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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Bruce's Lecture

Dissociation

One way the immaturely parented child can adapt to abuse is to fly off into fantasy so that he doesn't have to look reality in the eye. He dissociates himself from painful information because he has come to believe the falsehood his caregivers have taught him: that he is worthless. From the one-down position, he chooses to live in the shut-down world of adaptation rather than face the reality that he does deserve his place on the planet. He creates fantasies in which he has power and control. Trapped within the dysfunction of this kind of trauma, he chooses isolation, so that he is free to create his own world rather than risk contact with reality.

Even worse off than the love addict who turns a real-life lover into "a knight in shining armor," the individual suffering from trauma dissociation eschews real people and substitutes a dream world of his own making. In the world of sexual deviation, this is the realm of romance novel addicts and the fictitious re-creation of self in Internet chat rooms.

Trauma dissociation protects the traumatized individual from learning information that is too shameful for him to accept. It is a challenge to treat this particular kind of trauma because trauma dissociation is so effective. The individual creates almost impregnable compartments in which he locks away his "bad news" so that it cannot escape and damage his self-esteem. The degradation is kept separate from all other information in his life.

***

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bruce's Lecture

Shame

When pain and pleasure become fused in the furnace of profound shame, they often yield the sexual perversion of sadomasochism, which is an acting-out behavior that has at it core in shame-existence bind.

Richard von Krafft-Ebing coined the term masochism after it had become a prevalent literary motif in early nineteenth-century literature. The era was marked by a family system in which the father was often the punishing lord and master, the grandiose and severe inflicter of painful discipline. The literary work in which nineteenth-century masochism was most notoriously dramatized was non Sacher-Masoch's novel Venus in Furs (1870). Krafft-Ebing defines masochism as:

---
... a peculiar perversion of the psychical sexual life in which the individual affected, in sexual feelings and thought, is controlled by the idea of being completely and unconditionally subject to the will of a person of the opposite sex: of being treated by this person as master, humiliated and abused. This idea is colored by lustful feelings; masochist lives in fantasies, in which he creates situations of this kind and often attempts to realize them.
---

Here the individual's destructive attitude turns inward on himself instead of outward on the original abuser, often the caregiver against whom he could not retaliate when he was a child. He is involved in a perverse and self-destructive attempt to gain power and control he lacked a an abused child. By investing pain and erotic pleasure, he mocks the threats that his original painful discipline was intended to achieve, this "undoing the abuse." The masochist, by accepting self-punishment, secretly repudiates his parental abuser, because the beating/disciplines is subliminally directed at him.

These shame-based people are challenging to treat because just talking about and stirring the embers of memory is often too painful to bear, but not impossible. Some come to treatment fully aware.

They immediately experience a sense of self-loathing so intolerable that they crawl behind a wall in order to survive the unbearable feelings. Often the shame is so deep they experience what Pia Mellody calls the "shame-existence bind," wherein the person doesn't think that he or she is worthy even to take up space on the planet. He does not think that he is worthy of the act of healing. But he is wrong.

People whose shame-existence bind leads them to self-destructive, sexual acting-out behaviors are dramatic examples of how sexual deviancy seeks to 'undo' the original abuse by taking power and control. There is no better example of the operation of the furnace of  "carried shame" than that exemplified masochism. The shame the child carried for the abusive caretaker has fused so completely with his own identity that he takes revenge on himself in order to take revenge on his shamer.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Healthy Recovery

***

As Janet drives, she is struck by the transformation of the foliage as she ascends the mountainside. The desolate terrain gives way to a forest that stretches out like a multicolored carpet. When Janet turns the corner into downtown, she notices yellow and crimson leaves dancing across the street, reminding her of Midwestern autumns. She is lost in her sweet memories and emotions when she is jolted out of her reverie by a sharp cry and the abrupt curling of her husband's body in the passenger seat, as if he is blocking thing right book a prizefighter. 

Shocked and upset, she yells at him: "What's wrong with you?"
His body is now poised like an animal ready to pounce. She is both surprised and curious about his erratic behavior. 
"What's the matter?" she says impatiently. 
"There was a car pulling out, and you didn't see it," he says with agitation, his finger pointing in the direction of the parking space.
"I saw it," she snaps back, feeling attacked and defensive.
"Well, you didn't act like you saw it," he says in an accusatory tone.
"Well, I did," she says with indignation.

Janet feels insulted and dismissed. "Does he think I am incapable of driving?" she wonders from her victim stance.

Janet takes a deep breath. She wants to unleash her anger and shame on him, but instead takes another breath, attempting to calm herself. This is where the challenge lies in mature emotional connection. Despite how her partner acted or how she makes herself into a victim, Janet must choose to move beyond her primal response by interrupting the knee-jerk reaction.

Janet takes another breath, securing her containment boundary with the intention of creating emotional safety within the relationship. If she released her unbridled rage, she would experience boundary failure. She would be living in the reaction of her wounding. Instead, she chooses to collect her feelings, reactions, and thoughts.

Janet chooses to respond from a mature and emotionally centered place. She will become curious about her response, as well as her partner's. She will become clear about her own history as it relates to the present moment and will invite her partner to do the same. This is where intimacy and vulnerability begin.

Each of us is a collection of experiences that, when explained, will weave a clear path to understanding, compassion, and connection in our relationships. This conscious thought and action takes a lot of energy, awareness, and willingness. It is a practiced behavior that, with continued reinforcement, becomes more and more automatic.  

Bruce's Lecture

Numbing/Satiation

Intensity addicts commonly wind up with satiation as the counteraction to their chemical highs. Addicts live an "all or nothing" kind of life. This is certainly true for Ben, who does not know how to moderate himself, but will learn. Ben knows, now, only two ways to live: either full-out pedal-to-the-metal or completely numb.

In order to block the pain of early trauma, people like Ben stuff themselves with various substances and/like to engage in activities to the point of numbness. They are trying to obliterate shameful, painful emotions over which they have no other control. Some of these compulsively excessive behaviors are overeating, sleeping, television, shopping, reading, electronic gaming, Internet use (sometimes sexual, but not always), and using depressive drugs such as alcohol.

When Ben comes home from work, he lifts weights and runs like a demon. He lifts for at least an hour and runs and hour every day. He also practices the martial arts. It takes his mind off the intensity the experiences on his shift. But his demon workouts also maintain a sustenance level of adrenaline, endorphins, and serotonin, which sustain his high. The excessive workout routine makes him feel strong enough to protect himself in the intense and dangerous environment he has created in which he feels safe and calm. But after he works out, he uses numbing as a depressant drug.

Ben is basically creating a chemical cocktail in his brain so that he can sleep and 'relax." But, because of the high emotional and neurological levels that he has created for himself, he isn't able to come down without the aid of some satiating drug. Ben's drug is pot. For some it could be sex. He smokes a joint or two every night. Even though he is a health nut, he justifies smoking dope by saying he is not "out of control" and it helps him relax. So Ben is alternately living in two extremes: fear/danger/intensity or satiety/numbness.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Bruce's Lecture

Twelve-year-old Ben sits on the rickety steps of the back porch. The back door opens, and he hears the familiar click of high heels descending the stairs. The smell of stale perfume wafts in his nostrils, a vivid reminder of the dead-end life his road-worn mother has chosen. Lighting up a cigarette, Ben looks out over the horizon, a barren, God-forsaken place he and his mother call home.

Ben's mother Lillie, once the belle of the county, now looks as tired and worn as the planks on which Ben rests. She joins Ben on the back porch, and he offers her his cigarette as if acting on silent cue, a rehearsal they have practiced many times before. His mother's red, swollen lips take a long, slow drag, and she passes it back.

Lillie married young to a violent alcoholic who let her and her infant son less than a year into the marriage. Working two jobs, Lillie put herself through nursing school and, upon graduation, secured a position at the local hospital.

Despite Lillie's advanced academic studies, she had yet to graduate into a successful relationship. A series of alcoholic, drug-addicted men who beat her and left her yielded a cynical, jaded woman who used narcotics as the prescription to ease her broken heart. After getting hooked on and ultimately caught stealing her parents' drugs, Lillie became unemployed, with a suspended nursing license.

Desperate to survive, Lillie became a prostitute, her place of work a seedy, dilapidated building housing a dozen or so women with a steady stream of male patrons. Ben, only six at the time, became a familiar visitor, because he preferred the company of doting women to the empty, one-room apartment his mother rented down the street.

When Ben visited his mother, he was met by women in cheap polyester robes or dresses that outlined the shapes of their bosoms and exposed the secrets between their thighs. Ben was initiated into the sordid sexual hell to which his mother was condemned.

At the age of thirteen, Ben found his mother dead in their apartment, lying in a pool of her own blood. she had been shot by her drug-crazed boyfriend. Ben quickly left the back roads of Idaho, hitching rides to Los Angeles. Ben, well-trained in the power of sexual favors, did whatever he needed to get whatever he wanted.

Now a man of thirty-five, Ben is a cop in the most dangerous neighborhoods of downtown L.A.

"I crave the attention of the street," Ben says. "I feel safer there than any other place. It's what I know. It's where I feel most comfortable." His calls take him into familiar situations that reenforce the history he has endured.

"I don't feel alive unless I'm around danger."
"Is that true sexually?" I ask.
"Absolutely," he says. "I can't even get turned on unless there is some kind of risk," he explains.


Ben has become familiar with an environment in which life and death always hung in the balance. His brain's release of chemicals, such as adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin, make him feel alive.


For Ben, a moderate lifestyle is not only intolerable, but also unimaginable until recovery. His body craves a much higher level of intensity. So Ben works in the most dangerous part of the city, where each situation could mean life or death. Ben describes himself as a "pit bull," and he has won respect among his peers because of the high level intensity he can tolerate. He is a drinker with a a high tolerance for alcohol.

Ben enters these dangerous situations feeling calm and at ease. "I always feel cocksure," Ben says. "It's what I knew, and I loved it."

To relieve the stress from the chemicals he infuses into his body, Ben engages in a form of numbing or satiation that allows him to 'come down' off the high.

Healthy Recovery

When we practice controlled vulnerability, we protect our partners from the unloving or disrespectful energies that we, as perfectly imperfect human beings, have the potential to discharge. This is the job of our "containment boundary," whereby we protect our partners from ourselves. At the same time, we learn to protect ourselves from unloving or disrespectful energies targeted toward us. This is the job of our "protective boundary," whereby we protect ourselves from our partner's lack of containment.

Sex addicts have fears of abandonment and judgement. Their fears build unconscious expectations that their partners in relationships "make them feel" the way they do.  This is called "the victim stance," and it runs rampant in our culture. We habitually blame another person or situation rather than taking responsibility for the realities we choose to create. I say "choose" because our realities and reactions are products of our personal experiences. What might upset one individual could mean nothing to another. A person's response to a certain situation or other person is determined by his or her individual experience.

For example, if every time your caregiver beat you, a red light turned on, you became conditioned to respond when you saw a red light. You may break out cold sweat, your breath may become shallow, or you may panic.

Or let's say that your mother was controlling, or yelled or withheld attention when she was upset with you. You will respond within your relationships the way you responded to her. You will react to certain behavior, tone of voice. or other nuance that taps into your original wounding or trauma. This is why the implementation of boundaries -- for both partners -- becomes crucial as relationships develop.

***

Bruce's Lecutre

Intensity

The trauma-intensity pathway is formed when children are traumatized into associating intensity with pleasure. As adults, they can experience pleasure only when it is fused with intensity. People with hyper-aroused intensity neuropathways probably grew up in extremely intense family environments. Perhaps the mother or father went into violent rages, or one or the other was a violent drunk.

The sexual acting-out behaviors associated with this kind of trauma usually carry high risk. They can include, but not be exclusive to, sadomasochism, exhibitionism, and prostitution. These behaviors trigger levels of chemical release that replicate the emotional ego-state of the trauma's original occurance. This is part of the "rush." Often danger-intensity addicts are unable to orgasm except when danger or intensity are present. This trauma adaption can affect other aspects of their lives; behaviors can range to not paying bills on time to jumping out of airplanes to having prostitutes in the house twenty minutes before a spouse returns home.

***

Bruce's Lecture

"Because I was anally penetrated, my bad dreams can trigger me to experience excruciating pain in my rectum. It feels as if some is inserting a sharp poker. I break out in a cold sweat. One time I even fainted when I was trying to relieve myself to get rid of the pain. I did not know how I had gotten to the floor of the bathroom," she says, trailing off as if the memory is too painful to bear. "It was very scary until I understood what was happening. I didn't know when some event, person, or place would trigger my body to respond like this. I would just hit me. It was like when I did not have control when my father would orally or anally rape me."

Jenny is not alone in her somatic responses. Like many sexual abuse survivors, he experiences body triggers. I like to explain the healing process to clients by noting that trauma frozen in a person's body. The manner in which the body received the violations is imitated with the response is triggered. The tomato seeds or a dentist's drill recalls her gagging when she was orally raped. The traumatized body does not distinguish between her father's penis, the tomato seeds, and the dentist's instruments. Jenny's body knows only that something foreign is being forced into it, and its survival response is to gag it out. It is as if that part of the body "thawed" for a while and, once it was released, it froze back up., preserving the energy for another potential attack.

I explain to Mary and Jenny that the goal of treatment is to expel and dissipate the energy so it can no longer "thaw" under the instigation of a body memory and spread its traumatic poison. Through our work, we want to figuratively "melt" away the frozen body memory. 

Bruce's Lecture

Jenny's a tall and willowy woman in her late twenties, has been in treatment wit me for several years. She is a trauma survivor who wears her scars well. Her sparkling blue eyes, dazzling smile, and sunny disposition masks her darker childhood wounds. We have been working on her trauma for a year, but she seems discouraged today as she beings her session.

"I am so pissed off." Jenny says.
"Why is that?" "Because I had another trip to the dentist."
"How did it go?"
"It was awful. I had to have him give me anesthesia so to keep me calm, and that stuff always makes me feel sick."
"Is that what made you mad, your reaction to the anesthesia?"
"No, it's the fact that I had to have it." Jenny says in an exasperated voice.

Jenny's father was a sex offender. He had anally and orally penetrated her and ejaculated.

"Going to the dentist is always a painful experience." Jenny continues. "It always triggers painful body memories for me. It is almost unbearable for me to have my mouth forced open. It reminds me of my father forcing me to hold my mouth open to take his penis. Sometimes I feel faint and dizzy. I see stars in front of my eyes. I have a gag reflex. Just having my teeth cleaned can be a traumatic and overwhelming feeling," she explains wit a crunched up face, dramatizing her disgust. Jenny's discomfort is not limited to the dentist chair. Certain foods and textures have a similar triggering reaction. "It is impossible for me to eat tomato seeds because it reminds me of a similar texture in my father's ejaculate. It makes me gag. Also, I have a hard time eating peaches, and I refuse to put mangos and avocados in my mouth because I can't stand the textures."

But by far the most difficult somatic response for Jenny is a spontaneous body memory that she has been wrestling with for many years.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Healthy Recovery

When we enter in a relationship, we strive not only for the enhancement of the self, but also for the enhancement of the relationship. When we work for the betterment of the relationship, it takes us out of our self-centered fear and out from behind the walls of aggression, defense and retreat.

Learning boundaries is a fundamental tool in relational development. In order for our relationships to become intimate, we must learn the art of controlled vulnerability. A concept from the work on boundaries presented by Pia Mellody. Controlled vulnerability means the ability to keep yourself safe and utilize boundaries, while at the same time being vulnerable. Controlled vulnerability keeps us open enough that our partners can know us, but it defends us from destructive incoming energy.

Our bodies are made up of energy. We learned as children to become attuned to our caregivers' energy. We knew when they walked in the room what their mood was, without their saying a word. We picked up on their energy, their vibration. In fact, most of us become hyper-vigilant to energy; it's the way we learn to survive.

Addicts live in extremes. They flood energy like Ingrid Bergman in Clasablanca, oozing sexual energy like thick molasses dripping off the screen. Or they are walled off, emotionally shut down like the Terminator, a robotic character void of emotional connection and authenticity.

The goal in emotional maturity is the moderate expression of our energy, neither flooding or damming its flow. It becomes a steady stream of conscious expression.

Bruce's Lecture

I had not seen Mary for several weeks and, as I greet her, I notice that her usual vibrant, extroverted personality is withdrawn and tired. Barely able to make eye contact, she shuffles from the waiting room to my office as if weights are tied to her ankles. She collapses on the couch, grabbing a small pillow and clutching it to her abdomen as if it were a lifeline. Mary's head collapses as she lets out a loud sigh.

"I had a bad dream," Mary begins without even waiting for me to take my chair. "It was about my brother."
"Tell me what happened in the dream."
"He's been beaten so badly his guts and brains are spilling out. He is making a mess on the carpet. I am in a panic because I know my mother will be home and will be really angry if she sees the mess, but he keeps bleeding and I can't clean it up. The I wake up in a cold sweat."
"When did you have this dream?" I ask.
"Two nights ago."
"You sound troubled by it still."
"I am. It has been a bad two days. I have had this severe nausea and headache, and I am afraid to fall asleep because I might have the dream again."

Mary was experiencing a somatic memory. The energy she had locked away and stored when she watched her brother being beaten was released when she had the dream. Mary's body had tensed up and become so tight that she virtually felt the pain in the same places the blows had struck her brother. It was as if she were carrying his pain.

This triggering of painful energy from the past is very typical in trauma survivors. The spontaneity of the emotions attached to these scenes can be disorienting. People like Mary don't know what is happening to them or why. As I said, people have told me they believe they are going crazy.

***


Friday, January 25, 2013

Healthy Recovery

Vulnerability

Learning to Be in a Relationship

1. Acquaintance
2. First Level Friendship
3. Second Level Friendship
4. Intimate Relationship

The step-by-step process by which we reacquaint ourselves with healthy pleasure is part of reviving our ability to recognize what is going on inside of us. Once we can properly identify our emotions, needs, and wants, and attune to our bodies, we must learn how to communicate that truth with respect and listening to the truth of others with respect are the basic necessitates of healthy relationships. But, because sex addicts have damaged relational sills, in self-defeat they put all sorts of blocks in the way of relationship and connection.

Because of the abuse we have endured, learning to relate is one of the most challenging tasks we undertake in our lives. As we have explored, the issue of betrayal is huge for sex addicts and so, in turn, is the restoration of trust.

Most recovering sex addicts are terrified of re-creating painful or shaming experiences. We teach ourselves to sexulaize our feelings in order to buffer ourselves from being emotionally vulnerable. Sexual addiction becomes the defense against real or imagined emotional rejection.

Aware of it or not, the suffering sex addict learns to approach all potential and real relationships through the filter of his relational history. His intuition tells him that being close to or vulnerable with another is not safe. When a new person comes into his life, he will screen this person through that filter, and the message that will be relayed is: danger!

By the time sex addicts have arrived in treatment, they usually have few, if any, friends. They may have many people in their lives, but most of these relationships are based on enhancing their addiction.

The floors of the high school halls shine like the polished deck of a luxury yacht. The low morning light gleams from them as Mitchell makes his way to his locker. His habit of arriving early to school began years ago. The early start gives him an added edge, which Mitchell finds comforting. He usually sits on the floor, his back against his locker, reviewing or finishing his homework. He likes to imagine that the "peer-proclaimed wimp" is in control. It provides a confidence booster prior to the distress he feels when the halls stream with fellow students.

Mitchell's daydream is interrupted as he notices the signs hung by the student council the night before; brightly colored artwork lines the halls. Mitchell feels despair as he reads the announcement for the homecoming dance.

Mitchell lives in a small town in southern Indiana, a tight-knit community that demonstrates its enthusiasm and spirit through Fourth of July parades, town-hall Christmas carols, and sold-out high school sporting events. An event like this is a big deal.

"How did the dance turn out for you?" I ask.
"It was the worst," Mitchell says. "My mother, if can believe this, set me up with this girl, who I later found out was paid to go -- some girl from another country who didn't talk to me all night."
"Your mother probably thought she was being helpful, but that must have felt like betrayal. And then add the humiliation of how your date acted," I say.
"Exactly," Mitchell says, no animated. "That really cemented my fear and distrust of women."
"Wasn't this when your addiction really took off?"
"Big time. After that, I just gave up."

Mitchell learned to hide his addiction to porn. He leaned that his shame and fear of emotional rejection far outweighed the risk of being vulnerable. Instead of living in connection and sharing his truth with another, he learned to live in reaction, behind a wall of fear, anger, and resentment.This was the home of Mitchell's trauma. From this place, he could never have a relationship, much less a truly erotic one.

Like other recovering addicts working toward healthy sexuality, Mitchell must identify his fears and expectations as belonging to his wounding. He also must understand how his dysfunctional traumatized self undermines his attempts at intimacy.

This means that, if a person is going to engage with another, whether in friendship or intimacy, he has to learn how to access his needs and wants while respecting the needs and wants of his partner.

End of part four (1).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Healthy Recovery

Precursors to the Sexual: Little Pleasures

Buddhists believe that, to be integrated into the creative and destructive natural processes of the universe, we must learn the acceptance of suffering. Psychoanalytic and existential therapies make a distinction between two fundamental kinds of suffering. One is a consequence of fate (i.e., everyday problems such as sickness, grandiose bosses, and rambunctious children). We bring further suffering on ourselves when we try to escape it by denying its existence. If we accept the fact that suffering is part of our lives, we don't have to fight it by hiding our eyes from the truth -- or from what the truth demands of us in the way of acceptance.

Therapy is an effort to open our eyes to the reality of how we have distorted our minds and emotions in order to avoid and deny painful reality. Therapy does not deny that reality can be painful; it teaches acceptance and, at its best, the joyful transcendence that comes with the recognition of a power greater than ourselves.

Making yourself into a victim, as women (and some men) tend to do, or making yourself into a stoic anti-dependent, as men (and some women) tend to do, is a dis-empowering delusion, part of an elaborate process of self-deception instigated by childhood abuse. Acceptance of suffering as part of the life of each human born of imperfect parents is a healthy recognition of the truth of the human condition. Such acceptance empowers us because it prompts us to find ways to live healthfully within that truth.

Michell, now three months into treatment, looks tired and road-worn. His skin is sallow, his eyes puffy, and his expression blank.

"I don't know if I can do this anymore." he says in a defeated tone. "I'm having a hard time."
"How so?" I ask.
"It's just dragging me down."
"Have you relapsed, acted out?"
"No, no, not at all."
"Well, that is great progress. Even though you are emotionally uncomfortable, you have been able to tolerate your feelings. Congratulations."

Mitchel's anger is deep-seated. The rejection he experienced early in life made power and control the compass of his life.

It is the second of May, and Mitchell, who has crossed off each date the kitchen calendar for the past month, is well aware it is his birthday. As is tradition in his first-grade class, his mother will bring cupcakes for an afternoon party, where his classmates will play games and sing "Happy Birthday." Mitchell is a shy, small boy who has few friends. He is often teased about his thick glasses and pigeon toes. At the tender age of six, he suffers from headaches and constant skin rashes. On this day, his birthday, Mitchell believes all of this will be put aside. For at least one day out of the year, he will feel proud.

Anxiously, he watches the clock. The afternoon bell rings, signalling the start of his party. Mitchell is ecstatic. But, to Mitchell's surprise, his classmates head for the door and out to the playground, not at all interested in participating in the classroom nerd's birthday party. Some kids even grab cupcakes as they go.

"Let's get out of here. Let's go away from this weirdo," he hears them mutter under their breath. Mitchell can barely breathe as tears stream down their face.

"It was devastating." Mitchell says.
"Sounds like it," I reply. "This memory is what triggered your sadness?"
"Yeah, it just came to me when I dropped off my daughter at school. I hadn't thought of it for years. I saw this kid with a balloon on the playground and, boom, there it was, clear as a bell, like it happened yesterday."

There is grief in recovery as we remember those times when we didn't think we deserved our place on the planet. So many of us have been told that it is shameful for us to have wants and needs. Self-care becomes a shameful act. We forget that the pleasure associated with fulfilling our needs and wants is our precious birthright. Believing we deserve this becomes daunting and seemingly unimaginable task, but it's not. All is possible.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Healthy Recovery

In her book The Intimacy Factor, Pia Mellody explains that self-esteem is built through self-nurturing, or the attunement of your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs and wants. By attuning and pleasuring yourself at this level, you create connection -- a connection that was severed long ago.

As trauma survivors, we learned to disconnect not only from our feelings, but also from our bodies. This was how we survived. Coming home to our bodies, or being present, can feel awkward or uncomfortable. It can also generate a great deal of fear: the fear of the unknown, the fear of triggered memories, or actual physical discomfort or pain.

This is why recovery is a process, a gradual building of self-attunement and awareness. We allow ourselves to build on each step to avoid overwhelming or flooding our systems with too much change, confusion, or information. We learn to live in the moderation of recovery, as opposed to the extremes of addiction.

"So what is the reward of lighting scented candles?" Mitchell asks snidely.
"It isn't about the candles," I say. "It's about learning what you like and integrating that into your everyday life."
"And this helps how?"

Mitchell will come to learn that, by habitually catering to his sense of pleasure, he will reawaken his sensitivity to pleasure and discover that pleasure does not accompany fear, intensity, powerlessness, and shame.  He will learn that pleasure is not the reward of manipulation and control; it is something he deserves, in and of itself.

It is not a usual part of my therapy to philosophize with clients about how, at the deepest level of our being, we are vitalized and made spiritual by our erotic energy. However, as "the holder of the shame," I know that my own creativity, based in my own recovery of sexual, spiritual energy, makes me an appropriate trustee of my clients' secrets. I draw my healing power from my belief that the liberation of sexual energy is a return to the authentic self and to the Eros, which is our sexual energy.

In those modern times, sexuality has become overwhelmingly associated with genital stimulation. But is important to understand that there is an ancient and respected tradition in which sexuality -- what the Greeks called "Eros" -- was a divine energy at the center of creation.

In Plato's Symposium, Eros is the longing inherent in the human being for the Original Source, the Creator. It is is the "sexual instinct," or spirit, that drives us from the earthly realm to seek transcendent union. This erotic theme is expressed in art, dance, literature, and mysticism. The philosopher Paul Tillich described Eros as "the driving force in all cultural creativity and in all mysticism."

One commentator on the Hebrew wisdom of the Torah said:


We moderns have an almost desperate need to be in control. The rugged individualist who is captain of his fate and master of his destiny is our cultural spiritual model. And yet we know in some deeper place we cannot always, nor is it desirable for us, to always maintain control.

The Eros of sex is the place were we learn to give up control. And a great truth is revealed to us. In the act of letting go -- of giving ourselves up -- in the la petite mort (the little death) or orgasm, we find ourselves as well. At the very moment when the self is lost, it is rediscovered in a higher more brilliant form. Sexual Eros models for us a  moving beyond old contradictions. Self-control is not the sole cauldron in which self is forged. Losing control with holy intentionality becomes the place where finding higher self is a genuine possibility.


To surrender to this force of another to another is true eroticism, and it is, in my opinion, holy. I believe that Eros in our intimate relationships models the surrender to a higher power. But the sex addicts, who are so damaged that they have lost sight of the preciousness of their own being, true eroticism has become impossible. 

Bruce's Lecture

Somatic Recall

Children who suffer from traumatic abuse before they are five years old do not have any powers of language or abstraction to place between themselves and the abuse. They cannot even say, "I was a bad boy" or "Mommy was in a bad mood." They have no words or theories help them understand why they feel pain, fear, or shame. The only place for the sensation of abuse to land is on their bodies, and their bodies record the same as "somatic trauma." Like all trauma, it is stored and will be released when a later event triggers an analogy to the original abuse.

Even if the abused child has become an adult, the triggering of somatic trauma returns him to the young ego-state of his first infliction. The pain, fear, or shame is not felt as an idea or something that can be talked about, but a bodily sensation -- what we call "body memory." Helpless children have no cognitive control, and adults feel body memories as a child would: one-down, bewildered, disorganized, helpless. These early imprints are the most severe kinds of trauma, and the most difficult to treat, but not impossible, because they originate in preverbal wounding for which the therapist's language is incomprehensible.

When, later in life, persons with early wounding begin to work on their trauma issues, body memories may cause bewilderment, fear and shame. These feelings can be so out of control that the adults experiencing them can believe they're going crazy.

I have watched people in group therapy react to other members of the group. When listening to another person's story, they become what we call "triggered." There are pockets of energy stored in our bodies. When something we sense -- see, hear, smell, feel, or taste -- "triggers" or opens up these pockets of memory, we get somatic recall. These body memories sometimes make people spontaneously start to cry. Sometimes their entire expressions and physical presentations change. They literally start to take on a frightened young child's appearance. Their shoulders slump, their faces become drawn and colorless, and they might even shake and begin to breathe shallowly. In this state, they are not able to articulate what they are experiencing. During this somatic (bodily) recall, energy that has been locked in the body is released.

End of part one of Somatic Recall


Bruce's Lecture

Sitting in her bedroom, Mary looks at her reflection in the mirror, "I hate myself," she thinks. Mascara is smeared down her cheeks, her top is ripped to reveal her left shoulder, and her hair is in a massive, jumbled, matted mess. "I really hate myself," she repeats to herself.

This was not the case last night. Last night Mary was high. She was prepping for a binge. Mary knows the routine, a highly meticulous and ritualized process: Put on loud music; smoke cigarettes; shave legs; mousse hair; apply lipstick; dress in black mini-skirt, stiletto heels, and low-cut top; and, of course, buy condoms.

"I just wanted to screw my brains out," Mary says. "I was on a rampage, a regular screw fest," she continues with more intensity in her voice.
"What triggered this binge?" I ask.
"I have no idea," she says, shrugging her shoulders.
"Well, it's important that we figure that out."
"Well, you tell me then." she says.

Mary came into therapy seeking treatment for her addiction to sex; she acted out with men, often in unsafe places with unknown partners. When the risk and danger were her high, it was an addiction she believed would ultimately kill her. The binges she began many years ago had progressed into more and more dangerous situations. Her binges could last several days, and they always ended in feelings of degradation and shame.

"Had something happened that you allowed yourself to be triggered?" I ask again.
"Yes," she says in a defeated tone. "That afternoon, my boss came up to explain the next phase of this project we were working on. I was standing over the renderings when he came up from behind, reeking of alcohol. He put his hand on my shoulder and slowly let his hand slide down my back. And then, inadvertently," she say, gesturing quotations with her fingers, "he brushes my ass. I was so shocked, I even second-guessed myself, like, 'Did that just happen?' -- when I knew full well it did."
"This happened the same afternoon you acted out?"
"Yes, I know. I had a bad reaction."

Mary's reaction is typical adaptation aimed at alleviating the pain and horror of her past. Unfortunately, the reaction will unmercifully take Mary back into her shame core; it's the only way Mary knows how to cope.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bruce's Lecture

Coping With Trauma

those who suffer from trauma must adapt or develop coping strategies in order to survive. These coping mechanisms can be broken down into eight categories: alarm reaction, somatic recall, intensity, numbing/satiation, shame binds, dissociation, deprivation, and destructive relationships.

Alarm Reaction

"I hate it when my boss comes back from lunch," Mary says, crinkling her nose and shaking her head. "He reeks of alcohol," she adds, sticking out her tongue as if she wants to vomit. "I feel nauseated; it makes me sick."
"It sounds like a strong reaction."
"Yeah, I hate alcohol on anybody's breath, but particularity his."
"Why do you thin that is?"
"I don't know," she says defensively.
"Well, take a moment and think. Is there anything in your past that might be triggering your reaction?"
"Don't tell me," she looks sheepishly. "You think it is because of my father."
"Who does your boss look like?"
Pausing in thought, she responds with a wry smile. "My dad."

What might be normal, nonreactive experience for Mary's coworkers is a highly reactive situation for Mary because she is experiencing an alarm reaction. A severe and sudden post-traumatic stress reaction, an alarm reaction recalls the emotions associated with a traumatizing event of the past. One way in which an alarm reaction might manifest itself is in intrusive flashbacks. Often the person doesn't feel that he is living in the present; rather, he feels that he is constantly returning to the original trauma.

"I had a hard time seeing it," Mary continues, "but that makes sense. The smell makes me gag, and then I get a headache and it's hard to concentrate."
"Do you have this reaction when your boss doesn't smell of alcohol?"
"No. Otherwise, I like him; he's a really great boss."
"That is interesting because that is how you felt about your father."
"Oh, yeah," Mary says, making the connection.

Alarm reactions are often experienced as a total lack of control, as if the person is being robotically dominated by the emotion that has spring from a traumatic past. When he is under the control of this emotion, the person lives in extremes. One extreme could be binging or acting out. The other extreme could be purging or restricting behavior.

When the binging is over, the purge restores the sense of normality -- without guaranteeing that another binge is on the horizon. This person is frightened and ashamed. Then a sense of hyper-vigilance takes over in order to provide the control necessary to avoid being hurled over the emotional cliff again.

End of one of Part Twenty-Two

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Healthy Recovery

Mitchell came into treatment desperate for help. Once a successful doctor, Michell lost his license after violating several patients under his medical care. His addiction destroyed the work he loved and the life he worked so hard to achieve. His once-full life has been reduced to a solitary existence contained within the four walls of his efficiency apartment.

Mitchell looks at the dust covering his guitar; like a child's toy, it has sat idle for years. It was once his joy. As an adolescent, he taught himself to play and even started a band. When he reached college, he replaced the pleasure he got from the guitar with a fierce addiction to Internet porn.

Holding his guitar in his lap, he feels a familiar comfort, as pleasant memories spontaneously float through his mind. He notices a calmness that is juxtaposed with an electric excitement.

As he plucks each string, he feel exhilarated. Unlike the high of his sex addiction, this feels clean and healthy. Tentatively, he begins playing flamenco music; before he realizes it, Michell is transported, his fingers flying with precision. He is completely in the moment, present only in the notes and the melody he creates. He feels alive, full, complete, healthy and whole.

Abruptly, Mitchell, snaps his palm over the strings, silencing them. Painful feelings have welled up inside. But it is too late, and tears run down his cheeks. They are tears of sadness and joy, a strange combination of melancholy and hope. But he does not push them away. He lets them flow. Intuitively, he knows this is a passage to a better place, a place he is now ready to embrace.

When Mitchell reconnected with the music that meant so much to him, he had a restorative association between pleasure and self-esteem. The music and Mitchell's authentic self became congruent; they fit together as part of a greater force than him.

Mitchell is a short, slight man in his early thirties who has an intense manner. His jaw is locked, his eyes are stern, his speech is clipped. On the rare occassion when Mitchell smiles, he appears controlled and distant. It is as if there is something going on in his head that is distracting him, something that is more important or interesting.

"So, Michell," I ask, "how did your tasks around self-nurturing go this week?"
"I didn't do them," he says, unabashed.

He looks up at me, annoyed, without responding.

This type of resistance is typical in early recovery. It is important not to shame the client for not following through; instead, he must figure out what the resistance is about.

"I think it's stupid," Mitchell says.
"Well, I can understand whit it can feel trivial, but there are reasons it is important."

Male resistance to self-nurturing is a universal pattern. I remember when I gave a talk on healthy sexuality to a group of twenty recovering sex addicts. I was describing the gifts of self-nurturing, such as stimulating the senses by lighting incense or scented candles, when a large, burly man flew out of his chair.

"You've got to be kidding me," he said without even waiting for me to call on him. "There is no way in hell I am going to be lighting scented candles or incense. What are the guys going to think came over me? The only smell I like is the smell of propane!"

Of course, he got a good laugh. He was expressing what we explored in Chapter 9 (not typed yet): the cultural bias and homophobia that are rampant in our culture. Being sensitive, nurturing, or sensuous with yourself is not about threatening your sexual orientation or masculinity; it is about being in touch with your body and learning to pleasure it in non-genital ways.  

Let's go back to our model for sexualized anger.

In our addiction, we learned how to fill our shame core from the outside: how much sex we scored, how many secrets we could get away with, how large our porn collection got, how great we looked, how much attention we could solicit. These were all delusional ways we temporarily filled our emotional void.

In recovery, we learn to fill ourselves from the inside out. this is done through the arts of self-nurturing and self-care. Each time we honor ourselves by listening or sportively reacting to our internal cues, we are healing the shame core. This is the foundation for sexual health.

End of part one of Part Three.


Bruce's Lecture

To live in corrective action requires the reduction of the energy associated with the traumatic wounding. The process of reducing the reaction or re-activity will begin, as with all recovery work, with awareness.

Mary sits across from me. She has contoured her body into a ball-like shape, he knees tucked under like a camel resting in the shade. Her arms firmly embrace her torso, and her chin is seemingly glued to her neck. Tears stream down both cheeks.

As Mary begins to describe her emotional upset, she magically transforms into a childlike state. Her body goes limp, her eyes become distant and unfocused, and her breathing shallow. It is as if she is literally reliving the brutal scene she begins to describe, experiencing all the terror her five-year-old body felt.

"What I remember is the sound," Mary says in a barely audible voice. "The sound of the strap hitting his raw skin--whap-whap-whap--then the low thud of my father's thick work boot kicking my eight-year-old brother's stomach, each kick pushing him across the floor," she says with a blank expression.

"I remember his eyes, too, the look of horror, like empty pools," she says as she tucks her head tighter to chin. "And the blood. It splattered all over the wall when he kicked him in the nose." She is hiding behind her cupped hand, tears streaming down her face. The sadness that Mary has locked away for decades is released in retching waves of anguish.

Mary's father was severe alcoholic; he had been an alcoholic for most of his life. Like many hearty Irish men, he preferred scotch as his demon of choice. Stopping at the neighborhood pub after his shift at the factory he lived the cliche of Irish tradition.

"He was so wonderful when he didn't drink," Mary continues, her body relaxing ever so slightly. "He would take us with him on long drives, and I would feel like a princess." However, her fairy-tale would end when he began to drink.

"What are you looking at you little cunt?" her father would sneer, "You want a beating too?"
"He looked possessed," Mary says, "My father became a monster." Tears continue to stream down her face.

"Where was your mom when this happened?" I ask.
"Cowering in the corner; what else could she do? We were all terrified."

When trauma templates are imprinted, the resulting response can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This disorder is defined by a stressful occurrence "that is outside the range of usual human experience, and would be marketedly distressful to almost anyone (Diagnostics Statistics Manual). According to The Sidran Institute, PTSD has affected approximately 8 percent of all adults during their lives; that is one in thirteen in this country. It is often difficult to identify this disorder because our behaviors and reactions begin early in life, and this results in the normalization of one's reaction to the outside world.

How we react can take many forms, including:


  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Dissociation
  • Intrusive thoughts, memories, flashbacks, or dreams
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Construction of body of breath
  • Mood swings
  • Poor affect regulation
  • Disturbances in sleep or eating patterns
  • Amnesia or forgetfulness
  • Compromised immune syndrome  
When clients seem to overreact to a seemingly benign experience, I point out their exaggerated response. I then coach them, helping them to create awareness of their own re-activity to specific events, people, places, and things. I also want them to be aware of any themes or clusters that might trigger their responses. 

An effective gauge to monitor reactions is to evaluate them on a scale from one to ten, one being the mildest and ten the most severe response. I ask clients to rate how disturbing an occurrence feels; anything related over three is usually linked to trauma. The timing, intrusiveness, and repetition of the trauma. determines the degree of the response.  

The dramatic and profound effects of PTSD were demonstrated by the Grant Study, conducted with 200 individuals who served in WWII. Each participant was re-interviewed forty-five years after he first described his experience. Individuals who did not experience PTSD had changed or altered their stories since the initial interviews; details had become less clear for them, and the emotional disturbances had less impact. The individuals who had PTSD did not alter their stories in the least. All of the details and descriptions were vividly recalled.

This is the norm for trauma survivors. The events can become imprinted or etched in the memory; when recall occurs, it is like rerunning a movie. 

Mary sits in her bedroom, cowering as she hears the screen door slam and her father's footsteps come down the hall. Mary concentrates on the beam of afternoon light that filters in through her windows. She sees the dust particles dancing in the rays, suspended and weightless. In the distance, she hears her father clearing his throat and the familiar sound of the toilet seat lid being raised. The angle of the afternoon light indicates that he has come home early.

Her mother has gone to the store, her brother is out with friends, and Mary is alone with her father. Mary sits and stares, floating, suspended, becoming one with the particles. Running her fingers through the rays, she watches them swirl, transporting herself into their world. Floating and swirling she falls into a trance-like state. 

No longer aware of her father, she is startled as the door to her bedroom abruptly opens. His pants are unhooked, her father slurs, "Oh, there you are, baby..." His gait is wobbly, his ares are glassy, and his smell is revolting. 
"I was looking for you, baby."
Mary's body tightens. "Hey, Daddy," she says, attempting to sound calm.
"What ya doing?" he purrs, petting her head with long strokes, "Come on over here," he says, moving his hands down her back.

The wretched smell of stale liquor is overwhelming as he pulls her close. Mary knows that his hand will travel  downward into her most private parts. She will fee the coarse skin of his fingers as he penetrates and probes. She will feel his arousal and his heavy breathing, and she will look at the rays of light, at the particles dancing and swirling, swirling and dancing. 

How does a child like Mary survive her horrific destiny? How does a child emerge from such traumatic experiences and function as a health sexual being? Inherent in the human condition is the will to survive. The are of survival develops through a matrix of unconscious adaptions or coping mechanisms that are logically layered intellectually, somatically, and emotionally.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

Healthy Recovery

One Step at a Time

That's how it goes in early recovery: a minute, a step, and a thought at a time.  Living in a seemingly foreign land, we begin to navigate to our new life, our new selves. We learn to live with intention, a conscious life, as opposed to one of disconnection and numbing. We begin to identify what we are feeling and the sensations in our bodies.

Most people believe their sexuality is about their genitals, the stimulation, gratification, or 'chase the orgasm.' Often, clients will explain sex being so "intimate," when in reality they are describing intensity rather than intimacy. The more intense or the "greater" the sex, the better the high.

Without the potential of a high, the idea of "normal" or healthy sex becomes fearful, even dreaded: "It will be boring. I will feel trapped." Addicts do not like change, nor do they like letting go of power and control -- or the illusion of it because that is how they have learned to survive. However, the reality is that sex in recovery is not boring; it is just different... intimate, fulfilling, rewarding, loving and we feel good when we have it because we're emotionally present.

Healthy sexuality is 10 percent about our genitals, while the remaining 90 percent is our life force, our creativity, and our passion. This energy taps into the core of who we are. That's what makes this addiction so powerful, what sets it apart from all others. Our sexuality comes from the depths of our being, and so does our recovery. Examining and integrating our healthy sexual selves from this perspective results in more more than just "mind-blowing sex." It provides a spectrum of possibilities, a transformation of the whole self.

+++

Lynn, a short woman, age twenty-five and lesbian, is four months into her recovery. She has been coming to treatment weekly because she acts out through affairs. In the beginning of treatment, she committed to a month-long celibacy contract with self and others. Lynn discovered that the idea of being sexual without the high felt foreign. Lynn had never had sex while being emotionally present, and the mere thought of it created great anxiety and fear. In her feelings of inadequacy, she decided to extend her contract for a few weeks.

"So how did your sexual encounter go with your partner this week?" I asked.
"It didn't," Lynn says, looking down and refusing to make eye contact.
"What happened?"
"Well, we started having foreplay, and then I just froze. I didn't know what to do, how to act. I felt so stupid."

Lynn sits on the edge of her king-sized bed, looking more childlike than adult. Alice, her partner of four years, has just stormed out of their bedroom, snapped on the lights in the living room, and zapped on the television to a deafening decibel level. Lynn's heart sinks. "This is not going to work, " she thinks as tears start to flow.

Determined not to give up, she tentatively approaches Alice. "Honey," she says gingerly on the chair opposite her. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"What is there to talk about? Nothing happened," Alice snaps.
"Well, at least we tried," Lynn says, still hesitant.
"Try?" she says through gritted teeth. "You of all people know how to do IT; you've done it with just everybody else but me. Maybe I am the problem, not you!"

Lynn's tears turn to sobs as she doubles over, gasping for air.

Alice knows she has gone too far. All of her pent-up anger and resentments exploded. She had wanted to hurt Lynn, to make her feel her own pain. Now she regrets it. Alice believes in the relationship, in her love for Lynn. She wants the relationship to work, but like Lynn, she is at a loss.

Early recovery brings many challenges on many levels. Lynn and Alice were able to work through the hurt and betrayal. They were able to repair the wreckage of their capsized relationship, but they needed a plan, and they needed to apply the plan one step at a time.

Because of the sexual urge is the energy source of our selfhood, sexual abuse caused us to lose contact with our creative identity. In order to get back in touch with our healthy needs and wants, we have to rediscover what it feels like to be authentic, free of traumatic intimidation, and vulnerable. This reconnecting will be a careful and specific process of reflection and practical exercise. It is a step-by-step process. The goal is to rediscover, in the everyday events of our lives, the healthy bond between pleasure and sexuality. Only then is it possible to see how spiritual truths and sexual energies are connected at the highest level of our being.

Note: I was able by words alone within my story to achieve this with my characters which is how Nathan fell in love, true, deep real love with Ava.

A we have explored, sex addicts had to disconnect from their feelings when they were children because to acknowledge the betrayal of their parents'* role of caregiver would have been overwhelmingly threatening. So they adapted, denied their feelings, and lost contact with the care and nurturing they genuinely wanted and needed.

Shame Discussion Removed from IMDb

But that's what sexual addiction is, "sexual arousal and angst" and its ultimate shame after the act. They don't feel affirmation, but self-loathing. In Brandon's case it is the pursuit of an orgasm little else.

Carey/Missy was a change catalyst who made him forcefully address his issues arriving on the scene unexpected along with the tragic result of being rejected by him, which was his wake up call and personal bottom. They did make it in NY. But she had her own exhibitionist issues as well (both victims of child abuse).

He hit bottom (after the disgusting bar scene getting beat up) but did he get it together in the end? I like to think so. Something is not there behind his eyes when he runs into the same lady again all dolled up and ready... only this time he was (I think) on his way to therapy.

SA confuse intensity with intimacy. It's about control as well. He wasn't able to be intimate or emotionally connect or emotionally relate, just perform... and work... and the less he knew of the individual the better. When he liked his co-worker he couldn't perform... so he sent her home and called in a prostitute.

A brave film regardless.

Exactly. That's the life of an SA, empty... and for the most part shallow. They work off visuals, ie the porn at breakfast! And if something triggers it, it's off to the bathroom. They've peaks of joy/intensity but lows of self-hate. It is the empty pursuit of gratuitous sex for the act of the endorphin high, plus numbing or forgetting and kind of getting back as well. Like I said, they're angry people. To explain that would take to much time, sorry. His binge at the end was so hard to watch. And it was hard filming it he said.

They're actually very shut down people, men and women, socially isolated individuals plus very angry people. They feel powerless so exhibit power when they can. They're angry at their abuser. Michael did a great job so showing that too. The scene in the office where the boss says, "You're disgusting... a pervert." Did you see his eyes shoot up at him thinking he was discussing him? That's it. They feel guilty and shameful because they live dual lives.

Also his morals are all off. He had to split when his sister went with his boss because in his black and white world that was wrong. He was appalled at that, but what he does is fine (with him).

GFW


It's hard to have empathy for them as they have little empathy for themselves or their surroundings. They simply exist in pursuit of the next orgasm... often on demand... when they're worked up. This was what McQueen was trying to show, the slow routine, shallow world they simply exist in. A lot of grey in the film, little color. Very little warmth.

We don't get to know them because in truth they don't know themselves. They have identity issues. Hard to explain.

It got accolades for its raw courageousness.

It also showed how Carey/Missy kept calling him but he ignored her with the ultimate rejection causing her to do what she did. Last stage SA is when no one, nothing, not work, fiances, family, friends, co-workers... not a thing matters but the fix... and they'll go to extremes (him in the gay club) to get it. McQueen showed this well. Recall the ticker-tape in the subway... he connected the dots. He thought that was her. He knew her fragility... he was connected to her (so this is why for my positive ending).

The ending is ambiguous... for a reason. It's up to the audience member to come to their own conclusion. When I saw Brandon at the end he was completely spent but in a different way. The optimist in me saw he was also more alive than ever before, in touch and aware of his triggers. Again, I think he'd hit his personal bottom and began to pull it together being needed by his sister, his only family.

GFW

Well, I have to admit I've read Lust, Anger, Love by Maureen Channing a former SA who now has her own therapeutic practice for research as one of my characters (the young lad of 11) is a victim of abuse who fears abandonment that was shuffled about in foster care with some evil meanies who is now in a loving family and in therapy. It's complicated!

I think a lot of people could feel like you do, the healthy group who saw it for the hype it received. Some thought it was going to be a movie with a lot of sex in it. It was but not how they were expecting. It was a hard movie to watch.

It isn't a movie for everyone for certain. It, without glamorizing it, tackles a much more common societal and world-wide issue than many wish to realize. Brandon isn't at fault. They/McQueen didn't get into the hows just the results. He's a victim locked on a dangerous unhappy treadmill that came to an abrupt halt tossing him into a tailspin where he was harshly brought to a point where he had to face his demon or keep limping along half-human in many ways. This is his life too.

Argo will be right up your alley.

Zero Dark Thirty had a sad ending... with her all alone, literally, in a plane without a clue where to go... ritualized purposeful victim of OCD and brought about by the "for God and country" brainwashing (IMO) the CIA used on her. A lot of my responses are at the movie boards. It's too hard to recreate them again.

Lincoln was entertaining. I liked it but to me it was kind of forgettable. Hard to explain.

I think a lot of people could feel like you do, the healthy group who saw it for the hype it received. Some thought it was going to be a movie with a lot of sex in it. It was but not how they were expecting. It was a hard movie to watch.

It isn't a movie for everyone for certain. It, without glamorizing it, tackles a much more common societal and world-wide issue than many wish to realize. Brandon isn't at fault. They/McQueen didn't get into the hows just the results. He's a victim locked on a dangerous unhappy treadmill that came to an abrupt halt tossing him into a tailspin where he was harshly brought to a point where he had to face his demon or keep limping along half-human in many ways. This is his life too.  

Bruce's Lecture

The answer lies in examining a person's trauma history. No matter how trauma manifested, whether overtly or covertly, disempowering or falsely empowering, it will create a trauma template, a lens that one looks through that results in delusion. The primal response to trauma is to survive, and so, in adults, the unconscious drive becomes to "undo" or "fix" the original trauma. The initial attempts at undoing or fixing the wounding provide temporary emotional relief, but ultimately the results are profound pain and shame.

Like Joe, many of my clients feel lost, confused, or severely conflicted between their value system and their acting out behaviors. On a conscious level, they want a sense of congruence, but it seems out of their grasp. Often they feel the unconscious drive into self-destructive behaviors -- like a strong tide washing them out to sea. They feel powerless against the forceful pull. The goal of treatment is to make the unconscious templates conscious. This "connecting the dots," or etiological understanding, is crucial to all clients' recovery because without it they will remain in a haze of confusion, repetition, and shame.

Joe's relationship with his mother is like that of many heterosexual men I treat. His mother's abuse (but with Gerry it was his grandmother/caregiver not his mom) was not overtly sexual. It was covertly incestuous.

Covert sexual abuse occurs when the child becomes the surrogate spouse to the parent. This dynamic creates unconscious bonding and can feel sexually charged, even without any over behaviors or gestures. It is as if the loving energy that is natural and healthy between husband and wife begins to transfer or spill over onto the child.  The nature of this attachment is sexual, and so the child picks up or absorbs this energy, which results in covert sexual abuse.

Joe's emotions, when squeezed through these destructive trauma templates, directed him to seek fulfillment in self-destructive behaviors. The narcotic aim of such behavior was to protect him from re-experiencing the pain and shame of feeling unworthy of love, unsafe, and undeserving. These dysfunctional adaptations my reduce pain, but they ultimately yield the same shame and pain that they temporarily allay. All trauma templates repeat the original wound because they return the trauma victim to the ego-state of the original infliction.

Joe's awareness of his sexual abuse was powerfully exemplified several weeks after we discussed the dynamic.
"You know how we have been talking about my mother and her using me emotionally?" he asked.
"Yes."
"Well, the weirdest thing happened the other day. I was sitting in my truck with her. The door of the was open, and she tried to sit on my lap."
"Oh, my. What happened next?"
"I pushed her off," he said, gesturing as he still needed to push her away.
"How did that feel?"
"It was weird, creepy."
"Had you been aware of that kind of behavior before?"
"Not until we started to talk about it."
"Could you connect with how you must have felt as a child?"
"Yeah, it was really disturbing."

This is what happens to trauma survivors who start to take on the experience and energy of the past; they become damaged goods the abusive caregivers are projecting. Joe's mother's enmeshing abuse taught him to emotionally abandon himself to survive. He also learned that the result of relational connection, or being in a relationship with a woman (such as his mother), is the loss of self, resulting in overwhelming feelings of entrapment and anger. The outgrowth becomes a perpetual cycle of corrective action toward the original trauma.

Up next is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bruce's Lecture

Note: I think in the earlier parts I changed Joe to Joey? I'm picking up just typing where I left off using Maureen's names.

But there was a problem with Joe's beautification of his mother because Joe felt conflicted in his feelings toward her. He felt special, even privileged, to replace the role of her husband, but he was also angry with her. Joe's mother expected Joe to fulfill her emotional needs, thus abandoning his own needs and wants. In addition, he felt pressure to be perfect in order to please his mother, to perform in ways that would make her proud -- like being elected class president or making the football team. When he received accolades in the local paper, he felt all the emotional credit going to his mother rather than to himself. Joe later became successful in business and in that too, he felt that he was working for his mother, not for himself.

For Joe's entire childhood, the focus was not really on Joe; it was on pleasing his mother. Pleasing his mother was how Joe learned to feel safe.

So Joe's trauma etched dual realities (each one false) into his self-perception. The first, inherited from his father, told him he was "less than." The second, provided by his mother, told him he was "better than" -- better his brothers, better than his peers, even better than his father. This "one-up, better-than" position ultimately left Joe in extreme emotional isolation. He also experienced extreme fear because if Joe made one mistake, failed to produce or perform, or was less than perfect in his own mind's eye, then Joe would be rejected.

Both the one-down position and the one-up position result from failures of a child's primary caregivers to acknowledge the innate preciousness of their child. One adaptation can be as harmful to the child's sense of inherent worth as the other. The falsely empowered child, who has been badly treated as the one-down child, may be more difficult to cure, because, in his grandiosity, he is unaware that his false empowerment is a form of abandonment. His parents never taught him how to be rational, but he remains unaware that he is deprived because he feels so grandiose. He will be deaf to the suggestions of his therapists that he too, is shamed and, at bottom, one-down. In either case, the child has suffered abandonment because his caregivers left him without the crucial ability to develop self-esteem.

When, early in treatment, I told Joe that I thought he was really angry with his mother, he got defensive. In fact, Joe was so put off that he almost terminated treatment.

Unraveling the truth about Joe's relationship with his mother would become a slow and sometimes grief-filled process. But as the process opened him up to the truth, we were gradually able to get to the root of his sexualized anger, manifested in his sexual addiction.

In is hot summer day as Joe sits slumped in my office.

He has been coming regularly to therapy for several months and has applied his lifetime legacy of hard work to this process.

"I love my wife but..." Joe says, trailing off.
"But what?" I ask.
"I just feel so much pressure, like I am not enough."
"What do you mean, not enough?"
"You know, like whatever I do is not enough."
"Explain to me what that looks like."
"Well, last week was Mother's Day, and I got her a spa package. I thought it was a good gift because she is always complaining about how tired she gets taking care of our boys. But when I forgot to pick up the potato salad for the barbecue, she flew off the handle, went nuts, said if it's going to get done right that she had to do it... and she had to do everything. Then she turned and told me I could take my present because I really didn't mean it."
"How did that feel?"
"Shitty."
"It sound painful."
"Yeah," he says. "It was."
"What is it like to live with someone who is angry with you?"
"Painful."
"And so, to ease the pain, you go to prostitutes?"
"Um, hum..."
"And I'm pissed," he says with more force, "because she's always riding my case."
"What would it be like if you were in a relationship that was loving and supportive?"
"I would screw it up." Joe says.

In his marriage, Joe has recreated the same childhood beliefs he experienced toward his mother: "I have to be perfect to be loved. I have to abandon myself to be in a relationship." These beliefs create a vicious, lifelong cycle because imperfection is inherent in the human condition. the harder Joe attempted to be perfect, the more he failed. And the more he failed, the more shame he felt. And the more shame he felt, the angrier he became.

As a child, Joe could not get angry with his mother because of his dependence on her. As an adult, he can. Joe now takes the anger he repressed and acts it out in the relationship with his wife by hiring prostitutes.

Joe now has clarity about the dynamic related to his anger at his mother. However, Joe, like many recovering sex addicts, feels confused as to why his anger became sexualized. It becomes crucial for all recovering sex addicts to understand the cause and effect of their behaviors because unlocking this mystery becomes the cornerstone of healing.

Healthy Recovery


Healthy sexuality is what we hope sexual recovery brings. We are often overwhelmed by the idea of 'healthy' sex. The answers to questions such as, "What is healthy sexual expression, and how does a person determine when his or her behavior is compulsive?" can feel like cosmic mysteries. The recovering sex addict is not only intimidated but afraid of the challenge of healthy intimacy.

So the answer to the original question is when we feel emotionally safe, connected, and affirmed in the act of sexual expression.

The answers, however, are much simpler than most of us realize. The challenging part is finding our way there.

When I was in early recovery, I felt extreme emotional fragility. I spent most of my adult life developing and acting out in my addiction, so when I chose sobriety, or stopped acting out in my sexual behavior, I felt a deep loss of identity. I had no idea who my authentic self was. All I knew wast that I was no longer engaging in my destructive sexual behaviors.

Sitting at the cafe in Berkley, I feel overwhelmed. It has only been a week since I was discharged from treatment.

The coffee shop is buzzing with UC Berkely students chatting and studying.

In my fragile state, I feel bombarded by the rattling of silverware, the clinking of glasses, the squeaking of chairs, the ringing of cell phones, and the clicking of computer keys. I feel faint and disoriented.

As Ellen returns with our tea, I feel the beginning of severe nausea. Ellen, oblivious to my mood, is chatting about the excitement she has found in her recovery. She has invited me to coffee after taking me to my first Twelve-Step meeting. Her face is moving in and out of focus, her voice pounding in my head like a kid jumping on a trampoline.

Abruptly, I stand. "I have to go," I say, surprising even myself at my rudeness.
"Oh, okay." Ellen says, as if she's used to such erratic mood swings.
"How much do I owe you?" I quickly ask.
"Oh, don't worry about it," Ellen replies with a kind smile.
"Get you next time," I say, turning and heading for the door.

I breathe the October night air. Attempting to orient myself, I wonder if this is my fate in recovery. Am I going mad? Have I entered the Twilight Zone and no one has told me?

I would later discover that those feelings, responses, and visceral experiences were all part of the withdrawal phase of sexual recovery. Like any addiction, sexual addiction has a withdrawal period, a process that is just as uncomfortable as chemical addiction. In our addiction, we have literally created an IV drip or chemical cocktail as addictive as heroin.

In choosing to get sober, we pull the plug on our drug, and we must suffer the consequences of our withdrawal. The symptoms include mood swings, fatigue, headache, nausea, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, irritability, disorientation, loss of concentration, and depression.

Ellen and others had assured me there was a better way. And so, like most addicts, when my pain outweighed the reward, I made the leap of faith. I let go of my addiction and fell into the void of recovery. The big question was: What would fill the void?

I had learned the saying from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), "Fake it until you make it." I came to understand that you could act your way into good feelings and that proper behavior nurtures healthy emotions. Even if good behavior does not make you feel good at first, the AA saying urges: Do it anyway. Habitual sober behavior will eventually yield self-esteem, intimate relationships, and healthy sexuality, providing you are patient.

In childhood abuse we sexually addicted people suffered, we were forced to disconnect from ourselves. It was the result of sacrificing our authentic emotions in order to serve our immature and needy caretakers. The characteristic perversion resulting from this disconnection is that sex addicts lose the ability to get pleasure from sexual activity, even as they declare their need for sexual pleasure. In fact, they do not know what sexual pleasure is. The abuse they suffered in childhood caused them to fuse fear, shame, lack of power, and intensity with sexuality.

Recovering sex addicts will discover the use of manipulative sex to obliterate or ameliorate the fear, shame, and powerlessness wired into them by childhood abuse. Emotional disconnection has caused a monumental mistranslation in which danger, intensity, fear, anger, shame, and power have come to mean "sexual pleasure."

Undoing this perversion of the emotional truth and revitalizing the addict's authentic self are the aims of recovery. During recovery, we reconnect to our authentic selves, and we recapture and experience the safety that we lacked as children. In this feeling of safety, we begin to build what I call a "congruent" self, wherein, on all levels of our being, we move toward living in the truth and take the first steps toward healthy intimacy and relationships.

So the answer to the original question is when we feel emotionally safe, connected, and affirmed in the act of sexual expression. We create this connection when we act with integrity, our values and believes intact.

An effective way to measure whether you have reached this point is to note how you feel after you've been sexual. Is it life-affirming and positive? Or is it re-creation of what we have known all our lives: feelings of shame? If your sexual expression elicits safety, love, and a feeling of emotional connection, it is healthy.

In recovery, our sexual expression slowly becomes acts of affirmation and right intention, ultimately promoting an overall feeling of well-being. this is a process that takes time and patience; it provides a path into a place of sexual wellness and health.

Crawling into bed, I have a feeling of hopelessness and despair. I don't believe I can take this level of pain. I want relief. I want to act out. But then I remember what one of the guys said to me in treatment. Looking into my eyes, he said, in a thoughtful, quite voice, "Maureen, you are worth it; you can do this." I beveled, in that moment, that he believed in me. With that thought, that gift from a fellow addict, I was able to believe I could do it and that I was worth it. I knew, if only for that fleeting moment, that I was going to be alright.