Robin Williams’s Verdict on Life

Reblogging a great blog’s post quoting another person but it’s an interesting point of view; though on vacation, I have thought of Robin Williams’ life and death, but I have been avoiding Facebook and newspapers and Internet not to mention TV, so it has been good to have an excuse to stay out of the frenzy of opinions on suicide, mental illness/substance issues as well as celebrities… This commentary is great food for thought.

Bipolar Lessons

This is such a realistic and compassionate point of view on Robin William’s suicide that I just have to share it. Be warned that this may be triggering for some people.

From the Patheos blog Camels With Hammers

Robin Williams’s Verdict on Life

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Short Post: “Thanks for Sharing”

I intend to post a whole series about the phenomenon of the “Selfie”, and started writing a long complicated post. However, I will be out of town next week, so I probably won’t post then unless I find something great to “reblog”.

So this post is about the film, “Thanks for Sharing”, starring Mark Ruffalo and a with a great supporting appearance by the singer/performer Pink who turns out to be a really good actress. Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim Robbins and Joely Richardson. ImDB describes the movie as “A romantic comedy that brings together three disparate characters who are learning to face a challenging and often confusing world as they struggle together against a common demon: sex addiction.”

It’s directed and partly written by Stuart Blumberg who is known for writing the movie, “The Kids Are Alright.”

This movie did not get much attention before, during or after its run in the movie theaters, however, I went to it and actually really liked it and I think it is very under appreciated. I have told many patients to see it as I work with a lot of people who attend 12 Step Meetings of various kinds and for whom the 12 Step Program is a healing and integral part of their lives and recovery.

Anyway, what struck me the most about the movie is that the 12 Step Program, in this case S.A. Sex Addicts Anonymous (there is also SLA, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous) is the main character portrayed on many levels in the flim.

Well, I just learned something: there are 4 different 12 step programs that address this kind of addiction/compulsionnn, not just the above two:

Sexaholics Anonymous (SA)
Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA)
Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA)

FOr a good description of the differences between these, here is the link I found:
http://www.billherring.info/atlanta_counseling/how-different-12-step-meetings-for-sexual-recovery-define-sexual-sobriety

THat’s what I love about blogging. I learn as I write! As the main character, SA links all the characters together, not just the main one played by Mark Ruffalo. In the opening shots the camera goes down streets in NYC, and what I found great was that the cinematographer captured the point of view of people with sex addiction in terms of their having a different brain response to stimuli in the environment, especially visual stimuli. As the camera goes down a crowded day time NY street, it captures how just about anything, not just people, but inanimate objects, can be taken in as a sexual stimuli, and gives you an idea of the brain of a sex addict getting “triggered” by anything, even a fire hydrant or street light, as well as any random person walking down the street of any gender.

The movie captures the essence of the 12 Step Recovery System which is not for everybody as it follows an abstinence sobriety model, not a moderation/balance model. It is highly effective for many people with sex addiction issues though. The main human character in the film has about 5 years “sobriety” which means he has had no sexual activity including masturbation in 5 years. The longer recovered addict played by Tim Robbins is his sponser and the Ruffalo character is sponsoring a newly in recovery, forced to go to 12 steps person who is still out of contol. Pink enters the movie later and is also a sex addict with little recovery time. So the movie does a good job portraying the different challenges of 12 Step Receovery for the long recovered married addict, the 5 year person with the challenge of having to stop avoiding dating and relationships to more fully recover, and the struggling beginning addicts who are stumbling along having a lot of trouble staying sober and “slipping” while still going to meetings. What saves the two early recovery people is that they bond and help each other because they are on the same level. Ruffalo refuses to sponsor the new sponsee because he is not actively doing anything in his recovery and not being truthful in the meetings or with his sponsor.

For the long recovered addict played by Tim Robbins, there is a great portrayal of a split that can happen with 12 Step Recovery. His SA sponsor role model self is very dedicated and he has saved his marriage and developped a kind of father son relationship with his sponsee, thus making progress with SA while in his personal life, he is having a lot of trouble with his son who is also an addict. He does not accept or validate his son and his disagreements with his wife are about the son. So his main conflict involves changing as a father and stopping hiding behind the replacement father role of being a better sponsor to his sponsee than father to his son…

The Ruffalo character has the challenge of starting to date someone and figuring out how to “come out” about his sex addiction without scaring away his potential girlfriend, and being challenged by relapse and the messiness of life that he cannot avoid anywya.

THe movie zeroes in on the special fellowship of the people at this SA meeting and the way it can be a supportive community, but the challenge is to go back out in the world and manage on your own with your sobriety. The movie is complex enough that we see several different kinds of challenges faced by the characters in SA, as well as seeing how they fare trying to explain their addiction and recovery to non addicts. Because the movie takes on the challenge of sex addiction, which is not understood by the mainstream culture very deeply and which has a lot of shame associated with it, it does have a lot of gorund to cover and cannot be extensive, so unfortunately it only shows people identified as heterosexual with these struggles, and would have been a deeper movie if there were characters from the LGBTQ community.

Much more can be said, but I will end with a few important 12 Step phrases that were important in the film and quite helpful to anyone. “CLean your own side of the street” said by a non sex addict, the partner of the Tim Robbins character, about how she has managed to stay in her relationship and be growing in it. She is aware that she has her own work to do on herself and that her husband’s sex addiction is his “Side of the street” and his problem, not hers. “THanks for sharing” is of course the title and based on what people say in meetings in response to someone sharing their struggles. This phrase is actually very meaningful, it covers the attitude of gratefulness for recovery and rebirth and second and third chances as well as a grateful attitude towards everyone who comes to a meeting. All can equally share no matter how much sober time they have. It is the “Sharing” and community that really aids in the healing process and can be true for any kind of therapeutic healing or group. The mere act of sharing and being validated is very powerful for anyone struggling with mental illness and/or addiction. The two minor characters with little experience sober are sharing with each other outside the meeting and it actually works, because the writer knew not to drama things up and have them sleep with each other. Instead they are learning to have a non sexual relationship through SA, which is incredibly healing for them to “share” in the kind of friendship neither has yet experienced.

So I highly recommend this film as a great effort at portraying some aspects of 12 Step Recovery and the humanity of a person who has done the kind of terrible behaviors sex addicts are compelled to do. This is the other side of it, so we can have compassion for all the characters wherever they are in their recovery, and understand the struggles they have due to a probably biological as well as environmentally caused disorder/imbalance.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death and Legos

On Feb.2, 2014, (James Joyce’s Birthday), Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an overdose. On that same day in the United States, about 99 other people also died of drug overdose.

This week in my practice, I had quite a few intense sessions with people, the kind of sessions that feel like they are of an existential matter, or an existential crisis. Talking people from the ledge, not necessarily people about to end their life immediately or go overdose, but people questioning their own life and its possible meaninglessness, feeling a lot of self loathing and worthlessness, or destroying their creative spirit with judgments, comparisons and criticisms. In about 9 sessions yesterday, I think Philip Hoffman’s death came up somehow in about 8 out of them and the morning before also in another session. What does his death represent besides a reminder of the deadliness of drug addiction and polysubstance and heroin abuse? It’s about recovery and finding yourself at a crossroads in your life, your shadow is beckoning you to eternal emotional pain and despair and a small shred of hope, a light in the distance, is still also there calling you away from the darkness. It’s about the work in most therapy, the goal being for the person to come to like him or herself more and hate him or herself less…

Some of these sessions went to a very blunt place where I pointed out, we all have what I see as 3 choices when faced with existential angst and self destructive thoughts about life being meaningless or ourselves being failures, worthless, whatever we make is not good, and being told positive things about ourselves makes us feel worse instead of better. So your choice is to end it now and be done with the endless suffering — what the BUddhists refer to as suffering due to addiction, attachment and delusion. The other is to kill yourself off symbolically and destroy your creative spirit and continue living the life of a deadened person; this choice involves giving up on yourself but continuing to appear to be alive but to be dead inside. Many have made this choice, a kind of circle of hell on earth, an acceptance of depression as part of everyday life. The other choice is the hardest for people who have been to the darkest part of their psyche and lived through it: the choice to awaken and emerge from the traps of addiction, delusion and attachment. All humans are at times addicted, deluded or attached. People wake up everyday and live through the day in such a state of mind. Addiction is not just to substances or gambling, sex, love, shopping, food or work, money, success, approval, anger, etc.

Delusion is not limited to humans wandering around in psychotic states. We are in delusion quite often in everyday life, when we do not observe what is really going on and enter a kind of state of ignorance.
“In the Mahayana tradition, two levels of ignorance (avidya) are identified. Dzigar Kongtrul explains:
There are two levels of ignorance: ignorance of the absolute, or the essential nature of phenomena, and the ignorance that prevents us from taking an accurate reading of the relative world. These two kinds of ignorance are like two kinds of thread: When they are tightly woven together, they are not easy to identify, yet they make up the fabric of delusion.
As a result of the first type of ignorance, we lack wisdom. Lacking an understanding of our true nature, we perceive that which is illusory and spacious to be solid and real. The second type of ignorance is the inability to clearly understand the laws of karma and interdependence, which then results in an inaccurate relationship to the world.” From Wikipedia

Carl Jung referred to this type of ignorance in terms of “attitudes”. When a person does not see clearly what is real, they take on an attitude or attach a kind of power to something that then renders it not real and the person continues to see it that way. We see this all the time with various kinds of simple realities. Your “boss” at work becomes more than a “boss”. A boss is someone who has the role of directing people who work for him or her and defining the tasks and roles of the people who work for him or her, but for many they attach more power to their boss and their boss becomes too powerful or their parent instead of simply their boss. We do this with all kinds of things. As an artist I have done this with a gallery or exhibition. My work gets rejected and for a while I live in a delusional state of mind in which this particular gallery and the “juror” who picked the work to go in the show and the work that was not admitted to the show become more than what they really are. I give them some kind of power to decide that I am a “bad artist”, “not good enough”, a “failure”. The gallery is one of probably millions and it is simply a place that payed someone to look through images of work submitted by artists and decide which to put in a particular show that would take place for about 30 days. When I let go of my delusions and attachments to this delusional idea of the gallery and juror of the show, I see the reality, and go back to doing what an artist does whether s/he gets in a show or not, creates art on a daily basis.

In reality, the gallery’s juror did not want any of ten images I emailed them to be in some show of theirs. I know these are ten of countless pieces I will continue to make. When I am not attached to my work being seen or to this gallery’s show, or even to a particular art work being good or bad or craving attention for my work or addicted to approval from the outside, I can be a relatively happy being who engages in the creative process for the sake of the process and my happiness is derived from the engagement with the materials and the process not with any product or result of a product. Because I have survived many of these rejections, each time I am quicker to be able to return to reality. Reality is always much simpler than the delusional or attached or addicted version of reality. In reality a glass of wine or a new dress is a material thing to enjoy but it does not have more power than that. Having a book published or a painting in a show or an award for a movie is a part of reality but cannot define a person. Exhibit A: Philip Seymour Hoffman, human who, given 46 years on earth, achieved a level of success, reknown, acclaim and material riches, as well as a family, and promise of more opportunities to hone his craft, gain more reknown and more enjoyment from his creativity as well as further fame and money, perhaps the joy of watching his children grow, that few ever come close to, he, who with all of thi,s was not able to escape the suffering that addiction brings to all who succomb.

Bringing us back to the choices and the therapeutic session sometimes taking on the conversation of existential dilemmas nobody escapes. Challenge is: can you wake up tomorrow and show up for life whatever it brings and be awake, not living in the past or some fantasy of the future moment? If you can do that, you will escape your own attachments to some definition of who you are, who you are supposed to be, who you expect yourself to be, your addictions to anything that seems like it will fill an empty hole, your delusions about your own reality and the people and other beings you encounter throughout your day. It’s an invitation to let go of your beliefs, your assumptions, your cravings, your attachments to outcomes and goals. As Marsha Linehan wrote: “The fundamental nature of reality is change and process rather than content or structure.” I found this quote, wrote it in my journal and shared it with about 4 patients in the course of my day, as I need to constantly remind myself of this truth; armed with this one small bit of wisdom about reality, you may save yourself from the terrible fate of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the 99 other unknowns who died on Feb.2, 2014 in the USA of the same cause… as well as the countless people walking the earth, who have no awareness of their own suffering in the form of addiction, delusion or attachment…

The philosophy of playing legos, contributed by a five year old, to be explored in another post.