Hi, I’m Troy. I’m adopted.
That was how I introduced myself when I was a kid. I was adopted at five days old in a closed adoption. Growing up, I never knew who my biological parents were. My parents told me from as young as I can remember that I was adopted. They told me that Adoption means “Special Love.”
My parents loved me. The problem was, they had a hard time loving themselves. Growing up, there was a lot of domestic violence taking place in our home. My earliest memories are of me hiding under a kitchen table, screaming and terrified as my father was throwing my mother across the room.
My father took his anger out on my mom. My mom took her fear and frustration out on me and my siblings. It was a cycle that occurs in families all over the globe. Needless to say, my home did not feel safe. Yes, there were many times where I felt loved. My parents made sure that we had a roof over our heads, food to eat, and clothes on our backs. There were times that we snuggled and cuddled and giggled together. But talking about what we were feeling inside — being vulnerable with each other — that was not something that my family did. At. All.
As I grew up, I felt different than many of the boys. I wasn’t good at sports. I hated sports. My father and grandfather loved hunting and fishing. I couldn’t think of an activity that was more boring. I liked drawing, building tree houses, and sliding down the mossy gutter in the summertime.
When I got into middle school and forced to be in gym class, it became clear to all the other boys who the non-athlete was. Soon the bullying began. I was called hurtful names, beaten up in the locker room and on the way home, and stalked by older kids. (I found out later that my younger brother would beat kids up who were bullying me). Because home was not a safe place to discuss these issues, I kept it a secret. In the process, a negative core belief began to be tattooed on my heart — there is something wrong with me.
When I was 14, a friend of mine introduced me to Masturbation. He told me about it, but also begged me not to try it because I wouldn’t be able to stop. I went home that night and tried it. He was right. I couldn’t stop. Soon I was doing it compulsively every night. I felt enormous shame about it. I promised myself every night that that would be the last time. It never was.
The tattoo was retattooed — there really is something wrong with me.
As I entered into my twenties, the internet had been invented. I am not sure how I figured it out but within three months of having a computer, I discovered porn. My compulsive behaviors amped up excessively. It wasn’t the first time that I saw porn.
The first time I was exposed to porn was when I was 5-years-old. The images I saw are still burned into my brain. I didn’t have the mental or emotional capacity to process what I saw. I saw the porn openly displayed in a man’s office with whom my father was doing business. On the way home, there was no discussion about what I saw. The silence only reinforced the message that we don’t talk about things like that.
I got married. I didn’t disclose to my wife that I had these issues. I honestly thought that they would go away after we were married. They did not.
At the same time, I started going to college. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I dreamed of going to Broadway as an actor, but with the negative core belief I was carrying around that there was something wrong with me, I didn’t even believe that I had a chance.
I stumbled into a Social Work 101 class as part of my general instruction requirements. The professor described working with troubled teens, broken families, and helping people find hope. I immediately knew that that was what I wanted to be. I declared my major in Social Work. I loved my professors. I loved what I was learning.
On one specific day one of my professors declared that if we wanted to be amazing social workers, we needed to go to therapy and do our own work. I thought she must be joking. First, I was in denial that I had any issues and secondly, why would I want to go tell a stranger about what I was struggling with? We don’t talk about those things in my family. We try to pretend that they don’t exist and just pray hard in hopes it will go away. So, I dismissed her advice.
I graduated with my Bachelor's degree and immediately pursued my Masters in Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh. I was assigned to work that the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in one of their outpatient offices for my internship. It was the first time that I had met anyone who struggled with addiction. I met people addicted to heroin, cocaine, alcohol, and prescription drugs. At first, I didn’t think that I would be able to relate to them. I had never done drugs or drank alcohol even once. I was even fearful that they wouldn’t let me help them because “I didn’t understand what it was like to be an addict.”
But, the more they talked and shared their stories; the more I learned about the addiction cycle, the more my eyes were opened and I started to see that although I was not ingesting chemicals into my body, I was just as addicted as they were.
In hopeless desperation, I reached out to my church leader, who I soon learned was in recovery from alcohol addiction. He recognized the pattern of addiction and reiterated the message that my professor had shared only a year before — go to counseling. Talk to someone.
And so I did. I only met with her for a few sessions. It was the first time in my life that I started to be honest about my story. We moved from Pittsburgh to Yuma shortly thereafter and the counseling stopped. Ironically, I moved to Yuma to be a therapist.
As I was counseling children and teenagers, my issues continued to rage within me. I struggled with boundaries. I couldn’t stop thinking of the kids I was seeing whose lives mimicked my childhood in so many ways. It affected the way I worked with them. It affected me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I continued to keep secrets from my wife and my compulsive behaviors even as I repeatedly promised myself that I would stop.
For many reasons, I finally left that job and got a job as a Medical Social Worker at the local hospital. I finally started to get a handle on my addictive behaviors, but as I stopped numbing the underlying pain, a new phenomenon showed up. I became angry. I was cruel and judgemental, especially to my wife. I would hate myself for how I was behaving and the message on my heart was retattooed again — THERE IS REALLY, REALLY SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME!
I was lost. I was depressed. I was even suicidal. I was terrified that my marriage was going to end. I was backed up into a wall. Something had to change or I was going to be dead.
I found a therapist who was willing to do phone sessions with me because I couldn’t find a counselor locally with whom I felt comfortable. And we began to explore what was at the root of all of this. Her compassionate understanding opened a new pathway for me.
I started attending retreats, reading book after book after book, and going to numerous trainings and I started to experience some healing. It drove me to better understand what was going on with me. I needed freedom from my compulsive behavior. I wanted happiness in my marriage for me and my wife. I wanted to believe that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. I wanted to Find Peace.
As amazing as my therapist was, I felt like I wasn’t healing fast enough. I felt like the therapy was incredibly slow and I was not getting the results I needed. My anger continued to get out of control. My wife and I had children. I found myself losing my temper with them over the stupidest things. I hated the way I was treating my children and my wife. The tattoo just got bigger! I had to change something.
I did work with several other therapists. Each provided new tools and resources to help me in my healing process. But something was still not clicking. Finally, one of the therapists introduced me to the work of Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy and the concepts from attachment theory.
Attachment theory teaches that when we are connected and feel safe with others, we thrive better in our world. But when attachments are broken or weak, we will struggle. The more that I pondered this theory, I began to understand that my attachments were broken. From the moment I was born and whisked away from my birth mother, my first attachment wound was created.
Researchers and therapists call this trauma and it is. But I needed to understand it better. Painful experiences that create emotional wounds — wounds that although unseen and invisible are as real and painful as a broken femur (or worse. I called them attachment wounds — loss, abandonment, rejection, betrayal, neglect, and abuse. I started to recognize that I had been carrying these wounds of abandonment, rejection, and abuse with me throughout my life. And because the wounds had not been treated, they still caused incredible pain. I was using numbing strategies — unhealthy numbing strategies- to cope. And my life was falling apart as a result.
I began to see a pattern that occurs when the wounds are rubbed raw or bumped. In the process, I also discovered that there was a way to begin healing the wounds. I found a way to disrupt the patterns and do laser removal of the negative core beliefs connected to the attachment wounds. I noticed that I started to like myself more. My anger was going down. My compulsive behaviors were stopping too!
I began sharing these concepts and ideas with fellow therapists and friends. Every one of them responded with, “That makes so much sense.” I began to see how this pattern applies to addiction recovery, repairing relationships, and overcoming symptoms of depression and anxiety.
I decided that it was time to leave the hospital and start my own practice so that I could share this new way of understanding with others. I walked away from a very good job that I loved unsure of whether I was making the right decision. At the same time, there was a pounding in my chest that demanded that I start sharing this with others. As I did so, people began asking where they could learn more about these attachment wounds and how to heal them. I recommended various authors, but none of them were talking about attachment wounds or the pattern I had uncovered.
After numerous requests, I finally wrote the workbook, Finding Peace. In the process of teaching this model and using the principles in my own life, things began to transform. I became happier. My anger transformed into compassion. My relationship with my wife began to improve. My relationship with my children became more positive. I started loving myself in a way I had never experienced before.
I began to make friends again too. I didn’t feel so isolated or lonely. I began sharing my story of recovery. I noticed that the tattoo on my heart was fading. As I continued using this process in my own life and teaching it to hundreds of other people over the past ten years, I have watched miracles happen — both in my life and in the lives of the people with whom I work.
It has become my passion to help others Find Peace in their lives. To make peace with their past, find joy in the present, and experience hope for the future.