Eddie and the Buddha featuring Edward T. Lacy (interviewed by Ryan Soave, APN Lodge’s Director of Program Development)
Edward Lacy: Hi, good afternoon. I’m Ed Lacy. I’m an international addictions and trauma specialist. I’ve been in the field around 36 years. I have been honored to participate in some places like in Vietnam and Mexico and building treatment centers that are here in the States. So, I’ve spent many years in them – initially as a clinician, working in the clinical side of the house, and then I moved to the business side. In the last couple of years, I’ve just been able to support people and support investors who have been really dedicated to building something to really help and cause change. I’ve invested myself, personally, in whatever their project seemed to be that I really can believe in. It’s a pleasure.
Ryan Soave: I mean, that’s great. Thank you for being here. I would imagine, being in the field of addictions and trauma for 36 years, it wasn’t always trauma in the beginning. I’d love to hear a little bit about where it was then and where you’ve seen it come around – how we relate trauma to addiction or trauma in general.
Edward Lacy: Sure, sure. Let me just throw in that I started this thing off as a marine serving in Vietnam. So, trauma is dear to my heart. It came out of Vietnam, and they didn’t really see it. Nobody ever talked about it. I was a welcome guest to the bottle of alcohol, and that’s how I took care of it (unbeknownst to me, but that’s how I took care of it.)
I struggled in a couple of their treatment facilities. I just didn’t get it, truthfully. And I finally got sober almost 40 years ago and did relatively well professionally and in life. Around the 25 year mark of sobriety, this PTSD and trauma began creeping out, and I didn’t see it. I had to ask for help.
So, when I started working in the field, we never talked about it, ever. It never came out. You may have talked about people who could have been identified as sexually abused, and it usually stayed in that realm. We work strictly in using… I did a lot of work under Irvin Yalom about the aims and purposes of group psychotherapy. These were great strategies, but I’ve come to learn it’s more of a surface strategy. Although I was training therapists for years and even though the book was talking about the causes and conditions, but it never really got down there. I’ll say this, the majority of our patients and clients were walking out, and from what I know today – not from what I knew then, but from what I know today – our patients were walking out, and they hadn’t gotten a hundred percent of the deal.
So, I’ve dedicated myself in the last few years to making sure that whenever I had the opportunity to open up a treatment facility or work with clients, that I really get to take a look at that and just stop and really work there. I’ve seen people begin to recreate themselves.
I think we used to be taught about getting rid of the trauma, getting it out of our system. I’m personally not a believer in that way of doing it. I think that the trauma is, in some sense, cellular in that dynamic. However, the shift of my relationship with the trauma is what brought me freedom.
So, that’s how I’ve been empowered now, as I called it, Buddha. Eddie and the Buddha. Eddie and the Buddha came through because of the four noble truths. Even the Buddha talked about how you have to get raw to begin to do that work and accept A. It’s a habit. B. I’m responsible for it getting worse if I don’t do something about it now. That’s the rawness, that acceptance.
Then we walk on about a path, and we can really begin to do the work in life and see life differently. So, when I was asked about the theme of why I was going to give this talk, I have a 900-pound Buddha in my home. I swear, I think some people think I bought a home, and it had a Buddha. I think, I bought a Buddha, and it had a home because he’s right in these foyers as you walk in, and I knew that’s where I was going to live. And that really began to change my process. So it’s Eddie and the Buddha.
Ryan Soave: That’s really great. You know when I was a young clinician, I was fortunate – I’ll say fortunate but what I’m going to say after that doesn’t sound fortunate for the people – but I was fortunate enough I think, to hear at least three to five men in a year period who were successful, had families and money, and were sober 20 to 25 years on the phone in a conversation with me saying, “Ryan, I’m either going to drink or I’m going to kill myself, and I don’t know what to do.” I say I’m fortunate because it allowed me to really see what can happen if you don’t address those underlying things. These guys were able to handle the symptoms for a long time, and all of them had never really addressed what was underneath. And when they did, it wasn’t much. It didn’t take as much as they thought, but they were able to achieve a new freedom, that real new freedom and a new happiness.
I think that if I can ever impart one message to my clients, it’s that we can’t change the trauma. It happened. It’s there. The events are done. We can, like you said, change our relationship with it and move our history from being a liability that drives us to an asset that informs us. And it becomes something that’s valuable to us. You can’t do that on day one. You don’t just try to get people to think positive. They’ve got to go down into the muck and mire of it and be able to move through it. Those noble truths, that all life is suffering and we suffer because of our desires. And often at desire is, “I don’t want to feel the way that I’m feeling” or “I want to feel the way that I used to feel,” and it just pulls us out of that presence.
I think the problem, and maybe you can tell me if it’s the problem, is us going into survival mode when we don’t need to be in survival mode – an appropriate response at an inappropriate time. And when we can really be with our folks and be present with them, we can help them see that you can create enough space to just not make that choice that’s going to hurt you or somebody else.
If you could see the field of trauma work go anywhere, where would you like to see it go?
Edward Lacy: Let me preface by one thing, I need to put this part in there too because we’ve been talking here and using masculine terminologies. I use PTSD and combat and everything, and part of my task has been working with other clients. I had a group of women come up to me after talking once, two or four years ago, and every one of them said about the same thing.
They were in a single line coming up to thank me. In this line, there were three or four, and they each said, “Well, you know, I was never in combat, I was just sexually abused.” I said, “Stand aside please. Right here.” It happened three or four times, and I had this honor afterward. We went and found a corner quiet corner. We sat and talked about how there’s no difference between my trauma and their trauma. It’s trauma. And we sit there and degrade ourselves based on my story or your story. I think sometimes, as you were just asking about, we have to get therapists and educators in on this – to begin to really talk as you did about it. It’s cellular level. We have to get the new clinicians to begin to understand what that really means. I think that’s where the educators can come in.
And I would like to see in some way, instead of doing like the addiction above trauma is to do something like this. I got to watch this. I want to keep them alive while I’m doing it, but do you see what I’m saying? If we can do that kind of work, I think about the level of freedom that our clients will have as they walk out that door and go into another phase because it’s in phases. As you mentioned, I can’t do this overnight. I’ve got to be building that trust with that right person to be able then to do the work. It’s so important.
In the field, I believe, you’re beginning to hear the word “trauma” a lot. I think that’s bad because I don’t truthfully believe there are that many people out there who knowingly know exactly what they’re doing in dealing with trauma. Still, it’s become a theme; whether it’s an insurance theme or some other way of acknowledging it, I’m not quite sure. But I just want to shy back from that because I understand the depth of it, both now professionally and personally, to know the quality of work that we now are getting tasked to do so we can help men and women who suffer from it.
I like what you also said earlier. I have a friend of mine, a Navy captain, 6’5″, coal-black hair and not one hair out of place. He was a top gun all the way. He flew the OV-10 for a long time in Vietnam. He hated to fly, hated flying, hated it. And his anger around his father when he was coming out as he was pulling the trigger on that OV-10. He carried that and carried that with him. He finally, after his retirement, went and got help. Medals to here. Were the medals because of the exerted effort he had to do to control the trauma or was just a great combatant? Since I know him personally, no. That’s how he took care of the trauma. And he is the kind who would be a top gun. If he walked in here right now, you’d see him and say, “Oh my God. This is him, the real one.”
Ryan Soave: A couple things you said in that example. I have to be careful sometimes how I say this because I don’t want to diminish anybody’s experience or painful experiences in life. But if it’s about the relationship with the trauma then it’s not really about the trauma. Now we need to work with the events to help lessen some symptoms you may have because of things you experienced in combat and all of that. But everybody that I’ve worked with they say, that’s kind of the annoying stuff. That’s the stuff that has other stuff underneath it, right? The relationship part started before the trauma happened.
How was I shaped in such a way that I’m reacting to this event in the way that I am for the period of time that I am? Of course, anybody in combat will have some sort of experience. Anybody that’s abused will have some sort of negative experience, but when it’s lasting longer and it’s being triggered in a way that it’s like it’s happening now, that’s where it’s problematic. Different people react to the same thing differently. It has to be looked at, and the relationship in how we relate to life started before that. What are the other things that have filled the bucket?
I mean, that story of your friend is a perfect example and another example of how that shaping also made him good at surviving something. But then it sounds like he was still fighting it after the battle was over, right? He wasn’t even fighting the battle that he was fighting when he was fighting it. So that awareness and trying to at least show people that is crucial.
I agree with you about the word “trauma.” Sometimes it means we mention it. Sometimes it means there’s one group. Sometimes it means we send you to talk to somebody else. And that’s doing a disservice. I really like to look at and try to broaden that definition and even work with people on it just being how you were shaped in your formative years. We call them formative years for a reason. We’re formed then in the brain, and so, I think what you’ve said is really powerful.
Edward Lacy: I heard this, but I like the way it was put out there. It’s the wagon wheel that gets stuck in the mud, and it keeps going around, and it makes a groove deeper and deeper and deeper. I look at that systemically. It’s in us deeper, and it’s in the changing of the brain and the functioning of the brain because the grooves are set. Now, the work is to go identify that. “It’s not against me; it’s just a part of who I am.” With work, we know we can change the brain. We know that. And we get to be able to take a look at those grooves and how they’ve affected us in relationships or how they’ve affected us in the mirror, how they’ve affected us flying in OV-10, and how they affected in a combat situation.
I mean, I have never seen a picture of me in Vietnam without a smile. How in the hell can that be? I have them around my office just so I can go, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” The bombs were going off and we would run into the bunkers and fly into to the bunkers in the mud and then laugh our rear ends off in there. I was 19 years old, but I had been groomed in a family system that was extremely rigid, so I was at peace. I carried that in back in out of Vietnam, and it didn’t work out here. You know?
Ryan Soave: I have one last question. If you had an audience of every person in the world that was struggling with some trauma, whether they know it or not, but they know that they’re in pain, and you could say one thing to them, what would it be?
Edward Lacy: Well, you’ve got my stuff going now. I’d just have to share my relationship with it and how I could walk through it, using my sense of self to try to convey to them to trust me and just walk this walk, as you and I have just talked about, to take a look at the impact that – whatever they say whatever you want to call it – the trauma in our lives has had on us. I’d have to get them to trust me that the walk is extensive, but they’ll be surrounded in safety. Safety is so important. They’ll be surrounded by trained clinicians, people who really genuinely care about them, using different modalities to help them discover more about the impact of that trauma in their life and learn how to live with it honorably. Honorably. For the women, I use the word with dignity. That’s what I would try to do – Eddie and the Buddha.
Ryan Soave: Well, thank you for doing this, and I actually lied. I have one more question I have to ask you. I haven’t asked anybody that we’ve been doing this with yet, but with just two men sitting here, can I give you a hug?
Edward Lacy: Aww, you sure may.