By Dan Griffin, MA, Senior Fellow at The Meadows
Here we are again: One more tragic tale of a good man, with a good heart, being destroyed by addiction, trauma, and the effects of toxic masculinity. The world—including those closest to former NBA player Lamar Odom — were waiting for him to die just a couple of weeks ago. It is clear now that drugs played a critical role in Mr. Odom’s near-death experience. It is also clear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the trauma this man has had to deal with has been eating away at his soul and affecting every facet of his life. Because that is exactly what trauma does.
Real Men Don’t Have Trauma
But, of course, real men don’t have trauma. Star basketball players? They don’t have trauma, and if they do it has helped to make them who they are. It only destroys the weak ones. Those traumatic experiences are unfortunate parts of his life that have helped him become the [add superlative of choice here] athlete he is – or more appropriately, was. (The verb tense means everything to the context of the story and how the story is told.)
This is not a new story. It is playing out right now in the lives of thousands of men across the country. Thousands will die this week because we live in a culture with such warped ideas of masculinity that you can have an owner of a brothel—where a man’s reckless behavior was enabled and lead to serious, nearly life-ending consequences— shamelessly show up in the media and act as if he was just a guy having a good time.
The truth is that this was a man scraping a barrel for some morsel of happiness where there is none to be found. Yet, our society still tells men that it will not only make us happy, but affirm our masculinity and cure our pain.
Mr. Odom apparently has been saying for some time, “It seems death is following me.” He is right. The experiences of trauma that Mr. Odom has lived through would leave the strongest and most resilient men scarred.
Tell the Real Story
This story is getting old. I am tired of the tragic stories where we all lament the men after they are gone. The same news outlets that were pillorying Mr. Odom for the past decade were the same ones oozing compassion and empathy as his life hung in the balance. You see, two weeks ago was the time for everyone to trot out the long list of traumas as part of the conclusion of Mr. Odom’s story.
Yes, he is talking now. It really is a miracle. Yet, any of us who have been immersed in the world of trauma, addiction and recovery for some number of years have known that even miracles such as this rarely provide the necessary wake-up call to give a man in the downward spiral a new life. I have buried men – including my own father – after sitting with them in the hospital room when their second, third, or fourth miracles had being given to them, only to watch them dance with the devil again. And lose.
As preposterous and insane as it seems, that is the logic of addiction. So it makes complete sense to those of us who understand the narrative. Events such as Mr. Odom experienced a couple of weeks ago offer such an obvious opportunity for a happy ending. Yet so many men haunted by trauma rarely find it. Mr. Odom seems to have been given a second chance. But there are contingencies. The most important condition is that at some point if he wants to find peace – let alone recovery from his addiction(s—he must hug the monsters.
Mr. Odom needs to find people and places safe enough for him to stand still in the storm and trust something bigger than himself. He has to trust that he can get through it without the drugs, prostitutes, or any other illusion of connection. And at some point our society, that is merely reflected in the absurdity of our media, will have to truly grapple with the fact that we wait for men to be dead before we finally create enough space for their pain and are willing to honor their real story.