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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

February 1999, No. 4

Special Announcement: Jumping on a plane to Seattle in less than twelve hours pushed up publication timeline. I also won't be available this Tuesday for AOL/Digital City's "Shrink Rap and Group Chat." But the show will definitely go on. There's a wonderful core of regulars and weekly newcomers who share their stress, their compassion, helpful strategies, hugs and laughs. Here's the link: <A HREF="aol://4344:363.gorkin.5732839.568857121">Dig City Promo - Stress Doc</A> . Drop by, raise a question, say "hi" or just survey the scene. To good adventures.

Dear Readers. By popular demand, here is your gumbo of the sublime, the spicy and the ridiculous: a tasty mix of my writings along with humor jokes, lists and other sparkling entities that have descended from cyberspace. News Flash: Alas, only for AOL members, stop by my online "Shrink Rap and Group Chat," Tuesdays, 9-10:30pm EST: <A HREF="aol://4344:2993.chat.31195386.586807274">Clickhere: Washington LIVE CHAT</A> . It's a dynamic, lively, at times witty and always warm, thoughtful and supportive problem-solving group. We raise questions and share our ideas, hopes and experiences with each other. However, for all cyberspace travelers, there's the new Stress Doc Work Stress Q & A -- <A HREF="http://digitalcity.aol.com/washington/stressdoc/">AOL.COM: Washington, DC - Ask the Stress Doc</A> is now featured on a variety of Portals to the Web, including <A HREF="http://compuserve.digitalcity.com/washington//main.dci">Compuserve </A>, <A HREF="http://home.digitalcity.com/washington//main.dci">Digital City </A>, <A HREF="http://mci.digitalcity.com/washington//main.dci">MCI</A>, <A HREF="http://netscape.digitalcity.com/washington//main.dci">Netscape</A> and <A HREF="http://digitalcity.aol.com/washington/main.dci">AOL.COM: Washington, DC - Home</A> (Main Screen, look under "People"). For more articles on a variety of psychology topics, try these links: www.stressdoc.com or <A HREF="www.stressdoc.com">STRESSDOC HOMEPAGE</A> and on AOL, Keyword: Stress Doc or <A HREF="aol://4344:972.doc.1264535.556723207"> The Stress Doc @ Online Psych</A> . And here's an AOL link with series of articles on burnout, downsizing, layoffs and career transition, <A HREF="aol://4344:972.docwork.1255066.562088752">The Stress Doc Interview @ Online Psych</A> . If you know others who would like to receive "The Stress Doc Newsletter," please pass their names along. (AOL subscription link <A HREF="aol://1391:43-61027">form driven mail</A> .) And, if you wish not to receive the newsletter, just email me with, "unsubscribe."

The Stress Doc begins a dicey maneuver: can hard-earned concepts, skills, emotional muscle and wisdom gleaned from his artistic pursuits be applied to the ever more elusive search for and sustained sharing of romantic and intimate love? The lens for Part II of the "Codependency...The Intimate FOE" series is the Doc's first three stages of his own creative process.

Codependency, Commitment Phobia and "The Intimate FOE" Creating a Bridge from Romantasy to Reality-Part !! The personal exploration, "Codependency, Commitment Phobia and 'The Intimate FOE': Part I," examined key barriers to developing the emotional integrity and maturity for healthy, sustained romantic intimacy. The barriers: 1) Bottom-line Depression - how biochemical imbalance and mood swinging minimized and not treated leaves one vulnerable to profound periods of emptiness and angst, 2) The Family Furies - how unresolved conflicts often get played out with dysfunctional partners and patterns when still caught up in the FOG - "Family of Origin Game," 3) The Femme (or Homme) Fatale - how depleted hormones and diminished self-esteem lead to craving an idealized other and the pursuit of the unobtainable, 4) Intellectual Mystification and Smoldering Motivation - how being a school underachiever or being clueless about one's creative potential contributes to a feeling of being damaged or unworthy and also stokes a burning desire to be special, 5) Career Path Wandering - how self-doubt and a cognitve-biochemical need for variety and novelty can make commitment to work challenging and fulfilling while commitment to a relationship seems scary and stifling, and 6) Light at the End of the Psyche - can the glimmer of a career/creative path synthesis open up a corner of the possible for genuine and healthy intimacy. Is it real or virtual?

And now that ironical moment for which we've all been waiting: what insights can this particular man share regarding the pursuit of ongoing intimacy, passion and love in light of lifelong struggles with agitated depression, codependency and commitment phobia? In addition, my track record for sustaining such a desired relationship ain't much to brag about. Well, if I can't walk the talk, let's see if I can write it. Hopefully, this will not be one of those "do as I say, not as I do" blatherings. Then again, the contrary course is tempting: I may not know how to sustain romantic intimacy, but I sure know what not to do. I can quickly detect those suspicious and self-defeating relationship behavior patterns. Hey, much of my love life has been a great dysfunctional learning laboratory. Actually, by struggling to make sense of this codependent-commitment phobic tempest, first and foremost I hope to take some small but significant steps along the path of self-understanding. Perhaps I'm ready to confront my "Intimate FOE: Fear of Exposure" in love, not just in my artistic endeavors. My second purpose or goal feels more risky if not somewhat grandiose. (As those who have read Part I know, I am not narcissistically-deprived. If you missed it, email stressdoc@aol.com .) Creating a Bridge from Work to Love In contrast to my '80s, serial monogamy decade in "The Big Easy," (actually, only one of the women was from New Orleans) Washington, DC in the '90s has seen more-a lot more-work than love. Fortunately, both in New Orleans and in DC, I've generated intimate collaborations-from personal friends and an Artists Support Group to recent cyber cohorts. Mind, heart and soul have been nurtured and endlessly challenged to further discover and develop skills and talents, passions and gifts. With support and single-minded perseverance, I have been faithful to evolving and expanding an uncommon career nexus. The passion, persistence, partnerships and interconnected pathways have spawned multiple online and offline arenas for expressing my wholeness-from acute sensitivity and obsessive self-absorption to defiant conviction and irreverent humor. So in the language of the bureaucratic zeitgeist of Washington, DC, are we talking "transferable skills"? Can one harness a capacity for openness and wholeness, vulnerability and spontaneity, along with an ability to channel rage into productive aggression, or a willingness to take risks, to fail, to agonize yet act on pure faith, to obsess furiously and, still, to let go serenely? Is it possible to make room and psychic space for quiet downtime, to experience oneness and pure devotion, and to keep working at making it feel right? Can all this dynamism be infused into a relationship the way it permeates my writing and speaking? Can these vital and vulnerable components come to play in a loving, evolving and mutually supporting, stimulating and romantically loving partnership? (Or would such a relationship be too damned exhausting?) Can there be a creative means toward an intimate end? Already I hear a dissenting voice: "You're looking for perfection, mister!" This is a tough one. If not a perfectionist, I do have high standards for myself and for the desired other. But then again, I'm learning that my initial creative explorations and efforts are hardly polished. The gulf between first draft and finished form is startling. And it's only through practice, perseverance and being open to feedback, both from my own inner voice and, when the timing is right, from outsiders-from trusted friends to cybercritics-that the labor of love bears it's most bountiful fruit. Let me sketch my creative process to see if parallel transformations can be discovered, nurtured and transposed between the arenas of work and love and between an inner psychic life and an outer reality. And certainly, the latter includes my virtual reality (or cybermania as I affectionately call it.) This reality ranges from individual therapy to training, speaking and consulting with organizational clients, to running chats, answering emails and generating ideas for online and offline articles. And then the eternal and infernal question: Can there be life after deadlines? (Mark, are you sure you want to explore this relationship thing now?) Despite lacking a precision tuned sense of timing and proportion, let's forge ahead. The far-reaching goal is to build a bridge between overdeveloped autonomy and unresolved intimacy. And for the moment I'll lay down a single span: whether my creative tension, talents and tenacity as a writer can provide some insight and signposts for evolving as a passionate, caring and committed lover? So here is an overture and the opening three acts of "The Stress Doc's Stages of Creative Writing": 1. Creative Ebb, Diminshed Flow and Mental Meandering

Why do I want to open with a quote from the artistic giant, Pablo Picasso? Perhaps because he has been called both deity and demon in the arenas of work and love. Many would claim the volatile Spaniard long ago blew up the hypothetical bridge between artistic autonomy and passionate intimacy. He had a penchant for using and dominating women in the service of his art and ego. Clearly, one can be a great artist (or a great athlete or, even, as millenium muse Monica testfied, be a "highly intelligent President") and be less than a great man or woman. In fact, a single-minded creative life, a life of focused passion, may have inherent contradictions with a life of shared and sustained intimate devotion. (Not to mention the frequently elevated stress and hormone levels of creative and charismatic figues.) Yet passion, vital to both work and love, has a paradoxical elasticity-it ranges from pure sensuality to intense suffering. (That's right..."passion," as in "The Passion Play": the sufferings of Jesus or, more generically, the sufferings of a martyr. Hmm...Mom, I apologize. All this time I never suspected you were such a passionate woman. ;-) And fortunately, in the face of contradiction, American novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald's words ring like the opening bell at a prizefight: "The test of a first intellect is the capacity to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. For example, one should see things as hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise." And believe me, at times the intimacy quest feels rather daunting, if not overwhelming. But take heart: hype, if not hope, springs eternal. The quest must go on! Dear reader. I have not forgotten you. Your voice, like another bell, just went off in my head: "Doc, so when do we get to Picasso's quote, already?" Yes, the quote; a most disturbing and exciting aphorism: Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction! Wow! Those are fighting words. For me, Picasso speaks of the need to forever challenge our assumptions, perceptions and habitual ways of being and doing. To break from the familiar or the comfortable...to confront the void and to be confronted by voices. To evolve as an artist or lover, one must vanquish or at least subdue old shaming voices and self-defeating fears. Too rigid or porous processing must be replaced with cognitive flexibility and focus, along with bihemispheric blending that makes slow and fast dance partners of the logical-analytic and the emotional-holistic. And in the relationship realm boundaries must protect independence while promoting interdependence. Firm and flexible boundaries allow one to embrace the essence of creative risk-taking: the art of designing disorder. (Email for my article on CRT.) A view which captures the complexity of the creative, birth and death cycle, but in softer, if not more innocent, tones than Picasso's comes from another artist, a revered symbolic mentor-Vincent Van Gogh. (Don't worry, I'm only shaving with an electric these days.) For Van Gogh, the necessary and natural "act of destruction" in the creative process was neither permanent nor fatal. Contemplating the nature of love in art and in relationship, Van Gogh, in a letter to his brother, observed: "...It is true that there is a withering and budding in love and nature, but nothing dies entirely. There is an ebb and flood, but the sea remains the sea. And in love, either for a woman or for art, there are times of exhaustion and impotence. I consider love as well as friendship not only a feeling but an action, and as such it demands exertion and activity, of which exhaustion and impatience are the consequences." (Of course, Van Gogh was writing before the days of massive, 20th century industrial pollution, toxic dumping and species extinction. Alas, this cycle may pose the obverse: every act of destruction is now the anti-creation!) So onward with active reflection upon a personal generative process, one that more often ebbs and flows than imperiously creates and destroys. Though a penchant for high and low mood swinging may draw upon both artist's cyclical perspectives and contribute to a baseline state of "constructive discontent," to quote psychologist W.E. McMullen. As a writer, I'm forever searching, consciously and covertly, for a compelling topic to address or a problem to attack. (I suppose this may be analogous to a search for Mr. or Ms. Right.) The right issue invariably rushes or flows from a deeply felt emotional wellspring. Also, intellectual curiosity or challenge is stirred, along with an uncommon or unconventional slant on the puzzle. There's both a chemical and a cognitive jolt. After a period of mental meandering there may be, if I'm fortunate, some "aha!"-which can range from a bemused chuckle to an outrageous, manic-like stream of consciousness and connection. Usually we associate the "aha!" experience with an unexpected or imaginative solution. However, more often than not, this breakthrough moment finally releases the optimally challenging problem to be solved. It's a problem that heightens the senses, that intensifies passion and focus. One recognizes that the wandering along the open road phase may be over. No more basking in your clever idea or in an overflowing cauldron of chemistry. There's a need to distinguish the forest from the tress and the wheat from the chaff; also, the reality from the romantasy...the tangible work begins. 2. Sketch to Stretch and Then...Thrustration

Now to the first handwritten draft. Actually, before the writing there's a listing of the basic concepts, ideas, mental fragments, stories, examples, etc. These will likely be my raw building blocks. It's not an exhaustive list, but large enough to provide a rudimentary outline, a skeleton, to give me some backbone, to infuse some courage to commit to exploring an ongoing relationship with this approach-avoidance puzzle. (Men, does this sound familiar?) Invariably, as I move from sketching an outline to writing a rough draft, there is some ebb and flow. Eventually I hit the wall; then I see stars and hear voices: "Is this really good enough? (Actually, I want it to be dazzling; to produce a twinkle in a reader's eye.) There's no spark! It seems bland, obvious...BORING! Is this worth the time and effort? Can't you do better?" Perhaps this work in process, when eyed more dispassionately, no longer in the throes of infatuation, really isn't as ingenious and substantive as originally thought or hoped? (Boy, doesn't this sound familiar: anxiously questioning the worthiness or rightness of that impulsive, once irresistible "loved object.") I'm definitely in the throes of what psychiatrist and author Richard Rabkin called "thrustration," a neologism derived by combining the words "thrust" and "frustration." (Forget the fancy word, I'm getting exhausted with all this back and forth...where's the penetrating insight? Gee, I wonder if there's a mental Viagra equivalent? ;-) Anyway, I explained thrustration thusly: Thrustration occurs when you're torn between thrusting ahead with direct action and frustration, as you have not quite put together the pieces of the puzzle. So many times I just want to willpower my way to the other side of this intellectual tunnel. Talking to myself, and not in the most friendly tone: "You mean I may have to scrap a whole chunk of existing ideas and solutions because there are still gaps, shortcomings or it just doesn't feel right!" I'm getting impatient. Why is it taking so long? Sleepiness is overtaking me... Yet, if reason can prevail, if I can summon just enough confidence then, even if I walk away momentarily from the chaos, the foundation composed may not collapse. I've been building something more than a shaky conceptual house of cards. I need to step back, to get distance, to lose myself in a mindless- but not mind-numbing-diversion, to give the work space, to let it be, to cool my brain cells, gain a different perspective (or at least discover whether such an eventuality is possible). Then, sleep on the jumble, bring fresh eyes, know that my outline, sketch, the words written in white heat and in the big mental muddy despite daunting blank space will be there tomorrow. The work will not abandon me. Will I prematurely give up on the work? Isn't there a parallel here? Yes, as Van Gogh previously mused, intimate relations ebb and flow, go through their "sturm und drang"? One or both parties wanting to be more close than distant; one or both partners wanting more space than connection? But so often we can't or won't get on the same space-time continuum. Ambivalence? Fear of closeness? Wander lust? Codependency? Commitment phobia? (See Part I for a cornucopia of dysfunctional delights.) 3. Letting Go and Incubation

Some folks lose sight of a vital distinction: letting go is not giving up or the same as abandonment; setting boundaries is not necessarily being rigid, cold or uncaring. After a prolonged period of conflict or struggle, retreating may facilitate healing and stepping back into a new perspective. But the new perspective doesn't just come from without. To quote the 19th century American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson: What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. A tolerance for and patience with frustration and uncertainty, as well as a capacity to let receptivity replace activity for a time, means we are inviting new sources of emotion, memories, images and ideas. This underground creative tension and heat, if allowed to smolder and percolate, is cooking up a novel gumbo. And the incubation process-letting these components marinate and simmer-allows our brain, especially our right-hemisphere, to conceive and design new gestalts. You are nurturing holistic connections among the conscious and unconscious fragments and concepts in the mixmaster of a smoldering, steaming and smoking, sizzling and swirling mind. As the 20th century European political and philosophical commentator and student of creativity, Arthur Koestler observed: The creative act is not an act of creation in the sense of the Old Testament. It does not create something out of nothing: it uncovers, selects, re-shuffles, combines, synthesizes already existing facts, ideas, faculties, skills. The more familiar the parts, the more striking the new whole. So stepping back from the compelling problem is another form of R/R & R - "Retreat/Reflect and Return" with resources and reinforcements to forge new relationships. (Now there's no subtle endorsement of extramarital activity when speaking of achieving new relationships; it's about looking at and configuring the familiar problem in an unfamiliar and fresh manner. How to keep intimacy vital, perhaps.) So breakdown may as likely lead to breakthrough as to defeat. Ah...So that's what Picasso was talking about! Again, there's a parallel with human relating. Many times intimacy is frightening and/or disorienting because, akin to the thrustration-incubation stage, old hurts, dormant feelings and powerful family of origin or early marriage associations get stirred in the raw-hot crucible of closeness. Conscious and unconscious conflicts often intrude upon a couple, especially when the blinding effects of chemistry and romantasy begin to fade: "She's just like my mother"; "I can't believe I married my father...again!" And analogous to the creative process, "the pass in the impasse" lies in emotionally connecting to and rethinking and reworking old, subconscious stuff. With rejuvenated understanding and with newly opened eyes, you can reengage the other-whether that's a loved person or a loved project. But it's not always an easy passage. I recall saying about the first woman I lived with that, "I never knew I could love and hate someone so much!" (Some unfinished family of origin business here.) It's not so mysterious why we often have intense and volatile relationships with the objects of our passion. Perhaps it's time to walk the talk. I need to let go; the links between creative stages and relationship dynamics all cannot be devoured or developed in one sitting or writing. Still, we can close this segment on a poignantly hopeful note. As the Nobel Prize winning French author, Albert Camus reflected: Once we have accepted the fact of loss, we understand that the loved one [again, a person or project] obstructed a whole corner of the possible pure now as a sky washed by rain. Until next time, of course...Practice Safe Stress!

The Stress Doc Ezine The Higher Power of Humor Section...

The second section will consist primarily of humor material that filters down from cyberspace. The first returns to the wacky wisdom of kids on love. The second is a playful poke at our expectations around making it as a guy. Kids On Love and Marriage SWells1835

CONCERNING WHY LOVE HAPPENS BETWEEN TWO PARTICULAR PEOPLE "No one is sure why it happens, but I heard it has something to do with how you smell. That's why perfume and deodorant are so popular." (Jan, 9) "I think you're supposed to get shot with an arrow or something, but the rest of it isn't supposed to be so painful." (Harlen, 8) ON WHAT FALLING IN LOVE IS LIKE "Like an avalanche where you have to run for your life." (Roger, 9) "If falling in love is anything like learning how to spell, I don't want to do it. It takes too long." (Leo, 7) ON THE ROLE OF GOOD LOOKS IN LOVE "If you want to be loved by somebody who isn't already in your family, it doesn't hurt to be beautiful." (Jeanne, 8) "It isn't always just how you look. Look at me. I'm handsome like anything and I haven't got anybody to marry me yet." (Gary, 7) "Beauty is skin deep. But how rich you are can last a long time." (Christine, 9) CONCERNING WHY LOVERS OFTEN HOLD HANDS "They want to make sure their rings don't fall off because they paid good money for them." (Dave, 8) CONFIDENTIAL OPINIONS ABOUT LOVE "I'm in favor of love as long as it doesn't happen when 'The Simpsons' is on television." (Anita, 6) "Love will find you, even if you are trying to hide from it. I have been trying to hide from it since I was five, but the girls keep finding me." (Bobby, 8) "I'm not rushing into being in love. I'm finding fourth grade hard enough." (Regina, 10) THE PERSONAL QUALITIES NECESSARY TO BE A GOOD LOVER "One of you should know how to write a check. Because, even if you have tons of love, there is still going to be a lot of bills." (Ava, 8) SOME SUREFIRE WAYS TO MAKE A PERSON FALL IN LOVE WITH YOU "Tell them that you own a whole bunch of candy stores." (Del, 6) "Don't do things like have smelly, green sneakers. You might get attention, but attention ain't the same thing as love." (Alonzo, 9) "One way is to take the girl out to eat. Make sure it's something she likes to eat. French fries usually works for me." (Bart, 9)

Four Guys MBrooski

Four guys were telling stories in a bar. One guy leaves to go to the restroom. Three guys are left... The first guy says, "I was worried that my son was going to be a loser because he started out washing cars for a local dealership. Turns out that he got a break, they made him a salesman, and he sold so many cars that he bought the dealership. In fact, he's so successful that he just gave his best friend a new Mercedes for his birthday." The second guy says, "I was worried about my son too because he started out raking leaves for a realtor. Turns out HE got a break, they made him a commissioned salesman, and he eventually bought the real estate firm. In fact he's so successful that he just gave his best friend a new house for his birthday." The third guy says, "Yeah, I hear you. MY son started out sweeping floors in a brokerage firm. Well, HE got a break, they made HIM a broker, and now he owns the brokerage firm. In fact, he's so rich that he just gave HIS best friend $1 million in stock for his birthday." The fourth guy comes back from the restroom. The first 3 explain that they are telling stories about their kids so he says, "Well, I'm embarrassed to admit that my son IS a major disappointment. He started out as a hairdresser and is STILL a hairdresser after 15 years. In fact I just found out that he's gay and has SEVERAL boyfriends. But I try to look at the bright side, his boyfriends just bought him a new Mercedes, a new house, and $1 million in stock for his birthday!" Seek the higher power of humor...May the Farce Be with You! And, of course...Practice Safe Stress!

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, the Stress Doc, a psychotherapist and nationally recognized speaker, trainer, consultant and author, is also known as AOL's and the internet's "Online Psychohumorist" ™. Check out his USA Today Online "Hot Site" website - www.stressdoc.com and his page on AOL/Online Psych, Keyword: Stress Doc or <A HREF="aol://4344:972.doc.1264535.556723207">The Stress Doc @ Online Psych </A>.

** Join the Doc's "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" on AOL/Digital City, Tuesdays, 9-10:30pm EDT -- <AHREF="aol://4344:1097.tuechat.25384394.563747919">Tuesday Chats</A> and <A HREF="aol://4344:363.gorkin.5732839.568857121">Dig City Promo - Stress Doc</A> .

** And catch the new feature AOL.COM: Washington, DC - Ask the Stress Doc (to my new Q & A column) and AOL.COM: Washington, DC - Home  (On the Home Page, look under "PEOPLE")

And the Ask the Stress Doc links/screens are visible on 5 portals: 1. AOL.COM (which you see above) 2.Compuserve 3. Digital City 4. MCI 5. Netscape Netcenter

** For his free newsletter, Notes from the Online Psychohumorist ™ or for info on the Stress Doc's Online Coaching program, email  StressDoc@aol.com

Mark Gorkin 1999 Shrink Rap Productions