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Charlie Sheen: we are “sick and tired” but is he?

A patient of mine once told me the story of when he “hit bottom” and stopped drinking.  He had promised his wife he would stop drinking but they were headed towards a party and he felt panicked.  He asked her to stop at a grocery store on the way to pick something up, ran in to the store, and searched frantically for anything with a screw top.  As he sat in the bathroom of the grocery store downing a bottle of cheap booze he thought to himself with disgust, “What the hell am I doing here?”  That was the last time he took a drink.

That man didn’t need to destroy his marriage, lose his job, get arrested, or make headlines to come to the realization that he couldn’t keep doing what he was doing; but others are not so fortunate.  Charlie Sheen just entered rehab for the third time in the past 12 months and his behavior over the course of the last year has included extreme substance abuse, destruction of property, tens of thousands of dollars spent on prostitutes and porn stars, and loss of his marriage, just to name a few.  Is this the end of substance abuse and sex addiction for him?  Only he has the answer for that; we can hope for him but it may not be.

In 12-step programs, “hitting bottom” is defined as the moment when someone becomes “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” In other words, the pain accrued from continuing the behavior outweighs the pain anticipated from stopping the behavior.  Sometimes family members, therapists, friends, or others will try to “raise the bottom” for an addict by intervening in some way, calling attention to the self-destructive (life-destructive, relationship-destructive) nature of their behaviors.  This can have some success and is certainly worth the effort.  However, repeatedly trying to intervene often leads to frustration and despair, or to a cycle of codependency.  People in an addict’s life need to accept that for an addict, just like for anyone under any circumstances, change has to ultimately be internally motivated.

Change is hard.  There is no way around that.  It takes great courage and usually perseverance.  So as much as any one of us would like to, we can’t force someone to get tired enough to “stop digging the hole they are standing in.”  And in truth, any moment can be that “bottom.”  It could be (and for some, needs to be) a painful, life-changing event; but it could also just be a simple moment of waking up to the reality of your life.

And of course, “hitting bottom” and getting into recovery is only the first step on a long road of every day making a choice to live a different kind of life – a life for which you are fully present and conscious.

Samantha Smithstein, Psy.D.

Charlie Sheen’s addictions: not making his life part of ours

The recent news has been full of articles about celebrity Charlie Sheen’s drinking and womanizing with various women sex workers and porn film actors.  Many media outlets will ignore this story, understanding it is not news; but other media will cover it. Comedians and late night hosts will use it as nightly comedic material, celebrity media outlets will speak with well-known addictions experts for their spin on Mr. Sheen’s situation and condition.  This maelstrom of media will blow over in a few weeks but during that time it can often be extremely triggering for sex/love addicts and their partners.  Often times those triggered will feel embarrassed, anxious about if the other is paying attention to the stories, wonder why they aren’t talking about it, and in some cases obsessively look for more stories.

If you are feeling vulnerable and anxious when these kind of stories hit the news here are a few suggestions:

1) Talk to someone.  If you are in therapy talk to your therapist, if you attend 12-step meetings talk to your 12-step group, or just talk to someone you trust about the feelings, thoughts, memories and fantasies this story arouses inside of you.

2) Be honest with yourself and support system if you are feeling triggered to “act out” in your
addiction if you are a sex/love addict or in your Unhealthy Relationship Patterns (URP) if you are a partner.  URP can be snooping, constantly looking for more stories about the celebrity, controlling behaviors, obsessive fear based thoughts, and not taking care of yourself.

3) Talk to your partner with non-defensive communication.  The following are some examples of how someone who struggles with sex/love addiction or their partner could bring up feelings that may have surfaced.

Partner Example
I noticed the celebrity story has made me feel anxious and brought up painful memories.  I don’t need to rehash that with you, I just want you to know I am feeling anxious and could really use some comfort right now.  Have you had any feelings about this story?

or

Sex/Love Addict Example
I have had feelings of shame every time a comedian makes a joke or someone in the media tells me sex addiction is just an “excuse” for bad behavior.  I have been working hard  on my recovery and can see that I have more work to do since someone elses (the celebrity) problems bring up feelings of shame in me.

When sex/love addiction hits the news it is a time when sex/love addicts and their partners need to have as much abstinence as possible from this kind of media blitz and engage in meaningful communication with their therapists, 12-step sponsors and each other to discuss honestly the feelings and thoughts about their own addiction experience.

Elizabeth Corsale, MA, MFT

Cyber-snooping when you suspect infidelity: is it ever okay?

by guest author: Dr. Terri Orbuch

Leon Walker, 33, is a Michigan man who faces five years in prison, if convicted, for allegedly hacking into his wife’s e-mails when he suspected her of cheating. Not surprisingly, Walker and his wife are now divorced, but his trial is set for Feb. 7, 2011.

It got me thinking not so much about the legal or even ethical ramifications of cyber-snooping, but about the issue of spying on one’s partner from a relationship perspective. Personally, I don’t think spying on a partner’s e-mail account should ever be punishable by law — not because it isn’t a violation of privacy, but because it’s really more a violation of trust, which is a relationship issue, not a legal one.

Cyber-snooping constitutes, in my view, a second betrayal, and this begs the rhetorical question: do two wrongs make a right?

Bottom line: Cyber-snooping in the case of suspected infidelity only results in bringing more negative baggage into the relationship. If you step over this line of trust, it greatly complicates the healing process. In previous times among older generations, people kept diaries, and there was a strict code of privacy surrounding them. It was never okay to read another person’s private diary. The same should be true about our electronic communications. As much as possible, they should remain ours and ours alone.

In my own private practice, when clients talk to me about their partner’s infidelity or, indeed, their own, more often than not the betrayal was discovered electronically — through e-mail, texts or on Facebook. As one client described it, “I didn’t set out to spy on my wife. It’s just that I started to notice she’d dim her screen if I walked by the computer, or she’d kind of flinch when a text would come on her phone if I was sitting next to her. It was her body language, really, that made me feel like she was hiding something.”

But if we agree that cyber-snooping does not contribute to a healthy, trusting relationship, what do you do if you suspect your partner of relationship infidelity or some other type of betrayal? Is it ever okay to snoop?

Here are some strategies that may help you if you find yourself in this situation.

Step 1: Do some self-inquiry first.

If you are jumping to the conclusion that your partner has found someone else, this clearly demonstrates one of two possibilities: (1) You don’t have confidence in your partner and the relationship; or (2) as an individual, you are feeling insecure — perhaps unlovable or undesirable. Both of these are indications that your relationship is unhealthy. But by looking at your own perceptions of the situation, it can give you a solid stepping-off place for figuring out how to approach your partner and get to work on healing.

Step 2: Talk to a trusted friend.

It is not unethical to bounce some ideas off a trusted friend. In fact, I encourage it. Go to someone who knows you very well. He or she doesn’t have to know your partner but should be someone to whom you are comfortable revealing your suspicions. Ideally, this friend is a person who has knowledge and insights about your previous relationships and behavior patterns with love partners. This friend may be able to quickly recognize that you have a history of insecurity, for example. Mainly, though, talking to a friend is a release valve for your frustrations and fears — and can help steer you away from the urge to spy.

Step 3: Have a talk with your partner.

After taking the above two steps, it’s time to talk to your partner. Snooping is the antithesis of communicating. In a solid relationship, you should be able to honestly and openly discuss your reservations, doubts, fears and feelings. To keep the communication flowing freely, never begin with accusations. Instead, talk about your observations and emotions (always beginning with I statements): “I feel as if you’re secretive. I notice you leave the room to talk on the phone. I feel like you’re working late a lot — more than in the past. I feel like we don’t get to spend much time together anymore. Our relationship is really important to me, and I’m wondering how you feel about it these days. I’d like to know if you’re having new feelings about our relationship and if so, if there’s something you’d like to talk about.” Give your partner a chance to explain his or her recent behavior, your feelings and his or her feelings. And by the way, this step can and should be repeated often — until you reach a satisfying resolution with your partner.

Step 4: Gauge the seriousness of the betrayal.

Let’s say that after all of the above, you are convinced that your partner is engaging in secretive behavior — be it an affair, hidden drinking or drug use, gambling, compulsive spending, stealing, etc. Ask yourself if your partner’s behavior endangers him or her, you, or your children. If so, you may need to investigate, which means gathering personal information without his or her knowledge. If you have evidence, it is easier to go to a doctor, a minister or rabbi, or your partner’s family to tell them about the dangerous behavior and enlist their help.

If you find yourself in a situation that tempts you to cyber-snoop, I hope the above strategies give you pause and help you consider the consequences of your action before you leap headlong down a path you could regret, and perhaps lead you on a more honest, open and healthy path of healing and reconciliation with your partner. Remember: two wrongs never make a right.

Couples and communication

Ever feel like you are so close with someone you can finish each others’ sentences? Couples who have been together a long time often feel that way, as do close friends.  And it may be true, at times, that people who are close to each other can communicate easily with each other.  However, Kenneth Savitsky, Ph.D., and his colleagues recently published an article this month in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology indicating that sometimes the opposite can be true.

In the article, Savitsky and his colleagues wrote about what they termed a “closeness-communication bias”: people commonly believe that they communicate better with close friends or their spouse than with strangers.  This can cause the speaker to take for granted that the listener knows what they are talking about and fail to give them enough information for the communication to be effective. When people meet a stranger, they would automatically provide more information because they lack that assumption.

So the next time you are too tired to go out dancing with your best friend think twice about telling him or her “I don’t really feel like going out tonight.”  You might mean “come over and hang out and watch a movie instead” but they might end up feeling rejected and assume they are all alone on a Saturday night.  “The understanding, ‘What I know is different from what you know’ is essential for effective communication to occur,” the authors write, regardless of whether that communication is a lecture to hundreds or an ordinary conversation between two people who are close.

Samantha Smithstein, Psy.D.

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