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Overcoming Trauma: Lessons from the Football Field
I have written before about my view that emphasizing trauma is counterproductive. Everybody has had trauma, and to focus on its role in your life is to hinder you going forward.
This is especially true with addiction.
The problem is when people continually recreate current versions of their earlier trauma. Being trapped in a dysfunctional cycle is the definition of addiction. So, the goal for me in treatment is to enable people to learn to overcome problems in order to escape this cycle.
In viewing how people confront the downsides in life, I find that people with addictions are more likely to panic, to throw up their hands, and to run in fright.
I like to focus with clients on examples of people who function particularly well under stress. These people often turn such events to their advantage.-Stanton Peele
I like to focus with clients on examples of people who function particularly well under stress. These people often turn such events to their advantage. They pride themselves at – their self-image is built on – being able to “take a licking and keep on ticking.” (Sorry, that’s an old wristwatch ad.)
And, so, I turn to last weekend’s New England Patriots/Baltimore Ravens football game, in which 37-year-old veteran Tom Brady led the Pats to a come-from-behind victory. Indeed, the game stands as a model of “come-from-behind.” For the first time, a team twice erased a 14-point lead in a playoff game.
I’d like to offer you some inner glimpses into the minds behind the Patriots’ victory – and especially Tom Brady’s, perhaps the greatest quarterback ever to play the game. But in this game, after falling behind 14-0, then tying the game, as New England surged towards a lead, Brady threw an interception.
All interceptions are discouraging. But after catching up to the Ravens, to give them back the lead (they scored after the interception), one thrown directly to a defender when the intended receiver was standing, unimpeded, behind the interceptor, was particularly bad.
Brady, visibly upset, held his head in his hands on the bench after leaving the field. “It was just a terrible play by me,” he said. Then, after the Ravens scored two more touchdowns, the Patriots scored two of their own, and then another one, the winning score.
Here are quotes from two of Brady’s receivers, and from a Patriots defender, and then a quote from the opposing quarterback, to accentuate the emotional components of the game.
During their second comeback, the Patriots pulled off a trick play, where Brady lateralled to a player, Julian Edelman, now a wide receiver for the Pats, but who was a quarterback in college. Edelman then threw a TD pass to Danny Amendola. (Notice the ethnic diversity among these highly attuned players!)
Edelman spoke about Brady’s role in his throwing his first pass in a NFL game:
Tom was just Tom. He’s kind of cool, calm, collected, and it’s ‘All right guys, let’s go.’ We didn’t talk about anything but the play. If there’s a reminder, he’s always on top of that to help a guy out. You don’t want to say you expect that, but it’s Tom Brady.-Julian Edelman
Later, Brandon LeFell caught the Patriots’ final, winning touchdown pass thrown by Brady, while brushing off the hands of the defender guarding him. LeFell’s description of Brady’s demeanor:
It felt like a long day in practice: Everybody is tired, everybody is complaining, and you look at Tom, and he’s just calm. He’s putting us in the right plays, and he’s just going out there spreading the ball around. When you look that calm, and he’s just smooth out there, it calms you down and gives you confidence to make plays.-Brandon LeFell
There were quite a few down moments for the Patriots in this see-saw battle, including two penalties called on a defender noted for avoiding such penalties, Darrelle Revis. One permitted a touchdown (an interference call), and the other called back a play where the Patriots had retrieved a fumble near the Ravens’ goal line—instead, the Ravens marched up field to the Patriots’ goal line. About the interference call, Revis said:
I don’t care. I’m playing aggressive. I’m not complaining. If I get a pass interference, it is what it is. If any of us do, there’s a lot of football to play. We’ve got to focus on the next play.-Darrelle Revis
And this is my message for people with addictions.
(Actually, it’s my ex-wife’s summary to our son in an e-mail she sent us both):
You have to keep your head, be functional on the field and in life, even when the going gets tough. And no use wasting energy and time complaining. Figure it out, make your best play, keep your chin up, and move on.
Or, as Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco put it, somewhat less dramatically: “We had two separate 14-point leads. Those guys did a good job getting it back as quickly as they could. They don’t panic.”
Not that football players follow these directions in their own lives all the time, on field as well as off. But it IS the way to avoid addiction.
Related Reading: How Useful is Trauma as a Therapy Tool?
Tom Brady photo and player quotes via ESPN