Sex, Love and Longing:
Understanding the Addicted Self
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Debra L. Kaplan, MA, LAC, LISAC, CSAT-III
Jewish Heritage Center
3800 East River Road
Tucson, Arizona 85718
Earn 1.5 Continuing Education Credits
No registration required.
For information on The Meadows or The Meadows' Arizona-based activities, please contact Meagan Foxx, Arizona Community Relations Representative, at 866-922-0951, 602-531-5320 (local) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes From Tucson
Debra L. Kaplan
M.A., CSAT-3, EMDR-II
It was a sad day in Tucson, Arizona, as a lone gunman made a foiled assassination attempt on the state's Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords while she was conducting a meet-and-greet at a local supermarket. On that Saturday, January 8th Tucsonans and the greater nation became aware of the tragedy as the day unfolded. As the events became known we learned that 19 people were shot and six people were left dead.
The lingering question for most people is, "Why- why did this happen?" That answer or a variation of the truth may remain unsolved. However, the answer, with or without the facts is that an unstable mind coupled with aggression can be, and in this case was, a dangerous coefficient.
The fallout from this devastation will linger, certainly for the lives of those affected. On a broader scale, however, the damage remains with the potential for secondary trauma as we look on from the sidelines and are left to ponder our own lives and human fragility.
In the days since this tragic event I have noticed a strong need for people to share their thoughts and feelings on the topic. Regardless of their political or personal persuasion, one thing is clear to me. As communities lay witness to these events both within our own backyards and around the nation's landscape, I see signs of psychological distress due to the increasing frequency of senseless violence against others and our loved ones.
In the helping profession we know this to be vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma (or secondary trauma) is a trauma response that results from the cumulative effect of contact with and exposure to survivors of violence or disaster. This can occur over a period of time with delay after days, months or years of direct or indirect contact. Those of us who work with and treat psychological trauma know that we are vulnerable to this condition and therefore, take steps toward increasing self care on a regular basis.
So it comes as no surprise to me that as our society is increasingly exposed to acts of violence certain individuals who already struggle with their own internal distress, inch that much closer to an inability to cope. Still, for others who are on the cusp of emotional fragility, their ability to stay functional might become greatly compromised as a result of an event or a series of events such as this and move toward an emotional unraveling.
One's ability to handle a traumatic experience(s) is not formulaic. Further, no two individuals will respond nor manage the distress in quite the same way. For some, violent acts such as this, will elicit a healthy call-to-action in the service of political or social change. For others these events might induce an emotional decompensation rendering them emotionally unable to function as before.
In the aftermath of a crisis or crises, an already fragile emotional structure is likely to become more vulnerable to the duress and re-experience an old, but, unresolved traumatic response. As the unresolved and underlying trauma is triggered, the response in the here and now can be physiological, psychological or emotional in nature. A few of those moderate signs and symptoms include: sadness, anxiety, social withdrawal, increased signs of depression, loss of appetite, sleep disturbance, and anxiety to name a few.
Just how an individual copes is based on several factors; their internal strengths, available family/social support, and/or learned coping skills. Those individuals who have worked through their grief and loss due to trauma will have an easier time moving forward past an event. That event becomes a momentary pause versus a roadblock beyond which one is unable to move. When an individual continues to struggle with unresolved trauma they could have a strong identification with current crisis such as the shooting event in Tucson. Others' grief and loss becomes the catalyst for a re-experiencing of one's old trauma wounding.
For those that are struggling with this event or others that are traumatic I encourage self care in the following ways:
Last, it is always important to remember that reaching out for professional help when or if it is needed is an act of courage and strength. It takes a strong person to reach out for help and present oneself the gift of compassion, love and support.
Admittedly, I have never met Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman, the fictional comic book superhero. Had I been granted the opportunity, I first would have thanked him for the borrowed Superman metaphor I often employ in therapy with my clients. Then I would have asked him if Krypton, Superman's native planet, held any resemblance to Mr. Siegel's own homeland of Cleveland, Ohio.
As it was written, Superman was jettisoned to earth in a rocket ship only moments before Krypton exploded into smithereens. Krypton's demise was due to its unstable radioactive core, perhaps a deliberate tribute to Cleveland's Cuyahoga River, infamous for its frequent fires on the water caused by pollution slicks.
I mean no disparaging sentiment for the Clevelanders reading this, but I can't but help wonder: What did Mr. Siegel have in mind when he decided that the one and only element that can strip Superman of his superhuman powers - and perhaps even kill him - is the element that comes from his home planet? The reference is too obvious for this therapist to ignore. Better yet, it's too beautiful a talking point to overlook.
I want to know how Mr. Siegel felt about his family of origin. Was the family contentious and dysfunctional - or warm, connected, and validating? Was Krypton like the home of Mr. Siegel's own family of origin? I'll never know, because Jerry Siegel died in 1996, and his co-creator, Joe Shuster, died in 1992.
Were it not for holiday family gatherings - and oftentimes destructive family feuds - I wouldn't need to employ my cautionary but appropriate reference to Superman. Every year, as Thanksgiving approaches, not a week goes by that I don't pull Superman out of hiding and speak of his comic-bound strength and invulnerability. I ask, "What is the one thing that renders Superman powerless?"
I'm often met with a bewildered look. Those clients old enough to remember mumble, "Kryptonite?"
I quickly exclaim, "Kryptonite! Exactly!"
"And where," I ask, "does Kryptonite come from?"
"Krypton?" they ask more enthusiastically.
I confess to my clients that I cannot say what Jerry Siegel had in mind, but it is ironic that Superman could be stopped by only one thing: an element from his homeland. Even the most therapy-savvy among us, those who have risen out of dysfunction and family disorientation, are rendered powerless while returning home for the holidays. It can seem as though time has stood still, waiting for our return to fill the family roles-of-old.
As much as we'd like to think we've arrived at therapeutic transcendence, returning to our families of origin during the holidays often challenges our ability to maintain self-care and personal boundaries. It takes mindful awareness to remain immune from family havoc, and such success is not always achievable.
By way of my comic book metaphor, I remind my clients that even the strongest among us is susceptible. Even though a luscious glance from Lois Lane couldn't bring Clark Kent to his knees, Superman was susceptible to the destabilizing effects of Kryptonite. So we seek progress, not perfection. And as the holidays approach and we find ourselves facing a trip to Krypton or Cleveland we have choices: Stay home, or go visit the family. Just take along your favorite superhero for protection.
Spoken Agreements and Silent Arrangements
Debra L. Kaplan
M.A., CSAT-3, EMDR-II
During a particularly tense session of couple's therapy, Kelly turned to Robert, her partner of eight years, and said, "You agreed that you would work at paying down your debt, but I don't see you doing that!" Robert, clearly offended, sprang forth with anger: "What right do you have to accuse me when I work hard everyday, just as hard as you do?" Kelly was about to go for his therapeutic jugular when I interrupted her.
"Kelly, when you met Robert, what information did you have about his financial situation, and what information did you choose to ignore?" I understood the situation, as this was a topic often addressed in couple's therapy.
When they met and started dating, Robert was dealing with a recent bankruptcy, and his financial situation was fragile. As Kelly described it, "Robert was reeling from a business deal gone awry, and he was doing the best he could to get back on his feet." Robert promised Kelly that, due to his business acumen, his situation would be short-lived. He maintained that he would bounce back from his mounting debts.
Although Robert's promise of financial rebound didn't materialize, the two moved in together early in their relationship. Before long, they started arguing about finances. Every few months, they came to resolve their issues in therapy - only to back away from the most obvious of issues between them. Kelly had agreed to move in with Robert based on what she knew, and she had chosen to avoid asking questions that would have helped her make a healthier decision.
This relationship, and many others like it, operates on two levels of understanding: The first level speaks to agreements based on information we know, and the second level speaks to the silent arrangements we make based on information we ignore.
Kelly knew about Robert's financial situation but chose to ignore the fact that he was struggling to make ends meet. Kelly also chose to ignore the fact that, rather than paying off his debts, Robert continued spending his money and building financial stress.
How many times do we venture forth in romantic relationships, despite our "our gut instinct" telling us that it isn't right? How many relationships begin with the ominous belief that "I don't care for her/his friends, but once we're together, s/he will change?" If we remain committed to blind hope or desire, we ensure relational demise.
We treat our relationships with ourselves as less important than relationships with others. We allow our hopes and/or desires to push us forward, "eyes wide shut." We risk losing our true selves as well as our potential for enduring positive change.
We often know more than we think we do when we make decisions regarding relationships and life choices. Because we cannot come to grips with the outcome, we often tune out important knowledge in lieu of walking away or sticking to what we know is right. At times, the very information we need in order to have a solid relationship is the very information that we neglect, even when it is in plain sight.
In the case of Kelly and Robert, his bankruptcy resulted from a less-than-stellar work ethic and poor choices. This did not change when he moved into Kelly's house, but she chose to ignore this vital information. Her need to have Robert move in was stronger than her need to ask for more information. Had she asked questions, Kelly may not have moved forward in the relationship. While that would have been painful for her, it would have been less painful than eight years of emotional turmoil, financial ups and downs, and unresolved relationship cycles.
The act of recovery means living life on life's terms and, at times, this means disappointing ourselves and/or another. Recovery demands that we be willing to disappoint ourselves and others in order to live healthy, fulfilled lives. Meeting the demands of life on life's terms is a formidable challenge for many of us. More difficult yet is the challenge to set and meet our own demands while being honest with ourselves. This rigorous honesty is no less necessary in a relationship. We must ask the tough questions and act upon reality as it is, rather than how we wish it to be.
The Spring/Summer 2009 edition of The Cutting Edge, The Meadows' official newsletter, has just been published. Highlights of the issue include three feature articles and information on upcoming events offered by The Meadows.
Claudia Black, a Clinical Consultant for The Meadows, is the author of Deceived: Facing Sexual Betrayal, Lies, and Secrets. Says Claudia, "Nearly a decade ago, I began to work with women confronting sexual betrayal. It was this professional experience that inspired me to write Deceived: Facing Sexual Betrayal, Lies and Secrets, a book for female partners of sex addicts. Much of this article is excerpted from that book, published by Hazelden in April 2009."
Another Meadows author, John Bradshaw, discusses his new book, Reclaiming Virtue, in Author to Reader. According to John, "Reclaiming Virtue is a very ambitious book. I originally conceived of it as part of my own Stage Four recovery work, but I later came to the realization that the book is more like a record of my own struggle over the past 50 years."
In Twisters & Roller Coasters: Living with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Arizona licensed therapist Debra L. Kaplan discusses her work with CPTSD patients, its history, treatment options and prognosis.
You'll also find information on The Meadows' new Integrated Evaluation program; a list of upcoming workshops and seminars and symposiums; and details on The Meadows' free lecture series. The Cutting Edge is available in both HTML and PDF formats.