New Year’s Resolutions 2017

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

Is there a statute of limitations on when New Year’s resolutions just become resolutions? I’m going to go with two weeks, since that allows me to fit this in.

In years past, the resolutions have been (intended as) a comedic venture, topped off with a dollop of at least one sincere resolution. But 2017 is arriving without a lot of my usual smartass spirit. Personally, things are moving in some pretty positive directions, quelling some of my natural tendency toward smarmy negativity. On a larger scale, things are potentially very scary, with all manner of sleazy, old (mostly white) men trying to bankrupt/kill/crap on everybody and everything that they can…and maybe, in light of recent allegations, also trying to get peed on.

I’ll try to keep it light and all, but…uh…whatever…here are my New Year’s resolutions for 2017…

  1. Use real bookmarks, ffs. Yeah, so this hardly seems like an ambitious goal. But I figure, why not start with something totally doable. See, whenever I start up a new book, I tend to grab the nearest, least necessary (for other purposes) flat item to use as a bookmark. Recently, this has begun bothering me in increasing degrees, as if it is some baseline, pointing out my overall laziness—especially since I actually own numerous bookmarks—from the kind of free things that come from book stores or in the mail, to fancy, laminated, yarn-tassled, and even metal bookmarks, stamped with inspirational quotes and whatnot. If I’m going to continue resisting the encroaching press of digital reading devices in favor of real paper-and— well, ‘board’ doesn’t exactly sound right, as in ‘board books’—but books with paper and covers of various substances, mostly derived from trees and other plants—then I can at least take the time to pull a decent bookmark from my scattered collection to honor the passing of the pages.
  1. Be in the world…at least a little more. One of those aforementioned positive personal changes is that I will be moving back to a schedule where I will be awake at semi-normal hours, and off work at hours when some other people I might want to see might also not be stuck at work. When your schedule is, as mine has been for the last 13+ months, overnight, including weekends, you don’t tend to just drop into parties, or dash out for a hike or a movie or a meal because a friend or two found themselves with some free time. You tend to spend your days off trying to force yourself into wakefulness during enough daytime hours that you can take a stab—or at least a weak swing—at normalcy…normalcy being things like not drinking a beer or three at 8:00 a.m., because that’s when you’re winding down from work…normalcy being things like not having to take a vacation day or two just to see some friends who live in the same flipping town, but don’t live on the same schedule as bats and opossums…normalcy being able to know for sure whether your months-long feeling of fatigue and dread is really something akin to clinical depression, or just the result of your work schedule. Looking forward to knowing that staying up late, or a lack of sleep, is more a lifestyle choice than a career-centered choice.
  1. Be in the world…like, beyond the personal. I realized recently that all my “community involvement” in recent years has slipped down into the realm of cash donations, and the occasional phone call or (usually online) petition. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. I sign up for regular online donations with various organizations…at least until the ‘card on file’ has to be replaced due to security breaches, or one of numerous other reasons banks use to perpetually switch out the cards they issue, and I find myself ignoring the emails about my payments not processing. Still, there was a time…like the bulk of my life prior to my later-in-life stint in grad school, where I was engaged with the people around me…all trying to make a difference and shit. I rode along with my mom doing meals-on-wheels when I was in elementary school. In fact, the bulk of my pre-adult “community involvement” was whatever my mom enlisted me to do…and my mom’s level of community service was, and still is, legendary—well, at least among a cluster of Lutherans in suburban Oregon and at least a few other far-flung places. As a parent, I obsessively volunteered at the kid’s school(s)—and occasionally with her sports teams—up until she hit Jr. High–because, for most of that time, I was working out of my home—until that previously mentioned grad school stint hit. Did I mention I’ve never been a particularly high-energy person? Anyway, I want to find some way back into community involvement…charity or not…although my adjusted schedule still might make that a bit tricky…unless I want to donate time in the mornings before I go to work. Maybe I’ll just make sure I reinstate all those security-threatened, lapsed payments to various organizations.
don-bob-gor-hair

–Will the presence of this ^…make this ^ more popular?  …Or should I just stick with this ^?

  1. Go full Bob’s Big Boy with the hair. I feel like I might be cribbing this from past years’ resolutions. I almost always have some kind of hair-based New Year’s resolution, and really, you can only make so many different hair-based resolutions when you’re a guy working an office-casual job. Anyway, if you’ve ever seen the mascot for Bob’s Big Boy restaurant, you know that his thick head of hair involves a part on one side, leading into a wave that culminates in something that—well, looks like an actual wave—like, on the ocean—or maybe like a shark fin and its wake as it cuts through the water. At any rate, I usually blow off getting my hair cut until I’ve got that basic Bob’s Big Boy thing starting up. Once my, as Frieda would say, naturally curly hair (although, really it’s more naturally wavy)—makes it past the 2.5-inch mark, every strand that is able clusters into a group, and fights to look like a surfer’s dream…or surfer’s nightmare…in fibrous protein form. With the Donald moving into the Presidency, sporting that ridiculous, spun-candied-glass, televangelist-inspired, hairdresser’s nightmare on top of his head, I figure my Big Boy wave will come into fashion—or serve as a sign of the impressive power that I wield. In conversation, I may have to start spitting out sentences more incoherent than those that I usually use (no small feat), so that people will realize I have a power haircut a la Tyrannosaurus Rump, and that it’s not just more of my lackadaisical grooming combined with sleep-deprived babbling. Either that, or I’ll just start getting it cut more often, so I don’t have to deal with the waves at all, and will only have to endure M telling me my latest haircut makes me look like a gorilla. But, secretly, I think she likes my gorilla look, so…

Finally…

  1. Write more, write often, write regularly—or alternately—Less wasting time on social media…more clogging up my small corner of social media (as well as writing for reasons beyond social media). When I started the blog, the idea was to do a post a week…I figured that was a fairly modest goal, although coming up with topics, and writing anything that I feel like sharing can be quite the challenge at times. 2016 proved exceptionally rough, since upwards of 70% of all media attention was devoted to some assclown who is apparently about to be the most powerful man in the world, finally matching his beliefs about himself with a cliché people frequently use about the job he is about to take over. Of course, that only left 30% of media attention to be divvied up between things Kardashian, things involving lesser reality-TV stars, and every other thing happening in the world. Whatever the specific ratios, it was difficult finding the motivation to knock out pieces about how people should maybe not use mental-health diagnoses as insults, and perhaps try to make it a bit more difficult for people in the U.S. to shoot each other, when that aforementioned assclown was able to get so much media attention by suggesting that insults are the answer, and violence and vindictiveness are just good ol’ American solutions to political problems. So, yeah–may have to tune a lot of that out, to prevent the reeking verbal diarrhea of short-fingered vulgarians from getting me down, and allowing me to count myself out.

Well, so much for keeping it light. Umm…is it too late to say ‘Happy New Year’?

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Honey Boo Boo Needs Some Real TLC, Not Abandonment

by JC Schildbach, LMHC, de-commissioned ASOTP

Not quite a month ago, The Learning Channel (TLC) announced plans to drop production of its ‘reality’ show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, as well as shelving an entire season that has been completed, but not aired. The reason? “Mama June” Shannon was photographed out and about with her former beau, convicted sex offender Mark McDaniel. Even worse, a few days after the original story broke, a photo surfaced showing June, Mark, and Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson together.

McDaniel was convicted of “aggravated child molestation” for sexual contact with Anna Marie Cardwell, who is June’s daughter, and Alana’s half-sister. McDaniel served a ten-year sentence for the molestation, having been released from prison in March.

Now, I’m not a big fan of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.   I’ve seen occasional clips on other shows, and watched most of one episode when I came across it while flipping channels. But in that episode, I saw that the family was accepting of Alana’s uncle, who is gay, without making a big deal about it. And, despite my unease at the general weirdness of the child pageant circuit, the family members seemed to enjoy each other’s company. And then the show concluded with Honey Boo Boo climbing up on a chair and sticking her butt in the air to fart loudly, which, strangely enough, served as the lead-in to a very somber, ‘feed the children’ infomercial.

At any rate, speaking of the weirdness of the child pageant circuit, having seen a few episodes of Toddlers in Tiaras, the TLC show that spawned Honey Boo Boo’s spinoff, I am disturbed by what can only be described as the sexualization of little girls on that show. The contestants are small children who are essentially treated identically to adult beauty pageant contestants—made to wear too much makeup, with piled-up hairdos, wearing a variety of—I guess you’d call them revealing, although that sounds weird when talking about children—dresses and bathing suits, while performing routines involving dance moves that I pray the girls don’t understand the origins/meaning of.

I’ve had offender clients specifically mention Toddlers in Tiaras as a kind of ‘gateway’ form of visual stimulation leading to seeking out even more exploitative material. And, while such ‘gateway’ comments are often spoken with the intent to limit the personal responsibility of those clients—the whole ‘society is sexualizing young girls, what am I to do?’ complaint—it is somewhat difficult to view the show without thinking, ‘Wow—pedophiles must really enjoy this.’

So, while I could start shaming Mama June for putting her daughter in the beauty pageant circuit, or for taking up with a man who molested one of her daughters; instead it seems a better course in all of this would be for TLC to invest some more effort and money in the show, and maybe take it in some completely different directions—maybe even directions that would involve some actual learning.

Broken portrait of an exploited family unit--Anna Marie, Mama June, Honey Boo Boo, and Mark McDaniel.

Broken portrait of an exploited family unit–Anna Marie, Mama June, Honey Boo Boo, and Mark McDaniel.

That is to say, it’s very odd to have a show built on the highjinks of a family that is portrayed as a bunch of unsophisticated rubes chasing a weird dream, and then to turn around and cancel the show when the matriarch of the family does something that shows she really doesn’t understand what’s at stake in a particular situation. According to Anna Marie’s own statements to the media, June minimized McDaniel’s behavior, telling Anna Marie that McDaniel wasn’t all that dangerous because Anna Marie was McDaniel’s only victim.

Such a statement is a big red flag that Mama June just might be buying a whole lot of lies from McDaniels—the kind of lies that offenders tell all too frequently. ‘It was just the one time;’ ‘I was drunk;’ ‘It was a mistake;’ ‘The victim did X first;’ ‘I paid the price/did my time;’ ‘I won’t ever do that again;’ etc, etc.

I don’t know what kind of treatment McDaniel may or may not have received in prison. But unless McDaniel has developed some understanding of his own behaviors, and unless Mama June has been educated on exactly what McDaniel did, how he did it, how he justified it to himself, what kinds of things Mama June needs to look out for in McDaniel’s behavior (preferably coming from McDaniel’s own confession); and unless she’s been given instruction in what McDaniel’s behavior means for the safety of her other children, and how to reduce risk (risk can never fully be eliminated), then it’s a little hypocritical of TLC executives to cut her off, claiming that it is in the best interest of the safety of the children involved.

And just for context, here’s the statement issued by the network at the time of the show’s cancellation: “TLC has cancelled the series HERE COMES HONEY BOO BOO and ended all activities around the series, effective immediately. Supporting the health and welfare of these remarkable children is our only priority. TLC is faithfully committed to the children’s ongoing comfort and well-being.”

Great, TLC, but where’s the support? I’ve seen many mothers of victims continue on in relationship with the men who molested those women’s children. And a supportive and appropriate relationship with an adult partner can actually reduce risk for re-offense. However, that risk isn’t (generally speaking) reduced when the offender is allowed back around likely victims, particularly without the partner being fully informed as to the nature of the offender’s behavior, and how to provide adequate support for the offender and for other family members. But maybe TLC executives are just looking at this as another example of the stereotypes they’re comfortable promoting–of poor, Southern folk accepting child molestation as a routine part of life.

It is potentially extremely damaging for victims of molestation, like Anna Marie, to see their mothers return to relationship with the offender, or to, in any way, be given the impression that they are being treated as secondary to the perpetrator of sexual violence. It definitely sends some disturbing messages about who is being given priority, and where the concern of the mother lies. It is possible to mitigate that damage, but only with some very involved, professionally-guided therapy.

I don’t want to over-simplify things here, but a major reason for women to continue on in relationship with offenders is economic. I don’t have any idea if McDaniel has any real way of providing for June’s family, but since TLC just cut off the family’s current main source of income, they are increasing Mama June’s likely reliance on someone who can provide support—and at a time when the person June is in relationship with is an offender who is very much putting Honey Boo Boo—that “remarkable child”—at risk.

So, again, why not take the show in a new direction? A learning direction? I don’t mean to advocate for making an offender a reality TV star, but TLC could at least build in scenes to Honey Boo Boo’s show, or maybe a spinoff, that follow McDaniel through treatment, and through all of the difficulties he now faces as a convicted offender trying to rebuild a life outside of prison, in conjunction with Mama June’s exposure to McDaniel’s treatment process.  The audience could see scenes of June attending sessions with McDaniel—scenes of McDaniel explaining his ‘offense cycle’ to June, of McDaniel explaining his actual offense to June, of June going through a chaperone class where she learns just what limits need to be placed on McDaniel and his contact with June’s children.

And what about making sure Anna Marie’s okay? How about, instead of channeling any income to McDaniel, any money involved in a standard TLC reality-star fee, over and above the cost of his evaluation and treatment—funded by TLC—goes to Anna Marie to make sure she can get some ongoing treatment herself?  Perhaps let Anna Marie gain some economic benefit from the exploitation she’s already suffered? She’s had various media outlets contacting her to ask how she feels about the man who molested her being released from prison. How about making sure Anna Marie’s not being re-traumatized by all of this? After all, how many victims of molestation really want the molestation being made public, and then want to have to address it, with complete strangers, for the purposes of having it blasted out all over the airwaves and the Internet?

Of course, TLC doesn’t have to do anything in this case. Perhaps TLC executives were grateful that a scandal of this sort came around when Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was pulling ratings of less than half of its peak performance, just so they had a good excuse to cut their losses. Then again, TLC could really do some good in this case. TLC could truly support the “health and welfare” of their child stars. TLC could really help advance public discourse on offenders, offender treatment, and victim advocacy.

Or TLC could just leave Mama June, Honey Boo Boo, and the rest of the clan dangling—dangling over a cliff where falling means families torn apart and potential acts of child sexual abuse—and move on to whatever other ‘reality’ show goofballs America wants to laugh at, until ‘reality’ creeps in and undoes them as well—leaving TLC to cut its losses, abandon its ‘stars,’ and run.

 

Why I Don’t Hate VH-1’s “Couples Therapy”

I first realized I like Dr. Jenn Berman when, in a session with Flavor Flav and his partner of nine years, Liz Trujillo, Dr. Berman hollered, “Look at her f*cking face!”  Now, some might take issue with a therapist raising her/his voice or swearing in session, especially about somebody’s face, but f*ck those people.  In this case, Berman was trying to cut through Flav’s hyper-defensiveness, and get him to actually pay attention to Trujillo.  And for anyone who viewed the recently-concluded third season of “Couples Therapy,” there is an obvious transition (not in this particular session) where Flav drops the clown act and actually engages with Trujillo, and where she goes from balled up and permanently scowling to opened up and smiling.  The cynic in me says these could all easily be TV editing tricks, but the optimist in me says that I know therapy works, and I hope these changes hold.

I’ll confess that I first started watching “Couples Therapy” (in season three, not having any awareness of the first two seasons) because I saw a few promos and thought it would be easy to do a hatchet job on it for the sake of a blog post.  In one of the commercials, Dr. Berman was shouting down Joe Francis of “Girls Gone Wild” fame (I had no idea who the guy was at the time).  My first thought was, ‘Great, make insecure guys think that couples therapy really is about a therapist siding with women and berating men.’  (And I don’t mean to be overly reductive here, but anybody working in the field who has tried to refer people to much-needed couples therapy will probably have a pretty clear idea what I’m talking about).

But like much of what takes place on the show, to take the promo clip out of context is to fail to see the larger picture of what is actually taking place.  That particular clip involves Dr. Berman asserting herself over an emotionally abusive narcissist for the clinically important reason of ensuring that Abbey Wilson (Francis’ partner) doesn’t have her efforts to overcome an eating disorder repeatedly derailed by Francis’ insistence that he can fix the problem by badgering Wilson into eating.  Whoops…so much for not being overly reductive.

Dr. Jenn Berman acknowledges the awesome nature of this post.

Dr. Jenn Berman acknowledges the awesome nature of this post.

To be sure, if I really wanted to rip into the show, it’s within the realm of possibility.  However, to do so would show a fundamental lack of understanding about how ‘reality TV’ works.  Of course there’s going to be an emphasis on confrontational interactions.  And of course the show adds in exciting/gimmicky activities that fall out of the usual scope of plain, old, in-the-office couples therapy, like excursions to rock-climbing walls, a visit from a psychic, and “expressive therapy” where couples smash things in a junkyard.  Without such catches, attracting an audience to a show about couch-bound therapy sessions would be plenty difficult.  To the show’s credit, though, the field trips and seeming diversions are used as a way of highlighting communication between the couples in order to provide the audience with a clearer picture of how the couples behave than might be evident from therapy sessions, and is definitely more entertaining than watching couples talk about how they communicate.

And despite seeing most of the individuals and couples in some unpleasant/ridiculous situations of their own making, there are still plenty of moments that reveal the core goodness in everyone present.  I actually came away thinking well of everybody, or at least not totally hating anybody, having seen their willingness to accept responsibility and engage honestly in some difficult work in a setting more conducive to fist fights, broken bottles, and thrown furniture than it is to therapy.  Add to that the expectations of reality TV viewers who want blood, and the restraint shown by the cast members on the show is pretty remarkable.

On multiple occasions, cast members disengaged from decidedly negative interactions, reserving the right to judge others not on gossip, but on their own interactions with them—Tyler Baltierra walking away from Joe Francis’ cackling excitement at videos of Dustin Zito’s pornographic past being a prime example.  (Weirdly enough, I didn’t see anyone call Joe on the hypocrisy of him mocking a porn performer, given the millions Joe made off of flashed breasts and college-age-lesbian-experimentation love scenes).

At other times, situations cropped up where cast members, drawn into an argument between a couple, would mediate rather than taking sides, working to make the members of the couple see each others’ perspective—as with Baltierra attempting to bridge the gulf between Temple Poteat and Chingy Bailey that opened up each time Bailey powered up his tablet.

Instances occurred where efforts to stir up trouble were met with, dare I say, Socratic challenges to the thinking driving the pot-stirring.  Temple Poteat questioning Joe Francis’ obsession with Dustin Zito’s missing shoes (after Joe tried to draw Temple into complaining about Dustin) comes to mind.

In general, cast members sought out each others’ advice in earnest, and were provided with real support.

This is not to say that there weren’t plenty of instances of cast members making snap judgments or otherwise engaging in self-indulgent tantrums.  Flavor Flav and Liz Trujillo were, as Joe Francis dubbed them, a “side show” for much of the first half of the season, clearly frustrating several in the group.

Joe Francis, in turn, provided the bulk of the traditional reality-show drama for the second half of the season by deeming various people or couples “trash” and whining about people interfering with “the process” and all of Joe’s hard work.  Even when Dr. Berman managed on occasion to break through Francis’ deflection to draw out what is essentially a scared, little, attention-seeking boy, Joe would then appear for his “confessional”—just Joe and the camera—and say something self-important and off-putting, suggesting that his insight is about as substantial and durable as a soap bubble.

And perhaps to the dismay of audiences and the cast, the full story of what was going on with Trujillo and Flav, individually and as a couple, was never fully revealed.   What little bit of privacy the cast members were granted, for legal or other reasons, was perhaps simultaneously one of the most frustrating and most endearing aspects of the show.  Dr. Berman, in deference to good therapy, and in defiance of reality show convention, at least created some small pockets of safe, off-camera and off-the-record space where couples could work out things they weren’t comfortable sharing with the world.

Plenty of other reality show conventions were broken, as well, or at least bent, on “Couples Therapy.”  Even with only a small portion of each episode devoted to showing actual therapy sessions, Dr. Berman gave a pretty good taste of how therapy works.  The audience doesn’t just get to smirk at the cast members’ bad behavior and watch Berman cut them down.  Rather, problem behaviors were identified, explored in terms of the incidents and patterns that contributed to those behaviors.  Then Dr. Berman collaborated with the clients on ways to better address the issues in a productive manner.

For instance, (and to greatly simplify) Temple isn’t portrayed as a stereotypical uptight control freak for the audience to roll their eyes at, but is shown to have ‘control issues’ stemming from a chaotic past, and is challenged to relinquish some of that control and manage the anxiety that comes along with letting go.  Catelynn Lowell and Tyler Baltierra have their eyes opened to how a lack of stability in childhood has led them to cling to each other, and how public pressure has contributed to them making decisions that may not be in their best interest, or the best interest of their relationship.  Heather Marter and Dustin Zito, who were probably expected to have the most salacious content to work through, seem to have put all the tabloid sex scandal crap behind them, in order to struggle with the more mundane, but more relatable, questions of how to make a relationship last.

One could cynically argue that the celebrities and pseudo celebrities on “Couples Therapy” are merely trying to keep themselves in the public eye and make a few bucks.  But even if that was their original intent, most of them ended up violating their “brand”—Chingy by being reflective as Temple says they need to end their sexual relationship if they are not going to have a full relationship, Temple herself by breaking away from Chingy and his greater “star power”, Tyler and Catelynn by breaking off their expected marriage, Flavor Flav by stopping his perpetual performance as court jester and openly weeping at his past failures and current joys.

And certainly if one wants to chastise Dr. Berman for being egotistical, one can find examples to try to build that argument, as when she proudly trumpets the work she’s done to help Abbey Wilson address her eating disorder.  It would be too easy to sneer about Dr. Berman doing nothing more than taking Abbey to a restaurant.  But that would be taking the restaurant scene and Dr. Berman’s comments out of context.  The restaurant visit comes only after a great deal of preparatory work, and is rather a monumental thing, one which Dr. Berman deserves much credit for, along, of course, with Wilson.

Overall, even in the unreal context of reality TV, Dr. Berman’s show is arguably much less damaging to public perceptions of therapy and therapists than is the average movie or TV show with a therapist as a character.  Such fictional portrayals of therapists often show them as oversexed, overpaid egomaniacs who go about uncaringly inflicting damage on those they are supposed to help.

In contrast, what Dr. Berman does on “Couples Therapy” is manage to sneak some actual therapy in between the egos and the outings.  Ideally, viewers will see through the distractions to get a glimpse of real, honest-to-goodness therapy playing out.  And at the absolute worst, Berman may get some less discerning viewers to attend couples therapy in the belief that they’ll get to smash car windows and go bowling, which isn’t all that bad if the therapists they end up with can get them to buy in without all that excitement.

Ultimately, I was so appreciative of Dr. Berman’s ability to get some snippets of real therapy on reality TV that I’m not even going to say anything mean about her distractingly sparkly and otherwise spangled collars—which are kind of weirdly cool.  And everyone respects my fashion sense.