Arrested Development

According to Psychology TodayCollins English Dictionary and Emotional Intelligence Training, the term arrested development refers to the stoppage of physical development, emotional development or mental development before reaching adulthood. This abnormal condition results with someone being stuck in a certain emotional or mental level of development, and can be the reason why some adults act like children emotionally or mentally. In the field of medicine, this is considered a developmental disorder that may result in a lack of intelligence or decreased mental status. This plateau of development can be the result of trauma or neglect and can be a form of mental disorder consisting of severe mental impairment, usually caused by an abnormal state in  adolescence. When people are subjected to trauma as kids or young adults, this can cause the abnormalcy and onset of arrested development in their psychological development, causing delays among peers and sometimes an infantile fixation. Symptoms may include regression, being stuck at a certain developmental stage, and more.

There is a saying in the rehab profession that clients stop their psychosocial development when they become addicted to alcohol or other drugs. There is definitely some truth to the saying. Think about it. Once addiction captures your brain your focus of attention shifts from learning about yourself, others, and the world to scoring, using, and recovering from the use of substances. You are so engaged in repetitive behaviors related to drugs that you have little motivation or opportunity to take on and try out new behaviors in the way that most adolescents do. Instead of investing your energy into growing the skill set you need to succeed in school, dating, and career development you remain stuck in the simple pattern of obtain, consume, obtain, and consume some more drugs. (Harvey Hyman, LPCC Sacramento, California)

So yeah, that just about sums it up. It just about sums me up. I know that I have fucked up. I know that I have failed over and over again throughout my life. I am not all that convinced that I wont ever fuck up again, but I am certain that I will never give up. I am certain that I will never stop my journey of healing, self discovery, and learning.

I know that it might be easy to judge addicts/alcoholics and those of us with mental health issues. I know how easy it can be to judge damn near anyone who is different from us, especially when it takes the focus off of ourselves. Empathy and understanding are incredibly special values to behold, and they are very difficult to keep in practice in this world today as life happens to all of us and can leave us cold and calloused. Our societies today have a sympathy and empathy deficit, this much I know. Mercy for me and justice for you has been a repetitive theme among many a community for far too long.

The reason why I am writing this entry today is to try and illustrate something that I have been thinking about today.

First of all, I want you to think about your life. I am sure for the most part it was rather normal. You probably and hopefully didn’t suffer too many serious traumas in your life, especially you “normies” out there. I would assume that your childhood was for the most part healthy, no significant trauma, you went to school, did your best, felt nurtured and loved, were provided for, did the best you could in school, learned life lessons from rather well adjusted adults, and went on to college or trade schools and on to adulthood. You had little to no disruption in your environment or in your mental status. As a result of this, you cope well, you handle adversity, you have solid verbal, processing, communication, and relational skills etc.

Now, lets say that you were born with chemicals in your system, which automatically sets you back developmentally. From here, your child hood was a series of trauma and neglect. You had zero healthy and well rounded adults around you to care for you, guide you, nurture you, and help you develop emotionally or mentally. As a result of this neglect and trauma, your brain suffered a series of changes on a very deep level as you learned on your own make shift and unhealthy coping strategies. Things like disassociation, fawning, people pleasing, etc. As a result of things that you endured at zero fault of your own, your body adapted to the negative stimuli it was being fed on a regular basis leaving you in a state of emotional and nervous system dysregulation. Each and every trauma you suffered, made unnoticed changes to your brains chemistry, and arrested development began taking hold. Instead of learning about relationships, being demonstrated trust, learning how to handle and cope with life, communication skills, homework, friendship, patience, understanding, etc. Your mind was reacting to what was going on around it and you were learning how to survive. You lived 100% on edge all the time. Surviving trauma is kind of like surviving a hostage camp I can imagine, or surviving the battle grounds of a major war. It changes you. And lets say, when all of the chaos finally settled down, you were 18 years old and you had zero direction in life and no one to turn to so you started using drugs. As a result of the drug use, more arrested development occurred, further and further blunting the growth of your already shriveled and diminished brain. And you do not end up getting clean until you are around thirty years old.

I was once told by a highly touted therapist here in my part of the world that “The age we start using drugs at, is the age we technically are when we get clean.” I can imagine that this is doubly true if it was extensive and complex trauma that led us to using chemicals to begin with. The person in our examples here, could essentially have the emotional maturity and psychological development that would parallel most 12 year old kids, at 30.

And so what happens when we finally end up getting clean, is now our brains are fully reliant upon adolescent thinking at such an advanced age. This is not going to work out well for us, as we still see the world through the very lens that led us to using to begin with. I suppose it would be as though all of our peers took a trip in a time machine, leaving us behind and we emerge years later to meet them as our 18 year old traumatized selves. We would have a lot of catching up to do, not only professionally and socially, but mentally and emotionally. We would be experiencing our “Mental Growth Spurts” at a time in our lives when most our age are planning for retirement. So then we are double tasked with not only trying to play catch up, but stay sober, develop, learn, and grow; all the while trying to navigate life with a very poorly developed mind. This is the battle for those of us with PTSD, and substance use disorders. It is not an excuse, but I believe does provide some valid reasons as to why we shouldn’t be judging someone who struggles with addiction.

I mean think about it, healthy and well rounded, well adjusted, and well nurtured humans do not typically go on to use needles, or drink themselves to death. Something happened in their lives that was so horrible, that turning to such a dangerous life style actually seemed like a way out. experiencing life this way is purely tragic. I know from experience. So think about this the next time you interact with someone who is new to recovery, starting over, or who battles mental health issues. This person was once a small child, and someone left them to fend for themselves, neglected them so badly, or hurt them so deeply, that it actually altered the trajectory of their entire life. The addicts that I know, those of us who suffer from mental health issues are typically the most kind hearted, loving and peace loving people I have ever know, but they have just never been given the time or the patience to be shown what love, trust, friendship, loyalty, follow through, kindness, truth, honor, or faithfulness are all about. Many of us had our innocence taken away from us at a very early age, and literally had no self worth, identity, self respect, or self esteem when life showed up for us. So we did what we had learned to do the whole time, we numbed, we escaped, we disassociated.

If you know and/or love someone who struggles with mental health and addiction issues, do me and them a favor and give them a call. Let them know that you love them and that you know how hard this thing called life can be sometimes, and that you are always there as a healthy outlet for them. Let them know that they matter and that you see them, let them know that you understand how hard they are fighting and that you believe in them. I promise you it will mean more to them than I can say. It may even save someone’s life.

One of the most powerful things we can ever experience, is life through the eyes of another.


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