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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Enmeshment and Parenthood, the TV Show

(1) The Queen of Enmeshment

We've talked about finding meaning in life, the search for self and identity, and how the dynamics of our closest relationships, enmeshment in particular, can make that quest seemingly impossible.
Cheryl Rice

But nobody will teach you more about what it is like to really be enmeshed than Cheryl Rice. How the needs of a parent can hijack a child's sense of independence and well-being are the essence of her memoire, Where Have I Been All My Lifethe definitive treatment on the subject.
Where Have I Been All My Life

I don't want to spoil it, but the first obvious sign that Cheryl is in trouble starts with kindergarten. Most children are anxious, their moms excited to send them off to their first full day of school.
Have a great time, don't forget to write!

Cheryl can't handle the separation, probably because her mother set the stage. She can't handle it.

Tears of separation anxiety, sobs of sadness, breaks even the unbreakable resolve of kindergarten teachers, those masters of child psychology, professional child wranglers, my personal heroes.

Only attachment-disordered children fail kindergarten, have to start over the following year. Kindergarten is only the beginning. In a few short years Cheryl will tearfully, hysterically, beg the staff at summer camp to send her home. She will plead non-stop, yearn for her mother's warm cocoon, love sick, wondering if this longing for her other half will ever go away.

Textbook enmeshment, her father is powerless, can't look his daughter in the eye, suffers his own emotional demons. When he does deign to speak he is critical, unhelpful. Cheryl's take on it: her idol, her father, can't possibly love her, not if his few comments all point to her weight.* Eating disorders, come to her naturally. She welcomes anorexia, her relationship with food, like her relationships to everyone, grasps at control.

Enmeshed children know only one relationship, that with a needy parent. Rejected by one parent, captured by another, Cheryl's feeble attempts at surviving relationships are all about pleasing. She is good, kind, giving. Literally self-less. Intimacy, sharing about herself is impossible, for she hasn't a clue who she is. 

Yet this young woman is bright and hard-working, marries and has a career as a life coach. She may not know it at the time, but she writes well and is very funny, creative.

In her mid-forties she suffers the the worst thing possible. Her mother dies, little warning. cancer. Cheryl is back to therapy, and that relationship, with its ups and downs (she falls deeply in love with her therapist right away) is the path to wellness. Apparently everyone falls in love with their therapist.
I had no idea.
Parenthood Screen Shot

(2)  Parenthood, the TV Show 

It starts with the theme song Forever Young, by Bob Dylan

May god bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every run
May you stay, forever young

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you

May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
And may you stay forever young

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
And may you stay forever young

We all have our shows, and one that millions of Americans pine for, a second only to Everyone Loves Raymond as a dramatic, yet sweet enactment of enmeshment, is on its way out. On Thursday, January 29, 2015, fans will say goodby to Parenthood.

Get the tissues ready.  True Parenthood fans watch it for permission to cry.

I came in a few seasons late, as young mother Kristina (Monica Potter), battles cancer. She makes a friend in treatment, one who will ultimately surrender to the disease. So charming, so kind, we know the friend, a mentor for survival, won't survive. One of the very few relationships that exists outside of the family doesn't last.
Not to be left out, I catch up to learn that Sarah Braverman (Lauren Graham, still a  Gilmore Girl at heart) has returned home, a failure as a single mother with two teenagers. She can't make it alone. Her family supports her decision to return, helps her find work, and counsels her children, lost and confused, now separated from their alcoholic father, a grade B musician.

There's conflict with that loose end. What if Dad somehow steals back the loyalty of the kids? What if he sobers up? Will he take Sarah away again, too? We are left thinking her decision to leave the first time a consequence of poor decision-making. She is a poor decision-maker without her parents. And why would a Braverman ever leave Berkeley, anyway? Mother Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) doesn't say I told you so outright. She doesn't have to.

It is the family support that neutralizes the tension, that tension of too much closeness in the family. Even therapists will learn from the treatment of Max (Max Burkholder), the grandson with high functioning autism (formerly Aspergers), and the management of his disorder. We witness a family's love, caring and patience with Hank (Ray Romano), too, Sarah's boyfriend, who has the same problem as an adult. 

As the seasons progress, it is implied that, Zeek (Craig T. Nelson), the patriarch of the family, is often on another planet, not fully present, perhaps a function of post traumatic stress suffered as a Vietnam war veteran. Yet everyone loves him, respects his opinions, and he learns to be present, a powerful lesson. He will ultimately make difficult decisions regarding his health, and the idea that he might not be around much longer has the family scurrying maniacally to support him, to make his last years richer, to show their love and appreciation.

This is functional stuff, if seriously bordering on enmeshment at times. We haven't even talked about Crosby (Dax Shepard), the middle son who still brings his laundry home to his mother, until Jasmine (Joy Bryant) captures him with her pregnancy and beauty. That's enmeshment, bringing home your laundry in your thirties.

Maybe we should define enmeshment as expected, unbounded family loyalty that conflicts with one's likelihood and capacity to meet developmental milestones.

But the Bravermans, for the most part, meet theirs. Far from feeling pathological, it feels lucky, good to be in this family. Season after season, the in-house support makes us all wish we were Bravermans. Maybe this accounts for the show's popularity, living it vicariously on Thursday nights. The intimacy in Parenthood takes our breath away.

What we'll miss, besides the Dylan song, is the thought of three generations constantly colliding, noisy family dinners around an exceptionally long dining room table, the family's sprawling Berkeley homestead, complete with barn. We'll think of adult siblings frequenting each others' living rooms, endlessly toasting to small emotional victories. And the idea that everyone is expected to attend everything.
Adult siblings survive a nephew's school play by sneaking off to smoke pot in the school bathroom together.

Attendance is mandatory at Little League baseball games. The scenes with Victor up at bat, the adopted son having difficulty finding his place, move us, despite the predictability, in a wonderful way.

We'll think of barbecues, old cars, and botched home repairs that require son-in-law Joel, the Jewish carpenter, to rewire; and the emotions that each grandchild suffers, trying to cope with problems that everyone will share with everyone else. All secrets are spilled, shared. All doors are open, even at the workplace, where family members habitually barge in to offer advice or beg opinions, support.

Enmeshed, sure, but is it so bad, these travesties, when people make one another happy? There is no turning anyone away because of that expectation: We will be there for one another.

Just don't leave.


PS. Haddie, one of the grandchildren, does leave. Off to college with her female lover, ten will get you twenty she's back for the last show. 

*Take note, parents. Kids get it when you think they are fat, and translate fat to ugly. Not good for their self-esteem.

Finally, thanks to Cheryl Rice for sending me her memoir. I hope I did it justice, feel your pain and love that it is a story about recovery, growth and healing. I'm sorry for your loss.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ten Ways to Stop Texting Behind the Wheel

Just today, heard about an auto fatality, first grief case of 2015. Somebody's sister, daughter. Somebody's friend. 

At a stoplight that signature tone announces an incoming text.

"Somebody loves me," I tell no one.

'Somebody loves me' is what FD says when his beeper goes off. He still has a pager and it still goes off at the worst times. He is always on the phone. If he had it his way, the chirp of the pager, high pitched, annoying, should mimic a baby's cry. The cry could be for anything from a request for a referral, to a medical emergency. Somebody loves him, loves that he can fulfill a need. His lover wants him to respond immediately, which he does. But we're not all doctors, and he doesn't text and drive. 

But here, in the car, we’re talking a matter of life or death. The latest statistics reveal that texting is the new drunk-driving. Texting causes more accidents on the road, more fatalities, than alcohol.
And yet, replying right away is what we want to do, conditioned robots that we are. Even while driving the kids to school we’ll try to peer at the phone with one eye, look over the windshield with another.
So let’s not. A few strategies from those of us who don’t like to do grief counseling if we can avoid it, even if it is what we’re paid to do.
1. Think: I’m actually not that important. If I don’t answer the text, the sender will have to think more independently, live without me. Think of a text as a writer’s first draft. Wait for the second, the better one. Even the third.
2. Think: It is good to work the brain, to try to remember what we want to say, text it later when we’re not trying to control a two-ton vehicle. Find a mnemonic, like some of us do grocery lists. Pasta, Eggs, Tomatoes, PET. Or just try to remember words. We apparently can remember 7 key words without that much difficulty. Certainly five. Or three. How many depends upon a lot of things, actually, including how much pot we smoke.
3. Ask yourself, Is this making me happy, being at the world’s beck and call? Try seeing life in three dimensions, not two. Use windshield washer, see the world beyond the wheel, especially when traffic is slow or you’re at a stop. In many places (Chicago comes to mind) construction never stops. Check out the clothing on flag-wavers. Notice the sign warning you not to hit one,
4. Sing. Before texting became the number one thing to do when we’re bored, people responded to a survey to say that they sang while alone in the car, probably because singing makes us happy. Number two had something having to do with one’s nose.
5. ThinkTaking a mental health break when I stop the car will do me good. I can text then and nobody gets hurt.. Rather than bolting off to work, take a full twenty seconds at the end of the trip to breathe, just chill awhile. This is empowering, unless you are late for work, in which case you should have read that post aboutbeing late for appointments.
6. Think: I’m really not a gambler, not when it comes to life. Texting and gambling are associated, or will be in someone’s PhD thesis one day.
7. Listen: Literally, turn on the radio. Listen to music, give classical a try, or an audiobook or podcast, anything. We still can listen and drive simultaneously, most of us.
8. Think: I am being rude if I’m holding up traffic, especially at an intersection, sitting on a green light. Everyone else wants to get through. Why wouldn’t I want to help them, make that happen?
9. Think: There’s a law against this in many states. Our electorate, the good people who make laws, suffered through hundreds of more-than-sad testimonies from people who lost loved ones to texting-behind-the-wheel accidents. That couldn’t have been fun. The laws are interventions to spare us the same
10. Understand: It is normal to want to respond, to want to feel the love, to want to return it right away. But this is one deadly gamble, and more than mildcodependence. Scoffing off this particular law might just come down to two primitive psychological constructs that none of us want to own:
(a) egocentrism: thinking, I’m good at this! The laws shouldn’t apply to people as talented as me, and
(b) denialnot thinking, ignoring the reality that texting is dangerous. You can think,Nothing bad is going to happen to me, or anyone I know….
But it could.
Bottom line: Let them wait. Because honestly. If you’re so important, why don’t you have a chauffeur?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Snapshots: Cooperative Decision-Making and More

A post on Top Five disappeared last week. You'll understand why in awhile. It got embarrassing.

Three snapshots, all related to the movie in one way or another:

(1) catastrophic expectations,
(2) cooperative couple decision-making, and
(3) two movies we probably don't have to let our kids see.

Take it away.

1. The Catastrophic Expectation

After publishing about the new Chris Rock movie, a crazy thing happened. A catastrophic expectation came true, related to my fear that the blog would be pirated and spammed with objectionable photos.

It happened on Facebook last year. We opened the ap to find new pics, except we hadn't posted any. Thousands, mortified. Facebook rectified the situation immediately. But if this happens to me, what do I do? Delete years of psycho-education?

I pushed "publish" for the Top Five review, but probably because of the word (in bold yet) that starts with a "p", ends with an "n" and has an "or" in the middle, Google Ads paired it with a Sugar M____ies ad. (Think blood relation, not Daddies).  Soft ___ but definitely not so nice.

I'm upset by the betrayal. This is a family blog and kids love to mine it for content that they can plagiarize for their school essays.The ad is close to a realization of my catastrophic expectation (one of many, I'm Jewish). In therapy we use catastrophic expectations to manage anxiety, not exacerbate it.The patient discusses the expectation and we work together on what to do if it comes true.

This calls for an emergency treatment plan: Delete Google Ads entirely from the blog?  Sure. Because really, nobody cares.

I apologize if any of you saw anything you didn't sign up for. Life in the fast lane, what can I say.

2. Couple Decision Making

Choosing a movie with someone you love can be exasperating. Yet cooperative couple decision-making separates the solvent couples from those who will ultimately dissolve. (I think I read this somewhere, someone remind me.)

A popular intervention to bring couples closer, help them understand one another and love each other more, relies upon exposure therapy, a form of desensitization. Force the partner who hates violence to sit through a violent movie, then the one who hates romantic comedies has to sit through one of those, Legally Blond, maybe.

This is just dumb, as interventions go, imho, and I'm a CBT therapist, one who relies heavily on exposure therapies. But the reason some of us resist seeing certain genres of film is that we have already seen a few samples, and we don't like them. We know we hate violence, we know we hate mush. We've suffered enough. A date is supposed to be fun.

So it is back to the intervention tool chest. Here we find that when couples disagree there is always something in-between, either a compromise or an alternative solution, the product of a good brain-storm. That, or don't go to the movies together, see a play. (There is a post somewhere in the archives about recreational intimacy, check it out.) Frankly, I suggest people see movies with like-minded movie-goers, else why would we even have labels like chick flicks and Westerns. But some guys rarely go to the movies with buddies, they go to a bar. 


The story goes that December 24 is traditionally a time for Jews to go to the movies or play poker. FD and I are home a little earlier than usual. I want to pull him away from Law and Order reruns, begin the dialogue.

" I need to get out. And it is Xmas eve. A movie?"

He scratches his chin. "We haven't seen a movie in over a year." As in, why wreck a good thing?

"Speak for yourself. Some of us have friends."

He doesn't remind me that my dates for Big Hero 6 were five and ten years old, respectively. It was really good.

"I hear Wild is interesting," he offers, hoping to be helpful. "A Reese Witherspoon tour de force."

"Yeah, I read the book. which was good. But what about Selma? I really want to see that."

"Not out yet, sorry." He's polite.

"Wild will be scenic, which is good, a big movie. But there's is that heroin thing."

"Heroin?" he asks.

"Yeah. A little too much like work for me, watching people go through their addictions. But maybe."

He's got another idea. "How about Mr. Turner? It's about an eccentric artist. Got a great review in the Wall Street Journal."  FD devours the Journal.

I check it out, find it is two and a half hours long. "No go. Long. What about  Exodus: Gods and Kings? That has to be a big movie, if not exactly a thriller."

"Sure, but the this one is light on the miracles, the Red Sea parting is a trickle. No competition between a trickle and the Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner."

"True enough. Yul Brynner in that, wow."  Agreement, take note, we're agreeing, but on what not to see. So not very helpful.

He perks up. "Before I left the office tonight a patient strongly suggested Big Eyes."

"Nah, saw the trailer and now it feels like buying a ticket is superfluous. Plus the movie is about financial abuse of women, not at the top of my list of things to think about right now. I need escape, not cringe."

"But everything makes you cringe," he counters.

"Not Babe: Pig in the City."


"We're stuck. Let's call in some experts."

When you are stuck, it is good to ask advice from other people. They don't have to be experts. Family and friends will do, and they may be experts on you.

So I text my daughter who is probably leaving Wild just about now.
Did you like WILD?
Good, but a little slow and felt long.

I text my son, who knows my sensibilities, ask him what I might like.

Whiplash, about a young drummer, has come and gone,m and we should see Annie with a younger person, too, for perspective. Into the Woods with Streep and that kid from Glee, how can this be a disappointment?  But it is, apparently.

We will have to go with the fail safe, Eeny Meeny Miney Moe, always a good decision-making strategy. We land on Top Five.

 (3) Two Movies We Probably Don't Have to Let Our Kids See (and may not choose for ourselves on an annual trip to the movies).

The first of the two: Top Five

We are not alone and it is almost show time. The parking lot is mobbed. Apparently, everyone tries to skip out on family Xmas eve. There are at least ten people here to see Top Five, everyone else chose one of the other six shows at the AMC.

Still, the conflict in the movie is smart enough:
Dare we risk turning away from what we're good at, maybe great at, to break into something new, something unfamiliar, yet important, something that matters?
Andre Allen (Chris Rock) is good at comedy, but he wants to shift to movies that tell untold stories, serious film-making. The problem? His fans won't fall into step. They want to laugh.

This isn't Michael Jordan leaving basketball to play baseball.

Andre, who is a changed man, no longer uses alcohol. In the past he used it for courage, perhaps even to overcome performance anxiety. No longer. He's just going to switch artistic venues and not tell anyone.

Laced throughout the film are cameos of movie and television stars, comedians, and rappers. Not knowing much about rappers, for me, this is a needed education, will help me relate better to young people who rap. You know who you are.

The cameos are cute, but the stories that make up the narrative are so sad. Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson, wonderful) is a journalist looking for Andre's real story, the story of his past. Hers, meanwhile, is about her choice to be exploited, her low self-esteem so low she participates in things she doesn't want to do, just to keep a relationship. The stuff of addiction, surely, but not only addiction. You know this person.

The things she's done? Not hings you want your kids to see, unless you think they are traumatic-snapshot-memory averse.

Andre's story about hitting bottom is embarrassing, humiliating. Sad. And we see all of the story in the film. We see so much we begin to wonder why we came. If we thought Chelsea's issues tough to watch, Andre's are worse. 

The kids will want to see the rappers. But they'll see lots more.

Second, Mocking Jay Part One

My daughter and son-in-law are leaving town for a few days and FD and I volunteer to watch the kids. It is Thanksgiving break and their 12-year-old has high hopes that we will take him to see Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part One.

I can't do it, even though I suspect it is probably harmless, know he has seen as much on television, probably worse. His video games are probably violent and graphic. But holding onto principles, I risk the silent treatment for three days and say no. Children killing children. No.

He doesn't even try to ask FD, and works on me instead. It is admirable, his assertiveness. He brings up going to the movie, I say no, he drops it. He brings it up again, I say no, he drops it. Each time I say, "Dude! This is the stuff of nightmares. Let your parents be home when you have the nightmares."

It isn't good. But I hold my ground and a few weeks later buy him a solid round of books with content similar to Hunger Games for Chanukah. Anything to get him to read. It helps to have a children's librarian in the family.

Finally, Xmas day, his mom takes his younger brothers to Annie, and his father takes him to see Mocking Jay. Great. If he has to see the movie, let him be with his dad.

I pop over later and he throws his arms around me, already a break from tradition. (We share an obsession with the Ninja Pro blender and make smoothies, so it isn't as if there's nothing in common.).

"What did you think of Mocking Jay?" I ask, fully expecting to hear it is amazing.

He is dying to tell me.

"At first it was boring, nothing especially great, really. Blah. Then, the last 20 minutes. OMG. I was TERRIFIED. I was freaking out! I was SO scared!"

"Do you wish you hadn't seen it?"

"Yup. Annie would have been better."

Yes, for sure. For both of us.


That list of books for kids 7th grade and up. Note, these are for kids who devoured The Hunger Games but hate reading any other type of books.

Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone by Pfeffer
The House of Scorpion by Farmer
Trash by Andy Mulligan (her favorite)
Gone by Michael Grant
Legend by Lu
Unwind by Shusterman (she's iffy about it-- she uses that word, Terrifying, thinks it might be for older kids)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Shirt Off Her Back

Most, almost all of our behavior is unconscious. We've said it before.

But here's a good one.

Both my parents passed away in the last four years, so I have accumulated a lot of things, hard as we try to donate, sell stuff on Ebay, and pitch. And my mom and I wore the same size. Cut off our heads, same body. So naturally, it is impossible to merely give away her wardrobe, and ditto for the jewelry, some of it, most of it, sort of. . . dated.  Retro.

I'll be at a brunch, or a holiday party, and one of my kids will compliment me on something, say a flamingo pin. My response, conditioned, unaware:
You like it?  Take it!  It is yours!
  And I proceed to fiddle with the pin.
No! No! That is not what I meant!  I did not mean, by complimenting your obviously very rare and lovely pin that I want it. It looks good on you!  Wear it in good health! Why do you always do this. We compliment something and you immediately begin to disrobe?
Flummoxed.  Makes no sense.

But this is exactly what I do, and what my mother did with me.  Oh, Mom, I love your blouse.
You like it? Take it. Please. Take the blouse.
Right then and there, she goes for the buttons. Luckily, although not really luckily, in her last years she couldn't work buttons.

So I totally loved this story about a woman at a drive-thru Whataburger in Liberty, Texas. "Nadine" reaches for her order in the drive-thru and is complimented on her mink coat. She doesn't even take a minute to reconsider, takes it off, hands it over to the window employee, Cheryl Semien. Cheryl is overjoyed and promises to pay it forward.

Maybe she will give it to her kid. Or a neighborhood kid.

Picture it, myriads of people in downtown Chicago handing off their coats. My daughter actually did this at a stoplight on her way to work one morning, so apparently it isn't a novel idea. It can get cold in Chi-town. Texas? Not so much. Not to take away, not at all, from Nadine.

Have a Happy, Merry, Awesome, warm, too, Chanukah, Xmas, Kwanzaa, Eat A Red Apple Day, World Aids Awareness Day, National Fritters Day, or Whatever-the-December holiday-you-celebrate, and yes, darling, you really should take the pink flamingo. It is too heavy for me, and your grandmother would have wanted it this way.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Regrets I've Had a Few, and The Leap

It's my birthday, so yeah, regrets I've had a few. 

Ever late to the party, I just learned that podcasts are much better than craning your neck to watch Netflix on a tablet while pretending to dice vegetables for the salad.

The New York Times story about William Cimillo
Let's start with The Leap from This American Life. Then we can move on to Regrets, I've Had a Few. We'll consider a few ideas, other sides of the story.

First, The Leap, Podcast 539:

Tales of brave souls who take blind, if calculated risks that others only dream about. We don't have the guts, and for good reasons: even executed with panache, a real risk gambles livelihood, relationships, reputation, and mental health. What could be worth all that? We'll see.

For starters (Act One), in 1947 William Cimillo, a bored New York bus driver, hi-jacked his own bus, the one he droves each day, same route, every day. He woke up one morning, puts on his cap, took the wheel and decided to take a left instead of a right at the corner.  Joe Richman tells that story, interviews William's sons, over a half century later. One is charitable about his father's audacity, the other is not. William drove all the way to Hollywood, Florida, 1300 miles, didn't call his wife, home with three little children, for two weeks. Michael Wilson broke resurrected that story in 2010, called it a take-this-job-and-shove-it.

There are other kinds of leaps. Would you time-travel, if you had the opportunity? Jonathan Goldstein and Sean Cole interview older people (not old) to find out what they have to say about revisiting time, or flash forwarding. They find seniors on a park bench , old friends, newspaper blown in the grass, and proceed to a community center. There, instead of watching Let's Make a Deal, the regulars in the rec room take a break to talk about time travel. They wouldn't bother, naturally. They're doing it all the time. Telescoping, remembering things we couldn't see as younger people, is a phenomenon of aging. Maybe a perk, maybe not.

But the best, the story with the widest implications, is The Wisdom to Know the Difference, a reference to the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
The rest of the prayer is about surrendering to the will of Heaven, accepting adversity. Get over it. Let God do Her thing.

Tough message, but an expression of the worldview, the heart and soul, of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Tina Dupuy faces a choice, twenty years into sobriety. Is she sober enough to challenge the idea that she is an alcoholic? Diagnosed as a teenager, does the label still apply? No spoilers here.

It is enough to tell you that  she had been drinking hard liquor as a young child, remembers a full glass of tequila in her hand at the age of five, although she can't remember drinking it. Who poured it? Now she wonders if it ever happened. So disturbing, we wonder if it ever happened. But therapists can think of reasons for everything.

By 13 Tina is no longer rebellious or crazy. She is working a 12-Step recovery program, on her way to becoming a national celebrity, the young teenage Big Book thumper. Her story is on the front page of a pamphlet for teens.

Then at 33, twenty years solid-straight, like every person of faith at some point in their lives, Tina begins to question her Higher Power's real power, God's involvement in her life. Maybe even existence. 

They tell you in those meetings,
 'Keep coming back, trust your higher power, everything happens for a reason.'
But is someone, something up there really take care of things? Or do they just happen and we only think there's this master plan. What if there is no plan? Where is the evidence?

Tina worries. If there is no plan, then what the Big Book says isn't true. Maybe she can drink again. Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe she isn't an alcoholic. Maybe one drink won't lead to another.

Changes in her beliefs mean she is changing. We use a bigger word, differentiation, when we talk about teenagers developing unique identities. They are differentiating (actually, we all are, but more slowly) first from parents and what they believe, then from their friends. That whole decade, and the next, too, is a search for self.  And Tina's self wound around that of a Big Book thumper a long time.

She is growing, is all. It had to happen one day. No reason to think she won't return to the dogma eventually, if in a milder form. She needs a break. The brain gets bored.

But you should know that this is the penultimate risk for an alcoholic, drinking. She might find that she can't stop with one or two drinks-- that her life, once again, becomes unmanageable. This is a terrifying thought. Nobody wants to go back to the reckless, irresponsible days, nothing romantic about them. An emotional roller coaster. Nobody likes you. You burn all of your credit with broken promises.

A leap many wouldn't consider, but Tina is thinking, what choice do I have? She sees only three possibilities. (1) She is an alcoholic in recovery, must stay stone cold sober or her life will become unmanageable; (2) She takes a leap and finds she is an alcoholic, can't stop drinking, or (3) She drinks under controlled circumstances to find she is not an alcoholic, meaning she can drink.

What will she do and what happens has me on the edge of my seat.

But what happened to four: She is not an alcoholic and doesn't want to drink, hasn't the desire and doesn't bother with what most of us take for granted? She doesn't consider this because the whole sobriety business has overstayed its welcome, apparently. Her brain, like yours and mine, needs more excitement.

What a set up.

This is what they should tell teens that at AA meetings: 
There will come a time that.you will lose your faith, and you might want to see who you really are without AA.

Guess what?  You are you. You are your thoughts, your behavior, your desires, your friends, your books, your games, your studies, your choices, your relationships. And every year of sobriety, every day, as you add to your skill sets, there is more of you.
Must you still attend that same church when that crisis of faith strikes, or any church at all, read the same bible?  Maybe not. But if this is about identity, it isn't about just one thing.  

This podcast is likely to be the topic of many an AA meeting.

Most therapists would agree that the people we are as children are not the people we will be as adults. A child who drinks is likely acting out, self-medicating, socializing, or deliberately removing herself from something, perhaps a terrible life. She may be communicating anger, depression, anxiety, negative emotions.

And she has to learn how to talk about these, it is what we do in life, in sobriety, reel them in, learn to manage emotion.  Alcohol, actually, dis-inhibits, makes us more loopy, not less. Twenty years of calm, a lot less drama without booze, and she wants it back? 

So no, not on board, don't like this leap, I'm thinking. Don't set the example to others on the fence. When you are good at living without America's favorite recreational drug, when you have what everyone else wants, the clear-eyed life, why join those who top off even a good day with a haze?

As one of my alcoholic patients tells me: It makes you stupid, that's what alcohol does.

A little harsh, my friend. Not everyone drinks that way, and many writers can't write without it.

And the rest of us? We need those designated drivers.

We could certainly stop here, but just a few words about the podcast that follows leaps. 

Regrets, I've Had a Few is a line from a Sinatra song, My Way, and reading the words brings to mind, to my mind, a certain look in my father's eyes, sitting on a cracked leather bench in a beat up waiting room, still pink-cheeked and mentally vigorous in his eighties. We are waiting for his turn for dialysis and hear Ol' Blue Eyes sing that signature song.

For those of us who are notably hard-headed, who don't compromise often-- and those who lived with a family member who is hard-headed, didn't see a need to compromise, the song hits an ambivalent chord. I judged my father back then, a guy who had his way as a boss, a spouse, and a father, but not as a son. In the end, he couldn't. He would have lived to 120 if he had it his way, or longer.

Not that my way is bad, sometimes life calls for it. Definitive adulthood, making choices, choosing for ourselves. It is what Tina Dupuy is working out. But it is compromise that makes the (wo)man. We get farther in relationships if we compromise.

Enough podcasts and we're likely to get addicted to this perfectly innocuous field of entertainment. If you have started Sarah Koenig's Serial and find you can't wait for the second season. . .well then. . .

you know you're hooked.


And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.

I've lived a life that's full.
I've traveled each and ev'ry highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way.

I've loved, I've laughed and cried.
I've had my fill; my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing.

To think I did all that;
And may I say - not in a shy way,
"Oh no, oh no not me,
I did it my way".

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows -
And did it my way!

Yes, it was my way.
Songwriters: Carter, Shawn C / Revaud, Francois / Thibaut, Giles / Anka, Paul / Francois, Claude

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Glimpsing Heaven

If I searched statistics to find which of the hundreds of essays on this blog has been read the most, strangely enough, it wouldn't be the one about enmeshment. Before reading  Glimpsing HeavenJudy Bachrach's new book about near death experiences, seeing ghosts, in this doc's professional world, had been associated with religious beliefs (cultural delusions) or mental illness.

Now I'll have to rewrite the post.

There exists a quiet, circumspect, yet substantial population reporting near death experiences (NDE's), according to IANDS, the International Association for Near-Death Studies. Approximately 200,000 Americans a year tell select friends or relatives that they experienced life after death. They speak of travel beyond the moon, past Mars, no spaceship necessary. Even Oprah has chimed in. She interviewed actress Sharon Stone, an experiencer.

Ms. Bachrach, who is a journalist and rightfully suspicious of the whole business, set out to find them.

Her subjects are varied, and some say they did see spirits during that brief window in which their hearts ceased to beat, their brains failed to respond to technology. But mostly, these after death experiences, at least to those who have had the pleasure, are about consciousness.

Our conscious selves, cloaked in the body until we die, are really disparate, continues on after that bolt of lightening, after the fatal motorcycle accident, after the almost strangulation or suicide.  So different from what we tell patients who minimize mental illness, who are reluctant to get help, still thinking they are weak for feeling sad, anxious, angry.
Your body and your mind are one. Neurons connect everything to that part of the brain that thinks  Mental is physical. If you need medication, take it. And sure, get therapy to change your life.
The conclusion here, however, is that the body we're constantly scrutinizing and pruning over, working into shape, or beating ourselves up about, matters little in the grand scheme of things. Our true selves are essentially consciousness, awareness connected to everyone else's awareness after death. We all become empaths. .

Another take-away is a sense of tranquility, peace and love. And we're back to the sixties.

We could say that Ms. Bachrach is a journalist, not a scientist, and that she has fallen under the spell of some really, really good story tellers, perhaps people who took LSD. But neuro-psychiatrists who study NDE's are scoring large grants. To get a grant, a doctor has to jump through hoops, justify the benefits of research to society, ensure that subjects are not harmed in any way. The hope is that qualitative, systematic interviews, coded and analyzed by theme, will enlighten us even more.

The primary research question is likely to be the same: What happens to us after we die?

That's what's in bold print on the back cover of Glimpsing Heaven, coincidentally.

Singer-songwriter, Pam Reynolds Lowery, had an out of body experience during a cardiac standstill, a type of brain surgery that necessitates freezing the body and shutting off electrical activity to the brain. Eyes lubricated and taped shut, after the procedure Pam remembers physical details in the operating room and conversations her doctors say she could not possibly have heard under the circumstances. She "watched" the surgery from above the table and "heard" music the surgical team picked out: Hotel CaliforniaYou can check out any time you want-- but you can never leave. Pam thought it bad taste.

She recalls popping out of the top of her head, feeling pulled toward a shower of light, away from the operation. And yes, she saw relatives long gone, a beloved uncle, her late grandmother, whom she adored. They told her she couldn't stay with them. She had to go back. But she didn't want to leave. Death felt good.

Pam's daughter Michelle tells Ms. Bachrach that her mother became an empath after the surgery. (Pam has passed on.) She always had sensitivity, but now, heightened ESP. Pam didn't just sense pain of others. She knew the reasons random strangers appeared to suffer.  This isn't uncommon in the experiencer or knower population.

"Death is an illusion," Pam used to say. "Death is a really nasty, bad lie."

We can all breath easier.  It seems so absurd, such surety. No one can prove that it is a lie, but we can't prove it isn't.  Much like a discussion about the existence of God between a believer and an atheist, Go prove it either way.

We have to wonder: Have those who say that they experienced Heaven after a near death experience suffered from depression previously? What are the percentages, the demographics? Is this a population more likely to have had suicidal thoughts, wishes for a better life after death? These are only a few hypotheses, questions research will likely address.

Bill Taylor, at 37, had a heart attack and experienced a long, helpless descent into darkness before looking out in space and seeing stars and planets, the universe before him, nothing behind.

He tells Ms. Bachrach:
"And being out there, I could see everything was connected to everything else. There were threads connecting all of the bodies in the universe. And I am connected to all these forms.  The threads were energy-- and it was love that connected everything too everything."
Love, the Great Connector. A dream with a certain rationality. Bill didn't see the Earth or the  moon. "You are farther back than that."

And for those of us who are always too hot or too cold, he reassures that out there the temperature is just right. Naturally.

Psychiatrist Carl Jung has a similar story. In 1944, Jung slipped and broke his fibula, suffered a heart attack a few days later. He recalls a view of the planet Earth, dipped in color.  Living color. Technicolor.

There's also the inevitable meeting with wise men in togas. One death traveler tells us that they don't talk, the wise men in togas. Yet she understands, feels safe. No one talks out there, not like we do. Thoughts are understood.

There's no hell, by the way, no devil. It can be very lonely, however, out of body. The only recorded negative experience recalls such intense loneliness and isolation, it felt like hell. Much like it can down here, loneliness. A solitary non-confinement, of sorts.

In death, no one wants to come back, except the one woman who found herself in solitary non-confinement. Why leave Heaven, where life is worry-free, warm, and loving. Surely in Heaven there's a huge Thanksgiving celebration, a turkey that nobody eats, PETA people are elevated.

I'm thinking, rabbis, priests, holy men and women are at the party conversing telepathically around virtual sushi. They have the top tiers, better tables,, but work the room because they know it is good to socialize, makes others feel good, puts them on the map, less invisible.

Heaven, for most, is very much as they hoped it to be,.

Which could be the rub, projection. But so many people, so many projections. Are these experiences projections?

Here's something to think about: While dead, supposedly, we're content to stay right where we are, up there. But tossed back into day-to-day, oh-blah-dee existence, everyday life, we don't want to return any time soon. Having experienced something better, those who experienced and NDE still prefer life. Some feel they have a job to do, important work to accomplish. They get right on it.

From this we might hypothesize that life becomes more meaningful, knowing that at the end to the suffering, there's this rainbow.

Death may be fun, exponentially more peaceful and loving. But life-- always complicated, painful, depressing, terrifying, even-- is precious.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Me Before You: The Six Gift Take-away

Me Before You: Joj
We're already in gift-giving season. My favorites are the intangibles.

Yesterday was Veteran's Day in the USA, and coincidentally, I had just finished reading Me Before You., a book about disability. The story doesn't relabel disability as differently-abled. Will Traynor, before his accident, could do almost anything, but he no longer can.  

My daughter-in-law tossed the book at me, had knocked it off in a day. But it seemed sophomoric, at first, took me awhile to get into. But when someone else really likes something, you try a little harder. The word in Hollywood is that Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones will star in a coming movie as Louisa Clark, no relation, and Sam Claflin of Hunger Games is a likely Will Traynor. So we'll keep the spoilers to a bare minimum.

  Chick lit, sure, but much to take away.
Me Before You-Jojo Moyes

Louisa Clark is an ordinary enough person, a really good person, the type of young adult who steps up when her upper-middle-age parents begin to struggle financially. She hands over her most of her paycheck, lives with them into her twenties, in a room the size of a closet. Although the young woman has troubles, she spares her family the grief and worry, keeps too much, perhaps, to herself.

Like most of the female gender, Louisa suffered a Negative Event in her not-so-long-ago past, that affects her adult choices. We're not sure if it is conscious or not, but she consistently chooses the safe, the familiar, the paths that eliminate risk, except in her choice of clothes. She can't help but attract attention via wardrobe. Some things, predilections, choices, die hard. Her clothes are the color in this novel, the delight. 

When she loses her job as a barista at a coffee shop, Louisa is forced to take a care-giver position. It is that or pole dancing. She keeps company with a man who has lost his ability to move his arms and legs, who is stuck in a motorized wheel chair. He used to do everything, ski, boat, travel, wheel and deal. Will Traynor had it all, until an accident took the capacity to enjoy whatever was left.

When we meet him he is paralyzed and totally helpless. He has a full-time nurse to change his colostomy bag, administer meds, bathe, dress, and get him in and out of bed. The patient is angry, sarcastic, hopeless and tortured. Life is physically and psychologically painful always. But Will has money. So we think: he has options, control over his future. There is a piece of us, those of us who are not in that one percent of the privileged wealthy, that assumes money is the answer to everything.

His emotional care giver, Louisa, has positive energy, a happy disposition. But anyone attending to Will is likely to be cut down. Anyone wishing to help him will fail at the purpose for hire: 
The mission, set out by Will's mother, not Will, who knows better: Motivate him. Help the boss find enjoyment, something good about living, a reason to ultimately choose to live it out, rather than end it somehow, some way.
Can Clark do that? Can anyone keep smiling when charged with making a miserable person happy, especially one with who refuses to embrace any semblance of happiness?  What do any of us do when we have a morose, depressed partner, parent, friend, or child. How do we stay sane? How do we stay positive, impervious to the infection of depression. For it is contagious, make no mistake.

How to do that is the real lesson of the novel, and a powerful, psychological take-away. Call the strategies  six gifts that a caregiver, friend, or relative can give to someone with a disability, gifts that might be appreciated, even if that person is extremely grumpy, especially so.

Because disability is much more that ____ happens. (Those of you who disagree or have different thoughts, please share in the comments below.)

(1) Gift One: Choice
Choice is usually compromised by disability. Able-bodied persons make choices all the time, from the type of tooth paste we use, to sleeping with or without socks, to running a company or merely putting in time at work that is either productive, or not. As able-bodied people, we can switch up what we want to do, don't depend upon others for most things. And the process of choice, for most of us regarding most things, is unconscious. 

Not so for those struggling with severe disabilities, the differently-abled, forced to hand over, surrender free will. There's no time for it. The work, the time, the energy, is in pain reduction, ambulation, feeding, eliminating, getting through the day in the most utilitarian fashion, getting the simplest things done. As the potential Great Eraser of Autonomy, severe, totally debilitating trauma, accidents, foster reliance upon others, dependency.  And independence, its opposite, is how we define adulthood. 

So enabling any choice, even little choices, is showering presents upon someone who is debilitated, who has the luxury of only too few. 

(2) Gift Two: Drop all assumptions. 
Like any of us in relationships, a caregiver is likely to project her own needs and wants in any given situation with her charge. It feels like empathy, but isn't. There is no real knowing what another person is thinking or feeling, not without asking. And yet our default is to behave as if.  This will make a grumpy person even grumpier, because usually we're wrong. Best to ask.  

To lose those personal projections, keep in mind that the protected classes:  race, color, religion, ethnicity, age, military status, gender, and yes, disability are legally protected because people treat people who are different, differently. They make to many assumptions.

(3) Gift Three: Teach less, learn more 
We are all different. Thus there is something to learn from everyone, whether they belong to a protected class or not. Each one of us is a foreign language. Try to learn a new one whenever you can.

Caregivers, like any service professionals with some training, teach. There are right ways, wrong ways of doing almost any little thing, so imparting the shoulds is a necessary evil, a part of the job. But to teach there must be a student, a willing audience, which means a hierarchy, one has more status than another. More important than relaying the shoulds, the empirical data, or knowledge, is hearing the pain, the frustration, actively listening and validating. There will be time to teach.

(4) Gift Four: Share
Most of us keep our shame, our lives, what makes us different, to ourselves. We don't trust others not to blab. But that concept: You're only as sick as your secrets, is worth considering, especially when in a relationship with a person with obvious trauma, even as a caregiver. The one with the physical impairment cannot keep his a secret. It's unfair.

Our emotional disabilities, the things that hold us back, are worth sharing. The details aren't necessary right away, we're entitled to our psychological privacy. But shame about negative events is self-destructive, implies a fear of exposure, anxiety, something missing socially. The way back is sharing some of it. Sharing with someone who has a physical disability works both ways, helps the one who shares, and the one who listens.

Why? When someone shares with us the process elevates our status. We merit the share, feel important. This is the intimacy, the glue of relationships. She shared. I must be good, trustworthy-- worthy of a good tell.

(5) Gift Five: Absorb the patient's frustration

Don't take anger, depression, sadness, frustration as your fault, although you may certainly have a part in the drama. Yours, however, is likely a very small part, if caregiver is your role. Taking negative affect (anger, frustration, depression) personally, minimizes the role of fate, the role of circumstance, luck, and the roles of others. We're not that important. Our job is to let it happen, another's negative affect, to encourage venting. Venting is survival, elemental to healing emotionally. Hearing it is a part of the job.  

(6)  Gift Six: Respect resistance. 
Helpers usually encounter resistance. When a routine is rejected, when someone who needs help pushes us away, best to wait, as long as possible. This means enduring long silences, and when they are long enough, asking for suggestions. Resistance is usually about powerlessness, lacking control, and we have to pay homage to it, because accepting that can take a long, long time. 

That said, some people like it that there is someone in bossy control of a situation. 
But the silence. The silence. Silence in any situation, especially a combative, resistant situation, can a good thing. Unless that person wants us to talk, to sing. Most of us aren't hired, not usually, to entertain. We have to get comfortable allowing our friends who have lost so much of what we take for granted, the chance to grieve, to resist.

Five Stars, Jo Jo Moyes. Not just chick lit.