Tag Archives: sex addiction

Life weans the giraffe

 

Not so randomly placed in mine and Joe Farley’s book, Getting Real About Sex Addiction, are the ontological issues surrounding the term sex addiction. It’s in the title, even, this suggestion that what we’ll be doing is examining the term sex addiction more than any other mental health abstraction and therefore addressing the problem of problem sexual behaviors: is this a thing, a variously skeptical public asks? The members of Sex Addiction Anonymous (SAA) have of course made their decision on this question. Committees of The American Psychiatric Association and The World Health Organization have not quite made theirs, rejecting the proposed diagnosis Hypersexual Disorder in the case of the former body, and recently (and provisionally) accepting the diagnosis Excessive Sexual Drive in the case of the latter organization. To be clear (or not), neither of these terms are synonymous with the construct of sex addiction, but we’re in the same ball park here. The issue is complex. It is medical, psychological and meta-psychological, as in ontological: is a human being’s sexuality a function of biological drive and are problem behaviors therefore a matter of excess desire? And even if that natural conclusion is drawn, where is the role of nurture in the matter of etiology? Are we talking about an interpersonal versus an intrapsychic event, as in a phenomenon derived from early childhood development—a weaning that went awry versus a web of innate fantasy (or phantasy as Object Relations terms it) within an infantile mind? Or is the broader social and cultural environment the more prominent accomplice in a dysfunctional sexual development?

We’d prefer to think so, at least. And so we hear weary chestnuts that even the most progressive-minded observers must be tired of hearing by now: theories of pubescent or post-pubescent development wherein boys are subject to mores that encourage their essentialist aggression, their concomitant sexual freedom, with consequent pressure to conform and therefore perform when being so deterministically sexualized. Meanwhile, girls are discouraged by societies across cultures from expressing freely their sexuality; they are raised to be demur, ashamed of their sexuality, and therefore passive or possibly manipulative in their sexual expression. And even if this is changing somewhat in a millennial age (really, have you noticed?), then it is surely a reaction to those previous oppressive norms, yielding a confusing transition phase wherein girls, boys, or those along the gender fluid continuum (suggesting a flight from binaries) switch roles at times, thus conforming to a newly burgeoning if less-defined ethos. And so we observe a faction of diffident men and boys who speak of respecting the feminine as if they are resisting in their stance a combined biological and social force upon their being. And we observe women and girls who seem increasingly aggressive and entitled in their sexual freedom while proclaiming the lack of freedom that is afforded them by an arbitrary social reality. In analytic terms, this is the realm of the unconscious but not the repressed, these habits and mores that we download from the culture. By unrepressed I mean something that is not kept away. Isms and other mores may be unconscious, but as we routinely observe, they are hardly kept away. They leak and make a mess, pervading our experience.

The premises of these positions must be difficult for the average mental health professional to sustain given the contradictions of theory and life itself. Firstly, within our profession’s demographic map, that average person is likely female, white and therefore privileged in terms of race, at least. She has been raised and subsequently educated within an atmosphere that encourages or affords (not privileged—we only use that word in this context if we’re feeling critical) a social justice lens, which means supporting narratives that advocate for the underprivileged. In Getting Real, I argue that within the niche field of sex addiction treatment (and perhaps psychotherapy as a whole), this demographic phenomenon of recent generations results in a skew that targets a privileged (non-ironic diction) client population–heterosexual men—for devaluation. The aggregate of thought suggesting how males and females are socialized towards sexual behaviors and identities emphasizes the post-pubescent experience, which for some might imply agreement with an embattled psychoanalytic idea: that pre-pubescent and certainly pre-verbal sexuality is repressed, as in kept away, and for the most part is not leaked and is therefore a lesser factor in pre-teen childhood development. There is no scientific evidence of an Oedipus Complex, say critics of psychoanalysis. There is evidence of pre-verbal attachment styles, the capacity to communicate and comprehend on a pre-verbal level, thus children’s psychological development is profoundly impacted from birth onwards by events, both benign and traumatic, that occur perpetually.

The onset of sexuality is a function of hormonal development, says a medical argument—not some manner of release from childhood repression. Puberty is the psyche’s sexual alarm clock, indicating that it’s time for play of another kind; an incipiently adult kind. Feelings like joy, excitement, wonder, fear, shame, and guilt may all be observed in small children, some pre-verbal, some not. Emotional expression, proximity-seeking, may be developed or not, contingent upon the presence and consistency of a capable adult. The nature of a child’s attachment to a parent (or primary caregiver) will be internalized as a working model of attachment that will further shape development and relationships, possibly over a lifetime. That was John Bowlby speaking and writing over fifty years ago, saying something similar to what D.W. Winnicott was teaching, only with more attention to physical need than the fostering of a distinctive, creative mind. If you the reader are silently nodding in agreement, then you’re joining at least two generations of mental health providers who generally agree with these principles while implicitly thinking that sex is not part of the early attachment equation. You’ve likely been taught to believe that proximity or object seeking, plus patterns within those relational drives, are shaped interpersonally and by broader environmental norms; that we have implicit (neurobiologyspeak for the unconscious) memory of early attachment patterns, whether they were traumatic or not; that we have implicit bias (appropriating social justicespeak for the unconscious but not repressed) in relationships, yielding prejudice directed at distinct social groups. Yes, joy, creativity, and some of that bad feeling stuff is indeed fostered in a child’s development, but not sex. Not arousal, or longing. That potential is activated later…when it’s appropriate, of course.

So, why are there excesses? Why this untidy disorder, this chaos of spillage, as if life were some kind of cosmic dumping. There, says…something: here are your tools in a pile and a flood. Do with them what you will. Is addiction, for example, a blend of natural hormonal excess negatively complemented by an insecure attachment style, of weak or failing repression barriers? And if this shaping does occur both intrapsychically and interpersonally, shall we break with our profession’s current theoretical orthodoxy and resolve that sexual nurturing largely coincides with biological schedules and is dominantly imparted with the help of the cultural village? A village that also fails, perhaps. Because if this isn’t the roughly hewn plan then we must revisit what our developmental theories otherwise imply: go back to society with ideas it doesn’t want to hear and consider taboos, as in pre-teen or even pre-verbal sexual exposure, as the original source of sexual development. We’d have to imagine that arousal and longing are part of the same dyads or village-child-passing-around norms that bring food, enable good sleep, play and a spark of imagination. We’d have to imagine that breast-feeding, or the bathing of infants’ genitalia, or the physical control of their evacuations are truly antecedents of sexual desire, or that excesses in this private realm nurture later distortions of sex as much as any unconscious yet unrepressed social message conveyed via so-called modeling to a conscious mind.

Though it would likely elicit thought-blocking accusations of misogyny or homophobia, we’d need to re-think child-rearing in a way that might stir panic; contemplate sexual orientation in a way that would challenge etiological assumptions. If the excesses of sex addiction are rooted in early childhood development, trauma specialists sometimes suggest (but don’t prove) that childhood sexual abuse is an accomplice to later sexual acting out. In this way, modern psychology comes full circle, revisiting Freud’s original Seduction theory, only with a significant permutation. Instead of conversion symptoms like the paralysis of limbs, patients present with compulsive behaviors, what Freud described as repeating versus remembering, or the shorthand, repetition compulsion. Sandor Ferenczi later gave us the term and concept “Identify with the aggressor”, attempting to rescue Seduction theory from its then-exile, to denote a relational identification between victim and abuser—to indicate a kind of psychic hostage-taking. If the vast majority of sexual abuse perpetrators are male, as a mother-idolizing culture would have us presume, then why doesn’t a corresponding majority of male molestation victims report or manifest ego-dystonic feelings of same-sex attraction? Or perhaps they do and are therefore, in keeping with analytic thought, manifesting the defense of reaction formation via a false heterosexual identification. Does it seem complicated, this human development? Maybe that’s why it seems to be taking longer and longer for children and young adults to grow, with the meta-tasks of an internal, interpersonal, and collectivist set of systems to navigate. I understand that some animals in the wild are able to walk within a day or an hour of their births. They grow up quickly in less complicated systems, with simple brains that are mindlessly free of sexual neurosis. Are the plainer brutalities of nature—the ubiquity of predation, or the threat of being left behind if not ambulatory—the forces that force giraffes to their feet? Do their hormones help? Or do they “grow up” quickly in other ways, if you know what I mean? What if our life expectancies were less than a decade? Would we evolve a quicker, more expedient onset of the pubescent watershed, becoming unrepressed yet thoughtless, and actively or relentlessly sexual, all because it was necessary to survive?

 

 

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Objects don’t return

 

In Getting Real About Sex Addiction, there are several areas of ontological speculation, areas whose nature, existence, and organization are identified by the following terms: addiction, the mind, trauma, misogyny, misandry, and objectification. These abstractions, all made concrete to one extent or another by various pundits across intellectual disciplines, are discussed in mine and Joe Farley’s book within the intersecting frameworks of intrapsychic (one-body or instinctual), interpsychic (relational), or collectivist (broader social or systemic) models of thought. There. Take a moment to digest that mouthful of words before you move on, else you might get psychic indigestion. The terms presented for our offhand yet meaningful scrutiny—these things about which we ask, “is that a thing?”—are listed in no particular order of importance. And it’s not just their importance that seems arbitrary, so too do their meanings. Take, for instance, the term objectification, placed above in a fashion that is fittingly unfitting: a random sixth amongst a list of variably meaningful abstractions.

My passages in the book on objectification don’t so much present an etiology of this term as comment on recent research on the subject. In my reading of studies about porn use, for example, I found that some researchers are revisiting the question of objectification, especially as it pertains to gender. It seems that trends are shifting and that porn use is becoming more, shall we say, egalitarian. Meaning, women are quietly using porn in rates that are starting to rival those of men, according to numerous self report studies. This has led researchers in Amsterdam in the Netherlands to question whether the porn industry has adapted its depiction of men and women in porn scenarios to reflect this shift in viewer demographics. Specifically, they sought to determine whether contemporary porn objectifies men as much as it does women (or approximately so), which would be contrary to accepted social narratives. I’d suggest that what prevails currently is a tautological, as in circular polemic wherein men who use porn or prostitutes are said to be objectifying women, while women who use porn or act as prostitutes are said to be objectifying women. This latter phenomenon is explained by the concept of internalization, an object relations and psychoanalytic theory. The popular rhetoric suggests an underlying ontological issue relating to both porn and addiction and so I canvassed literature to see how the concept of objectification was being defined. Though I found some variance, the most common meanings attached to objectification indicated a reducing of a person to a thing; an implicit demeaning, at least. In Getting Real I don’t contest this meaning though I question its selective application. With respect to the aforementioned study, the researchers designated numerous criteria for objectification and found in several categories equitable instances of objectification from women to men as from men to women. This was especially true with respect to what is often dubbed performative sex.

My own critique extends beyond this kind of forensic examination of porn, though I shall use as a springboard to my idea a convention that I have observed more than once within the porn medium. With apologies, I ask the reader to conjure the following: a man standing, or lying flat, erect in every sense, and appearing soldierly. Physically, he is at attention, but he is not gripped by ecstasy; rather he is gruntingly stoical, or blasé, or—one might consider—dissociative. For the viewer, he may be faceless, as in off camera from the waist up. Whether this is to protect the performer’s identity (especially in amateur porn) or results from his irrelevance to the pleasure of a presumably heterosexual male viewer is debatable, but regardless, he is not exactly personalized. The soldierly pose of the male performer is further apt because it presents a subliminal link to the role that has traditionally (and still does) “objectify” men of this type. In this militant role, they put their bodies on the line, sacrificing themselves, becoming objects of violence or symbols of civilization’s defense. Now then, patriarchs and feminists might ally with one another on this point, bristling against my comparison and the implied moral equivalence between this historical subjugation of men versus the sexual humiliation of women. Firstly, feminists in particular might point out that today many women are also soldiers, thus sharing that sacrificial burden, though on the whole the military remains dominantly masculine. Secondly, they might argue that soldiers, or even their symbolic gladiatorial substitutes, athletes, are treated as heroes, not mere objects to be used by a lustful society.

Really? I would think that even a casual glance at that last sentence would cause dissenters to pause. After all, on the sports front, not all or even a majority of participants become celebrated, or even achieve a lasting or lucrative career (even if they did, does one become less objectified if making lots of money?). Some of them, especially football players, experience chronic health and even mental health problems relating to their playing careers. How much do we really care? Meanwhile, history and even contemporary reality shows that while society and media pay regular lip service to the heroism of veterans, a darker truth lies in the legacy of neglect that survivors of combat have long known. The legendary British analyst, Wilfred Bion, a World War I veteran, felt invisible and used by the military command that recruited him and thrust him and his comrades into no man’s land. My grandfather, a veteran of both Dunkirk and D-day, never acted like—nor was he treated as—a hero. Thomas Childer’s book, Soldier from the War Returning, likewise debunks the myth that WWII soldiers were revered as much as our sentimentalized histories suggest they were. Instead, they endured long-standing economic and psychological struggles, misunderstood episodes of PTSD, and even social backlash from a misunderstanding public. And what about today? How many stories of unattended veterans’ disabilities, or of veterans’ struggles to find jobs or housing do we have to hear before we drop the pretense that we have privileged their lives and service? I don’t begrudge feminist scholars for having drawn attention to the ways in which the sisterhood has been and still is being demeaned. Furthermore, I’m not sure how much any movement is responsible for its menu-minded consumers. But the myopic, femicentric bias invested in the objectification concept merits the critique and satire that I bring to mine and Joe Farley’s book. So there. The reader has been warned, and consumers should be reminded of what they habitually do and what our surviving soldiers weren’t prepared for—that ancient warrior’s tacit sacrificial bargain with his original commanders. We throw our things, our objects, away. They were never meant to return.

Graeme Daniels

 

 

 

 

 

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Many a true word (aka no joke)

 

 

Okay, so what’s the deal with the comedy? Why this thing about flippancy versus an appropriately sober and earnest tone, one might ask? Well, first of all, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Mine and Joe Farley’s book, Getting Real About Sex Addiction, is filled with serious comment, academic rigor, and “getting real”, thumb-on-nose zeal. We have over a hundred references in our bibliography—perhaps close to one fifty—reflecting a studious approach and a whole lotta reading. And I think Joe read at least one book about sex addiction. But seriously, what’s there to be serious about? Who said that being serious was the thing to be when discussing controversial subject matter? When did humor get cast away to the deleted files, and who or what institution made that call, anyway? I get that most psyche lit is dry and pedantic. Sometimes it’s plaintive and proselytizing, offering nomenclature with assumptions about reader literacy—like thinking he or she knows words like nomenclature. Read analytic literature and all this is on another level: words and terms that may be obscure or unexplained are rampant and oblique turns of phrase are ubiquitous. Take phrases like Winnicott’s “going on being” or Wilfrid Bion’s “attacks on links” (actually the title of a paper). This is well-known verbiage to students of psychoanalysis. In a recent article by analytic writer Arthur Nielsen, the concept of projective identification (PI) is explained with sentences like, “inducers, by contrast, continue to be involved with the projected qualities in what Meltzer and Fisher have felicitously termed a bifurcation of experience.” Yes, in English please, I hear the reader ask.

Actually, it is English, and Nielsen’s article in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association is a pretty interesting, if complex take on why one in five marriages in the US will fail in the first five years. Hey, that’s not that bad, I think, given what I notice in couples that come to my office. The PI is off the charts, back and forth and all over the place. I’m near dizzy after an hour with a couple in a PI mess. I’m in need of a good joke, and I’m often tempted to make one. Not a stand-up joke. I don’t mean a “hey did you hear the one about the…” overture, or an ice-breaking aside for a couple who walk in with stony expressions like they’d just been sitting in ice. No, I mean the kind of plays upon words that circle back to previous things said in a session; to matters raised in some other context but which might be raised again, thrust into a new moment and therefore given an altered and—if the satire takes aim—a diminished, possibly diffused meaning. Satire. Now there’s a word. Again, that’s a concept that doesn’t belong in a serious discussion of psychology or mental health problems, and in a sensitive moment, one ought to be careful with humor lest anyone get their feelings hurt versus diffused. Humor can hurt. Truth hurts is a permutation on this theme. Humor as truth: is that your point, Graeme? No, I reply to invisible heckler X. Actually, it might have been Sigmund Freud’s idea. Seriously, I don’t think he ever decreed that analysts should abstain from using humor like they were meant to abstain from sex (with patients that is).

See, Sigmund taught that the unconscious is a free reservoir of instinct, feeling and ideas, albeit largely objectionable ideas. There is no “no” in the unconscious; it knows no limits, doesn’t get endings, of pleasure especially. That’s the ego or Superego’s job, to effect limits in the case of the former apparatus; impart morality and civilized order in the case of the latter. Humor represents that which has slipped from the truthful, as in uncensored, unconscious realm of our mind. It’s contrivance as a quip, a witticism, or an infantile gesture is a compromise, one that grants distance but at the same time allows a glimpse of what is really on a person’s mind. Many a true word, wrote Shakespeare, and there are many true words in Getting Real About Sex Addiction. Some of my favorite writers and filmmakers are comic in their style, thinking this the best way to provoke or inspire. Meaning, they determine that the best way to convey reality is through absurdism. Go figure. This brings to mind (again) Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, about which I’ll be giving a talk in Charleston, South Carolina of all places, next spring. One of my bullet points to be is to point out that Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy, cold-war classic was preceded or released contemporaneously with ponderously sincere fare like 1959’s On The Beach, or 1964’s Fail-Safe. Back in the fifties and sixties, producers thought audiences wanted to be soothed and orated to by the likes of Gregory Peck and Henry Fonda. Who woulda’ thought that nebbish Peter Sellers playing three ridiculous roles, all of them with a latent smirk, would be the one to deliver the most impactful messages of social warning: we’re all gonna die so let’s have some fun while we talk about it.

In co-writing Getting Read About Sex Addiction, I took a similar approach after having read so many books and blogs about sex addiction that left me deadened and therefore needing some fun to rouse me; or, I’d listened to TED talk or You Tube mini stars, speakers who took themselves, it seemed to me, a bit too seriously. It’s not all fun and games, our book. Much of it’s a trauma, or has been, for someone, or maybe everyone. No laughing matter, but the contradictions in the field are what’s funny. You’ll see, or read. I dragged Joe and his infectious giggle with me on this thing, and he soon got into the spirit of drive and mischief, calling me up with mock-homophobic questions like “what are you wearing?” and joining me in this simultaneously, ambiguously serious yet irreverent endeavor. I’ll continue in this vein for a while in blog-space, gauging when to laugh and when not too. If I offend, either in the book or in these pages I’ll take a return joke on the chin, thinking that will be fair play, maybe hate play. Or I might circle back to something I’ve said or written before, because ultimately, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, most people are still laughing about sex.

 

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Sex gone sitcom

 

So, like I wrote before, I’m writing about sex. Or rather, I just got done writing about sex, only there keeps being more to say about it, kinda like there will ever be more sex to be had not long after sex is done. Sex never stops. It never really goes away.

So I invited a friend of mine, Joe Farley, a fellow therapist and “Mastersonian” (more on that…I don’t know, sometime), to write a book with me, about sex addiction (SA). I’d written about this subject before, allusively, in a novel entitled Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole. Not many read it so it won’t matter too much if I repeat myself, though now the context will be non-fiction, and the very non-fictional context that is my private practice work. I asked Joe to join me on this project because a year ago, as I was finishing up the Tommy book that would later win the hearts of Kirkus reviewers, he seemed to be thinking and talking a lot about how couples in his practice weren’t getting along—I mean, really not getting along: about how women were too angry and men were too detached and wounded or something. Much of this comment was tangential to the subject of sex addiction treatment, which Joe and I have a foot in the door of, sort of, and which I had been planning to write more about for some time. Neither of us are specialists in this area, which doesn’t mean we don’t know much about sex addiction, or even that we don’t know as much as anyone else in the field of psychotherapy, necessarily. It means that we don’t have the certificate one gets if taking a few CEUs pertaining to the concept of SA, which means learning some facts about widespread the problem is, plus a few strategies on how to address the matter with afflicted individuals and the loved ones that are impacted by it all—basically, how to be nicer than society generally is about the matter of sex addiction but still not nice enough so as to inform would be sex addicts how their behaviors are actually not very nice in a destructive way, and especially not nice for their long-suffering partners.

Please excuse my flippancy. Know that I’m at least sincerely flippant. My year-long toil on this project has left me feeling a bit like Stanley Kubrick as he prepared to film Dr. Strangelove: as seriously as I take this subject, I can’t stop laughing. Joe and I bring our respective attitudes to our writing, which included thinking that most of the literature we’d read over the last decade about sex addiction was dull, officiously directive, and simple-minded. Moved to draw upon our not inconsiderable experience and to offer a perspective from the psychodynamic road less traveled (at least, when addiction is being talked about, anyway), we set about the task of assembling vignettes, explications of theory that were actually represented in typical sex addiction treatment models, only they weren’t being properly credited in our view. As the sex addiction concept and label is quite controversial, we’d write from within its framework and around it, describing people who didn’t necessarily identify as sex addicts, and situations that weren’t plainly circumscribed by the sex addiction idea. I further found that the more I researched, reviewed cases, and wrote, the more I thought that the issues to be confronted were polarized around gender.

The following is a stereotypical presentation immortalized in popular culture, and after twenty years, roughly, of treating couples, I think I understand its infamy.

In this scenario we have on the one hand what I think is a woman preoccupied in her attachment style: she is clinging, fretful in relationships, and sometimes distancing in bursts. She is prone to sudden break-ups with men, dramatized by diatribes that are embroidered by quasi-feminist cant: she is “empowered” as she gets rid of the jerk who keeps hurting her feelings, whether he intends to or not. Along with him, she evacuates her feelings with the dirty bathwater, and announces an end to an affair. Only it’s not an end. It’s a time-out. Or, it’s a rupture that the unwitting partner is meant to repair. Either way, it’s simply an event within continuity, and the relationship, which hasn’t really ended as a result of this turmoil, is the thing.

The ever shrugging, baffled male partner will soon be making his stolid counter-point, re-enacting an iconic sit-com moment with the line, “We were on a break!” or the expanded incredulity of “She broke with me!” To explain away an alleged infidelity, he is uber rationalist, committed to logic and order—the common sense of his sense, that relationships end and therefore people move on. *Cue the bit where the woman responds by casting this aloof, freedom-privileging stance as that of a trauma-inducing, Gaslighting partner—a rebuke coached by her sex addiction specialist therapist. As for the man, all his commander Spock-like affectation might seem real if it wasn’t punctuated with impulsive or pleasure-seeking behaviors: clandestine hook-ups carelessly referenced on social media; altered states of intoxication, and destructive displays of temper. Ordinarily, as in by the light of day, his inner experience—his uncertainty—is concealed beneath his affectless front. It is suggested by the likelihood that aspects of his pleasure seeking, like flirting or engaging sexually with women other than his preoccupied mate began sometime before the “break up” that subsequently justified that same behavior.

In our forthcoming book, Getting Real About Sex Addiction, scenarios like these are mostly discussed in the context of addiction, and not so much the broader, protean world of sexual mores that authors like Esther Perel are commenting upon and thus stirring the modern pot. But there are passages in our text where the space opens in the treatment plan, and the conversation drifts from orthodoxy to what’s happening between people who are in intimate relationships but do not understand one another. In our view, the sex addiction concept complicates but sometimes narrows the discussion around sexual conflict, framing an issue so that sides are chosen rather than problems understood.

 

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I mean

 

I have a response to ubiquity. After a three month absence, I have a response to something that’s happened. It just all happened so quickly, so pervasively. No days off, I notice. And I don’t mean anything specific or even topical, necessarily. I don’t mean the impeachment business (whichever one we’re on now), or the Syrian debacle; I don’t mean Brexit or climate green deals, or wildfire alarms that hit close to home, literally; I don’t even mean the pathos of a shooting at an airb&b. Anomalously, I might have attended the Who concert last month—perhaps the last time they will perform in my unburning neck of the woods—and meant something lamentable in my time-is-passing reverie. Once I would have thought The Who ubiquitous. Or inviolate. Something not to be taken away, as the sign on Keith Moon’s chair once read. Something that will be with us, always.

I don’t mean this in a temporal sense, of course. I don’t mean that aging doesn’t exist and that icons don’t die before they get old. Smokey The Bear just turned seventy five, I hear—how timely, I think, not realizing how much we need him and his message. As I tell knowing friends or colleagues, I didn’t miss The Who this time. I never miss The Who, those closest to me know, because they are never far away from my mind. They are incorporated, as psychoanalysis teaches us: that means something like downloaded to those who think in cybernetics. They are introjected, which means something broader, more meaningful in an abstracted sense. Once, when I was a kid, as in last week, I played with the gestures of performance, swinging my arms in a Pete Townshend-like arc, doing the windmill thing, as it was once dubbed. My second favorite is a Keith Moon act, which looks like a Muppet maneuver: the arms flap about like those of a manic chef attacking his waiters with knives, or a symphony conductor who has lost track of the beat. There was no idea in this per se. There was no thought as we think of it. Behind these elements, however, is some manner of scripture. There is a story that began (and even this is arbitrary) in the 1940s, in West London during World War II, and was itself shaped by intergenerational trauma.

Yes, what isn’t? Trauma was ubiquitous in the 1940s, as it is today. The difference was that trauma was lesser spoken of back then. It was dealt with, however, with play of an exciting yet dangerous kind: enactments, repetition. War. And maybe sex, Freud’s preferred obsession, though The Who, my incorporated objects, had less to say about sex. At the time, non-masturbatory sex was being written about, or sung about by everyone except The Who. For their dominantly male audience (they even included the male symbol in their original logos), mimesis about something else was the original, and aptly primitive mode of communication. It was also reciprocal. Pete and the boys copied the Mods’ narcissistic dances, and he wrote lyrics that mirrored them, not himself. He held them, a Winnicottian might say—taught that their experience was no illusion. Whatever is happening is real. “I” or they couldn’t explain, he first expressed. No words, just action, based upon loneliness and confusion. The links had been attacked and destroyed, says a Bionion interruption, by bullets and bombs, and later prohibitions that stretched through the fifties…no, don’t, and STOP. Something primal didn’t stop, and a baby boom followed. That’s what follows war, I glean: life. Only life changes, gets electrified, and eventually, mass produced and consumed. That meant, among other things, that things don’t matter. Guitars and drums, for example, don’t matter. They are no longer precious artifacts, so they can be destroyed, or sacrificed in the name of an as yet unidentified human phenomenon.

What fans later introjected from The Who were a repertoire of gradually articulated ideals: they were anti-war, anti-material, egalitarian, and implicitly tolerant of the different, the wild and the marginal (I mean only that the members of The Who were very different in their individual personalities, thus enacting a symbolic democracy). At the same time, their ongoing mental illness was manifest and wrought casualties: they acted out their traumas, their early abandonments and abuses, doing some damage amid the entertainment, it has to be said. Do I mean anything specific? When eleven fans died in a concert stampede in Cincinnati in 1979, The Who incurred ambiguous responsibility, being part of the machine that made money and killed. As Keith Moon and talismanic manager Kit Lambert played out their respective self-destruction, The Who played on, not knowing what else to do, perhaps? In the 21st century, they are ghostly hypocritical, serving as an echo of inchoate principles—their gestures of performance and expression lingering like totems of an exploded generation.

21st century life is beyond electrified. It is digitized, and our heads (and personal info) are up in the clouds; it is relentlessly solipsistic, and I don’t like change or floating, or burning. I occasionally look up from my phone, and I’m doing something The Who didn’t do so much: I’m writing about sex. I’m writing about excess, which The Who did indulge, and in the context of sex that means sex addiction, plus the treatment of it, because when the play is over, the pieces have to be picked up and looked at by someone. In my forthcoming book, entitled Getting Real About Sex Addiction (plus a subtitle that hasn’t been worked out yet), the treatment of sex addiction or its synonymous terms are thought about alongside a whole lot of ubiquity. Honesty, I didn’t know where to begin. I just mean that I did.

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Interruptus

 

A hypothetical dialogue (believe it or not) about a crisis:

 

“What’s the point in talking about it. It’s not gonna solve anything”

“What’s the point of checking out that person at the gym. You’re married, right?”

“Yeah”

“Well, that’s not gonna solve anything, either”

“Yeah, but…”

“What?”

“It’s different”

“How?”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously, put it into words”

“Well…I dunno, it’s…when I’m looking at someone I’m…I don’t know how to say it”

“You’re blocking. You know but you stop thinking, and you act instead”

“Right. You’ve said that before. I’m…wait, acting?”

“You’re acting on something, a feeling”

“…yeah, you know what it is—this is interesting—I think I am solving something, in a way. I mean, when I do that stuff I’m taking care of business, if you know what I mean. It feels necessary. It’s…”

(pause)

“…you want me to say the rest?”

(sigh) “Maybe, I…now I lost my train of thought”

“Interruptus”

“What?”

“Forget it”

“Oh, I get what you’re saying, I think. Well, I mean—okay—I’m expressing my sexuality, right? Jeez, that sounds weird putting it like that. Finishing, I mean. I’m…(laughs) I don’t know why this is so hard to say. I’m used to…I guess I can’t control myself, or it seems like…I just can’t turn it off, ya know?”

(pause)

“Or on, in another sense. Again, it seems like—”

“Yeah, okay, I get it. You’re not gonna say it for me. I need to use the words, give it meaning because…Gawd, I wish you’d explain again why that’s so important. (pause) Awright, so again, I can’t just turn off my sexuality, right? That’s the problem. It’s there…all the time. Waiting”

“True”

(pause)

“Okay…(shrugs)…so?”

“But so is the rest of you”

 

Graeme Daniels, MFT

 

 

 

 

 

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Love and hate and Don Juan

 

It was all a fantasy, an act, and yet it seduced because it seemed so real. It even took off from the stage at one point, crossing some invisible plane, whooping and dancing with harsh laughter, helicoptering over a star-gazing audience. There will have been more special effects in Don Juan in Soho than in the original, 14th century legend, but the essentials of a drama that has inspired the likes of Moliere, Byron, Camus, and Mozart are unchanged.

Patrick Marber is the playwright who has turned Don Juan into a twenty first century rogue in west end London. He appears currently as David Tennant (of Doctor Who fame), transformed from his sexy nerd sci-fi persona to that of a lusty, unfettered snake. His Don Juan is a self-confessed “child”, unapologetically seeking pleasure, while decrying the envy and hypocrisy of those whose outrage implies they wouldn’t want what he has. I was drawn to see the play because the main character was described in press releases as a sex addict, which is the fashionable term these days, replacing that of libertine, womanizer, or more plainly, sinner. Religion and morality have been the traditional lenses via which Don Juan has been criticized or admired. My profession, and specifically, the corner of it that treats sex addiction, has afforded sex addicts something like empathy while retaining our fascination, and it is this fascination that prevails in Don Juan, even as the seduction subsides, and tragedy unfolds with Reaperish inevitability.

And yet, what is most fascinating about Don Juan in Soho is not his seductions of women (only one such exercise is captured in full flight), or even his masterful manipulation of important male characters in the play, such as his long-suffering and devoted man-servant, and his curmudgeonly but foolhardy father. Ultimately, what I found most fascinating was his seduction of the audience, including me, though like a proud would-be target, I found myself resisting the supposedly irresistible, and feeling separate, even haughty, as the audience cheered and whooped along with the Don Juan specter.

This seduction is for audience sympathy, through a complex display of honesty, entitlement, defiance, and counter-provocation. As Tennant’s DJ argues that he’s not a rapist (“I don’t grab pussy”), I hear echoes of a familiar rationale. The libertine/addict claims he is not hurting anyone, contrary to the claims of others, like (in DJ’s case) his man-servant, or more ominously, the claims of brothers of a jilted bride. He points out that all involved are chronologically adult, and thus responsible for themselves, and anyway, have derived pleasure from his sexual behaviors, which is Don Juan’s all-justifying raison d’etre.

To those who disagree, or who seek to penetrate his hidden depths, DJ exudes contempt, even if they are, like his man-servant (Stan), people he values and cares about somewhat. DJ’s seeming need of Stan is not only endearing, it tugs upon suspicion that he, like the addict as he/she is understood by modern psychology, has needs that are not encompassed by physical pleasure, but merely symbolized by it. Needs for attachment. For love. For distance. Of course, DJ will never say or admit as much, and this will be his downfall, everyone says. So, besides his pursuit of sex, he alternates between acts of subtle supplication (for attachment), and efforts to subvert the wholesome.

A Kleinian analyst would have a field day watching this play. From start to finish, DJ seems most drawn to seduce those who are innocent—those whom he’d find deluded, or hypocritical. He is a child seeking pleasure, and thus wants to suckle and be suckled, but he also bites and seeks to destroy that upon which he projects his ambivalence. He callously drops the woman whom he’d married just two weeks prior to the play’s action, and whom he’d diligently seduced over the course of a year (just for the challenge, apparently). In the play’s most entertaining sequence, he hits upon the bride of another man in a hospital, hours after having been responsible for the groom’s injuries following a boating accident. Even more improbably, DJ seduces the bride while being fellated by another woman whom he’d met only moments before this scene.

His aggression isn’t exclusively directed at women. He is misanthropic, not merely misogynist, as some suggest of Don Juan. Those who highlight the latter listen selectively, and are gender-centric in their outlook. DJ delights in hoodwinking his rich father, on whose aristocratic fortune he depends. His enactment of remorse for his father’s benefit reminds me why sex addicts enter therapy, because I often hear about the pleasure’s aftermath of guilt, or even more so, of the shame of being exposed. When DJ seduced me, he did so because he revealed his darker, unrepentant side, and I rarely hear the level of honesty that DJ otherwise exhibits.

He temporarily, at least, torments a homeless Islamic man, who resists DJ’s attempt to bribe him into making blaspheming remarks. Ostensibly, this scene illustrates again the libertine’s distaste for the wholesome, for he thinks them false. But the Islamic man shows his “integrity” by refusing to blaspheme for the reward DJ offers, and as a result, DJ rewards him anyway. A secondary purpose of this and another scene I won’t detail might be a politically correct subtext: Christendom is oppressive, harboring of sex offenders, and repressive of sexuality in general, the protagonist declares. But DJ and his playwright live in 2017, and theater-goers are progressive-leaning, so author and actor are more careful with Muslim sensibilities.

Amid his two or three soliloquy/diatribes, DJ expands upon his political/philosophical outlook: he rails against men in power, makes allusions to modern race politics, the aforementioned quotables of Donald Trump, now so etched in the public mind that the lines mocking them draw instant recognition and approval. DJ, we are led to believe, is a relative hero: in 2017, he has an advantage over his medieval ancestors, because today it is less offensive to be merely promiscuous, even if that promiscuity is extreme. The audience for Don Juan in Soho ultimately applauds the protagonist and is saddened by his demise: partly because he’s clever and attractive, but more importantly because he seems democratic—meaning, he will fuck anyone, of any color, religious, or class background. Because he isn’t hateful.

But that’s incorrect, actually, because Tennant’s DJ isn’t entirely honest. He is a child, but he’s not a lover. As the Kleinian lens teaches us, children can be hateful, and may remain in that hateful state throughout their lives. And maybe that’s okay, we might quietly, reservedly suggest—as long as that hate is understood, exposed or tempered by notions of justice, for example. So, Don Juan from Soho is hateful, and maybe that’s okay with his audience, because the things he hates—the people he hates—are those whom his audience hates also.

 

 

 

 

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Longing to matter

 

End of the year. These are the shortest days as time tumbles towards the new year, and in that compressed space it seems time to add a parting note or two about my last novel, Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole. Written mostly in 2015, published in the shortest days of last year, I now feel it slipping from my mind, no longer living a constant, parallel life in my head. I imagine many writers, the successful and the (like me) unsuccessful, are like this. We are fickle. We skipped well upon rocks over water when kids, and are prone to moving on in certain areas of our lives, losing interest before others do, assuming that interest is there in the first place.

For myself, of the various intermingling themes in Venus, freedom and loneliness linger with the most purpose. From the outset of the novel, the freedom of therapist Daniel Pierce is not a happy one. Estranged from his son, and grieving over the death of his wife, he plods through a daily task which reflects a more mundane aspect of his isolation: he struggles to communicate with a representative of an insurance company, seeking to get paid for his services. Intended to satirize the managed care industry, this exchange is bookended at story’s end, and lives in light juxtaposition with the novel’s more serious plot. Yet it highlights an unpleasant side of Pierce’s outsider role, one in which complaints go unheard; acknowledgement, and sometimes reward, is delayed, or withheld indefinitely. The result is helplessness: a sense that he is alone, vulnerable, and—treated as dispensable by a governing machine—fated to lose.

The idea was to set him up (and the reader) for a winning comeback. Daniel Pierce, a stand-in for mental health professionals who are underpaid, who are poorly represented by their associations; for whom laws (like AB1775) are written without their proper consultation, gets to be difficult. He gets to show an arrogant if well-meaning interventionist that he won’t enact hers or mainstream society’s notions of heroism. He gets to show lawyers, even a judge, that he won’t be at their beckon call, and further, that he won’t betray the principles of his profession just because they think there is a greater cause. For anyone who might listen, he (like myself), will expose hypocrisy, tautologies, and—despite the will of a legal and professional system—fashion his own ending.

It’s a fantasy, of course. Side note: I enjoyed a documentary about Alfred Hitchcock recently in which Martin Scorsese enthused about Vertigo, one of my favorite films. He loved the way the film indulged fantasy, dodging that which is plausible for the sake of compelling drama. Amen, I say. And so, Venus is a statement of my fantasy: a longing to matter when isolated and (at least sometimes) unheard. The story is ironic for me in so far as I am largely happy in my relatively isolated, private practice. Yes, I have the occasional problem with managed care, but in Venus I put a little on it for the sake of compelling drama. And yes, I have been subpoenaed and otherwise called upon to break the confidentiality of clients by an importuning authority, but I have not grandstanded as Daniel Pierce does.

The story is ironic for Daniel Pierce in so far as he isn’t necessarily sympathetic to his wrongdoing client. His default advocacy for a man accused of molesting his child is a serendipitous event, and Pierce defends the privacy of their session (the professional one, plus those which symbolically take place away from the confines of an acceptable setting) not because he thinks the man innocent, but rather because he’s concerned with principle: preserving the confidentiality of the therapeutic space, for everyone. If you think that a precious or overreaching cause, especially in the context of child abuse, then consider what I’ve previously written in entries like “Why child abuse isn’t as important as you think”. Why are psychotherapists mandated reporters of child abuse while lawyers and clergy (in effect) are not? Is it because our service isn’t dovetailing with legal rights? Is it because we are secular in our mission?

To address a secondary theme, Pierce isn’t necessarily sympathetic to his misbehaving client base. Though not nearly as hateful as Lira, his women and children’s advocate antagonist, Pierce is often jaded by the sex offending or sexually addictive men that he sits with. Many of them are indeed entitled, or misogynistic, or plainly self-centered, while others are less offensively lost—underdogs of another kind. In some respects, Daniel is like most therapists: trying to be neutral, but nonetheless stumbling into an advocate’s role at times, holding different sides of individuals, including that which is objectionable. As weary with them as he is any oppressive system, Daniel weighs his dedication to those wayward men against a sometimes-I-wonder-why-I-bother-with-you attitude.

I have bothered considerably with the ideas contained with Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole. I have, I think, one more aspect, or pair of ideas, to explain. Then it will be time to move on to another story, and perhaps another cause. On to lengthier days.

Graeme Daniels, MFT

 

 

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The old scripts of Daniel Pierce

 

“We met on consecutive days, Aaron and me. I detailed events, spilling out everything I could think of, remember, while he filtered the present through the past. Did I mention that my mom left my dad when I was thirteen because she found out he wasn’t a prairie vole? Didn’t I? Well, Aaron did. He does that: remembers things like a bucket sat beneath my mind”

—a passage from Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole, about an exchange between a protagonist and his confidante therapist.

Self identities—strategies of being in relationship—are often fixed and rigid. Quantum phenomena collapses time.

Daniel Pierce is a psychologist burdened by a question of ethics. A man in his practice—a man whom Pierce has seen once in a professional capacity—has possibly committed a horrible crime against a child. Or, the man is the subject of a cynical fabrication designed to leverage a judgment in a custody battle. Through serendipity, Pierce re-connects with this man, though not in the course of his day-to-day work, but rather, ironically, in the midst of his own troubles. They meet in a halfway house, as peers in addiction and mental illness, and through that meeting, Pierce hears a fuller yet still uncertain story.

In being a listener, a helper, Pierce filters what he hears though his own prejudices and back-story, as we all do. Along the way, he is influenced by a reformed prostitute, and now strident advocate of abused women and children. What is Daniel Pierce’s old script? He was a lonely kid, separated by strangeness, a habit of talking, sometimes singing to himself. Today he might have been diagnosed with ADHD, or tagged as being on the continuum of autistic disorders. His mother, now languishing with Alzheimer’s, once doted upon Daniel, admiring his childlike charm, the ‘twinkle’ in his eye that few others saw. She perhaps coddled him. Daniel’s present-day forgetfulness is half an organic condition suggestive of alcoholism, and half an implicit bond with this now absent figure.

Daniel’s father manifests the Oedipal failure: a man disgraced by his infidelities, he epitomizes the fallen, weak male reviled by the likes of Lira, Daniel’s antagonist and misandrist pursuer. Daniel had stayed closer to his now late father over time—physically, at least. Though his father’s caretaker in his final years, Daniel had always been different: most notably, a monogamist to his recently deceased wife, another doting figure. Unlike his father, he is a Prairie Vole: respectfully distant from other women. Still, his aloneness is a cost, leading him to practice dubious boundaries, as a therapist and as a storyteller. His crossing-the-fourth-wall sidebars (an example above), are intended to convey his isolation, his need to be understood. The story of Venus is based loosely on real events concerning child abuse, the knotty issue of child custody warfare; of mandated reporting requirements for psychotherapists; of confidentiality. Try to understand. Before you need someone someday to listen before blowing whistles, try to understand.

 

Graeme Daniels, MFT

 

 

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Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: a review

 

A subdivision of sex addiction treatment is a therapeutic effort–a worthy effort–directed at partners of so-called sex addicts. Within the model more or less introduced by Patrick Carnes, and promulgated by his (followers?), a Co-Addict model emerged over the last three decades, which has been written about by the likes of Stephanie Carnes (his daughter) and Claudia Black, author of Deceived. Then, as the Co-Addict model  was being criticized as either ill-conceived or derivative, another model of partner treatment emerged called the Relational Trauma Model, which is somewhat preciously described as “a paradigm shift” by its adherents. One of its notable guidebooks is the Barbara Steffens/Marsha Means penned work, Your Sexually Addicted Spouse. Check out the reviews on Amazon and you’ll find, for the most part, gushing statements of gratitude from its targeted readership: “This book really helped me”, or “Finally, a book that addresses trauma” (actually, innumerable books related to SA address trauma). There are some dissenters, women who bristle at the victim-identification focus; the vague suggestions as to solutions–what to do. I’m a dissenter also, for the following reasons.

Several problems with this book: firstly, it aspires to a gender neutral position, using terms like spouse instead of wives or husbands, but of its two dozen or so testimonials from betrayed partners, not a single account is from a male partner of a woman (or even male) sex addict–a glaring problem in the development of this field, especially if the POV of the gay community is to be known. Secondly, the book goes to great lengths to disparage the so-called ‘Co-Addict’ model of care, hitherto directed at partners of sex addicts. The term Co-Addict, previously espoused by apparently like-minded colleagues such as Claudia Black and Stephanie Carnes, is now “invalidating”, a residue of a pathologizing bias. However, if one reads the recommendations and characterizations in Carnes’ and Black’s work, the reader would find remarkable similarities between their opinions and those of Steffens and Means. The same reactive, as in controlling behaviors of partners are identified (and discouraged) by these supposedly disagreeing authors, and while the ‘Co-Addict’ reactions are deemed ‘normal’ in Steffens’ and Means’ model, the characterization of betrayed response is dubbed ‘natural’ in Carnes’ and Black’s literature.

Hmm? Not exactly a gulf in empathetic reaction. Anyway, trauma is the new word: the more palatable, “evidence-based”, client-friendly word. Trauma is popular amongst readers of self-help literature, more so than ‘Co-Addict’, or ‘personality disorder’, perhaps because trauma connotes victimhood. The intent of RT practitioners is reasonable enough: when they use the word trauma, the accent of approach is upon empathy for suffering, the prospect of survival versus ‘victimhood’; less so upon implied criticism of behaviors (which again is there, but in muted form), or the inference of an underlying disorder with a backstory. However, not only is this position facile, it presents the issue of so-called relational trauma in a confusing way. For example, a passage in Your Sexually Addicted Spouse presents PTSD as a lifelong condition, entailing “coping mechanisms that become ingrained in personality”. Doesn’t that sound like a personality disorder? One gets the sense in books like this that marketing trumps clinical accuracy, and that concepts get conflated, like personality disorder and trauma. But personality disorder is not a nice term. Nor is Co-Addict. Nor is addict, for that matter, but Steffens and Means would have the reader reserve pathology for the people we’re meant to be angry at: the addicts. The men.

What do men think, other than me?

We don’t know. They don’t read books like this, so as far as promoting books like Your Sexually Addicted Spouse is concerned, it doesn’t matter.

Graeme Daniels, MFT

 

 

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