
I had to do something. I really didn't want to be violent, but it would feel like a life or death situation that required some physical act to resolve it. Feeling what happened at my birth, going back to the true root of the violence, is letting me change my life now. When I look at my life the way it is now compared to the way it was before, I have some things that make my life worthwhile.
Bob: Like what?
John: My feelings. I have my feelings. I'm not directed by goals, ideas, attainments. I'm able to feel, and be with my feelings and act and be appropriate and not be banging on people. And for the first time in my life I'm able to do a job, do a job with the feeling, the reality that if I want to put up with all that shit I can keep doing that job, I don't have to run away.
Of course, I may want to leave and go do another job for my own contentment, but I don't have to run away. I have the beginnings of being able to have some kind of handle on my life that I never had before, and that's really something for me. And more than anything else, the pain that governed my life, that ran my life, that I was, while I still carry it with me, it is not what I am or who I am.
Primal kind of chips away at all the things that you are not until it leaves you with what you are. I have what I am and I'm getting more of what I am all the time by getting rid of what I'm not. And what I'm not is that old pain and inability to have any kind of control over my life. I have the ability to flow with my life, to be with my life and to know that there are a lot of facets of my life that I can't control and I don't have to try to control them. I can feel at peace without the need to control all the things that I felt were so important to control in my life - like winning and losing, for example.
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