Thanks for sharing the movie “Thanks for Sharing”

I have no real sense of time right now as it feels like a million lifetimes have occurred since my last post. I had an epic loss of tragic proportions last week, and I was hoping to post something about it, but it feels too private and I have no words.

By chance, last night I saw the movie, “Thanks for Sharing”. I do not read much about movies before seeing them, so I just knew vaguely that it was something about families and maybe some kind of rehab and that Mark Ruffalo, whom I really like as an actor, and Gwyneth Paltrow, whom I’m pretty lukewarm about , were in it.

Anyway I was happy to approach it with an open mind and happy to say that I learned some new things and had other things reinforced by this poignant movie. I have no idea whether it was a good movie or not, but this time I did not care, given the past two weeks, my judgment level was pretty nonexistent. Just give me something meaningful and distracting and I will find something useful in it, was my attitude. In that, it did not disappoint.

I have had mixed feelings about treatment of sex addiction and what actually constitutes sex addiction. I also have feelings about how hard it is for women to find support groups, especially in 12 Step Groups, as they are dominated by males, and I can appreciate that it would probably be better for female identified sex addicts, whatever their sexual orientation, as well as transgendered sex addicts, to have a separate space for recovery. On the other hand, I was happy the film included an important character, a female sex addict who had a pretty important role in the film and was well fleshed out even though she was not the main focus. It was moving to see her bond with the very troubled doctor character and to see how they helped each other and were able to form a relationship that was safe and non sexual, a first for both of them.

I have worked with all kinds of “addicts”, including self identified sex addicts as well as people questioning their use of sex as a coping mechanism. There are many shades of gray here. Almost anyone who has had multiple sex partners in non serious relationships as well as people in serious committed types of relationships has experienced using sex as a kind of numbing out, a relief of emotional pain, a desire to get some kind of high, a way to relate when unable to communicate in some other more helpful way; many people have experienced having consensual sex and then wondering, “What was I thinking? why did I do that?” or not remembering any of the experience. So, I would imagine that many people can understand how confusing the whole concept of sex addiction is.

Masturbation added to the mix makes it even more problematic, as in my view, masturbation is a very positive way of self-exploration, acceptance of your body and caring for you body, a way to decrease any shame you have taken on from some kind of terrible childhood  or later experience, a way to take back your body from any traumatic sexual experience, etc. I include every form of masturbation from using porn, books, the internet, sex toys, masturbating in company with a partner, or just masturbating to reduce your stress level and help you get to sleep.

So it is hard to accept that in SA (Sex Addicts Anonymous, a 12 Step Program modelled on the original Alcoholic Anonymous) there is a prescription that to be in recovery and count each day involves a prohibition against any form of masturbation. I knew this was part of their program and always had questions about it, but the movie did effectively demonstrate why it may be helpful at least in the first year of recovery. Maybe it’s comparable to the idea that your first year of recovery from any addiction or eating disorder, etc. it is recommended that you do not date or enter into romantic relationships, as you need to focus on strengthening your self awareness and coping skills and not add challenges that are immediate “triggers” until you are more solid, stable and emotionally and physically and mentally ready for the complexities of dating and relationships. The movie demonstrated well how a person when kind of experiencing “relapse” due to being overwhelmed by triggers, goes to masturbation first for as the simplest most convenient way to  zone out and comfort the self, self soothe and feel a kind of escapist “high”. On the other hand, it seemed that having a relapse like that did not mean that the person went into a complete downspiral, so maybe the masturbation prohibition serves to help people wake up to a “warning sign”, like, uh oh, I’m starting down a slippery slope, I can stop before I start doing illegal things on the subway or waking up in some strangers bed having cheated on my partner, etc. So I do see how this rule could actually be useful. Also for people with a lot of sexual trauma, learning to direct all sexual urges and fantasies etc. into eventually a relationship with probably one person and to just experience a more healthy adult form of sexuality could be enhanced by the person not masturbating and only experiencing their sexuality as an exchange of intimacy and connection which would be reparative. Eventually my hope would be that the person could incorporate masturbation into their sex life with their partner and masturbation could be a healthy form of sharing and part of their sexual experience and experienced in a completely new transformative way. Sex addicts and people with eating disorders have similar challenges. You can’t stop eating, you have to completely overhaul your relationship to food and emotions and relearn how to eat and how to experience physical fullness, just to mention the basics. In a similar vein, the sex addict, unless  s/he becomes completely celibate, will eventually be challenged to incorporate sex into their lives in some healthy transformative way, which is not easy for anybody and doubly challenging for the sex addict. As one character jokes in the movie, it’s likw being a crack addict with a crack pipe full of crack attached to your genitals!

What I already believe and try to work on in my own life and encourage in my patients is another kind of principle from the 12 Steps Program, called “Clean your own side of the street.” I actually learned it long ago from several patients who were struggling in their recovery to watch their critical judgmental side. Once in recovery an individual can get caught up in some rigidity and even self rightousness, (I know what’s best for that sick person over there as I’ve been throuh it type of thinking.) Many therapists fall into this trap too, thinking they knkow better than their patients. Even as a therapist, the “clean your own side of the street” philosophy is useful to remind you that you may serve as a witness and sometimes guide but you still have to work hard on keeping your street clean or you can get pretty mixed up and very un useful to your patients. There is a great scene in this movie between the woman newly dating the main character talking to his much older sponsor’s wife who has been with her husband since high school, and presumably through some terrible patches of cheating and other awful experiences. The young woman is marvelling at how the older woman had weathered these storms and she tells her she learned long ago to worry about her own side of the street, meaning to keep the focus back on her own self and her own challenges and what she needed to work on, which is a  model that does not make the one member of the couple the “identified patient” and create room for a more enlightened relationship where two flawed humans accept each others struggles but do not confuse them or take on the ones that do not belong to that individual.

I think this concept of constantly refocusing to look at your side of the street is really transformational and useful in everyday life. It helps diffuse drama that is not necessary in any situation. You can acknowledge what is happening without playing the blame game or overly analyzing anything. Letting go and moving on to the next moment is a big part of this. Recovery can be seen as a constant state of rebirth where there are no “relapses”, only different challenges and responses to those challenges, and most of all, learning to have compassion infinitely for ourselves and others.

Brief Post: Mindfulness and Everyday Discoveries

Mindfulness, a definition:

Mindfulness is a pretty simple concept. Being mindful in your everyday life is kind of the opposite of having a full mind in the sense of a mind full of thoughts. On the other hand, when one is in a very mindful state of mind, one’s mind is full, just not spilling over, and full in a different sense than full of thoughts. Moment to moment awareness is a way of filling your mind, in the sense that your “Mind” is completely focused on the moment.

To be focused on the moment as I understand, is to have a balance of awareness between inside and outside of your mind body state. So you are equally aware of what is going on in your own physical/mental/emotional/spiritual body and the environment around your own body. Practicing mindfulness is a way of practicing ACCEPTANCE.

Fully accepting whatever there is is a way of being close to Truth. Reality is pared down to what is Real. Everything you are experiencing in your own MindBody is accepted, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant. You may feel splintered, you may feel chaotic, you may feel conflicting feelings, however you are able to accept everything at once. Being mindful while alone feels different from being mindful around other beings. It is good practice to practice this mindfulness when alone, as there is less likely to be confusion and overstimulation. If you create your own environment and are in it by yourself, you can practice noticing how you feel inside yourself and what you observe outside yourself.

Another way of practicing mindfulness around people so as to work on practicing it in relationships with others is to practice in environments when you are by yourself but going somewhere or sitting somewhere in company of others who are “strangers”. Noticing your reactions to your environment in the moment can be quite interesting, as you may have many thoughts and opinions crowding your mind or perhaps not much. Everyone has a loud mind sometimes, but listening to your own mind without judgment can be a way to practice listening to others without judgment.

Practicing mindfulness around people you already “know” can reveal that you do not really know them in certain ways. I have found this practice yields very interesting results. When I practice this I try to approach a person I know with the curiosity of not knowing anything. In fact, I do not know what s/he will do or say in the next moment. In practicing this kind of mindfulness, it is easier to be aware of one’s assumptions and preconceptions and how they cloud the mind. In addition, approaching someone you have a lot of emotional investment in with an open mind can yield much more creative and interesting situations. Someone starts to tell you something and instead of having any idea of what they are saying or meaning, I can approach it with the neutrality of a journalist or scientist. I find this to be the best way to learn about anything. When able to achieve this state of mind, I look upon others as being experts about themselves, so I ask questions that will help me discover more about what they are communicating with me. Suddenly all the problems I experience around communications with others seem to melt away with this simplicity. Knowing nothing is a lot less stressful than thinking I know a lot.

Imaginative play with children is another way to get into a more mindful state. It is similar to how actors who do “Improvisation” approach their craft. You enter the stage as another enters and then whoever makes a “proposal” starts. The other person accepts the proposal. Not accepting is a form of “blocking” which closes down play. With a child it is the same. If a kid says lets pretend this table is a boat, then you can say oh cool, what kind of boat are we in? or where are we going in this boat? Even adding something without subtracting can keep the play open and active, ie. Guess what, this boat is so cool it can be a boat on the water or turn into a submarine or fly in the air if we want it to! With art making this principle is similar. Recently I was making roses out of Sculpey. I started with a color like pink, red or yellow and then attached a green stem. After making a few small roses like this, it occurred to me to ask myself, why not make a blue rose with a pink stem or a multicolored rose with a purple stem. I was with children at the time, so my mind was already more open anyway. If you treat reality this way, anything can be “sculpey” or your “canvas” and you can “make” a collaborative thing with others by adding to what they contribute. ..

  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

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“Gender Neutral”: Does it Bring Us to A New View of Gender or Perpetuate Old Views?

I am excited to start a series of posts on the topic of gender. It is a huge topic but quite central to our psyches, and daily activity in the world. People are constantly making assumptions about gender all day long. I have been interested in the meanings and ideas around gender since I was in high school and got obsessed with David Bowie’s character “Ziggy Stardust”. I loved everything Bowie but this character intrigued me the most and I loved watching the old concert footage of Bowie as Ziggy Stardust. Bowie at that time really played around with gender and the body. In this article you can scroll down and see photos of him, especially the one on stage with the big orange bracelets, the makeup and the tight body suit that was the Ziggy costume. The red hair and the cool makeup were central to the image of Ziggy Stardust. Back in the early to mid 80s while I was in high school, this image was the epitome of taking gender to a place where there is no real definition of gender. Ziggy is svelte and beautiful but neither male nor female. The costume looks painted on him and the idea is that he is a larger than life creature, not even human. The appeal of this character is that it transcends gender altogether. This is no drag queen. Even though there might be a place of no gender here, sex appeal and sexiness are still part of this persona…
http://www.musiclipse.com/misc/ziggy-stardust-and-the-spiders-from-mars

From Ziggy I went to thinking about concepts of gender in terms of wondering if we all have pieces of ourselves that are different genders and mixtures of genders. I enjoyed the concept of considering that everyone has a lot of selves that include other genders, and I liked the idea of there being more than two genders, including nongendered parts of ourselves and double gendered parts as well as transgendered parts and androgeny or hermaphroditic (an·drog·y·nous ( n-dr j -n s). adj. 1. Biology Having both female and male characteristics; hermaphroditic. 2. Being neither distinguishably masculine nor feminine …, from the free online dictionary) In psychology a “systems” based view of the individual involves acknowledging that we have different parts within us that come out at different times, somewhat related to the Jungian concept of the self which seems a bit limited now, but a good starting point. Jung recognized that females have an “animus” and males have an “anima”, the masculine or feminine energy within all of us, as well as the persona and the shadow. However, his idea of gender is limited and dualistic rather than multiplistic, if that could be a word. Why couldn’t a female identified person have within her an animus and an anima, a female shadow and a male shadow self, and perhaps other selves that are not gendered. In the movie, “A Beautiful Mind” the main character is “hallucinating” these companion selves that are all part of who he is. Interestingly the child self is in the form of a girl.

So the question for another post might be, “Who are all your parts? are they gendered? do you have parts that transcend gender, such as a non gendered animal inside of you or some other kind of being? In the all girls high school I went to, in our senior yearbook we had a list of aspects of ourselves and one was “male counterpart” in which as I remember it, others thought of what male person each of us reminded them of. Unfortunately I did not get to be David Bowie but got Woody Allen instead. I think I’ve lost the Woody Allen part of me, but I do have a very old man in there, and actually in high school plays I often played boys and old men!

So this is the personal framework which I come from in terms of my views of gender. In my early 20’s I started a highly ambitious series of paintings which I will describe in another post, but the whole exploration centered on gender and our perceptions of gender.

The term gender neutral, my original topic, usually reminds me of children and children’s activities, parties, clothing, etc. Starting before birth, when a parent or parents decide they don’t want to know their baby’s gender, people react with baby gifts that are accepted by society as gender neutral, which means a lot of yellow clothing, some white, and some other colors that don’t involve blue, pink, ruffles, lace and no images associated with gender. Boats are ok but cars not, most animals are ok, but flowers and butterflies are not. Here is a link to a website with typical “gender neutral” otherwise referred to as “unisex” baby clothes:
http://www.littleme.com/neutral
When you start with the infant, it seems that gender neutral involves stripping clothes of any kinds of markers or communications of anything, so you get things like you see on the above website, bland yellow and white clothing with very little extra touches and few images of any kind. This seems to imply as I said above that even an image of a boat versus a butterfly becomes gendered. The butterfly will be seen on girl’s clothing and the boat on boy’s clothing. If you think about it, it is odd because there is nothing very gendered about either boats or butterflies, flowers, even vehicles.

This same baby website has girls clothing, mostly pink and white and uses mostly images of flowers, bows, hearts, pink leopard print, and butterflies and also cupcakes. Why is a cupcake inherently associated with the female gender? Boys eat cupcakes too! When you look at it at that level, it becomes ridiculous. How is it in 2013 we are putting cupcakes on girls’ clothing and not boys?:
http://www.littleme.com/girls

Again on this website you can check out the boys clothing. This is a great website about gender as it is very simple and divides their clothing by gender:
http://www.littleme.com/boys
So the boys clothing involves darker colors, navy blue stripes, bicycles, trains, cars, dogs, foxes, bears. Even animals are gendered with baby clothes. Girly animals seem to be kitties, butterflies, and birds, though ducks being yellow, seem to be considered gender neutral as are giraffes, owls and elephants.

Interestingly while looking at the clothes on this website, I actually found a great “gender bender” baby girl outfit among all the stereotypical ones:
http://www.littleme.com/infant-girls-blazer-and-legging-set/
A girl in a navy blazer and striped pants but wearing a red bow in her hair. Not bad. I wish there were a boy counterpart of a boy toddler in a pink dress…

Speaking of the very stereotyped pink and blue, it is odd that early in the twentieth century the colors were reversed, so boys were dressed in pink and girls in blue! Check this out, and notice that it does not help gender stereotypes to be saying pink is “stronger” and more suitable for boys. Humans are very screwed up about gender!
“For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.””
From a great article: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/When-Did-Girls-Start-Wearing-Pink.html

In fact, earlier on, babies were dressed in white dresses and boys often had longer hair and looked like what we would think of as girls in today’s climate. So we’ve come a long way to nowhere, seems like we are still confused as well as still having some deep need for clarity and difference and fear of being in the gender neutral zone, as the term really wants to be understood, that zone of not knowing what gender the baby, child, teenager or adult is. The same can be said of bisexuality, especially for men: society still has a hard trouble with dialectics and wants to separate things to understand people. The area of the “unknown” is hard for us humans. I’m not sure why it is so difficult to hold the idea of someone being attracted to both men and women and also attracted to people that are genderconfusing. why would the idea of “I find that person sexy,” then “is it a man or woman?”
well I don’t actually know, then how can you be attracted to this person. the answer of course often is, what do you mean? how can I not be attracted to someone whom I find attractive but mysterious, why would I need or want to know this person’s gender before getting to know the person or asking them out on a date?
Thus even people’s “types” and attractions, which we don’t have much control over, are seen as suspect if the person does not even care about identifying the gender of the other person first. What a novel idea, Oh well, I could get to know this person and maybe eventually find out what gender they identify as. Framed this way, I could see that approaching attraction could involve a very different framework from what we are used to. Why not get to know someone a while before even figuring out their gender? Maybe this framework is closer to the real idea of the term “gender neutral”, ie. having a neutral approach to gender, and not taking looks at face value, such that any particular human could be any gender and might just be wearing a “gendered” uniform at the moment. That person with a moustache and suit and tie on the subway might not be male.

Is it possible to strip our gendered ideas of people to the point where we could start at such a neutral level, assuming nothing about gender until informed by the person as to what they identify as? This is probably a long way off, but it would make the world a lot more fascinating. Any baby wearing ruffles and dresses and ribbons might be any gender. Your coworker who wears ties and suits one day and fitted skirts another day could be any gender.

To go even further out on a limb, just seeing a person without clothes on does not absolutely determine their gender as “hermaphrodites”and other mixed indivuals can look like either gender.

The interesting problem of gender assignments of characteristics is gender itself. If you look at it logically, why does someone who happens to have a penis seem to be ambivalent about his male gender if he wears a dress to work or why is he percieved as having ambivalence about having a penis just because he wears a dress that day?

I will end on a fun note. I read about some study a while ago where they were tryign to figure out stuff about gender and toys and one thing they did was put toddlers in rooms with choices of things including dolls, trucks etc as well as pots and pans. I thought that was idiotic as any kid could pick up a pot or pan and think of it as a weapon, not something for cooking…