Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mad Men: A Little Kiss

On NPR yesterday, Matthew Weiner discussed past episodes of Mad Men and his protagonist's descent to alcoholism (Jon Hamm, brilliantly plays Donald Draper).  It didn't sound like something I really wanted to watch. As a therapist, alcoholism tends to lose its glitter, even on TV.

My daughter told me to watch the show when it first caught on, but not wanting yet another must-see, I declined.  Then AMC started reruns to promote the fifth season, so I taped them and sure enough, caught the jones.  There was no catching up before Sunday's fifth season premiere, but Don doesn't appear to be an alcoholic anymore.

So here we are, two women, me and my grown daught, watching the season opener. Our spouses are both  working, although it is late evening, perfect for the Mad Men 1950's theme.  I'm absolutely mesmerized, because there's nothing more interesting than watching the ways that two people who supposedly love one another fight, and what they fight about.  Some of us find this fascinating.  (This from someone who will never see The Hunger Games, nor finish the book.)

Spoilers to follow.

So Don has remarried, and he seems very happy, and his new wife, Megan, who works for his advertising firm, is very sexy, and very sweet, and she wants to throw him a surprise 40th birthday party. The surprise is blown as he is about to walk in the door, and it is clear, Don isn't happy.  He doesn't like surprise parties, doesn't like to be the center of attention, and all he wants to do is go home and spend a quiet evening with Megan.

He puts up with it, plays the good sport, because he is a gentleman, or can be.  But at the end of the evening, when Megan joins him in the bedroom and throws herself at him, he makes it very clear there will be no sex.  He is exhausted, and he tells her as much in a very irritable way, as if she is the cause, but he's not discussing it, he's too tired. We're left to think that she should have asked him first.  She should have asked him if she could throw him a surprise party.

She is very hurt by this lambasting  Throwing this party wasn't easy. She invited his friends earlier in the week, late, but still, most were honored to be on the list.  And she promised at least one of them that her guests would go home and make love. Everyone should enjoy life, should be as happy as she is, married to Donald Draper.  Life is beautiful.  Enjoy it.  Some have this world view, and it can be refreshing, if French.

We learn that something else is bothering Don.  At the party Megan gives him a very public gift.  She (Jessica Pare) is the entertainment. She is his gift. She surprises everyone with burlesque, dances to a lovely French song in the original French, Zou Bisou Bisou. 

Sophia Loren recorded it originally in English.  Here are a few of the lyrics, translated by Slate.

Everywhere you hear:
Kiss kiss kiss etc.
My God, how soft they are!
But tell me, do you know
What that means, between us,
What does “zou bisou” mean?
It means, I confess to you,
But yes, I love only you!

Sweet, no?  It's more lovely in French.  Her performance embarrasses her new husband, and his anger is controlled, but he punishes her in the way that a woman tends to feel it the most, by withdrawing his affection, his love, and not wasting words to discuss it.

There may have been romance for the guests that night, but none for Megan.  Her gift is unappreciated, she is rejected.  It is her culture he is rejecting.  Don, now a big advertising executive, is still a product of Puritan farmers.  But he has married a woman who has Latin blood, who doesn't see anything wrong with this, zou bisou bisou.

The journalists are saying it is about liberation, that Megan is a liberated woman, and Don isn't quite there yet.  He can philander, he can have sex, and everyone knows it.  But she?

Perhaps they are right.  I didn't see the episodes leading up to this.  But based upon her pronunciation, her lovely rendition of a French song, Megan is French!  How could it be otherwise?  Megan is French and she has married an old fashioned American man.  She should have known better.

I turn to my daughter after the show, following the resolution of their problems, better communication.  "Marriage is wonderful, no?"  Meaning, It isn't always easy.  Nobody said it would be.

Married eleven years, she smiles that tight-lipped smile that tells me-- she totally understands.


Post script:  This is not a commentary, not a negative one, on Puritanical values.  Nor is it a vote for the French.   It's really about a relationship, and how important it is to communicate values, especially, well, so as not to embarrass a partner.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Process Versus Content

It's a very simple concept, really.  But I remember first hearing about it many years ago in graduate school and getting it, but not getting it, and what made it worse was that the instructor, Joy Johnson (where are you, Joy?) made a serious pitch, told us that if we didn't get it, basically, we would be only be so-so at this job.  Whereas if we did get it, we had half a chance.

A patient ended up clarifying it for me, unintentionally, of course.  Joy taught us that process is what's happening, the action, and that content is the story.  There's a difference between seeing something, and hearing about it.  The guy selling you a car is going to be friendly, and he'll tell you all about the features and wonders of the vehicle, but if he sells it to you, it is likely because of the way he worked you, not because it's such an awesome car.

But you want to know what the patient said, so many years ago.

Her boyfriend would shut down when she asked him things, asked for any kind of explanation for his behavior.  He behaved like he didn't understand, but she insisted that he did, that he just didn't want to answer, a passive aggressive defense.  She thought him mean, stingy with words.

She didn't realize that he felt cornered, on the defensive, which made him anxious, and his anxiety got to the point where he really didn't know what to say, indeed, he forgot what she had even asked.

They broke up, but she wanted him back, and he wanted her back, so they started it up again after a few months apart.  But she kept coming back to one particular incident in which he avoided her question.  She said: (a) It troubles me that he won't answer the question. (That would be process.) and (b) I really want the answer to the question.  (That would be content.)

Which bothers you more, I ask: that he won't answer, or that you don't know the answer. The former, of course.  The process.

That's what Joy means when she says that process is more important than content.  So we focus on that, because when we resolve the mystery of process, the content barely matters.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

How I Stopped Drowning in Drink

Not me, of course. Paul Carr. I know I promised to write about marriage counseling, when enough is enough, but then this came along and I'm such a sucker for variations on the 12 Steps.

Paul Carr stopped drinking, on his own. No 12-Step program, no mindfulness, no CBT.

Wait a minute, actually his program has elements of all three: (1) the addict (Mr. Carr) is working 12 steps;  (2) he's mindful of his experience, his past, reasons he drinks, and how being in the moment affects his decisions; (3) he is working to change his behavior by being cognizant of its effects. A writer, not a psychologist, he's either brilliant, or bumbling around drunk for so long, has finally stumbled upon a few of the very ingredients that make any good sobriety program work.

Carr, a comedian, has a website that boasts about his book, Sober is My New Drunk (costs only $1.99,  less than a drink in most clubs):

The bestselling humor writer and notorious tech blogger describes how social media helped solve his drinking problem—and explains how Twitter, Facebook, and the Internet can be more useful than AA when it comes to remaining clean and sober.

Let's take a peak, a critical look, because even though it is in jest, many a truth, you know, is said in jest. Remember, he's not going to meetings, and that his program runs contrary to what addiction therapists generally recommend.  (We tend to suggest hobnobbing with fellow addicts, all of whom have been driven to ruin and despair, then recovery, the tried and true kind, tantamount to surrender to God, peer counseling, and a mishmash of cognitive behavioral therapy or meditation.)

The steps below are excerpted from How I Stopped Drowning in Drink.  (WSJ) The commentary is mine.

Step One: Ask Yourself, "Do I Really Have a Problem?" 

Mr. Carr believes that if none of your friends have taken you aside to say that you seem to have a problem, you probably don't,  unless your friends are all alcoholics, in which case they won't.

He's right to qualify because alcoholics are like birds, they flock together.

But millions more are dependent in secret, drink alone, and have no friends, no people to gently remind them of their illness.

Mr. Carr is suggesting that everyone who drinks to excess should simply chip away at their denial, take a closer look.

But seriously, who does that?  Those who abuse and depend upon substances wrap cars around trees, wake up with strangers, lose their jobs and live to drink again.  No problem.

Step Two: Quit Publicly

This, of course, I love. If you tell everyone that matters to you that you have a problem with booze, because they care, they will work your program for you, praise your integrity, your mission to take back your life, and encourage you to rock on-- without the ale. Mr. Carr suggests posts on Facebook and Twitter, and personal emails to those who will lend support, not undermine sobriety.

But what about those who wouldn't tweet to save their lives, who eschew social networking altogether, yet pound back the drinks with the best of them? And seriously, is the type of support and caring Mr. Carr seems to have at his fingertips, something the average Joe can rally?  A good alcoholic encourages another to make a le'chaim, not to abstain.  Am I missing something? Cheers.

Step Three: Don't Fear Failure

Of course you'll slip, it is inevitable for most, and Mr. Carr acknowledges this, says don't sweat the failure.  Expect it and allow yourself one foolish fling with booze in the process of getting better.  Then get back on the wagon.

One?  Recidivism with alcohol is the rule, not the exception. Every slip is cause to restart the program, no matter which program.

 Give yourself as many slips as you need. They might become annoying after awhile.  Then you'll join a program that works.

Step Four: Pull Yourself Together

Meaning, as long as you're not drinking, get a little exercise and lose some weight. Although being British, Mr. Carr didn't seem to go for the former. What he discovered, however, is that alcohol is loaded with calories, so he lost a lot of weight getting sober and there's nothing more awesome than that.

Step Five: Stop Lying

Mr. Carr's love affair with the truth started with his public confession, telling the world that he had a serious problem with alcohol. Sober, he's finding that people really enjoy a straight man, an honest, reliable person.  It's an ah, ha moment for most alcoholics in recovery, finding they don't have to lie anymore.

Those who don't drink, who never did, find liars emotionally draining, wish they didn't have to associate with them.  They confuse us so. Wouldn't it be great if those noses really could grew when they tell a whopper?

Honesty is a huge piece of the 12-Step program.  Nice that it's making a come back in the general public, that place people pay attention, the entertainment industry.

Step Six: Stop Apologizing

Mr. Carr suggests that in the original 12 Step Program, AA, that as soon as people get sober, they run up to everyone they have hurt or disappointed and begin to apologize for the times their past behavior, forgetting responsibilities, arguing, lying, making a public nuisance of themselves. It is ridiculous to apologize because people assume the alcoholic will do it all again, that sobriety won't take. So what if today you're sorry. Tomorrow you'll be drunk.

The apology step of AA is not a first, second or third step.  It's somewhere in the middle, well into the program.  Nobody does it without thinking, and it's never easy doing it right.

Make no mistake about it.  Alcoholics do need to apologize.  Ask their partners, their parents, ask their kids for confirmation of that.  Sobriety might suffice for some, but for others, nothing is more convincing than real remorse.  Show me the tears.

Step Seven: Rediscover Dating

Alcoholics tend to have trouble dating without liquid courage. So Mr. Carr suggests, Do it anyway.  Be honest about your sobriety because people find it sexy..

Because sex and drink run together, some professionals advise the newly sober to wait a year to date. Dating is likely to trigger drinking, the two used to go hand in hand.  Who needs the trigger?

The take on this blog is that the reason dating is so hard, can be so emotional, is that it is so likely to conclude in rejection.  Most of us never get used to that.  The attachment part is tricky, too.  Sex messes with us because it has to be perfect, and it is so mandatory in our day and age.

Does it really have to be one without the other?  Is abstinence such a crazy idea in the first year of sobriety? Apparently.

Step Eight: Replace our Ridiculous Drunken Stories With Ridiculous Sober Ones

Mr. Carr suggests that the sober wannabe take some time to plan a sober adventure.  This way he'll have what to talk about (a Yiddishism).  Friends want to hear about his past craziness.

Actually, they don't.  Those who don't have a problem with alcohol have been doing this their whole lives, living without the drama, planning fairly sober adventures. And they aren't bragging about their drama free adventures.  They will, however, show you the slides, email you videos upon request.

Change this step to: Shut Up ad Listen to Other People's Stories.

Step Nine: Spend Money On Stuff You Won't Lose

Carr is referring to buying something to remind you that you're sober, like an expensive pen, in his case. It is good, being sober, better and cheaper than being a drunk, but nice to be reminded by something concrete.

AA hands out actual tokens, rewards, coins, positive reinforcement for staying sober for long stretches at a time. I love the idea that someone gives it to you and others clap and congratulate. That intimacy thing.

Step Ten: Take a Difficult Test

An HIV test, one that many are terribly afraid they'll fail.
That sex-booze association is difficult, almost impossible for an addict to get around, can't escape it.  Date? sure.  It can't possibly hurt to get back in the saddle.

Step Eleven: Work Nicer, Not Just Harder and Smarter

Whatever that means. Guess you have to read the book.

Step Twelve: Forget Everything You Just Read

Because it works for him, but likely won't work for you.

It's funny, and honestly, the real active ingredient in Mr. Carr's twelve steps is that he uses his people, his community to keep him on track. Once everyone expects us to be straight, how can we disappoint?  How do we face others drunk at a wedding, having made such a big stink on Facebook and Twitter about our sobriety?  And what about that mass email to the entire spam folder?

Living in a glass house, nothing to hide. We're in awe of you, Mr. Carr.

A pity you don't go to meetings.  They would love you.  And you, them.  Should you slip once more, think of  AA or therapy, or both, as an adventure.


Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Neurology of Gaming

Seems like the bad, unfortunately, outweighs the good.

I can't vouch for some of the studies here, but the findings about emotional desensitization to violence are reliable.  Investigators of different schools are finding the same thing, especially those who study the effects of violent media (not only games, but television and movies, too) on kids.

When violence is a steady diet, those who watch become immune, are no longer surprised by it.  Aggression ceases to have an emotional impact.  Our emotional systems take it for granted.  It is good to the brain, the path most frequently traveled.

This explains tolerance of bullying and the bystander effect, why people can see other people being insulted or attacked, and shrug, walk away, or even encourage the behavior.  Violence is nothing new, ceases to stimulate our moral center, the thinking part of the brain, the cerebral cortex.

Obviously, it isn't only kids who change for the worse with a steady diet of violence.

Have a read through..


The Neurology of Gaming
Via: Online Universities Blog

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Gray Divorcee's- Divorce Late in Life

Findings of a new study indicate that people in their fifties are divorcing in higher numbers than ever before. Women, especially, take a good look at their spouses and ask themselves, Do I really want to spend the next 20-30 years with this guy?

And the answer is a resounding, No. Having tolerated the relationship until the last launched from high school, these women stayed for the kids.

Sociologists Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin crunched the numbers and found that in 1990 only one in 10 people over fifty divorced. By 2009, the number multiplied to one in four. Strangely enough, the divorce rate fell in other age brackets.

And not as many people are marrying at all, lately, which makes some of us wonder about the fate of the institution. Is it is destined to survive? Other types of commitment are possible, and marriage appears to be a contract that is difficult and expensive to break.

It is quite socially acceptable, too, avoiding marriage altogether, moving in together, even having children sans contract. We couples therapists, however, always have a sprinkling of such couples who come to see us to resolve differences about that kinda-sorta marriage, the as what state. (Come with me, I have a great job in Seattle. . . As what?) One of the two partners in these cases wants to get married.

The investigators of the new study conceptualize marriage in the past century as having evolved, the endpoint of that evolution being its own demise. Prior to the 1940's, the arrangement was institutional, marriage an economic necessity. Then in the fifties and sixties, successful marriage meant successful role playing-- women were to shine as mothers and wives; men, as providers.

Children of the seventies ushered in an era of self-fulfillment and individualization. The Me Generation, according to Brown and Lin, leaned toward selfishness, which apparently undermined their relationships. Voila, reaching maturity in their fifties, they divorce and go their separate ways.

Now who would have ever thought that? Self-centeredness leads to divorce. But there's more. The plot thickens, according to Susan Gregory Thomas, the Wall Street Journal:
For many boomers, it is not their first marital split. Fifty-three percent of the people over 50 now getting divorced have done so at least once before. . . .Having been married previously doubles the risk of divorce for those ages 50 to 64. For those ages 65 and up, the risk factor quadruples.  For boomers who have had trouble maintaining commitments in the past, hitting the empty-nest phase seems to trigger thoughts of mortality—and of vanishing possibilities for self-fulfillment.
That finding alone gives us pause, me, anyway. Couples who weather the storm once, may not have to weather it a second or third time. This is not an argument against divorce, understand, but it is an argument that the selfishness, or need for self-fulfillment, isn't behind the rise in divorce statistics.

The theory about self-fulfillment a marriage buster leaves much to be desired. In a good marriage seeing to the happiness of the other is what partners do, have done for generations.  Other factors, and they are numerous, wear down relationships.  That much we know.

Defining a generation as self-absorbed, selfish, especially the gen that thumbed its nose to the materialism of its parents, is a very broad stroke. This is my generation we're talking about, and we spread evenly on that normal curve. Traits of a population always distribute evenly in every generation.

That means that any one of the Me Generation, on average, is selfish or generous, some of us more than others. I would like to see the group comparison study that indicates ours is somehow quantifiably different in selfishness than the generations before. Define this self-absorption, selfishness, and show me the t-scores, the f-scores.  One thing to theorize such things. Quite another to prove it.

So what is going on?

It is the elephant in the room, and it won't make me popular to say it, and no, I can't quote a study, it is only an opinion, and yes, there are countless exceptions. But what might hold couples together, values, also likely pulls them apart, differences in values. Couples who share what is important (and these often come from religion, seeking guidance from elders or God) are more likely to stick it out. Following the rules, respecting one another (that 51% positive communication factor we talk about here) tends to make people better partners.

As a social scientist, however, I would frame that, having shared values, as stacking the odds that problem solving in marriage will be successful. It is the very essence of marriage and family therapy, problem solving, and surely, successful conflict resolution renders marriage not only tolerable, but intimate.

Argue with one another, empathize, and resolve. If we do that, growing old with together doesn't feel scary at all.


Post Script:  Again, not every marriage can succeed, and certainly problem solving is dependent upon a certain emotional maturity, and a psychological-disorder-managed system, to say nothing of those in-laws.