Today’s article is a little outside the box, but it should be fairly topical for those who had a chance to binge on the second season of Daredevil this weekend. This season of the popular Netflix series introduces a Marvel character by the name of Frank Castle, better known as the Punisher. He represents a lot of things that we’ve talked about in previous articles: anger, depression, harboring resentments, the need to ask for help, etc. He’s a guy who would greatly benefit from taking Step Two and Step Three. But he also represents something else we talk about in sobriety—the concept of mental obsession.
Mental obsession and physical cravings are known to those who have read Alcoholics Anonymous. They are outlined in a chapter called “The Doctor’s Opinion” and are deemed to be essential components of the disease model that has come to so greatly define our understanding of alcoholism and addiction. Mental obsession is particularly dangerous, as it can creep up just about any time. After the detoxification process has run its course, our physical cravings should be pretty much gone. But mental obsession can pop up pretty much any time we encounter a trigger—and we don’t always know what our triggers are.
To understand how the Punisher represents mental obsession as described above, you must first know a little bit about the character. We’ll begin with his background and how he is portrayed, and then we will move on to how he represents the concept of mental obsession as we understand it. We will then enter into a brief discussion on how we can use the story of Frank Castle to better our understanding of the inner workings of our own mind in order to combat mental obsession before it leads to relapse.
The Punisher and His Own Mental Obsession
Before Frank Castle became the Punisher, he trained with the marines and proved himself to be highly skilled in both long-range and close-quarters combat. In Daredevil, we learn that he once cleared out a landing zone full of enemy soldiers without help from his fellow men. But after he returned home, his wife and two children were caught in the middle of a mob battle in Central Park. This created Castle’s mental obsession, driving him to wipe out the criminal element in the most violent way possible.
This is pretty much his story in the comics, but Season 2 of Daredevil brings mental obsession to new heights. The Punisher is shot in the head in the same incident that leaves his family dead, and he suffers brain damage that causes him to relive this moment on a constant loop. With every breath he draws, he is constantly reminded of that tragic and fateful day on which he held his young daughter in his arms for the last time.
It’s a bit like post-traumatic stress disorder. And before you think Marvel invented Castle’s brain damage just to make the Punisher a more interesting character, you should know that his condition most definitely exists in the real world—in a sense, at least. Known as extreme emotional disturbance, or EED, it is not necessarily known as a mental condition but is rather primarily associated with the legal defense often attached to it. The Punisher is charged with 37 accounts of murder in Daredevil, but a successful EED defense would have lowered these charges to manslaughter. In other words, mental obsession is such a powerful ailment that it almost justifies the taking of a life in the eyes of the New York justice system.
We are not saying that your mental obsession should justify a reckless lack of inhibitions. We are merely pointing out that there exists a precedent to believe that mental obsession can absolutely sever the ties between our rational side and the part of us that fails to comprehend the difference between right and wrong. Real men with mental obsessions like that of the Punisher are not superheroes. They are the people who open fire on schools, churches, and other respectable institutions. But on a lesser scale, they are also the men and women who simply do not know when or even how to stop abusing illicit substances.
How Frank Castle Represents Our Addictions
The ties between the Punisher as described above and the everyday addict or alcoholic go far beyond the sheer existence of mental obsession. They actually tie into some of the specific details of Castle’s origin story. For instance, many men and women fall into addiction because they have trouble accepting a loss they have suffered. Addiction fuels their denial, convincing them that their lives are under control when all evidence points to the contrary.
Sometimes, addiction is an example of bargaining, the feeling that we can overcome our emotions through substance use. The Punisher’s bargain is that, while he knows he cannot get his family back, he can at least save other innocents from being lost. Our bargain is also rather on the grim side, a belief that we will somehow balance the scales of our loss by giving up our own lives through long-term poisoning by drug and alcohol abuse. Maybe we haven’t lost anyone, but we are simply afraid of failure in one or more aspects of our lives. We convince ourselves that it is better to fail by our own volition than to try and discover that we simply weren’t good enough.
Much like Castle, we know intuitively that these bargains will not work in our favor. But they become a part of our mental obsession, an idea that we cannot give up because reality feels too harsh. This is even true of those who fall into mental obsession after coming across their drink or drug of choice. We convince ourselves that it doesn’t matter if we relapse, perhaps that it is even good for us somehow. These thoughts become overwhelming, and they build toward an emotional disturbance until all notion of relapse prevention has gone right out the window.
The Punisher also speaks to his religious views in this season of Daredevil. Simply put, he doesn’t have any. He did once, long ago. But he has come to believe that hope exists in the same realm as Santa Claus. This is a man to whom faith is a four-letter word (and he even uses one when faith is brought up in conversation). All he cares about is wrath, seeking revenge on the man who began the mob war that killed his family. And much like the addict, who so tragically fights his or her own war against deadly and uncontrollable urges to do wrong, he does not care if he becomes a casualty of the war zone that he has created within his own mind.
Learning Not to Punish Ourselves Anymore
If we are to avoid becoming casualties of our own mental obsession, we must learn how to fight this war on the right front. And for many, it will be a fight. We must learn when to ask for help, rather than attempting to become a one-person army and fight our inner urges through self-will alone. We need sponsors, friends, family, an entire support network of soldiers to stand at our side and help us stave off the most cunning, baffling, and powerful foe that we have ever faced.
These people will become our heroes. When we feel the shadow of mental obsession begin to creep in and consume us, all we have to do is pick up the phone. Perhaps they cannot rush to our side, but they can keep us occupied until the obsession has passed. And it will pass, but only if we let it. Prayer and meditation can help. But talking is great, because it gives us a chance to stop holding things in. If we keep our mental obsession a secret, it will build up until we cannot control it. But when we treat it with acceptance and admit its existence to another, we will often be astonished by how quickly we are able to let it go.
The Punisher is in many ways unable to let go of his mental obsession, at least according to his EED defense; however, Daredevil also shows that he chooses this obsession to some extent. He is constantly reminding himself that he was present for the death of his family. He beats himself up with the notion that he could have—should have—prevented it somehow. When we do the same thing, convincing ourselves that we are failures as human beings simply because we suffer from addiction, we are writing a self-fulfilling prophecy. We cannot fight the urge to relapse when we are convinced that we are good for nothing else.
Daredevil may be an unrealistic superhero series, but that doesn’t mean its characters cannot teach us anything about ourselves. The Punisher was likely not meant to be an analog for alcoholism and addiction, but that is precisely what his mental obsession has made of him. Once we realize this, we can begin to learn from his character before we find ourselves going down a dark path of self-loathing and self-defeat. You have the choice of walking a different path by following the light of your fellow soldiers in the war against addiction and obsession. Make that choice today, before you wind up punishing your last victim—yourself.