The New Mid Life Crisis

What is a mid life crisis? Everyone thinks of some middle aged guy with a receding hairline in a red Porsche having an affair with a 20 year old when they here the phrase.

Well, we’ve come a long way baby, since those backwards days. Now your gender doesn’t matter, it’s age that does. It doesn’t have to be about feeling physically past your prime either.

Maybe being 40-45 used to be when people had this “syndrome”. Now it could happen to you in your late 30’s, early to late 40’s or 50’s. Whatever feels mid life to you.

You don’t have to leave your spouse or disappear or find a new identity. You don’t have to spend tons of money on something stupid that is supposed to represent your last threads of holding on to your youth.

What is a mid life crisis? My definition is, you reach an age in your life, where you start looking back on your life, and wondering, sometimes regretting, sometimes wishing, sometimes scared to death. Usually it sinks in that you have less days ahead of you than behind you (I just heard that one, and it shook me). Even if you think you may live to 100, you have an equal number of days ahead of you than behind you, or you feel the weight of whatever many years are behind you and the time ahead of you looms as time you don’t want to waste, time you want to do something that makes you feel alive.

If you’re even thinking in terms of days you’ve spent that are over and days you have got left, you’re probably in the land of the Mid Life Crisis.

So it starts or is defined by a sense of urgency, thinking about your life as limited, ta a thinking about your death and what you did, could have done, could be doing, could do, might miss forever if you don’t do it now.

The actions that go with this self conception, the “red Porsche”, can take many forms. It may seem mild to some, getting a tattoo, changing your hair, going on a trip, taking trapeze or tango lessons, sky diving or bigger things, moving, spending a lot of money on something, whether a house, a car, a swimming pool, a horse, or picking some collection of books to read you never were interested in before. Its could be crazier, starting a drug habit, doing stuff that you always thought were “against the rules”…

There are other types of actions that are not so “bucket list” like things. Changing careers, suddenly realizing you want to run a bed and breakfast instead of working in a big city. Taking up some creative activity nobody thought you were interested in.

What do you think of when you think of Mid Life Crisis? What have you done or seen others do? To be continued…

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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.

Sexual Fantasies and the Theory of the “Sex Script”

Warning: Do not read this if you are uncomfortable with topics about sex, fantasies, sexuality, also sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape, etc.

I want to start a conversation about sexual fantasies and the shame people feel about them. This is a huge topic, like most of the continuing topics I start and sometimes do not finish. (I intend to post more about the stigma of mental illness and the controversy around mental illness and violence, etc. but I’m taking a break from that topic to write about this very different one…)

In this post, which will probably be longer than intended, I would like to introduce the idea of the “sex script” in connection with people’s sexual fantasies. The information I got about this was reading posts on the internet summarizing this book:The Sex Script Hypothesis:
Toward a Comprehensive Theory of Human Sexuality, by James Park 

Here is the link to the website where you can read more about it:

http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/syn-sex.html

In reading this material, I noticed that I did not agree with some of the conclusions Park makes about people’s sexuality and even about the content of one’s sexual preoccupations. For example, he makes a big blanket statement about men and breasts:

 Female breasts frequently appear in male sex-scripts on all levels: 
Men find women’s breasts of intense sexual interest. 
Some men become sexually aroused when viewing or thinking about breasts. 
And breasts may appear as a strong fantasy object in some men’s orgasms.”

One could read this and get lead on a detour as he is assuming a lot of things that are not for sure true. It is true that for most humans, the breast was the first “preoccupation” we had. It was where we got food and comfort, etc., but women may have just as strong a preoccupation with breasts as men, whatever their sexual orientation, and some men have no interest in breasts or fantasize about other things more often. These blanket statements are annoying, but I still think Park is on to something with his main theory.

The basic idea is that society may create our “sexual scripts” (what is considered stereotypically appropriate for men and women, heterosexual and homosexual, to engage in when they have sex or when they masturbate. The “sexual script” in our society is pretty limited, as you can see by watching sex scenes in most mainstream movies. There is not even a societal “sexual script” (which is a kind of narrative, by the way, and why we can discern society’s limited stories about sex from the mainstream media) for bisexual and transgendered and questioning individuals, as society does not really know what the story might be for such people. 

Anyway his point in talking about “sexual scripts” versus the concept of the “sex script” is to point out the difference. Many people do mostly have fantasies that conform to these limited “sex scenes”, however, I would wager that the majority of individuals who engage in sexual fantasy at any age tend to stray from these limited scripts into their own personal “sex script”. The sex script as I understand it is something that kind of gets “imprinted” into the human brain in the first moments of discovering sexuality and/or engaging in sexual contact with others or with oneself. Basically the majority of people’s sex script is formed during puberty, although some people exposed to sex and sexuality at younger ages, have sex scripts that begin at that time. Thus people who have been molested and abused at very young ages, from infancy up to about age 12, may have very disturbing sex scripts or may have sex scripts that mostly contain the things that they find disturbing and not arousing at all. Thus, some people may eliminate certain sexual activity from their fantasies and sex lives as they find they are repulsed by it. On the other hand, even people who experienced sexual abuse at very early ages may, without their control, notice that they are aroused by all kinds of varieties of disturbing fantasies, some of which involve coercion and/or rape or other events they remember from the abuse.

Basically around childhood all the way to age 20, the human brain is still forming, and there are young ages during which the sex script will get imprinted. So men who identify as heterosexual and report no fantasies about homosexual contact, may still fantasies about looking at other men naked, or masturbating with other men, if they were exposed to this in reality or through pornography that they experienced around the time they were aware of having wet dreams and/or masturbating.

The theory of the sex script is useful in that it explains why some couples are mystified by hearing what the other person gets “turned on” by or fantasizes about. In some cases, a person’s regular sex life, whether with one partner or more, may have nothing to do with their sex script. An obvious and common example involves gender and sexual orientation. Some people notice that they prefer to fantasize about being with the same gender though they have never been attracted to someone of the same gender and only have had sexual experiences with the opposite gender. The same can be true of homosexual men and women who may experience heterosexual sex only in their fantasy life. 

I think the main important take away about this, while I want to post about many sub topics, is that the theory of the sex script is most useful for people who have not been able to talk to their partners about their sexual fantasies due to feelings of shame or fears of disgust and rejection by the partner(s). Realizing that your sex script was formed years before you met this person or persons you may be married to or committed can be liberating for this group of people and form a bridge for how to start talking about their fantasies with their partners and sharing. 

It is well documented that people who share their sexual fantasies with each other and have interest in each other’s fantasies tend to have a freer more open and perhaps satisfying sex life with their partner(s). It is never too late to start sharing these “dark secrets” with the people you are sexually intimate with. It needs to be done in an atmosphere of acceptance. The sex script provides the help for such discussions. Knowing that one’s partner may have had sexual experiences with others before one met the person is very different from accepting that one’s partner’s brain was exposed to certain aspects of sexuality in the actual reality of a “strange” sexual experience or exposed to watching or seeing some kinds of sex that are foreign to the other partner. There is some kind of strange assumption people sometimes have that their fantasies are probably similar to their partner’s, or an assumption by people who don’t really engage in fantasy, that their partner is not that preoccupied with it either. There is a lot of misplaced jealousy going on about sexual fantasy and erotica and pornography. There is a great scene in the movie “The Kids Are alright” where one of the kids finds their mothers’ stash of gay male porn and is shocked and freaked out. It may have been a scene where the kid walked in on their parents watching it; I can’t remember. What was great about it was the explanation one or both of the moms gave which was quite brief but pretty groundbreaking for a lot of people who did not know this. Basically she said “Just because we are lesbians doesn’t mean we only like watching women together in our choice of porn..” Anyway, it introduced the idea that sexual orientation and erotica, pornography, and fantasy and even couple’s engaging in watching something together, may have nothing to do with the sexual orientation or gender of the people having these experiences.

There is documentation that  “rape” fantasies are very common. What is interesting about these studies done on women with such fantasies, is that women who fantasize about being raped are actually quite healthy in their sex lives with others and also, that they tend to have a wide variety of fantasies, of which the rape fantasy is only one. So people’s assumptions that rape fantasies are unhealthy are unfounded. It must be emphasized of course that fantasy and reality are extremely different. When a patient tells me about what they consider a taboo fantasy (incest, for example, or random stuff like rubbing up against people in the subway), these are part of their sex script, not their real life. A person may fantasize about all these taboo topics, as well as violent sex and anything else that comes to mind that one might be uncomfortable with oneself. “Why am I aroused by this stuff that is illegal or bad?” Because it is part of your sex script, which you have little control over. When you can understand that fantasy is really a place where “anything goes”, you can be accepting that your partner likes to think about other people, objects, situations etc. that have absolutely nothing to do wtih you or your sex life with your partner, you really have reached an understanding of the concept of the sex script. Healthy couples not only like to share their fantasies, sometimes act them out, or even masturbate together while sharing them, or watch erotica that their partner likes to watch even if it isn’t their “cup of tea”, but also enjoy that their partner shares their sex script with them. Perhaps this is an even more intimate experience than sex itself. It is common for people to notice that they have to ask their partner to do specific things to turn them on or give them an orgasm; most people are not mind readers or body readers, and some people report the best sex to have been with the same person they had bad or mediocre sex with. The difference was the level of openness and communication about what they liked from their partner but also about showing their partner what they like to imagiine, watch or read when they are alone and aroused. It is true that most of “sex” is in the brain, so it makes sense that talking about or showing one’s partner about one’s “sex script” will be helpful. It may be difficult to hear that your partner imagines having sex with specific other people or strangers or having the kind of sex you do not have together, but this has nothing to do with possibiilites of “affairs”. A person can be extremely faithful to their chosen partner or partner(s) and have fantasies that involve behavior that violates whatever “contract” they have about their sex life. And again, this is because we do not have a lot of control over some things that make us sexually excited, and images that we watch or that just enter our brains in adulthood, but we always have control oer our behaviors in reality.

Perhaps the next post on this topic needs to be about pornography and relationships, as this is a big  deal with a lot of couples, and a lot of hurt and pain could be avoided, if people were more educated about the concept of the “sex script”…