Addiction, Trauma, & The Godfather

I’m not a professional movie critic or anything, but I don’t think you have to be one to discover good cinema.  The 1972 film entitled The Godfather seems to be one of those unique films that have stood the test of time.  I don’t have any statistics to back up this next statement; but, it seems to me that people from all generations and walks of life thoroughly enjoy this story.

The Godfather is a story of many things to me – family, love, loyalty, friendship, hope.  I think most of us would consider these descriptors to be positive themes.  However, you can’t have light without darkness, right?  Thus, The Godfather is also a story about betrayal, loss, broken dreams, and survival.  The movie, by no means, is fast-paced or action packed, so why does it suck us in?  Well…..I think it is because we can relate to it.  No, most of us reading this are not involved in organized crime; we’ve never had to worry about hit-men, car bombs, or drive-bys.  However, most of us can still relate to the themes.  Many of you know betrayal all too well.  Many of you have already endured more than your share of loss for a lifetime.  Some of you became survivors at a very early age; and through mere circumstance, some of you reading this are very familiar with broken dreams. Through the messes of life, we are driven to find and cling to hope.

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

– Michael Corleone (The Godfather: Part III, 1990)

This is probably one of the most famous lines from the trilogy.  I think this line is powerful because it reflects Michael Corleone’s mission of hope – his mission to break FREE of darkness’s grip that has so long commanded his life.  Very POWERFUL!

What does The Godfather and the Corleone family have to do with trauma and addiction?  For those of you who have worked with addicts, you are well aware that trauma usually goes hand-in-hand. In fact, as a sex addiction therapist, much of the work we do with addicts is trauma work.  Some of the darkest stories I’ve ever heard are uttered from the lips of these wonderful men and women caught up in the clutches of addiction.  In fact, if they made a movie inspired by some of these stories, I don’t think most of us would be able stomach it.  They are often very dark and they are very real.  And most of their traumatic stories began in childhood.  In fact, several of the men and women I have worked with have experienced more of the darker side of life before the age of 10 than many of us will in a lifetime.

What is one to do?  How is a child supposed to behave or respond as they go through one of the darkest and most powerless times of their lives?  In a nutshell, they have to become survivors….and children are often very good at surviving.  How is that done?  There are many ways this can manifest; however, one common denominator is that children often have to disconnect from their emotions.  From their sub-conscious point of view, emotions are just too vulnerable and will potentially make their situation worse. Sometimes they find anger useful, but even it can prove to work against them.  Thus, the GOAL IS SURVIVAL!  Every day is just another day they must power through.

How does this connect with The Godfather?  When someone grows up in a situation of survival day in and day out for years, and then, all of a sudden, they are launched into the world of adulthood…….often they very quickly take the bull by the horns and start creating for themselves a world where they cannot and will NOT be harmed again.

I will never again be in such a position of powerlessness!

And how do they know you are no longer is such a position?  They must become the one who is in power.  Is this not the story of Vito Corleone? An Italian immigrant trying to survive the harsh streets of New York?  And after years of being cheated and mistreated and seeing his people being cheated and mistreated…..well, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!! Vito Corleone finds a way to become a champion for his people that involves breaking some rules (and legs) along the way.  And over the course of time, he becomes the head of a mafia family.  He lives and functions in a world where he makes the rules; and others would do well to follow those rules, or else (dramatic music).

“I spent my whole life trying not to be careless. Women and children can be careless, but not men.”

– Vito Corleone (The Godfather)

What Is Godfather Mentality? Many, but not all, of the sex addicts I have worked with have entered a mindset of what I call Godfather Mentality. As mentioned, sex addicts often have very dark stories that have the common denominator of powerlessness.  Thus, in creating a life where they are in a position of power, they must become untouchable; but they have to be able to measure their position of power.  In our culture, that is often done through money and status.  Thus, a lot of sex addicts are often very successful on many levels.  They are often well-educated, highly ambitious, career-driven, and wealthy.  This isn’t the case for all sex addicts, but for many this is true. Thus, they often have lots of dollar signs in their bank accounts and have high positions in their careers and communities. But, money and status often is not enough to ensure that they truly are untouchable.   No.  There is something missing.  This is where Godfather Mentality comes in to play.

Money and status are not enough. What I really need to do to know that I am untouchable is that I need to hurt someone and not only get away with it, but be praised for it.

When sex addicts operate under Godfather mentality, they usually aren’t physically hurting people.  The “hurting of others” is done through their sexual acting out as part of fantasy.  They channel their pain, anger, and rage through their sexuality and the person with whom they are acting out with have become objects that simply exist for their pleasure. They are minions that have no power or rule over them; the addicts can do with them as they will in whatever ways they please.  To no surprise, this illusion often comes to a screeching halt when the innocent (e.g., spouses, children, etc.) are caught in the crossfire. The addict then experiences a violent shove into reality.

I never was and never will be untouchable.

Living a life of survival is often a dark and sad story.  The challenge for those caught up in a story of survival is trying to find those few opportunities to finally break free so that they can start writing new chapters of their lives that reflects more about what it means to truly live than to merely survive.

If you or someone you know is hung up in a story of survival, tangled in a web of deceit, lies, and secrecy, then please try to get help.  You are more than welcome to contact us, but there are resources across the world available to you with only the click of a button. Blessings to you and your journey through life.