I was 10 years old when my fear of clowns began. Many people of my generation (I’m 37…and climbing) know exactly what I’m talking about! That’s right, approximately 27 years ago, Stephen King’s bestselling book, IT, was made into a TV series. This horror flick starred actor, Tim Curry, as Pennywise – the evil clown that terrorizes the town of Derry, Maine every 27 years.
So, you might be wondering, “What in the world does a horror flick about some psychedelic clown have to do with mental health or addiction? Where are you going with this, Josh?” Well, I implore you to keep reading to find out.
As many of you probably are aware, this story was recently filmed and released to the big screen as a major motion picture. For the majority of my adult life, I have more or less steered clear of horror films, but, for reasons of nostalgia, I decided to go see this one. Yes, it was dark, scary, and I even struggled with some post-movie anticipation considering I would be going home in the dark to an empty house as my kids were staying with their grandparents and my wife was away on business. To my surprise, I found myself really enjoying the movie. Later that evening, as I sat in my empty home, my mind kept replaying certain scenes from the movie, although I was disturbed, I didn’t find myself “freaked out” or scared by any means. The more I stewed and pondered all by my lonesome, the more I was able to comprehend the amazing depths of this story. The more disturbed I became, I began to realize that it wasn’t the sinister clown that fed off children, or the dark, startling, and often, bloody scenes that created this increasingly feeling of uneasiness. No, I realized there was something else about this story that was much more disturbing than what was on the surface. This is when I began to think about the stories of my clients and the work I do as a sex addiction therapist.
If I haven’t bored you yet, then please journey with me into the depths of my mind as I address 5 observations about how this dark and sinister story relates to the life of an addict.
SPOILER ALERT – SPOILER ALERT – SPOILER ALERT
The Loss of Innocence. This story centers on lives and friendship of seven pre-teens (six boys and a girl) that have not only been treated as lepers by their peers, but it also seems that the community around them has deemed them misfits of a sort. All seven of these middle-schoolers have been hit by life in ways that we wouldn’t wish upon any child. If you look beyond the humor and dismissing attitudes, you can see an underlying suffering that each child is working hard to manage. To add insult to injury, they don’t feel safe enough to turn to the adults in their lives as they quickly learn that “bury your head in the sand” seems to be a mantra that most of the adults live by in Derry. Feeling protected, feeling nurtured, feeling loved, wanted, and accepted – all the feelings our children experience that makes them feel safe – sadly is not part of the narrative for these seven kids.
Sound familiar? Many addicts have been hit by life in ways that most of us have a hard time even imagining. These situations often, but not always, involve ill-equipped grown-ups whom are either neglecting their responsibilities as caregivers (i.e., burying their heads in the sand) and/or actively causing harm to their children or the kids they are overseeing. This often results in a lost childhood – the premature loss of innocence. Many addicts have come to understand the darkness of this world long before they should have; and in ways that many of us would never understand.
Strength in Community. As they deal with their feelings of loss, emptiness, and anger, these seven buddies all seem to gravitate toward one another. And through their unique but shared experiences of the dark world around them, they bond together. Despite how reckless they could be at times, these friendships have become the most important part of their short lives. It’s a matter of survival. In a town full of people, they come to the realization that they are at war, and they are fighting it alone.
Addicts are at war! Since they are great survivors, they are resourceful enough to find a community that supports them, even if it is unhealthy and reckless at times. This also is where their drug of choice comes into play. Their drug becomes an important part of the community as it is a way to self-medicate and escape the darkness, even if it is just for a moment’s time. The drug becomes a mechanism for survival.
The Power of imagination. One of the more disturbing components of this story is that Pennywise (the evil clown) feeds off the imagination of children. You see, the world has stripped the grownups of their imagination, but children still have enough innocence left to imagine wild and crazy things. Thus, Pennywise is able to transform and become the very thing these kids fear the most. What is even more interesting is that it is through the power of imagination that these supposedly weak and inept children are able to defeat him.
Addicts often make great use of their imagination. Their imagination is where they go to escape the harsh realities of the world they live in. In recovery, we (mental health professionals) often loosely quote M. Scott Peck, saying “pursue reality at all costs,” but we don’t want them to lose their imagination. In fact, they are encouraged to imagine, fantasize, and dream about things that can be realistically pursued and achieved. We want them to abandon the use of their imagination as an escape, and start utilizing it as mechanism to inspire hope and change. This is how they defeat their addict – their own personal Pennywise – once and for all.
The Drive to Survive. As mentioned earlier, children are great survivors! We see that demonstrated very well in this story. These seven misfits, through all their troubles, heartache, and fear, don’t give up easily. They are determined to defeat this evil that plagues them. Interestingly enough, to defeat Pennywise the Clown is to defeat their own fears and demons.
The story of an addict is often a story of survival. They have been at war for so long that they have a very hard time conceptualizing that the war is over; and now it is time to heal and live. But, how does someone function in a worn-torn world as a civilian when they spent most of their life as a soldier? There is something to be admired about their grit and determination, but their darkest and most difficult battle is yet to come – the battle that ends the war.
The Desire to Live. The second part of this motion picture has not been made, or, at least, released to the big screen yet. But, if the writers and directors continue to follow the original storyline, then these seven friends will return to Derry, Maine, once again, 27 years later. You guessed it! Pennywise is NOT dead! They merely drove him back into his lair, but they did not destroy him; and now HE’S BACK! In the second half of this story, these seven friends, now middle-aged adults, want to be rid of this evil once and for all so they can LIVE THEIR LIVES! This will require them to venture into the darkness in which IT lives and fight him on his turf, in his true form, one LAST time!
The second part of an addict’s story is recovery. The second act of their journey often begins when they step foot in my office. They have realized that through all their efforts, they have not defeated the evil that lurks in the darkness, but have merely crippled it…..but only for a while. Eventually the darkness comes back with a vengeance! And with a strength and ferocity that they have not seen before. This is when they realize that it is time to be DONE WITH IT once and for all! It is time to venture into the darkness and face the terror that has plagued them for years. It is time to heal from the wounds of life and take back their soul that they so long ago sold to the Devil of Addiction as a means of survival. And so their story of recovery begins.
Wow!! I get chills thinking about this! It’s odd to me that a horror film gives me chills in this way. If you have a heart for recovery and you happen to go see this movie (or read the book), then I hope you will spend some time thinking on some of these concepts. I look forward to watching it again; and I can’t wait for the second half to be released.
Whether you have seen this movie or not, if you are struggling with addiction of any kind, then I urge you to begin your battle to end the war. Start recovery today! Feel free to contact me or my colleagues if you need some guidance on getting that ball rolling. Blessings to you all.
Interesting! I’m still going to pass on the movie, but I appreciate your depiction of the story in connection with addiction. This gives me another tool for communicating about addiction both to addicts and nonaddicts.
Sex addiction is highly stigmatized and judged, got both addicts and therapists, it seems, so it’s always good to see thoughtful people working in this field.
Thanks for your kind words and encouragement. ~ Josh N.