November 2010


I posted on November 6 that I was growing a mustache during the month of November as part of an international campaign for prostate and testicular cancer awareness: Movember. I also said that I would post a photo of the final product here if I made $100 for the cause. I now have what some might call a luxuriant (adj. characterized by abundant growth) one-month old mustache, so here’s the almost-final report on the fund raising:

My mustache has made $32.56 for the cause. That means that a mustache photo here will cost you $67.44 or, more likely, a bunch of you a few dollars. Here’s the link, if you want to donate.

I am currently ranked 17,090th in the US for funds raised. That’s pretty good for a campaign that’s only a few years old. That means that the bare minimum we’ve raised is $512,870.89, and it’s probably many times that amount. And that’s just in the US.

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I posted this on my Advanced Family Theory discussion board a couple weeks ago. There were no replies:

According to Metaframeworks (p. 30) (which I’m loving, by the way), one of the ways which Bertalanffy distinguished organic from mechanical systems is that organic systems violate Newton’s 2nd law of thermodynamics. That is, we and the larger systems we are part of grow increasingly complex, even though Newton predicted only increasing disorder according to the rules of thermodynamics.

This “evidence of negentropy” is one of the major planks of the “intelligent design” argument for a creator being logically deducible by the presence of organic systems. Unfortunately for ID-ers and Bertalanffy, life does not violate Newton’s 2nd law because even though organisms and other phenotypes are highly and increasingly complex, our living and doing create disorder much more efficiently than nonliving systems. That is, it’s more accurate to say that Newton’s 2nd law drives the complexity of life than to say that life violates that law.

If you are as excited as I am by this idea, check out Dorion Sagan’s Into the Cool: Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life.

I warned you this note was nerdy.

In the field of family therapy, most theorists these days are postmodern and take care to spell out their epistemological lens–how and why they think they know what they know. They know that their theories are colored by their beliefs, so they want their readers to know what biases were involved in creating their theory.

I’m on page 33 of a very promising family-therapy-theory book called Metaframeworks: Transcending the Models of Family Therapy. The authors describe four views of reality, how they relate to each other, and which one they choose. The four are:

Objectivism: The often unconscious belief that there is an objective reality and that we have direct access to it. This view is also called “naive realism.”

Constructivism: This camp generally believe that a reality exists out there independent of us, but that we can’t know what it is like because our access to it is completely mediated and limited by our senses and cognitive processes. This is also called “pessimistic realism.”

Perspectivism: There is a reality out there and we have only mediated, distorted access to it, but it is possible to map it to greater and greater degrees of accuracy. That is, some maps are better than others. This is the authors’ camp.

Radical Constructivism: As far as we know, “reality” exists only in the mind. We are not qualified to make any statements about what actually exists or goes on “out there.”

Today a chiropractor told me, based on my x-rays, that my left pelvic bone had gotten stuck. He held his hands out as if he were going to catch a basketball and said, “Imagine my hands are your pelvic bones and we’re looking at them from behind. Your pelvis did this [bending his left wrist back] and got stuck there.” He adjusted my pelvis, which seemed like a very mild adjustment for the problem he described, and gave me this list of “do’s and don’ts” for the next few weeks. Following them will mean walking a lot more and sitting a lot less–probably a good thing even if my pelvis wasn’t twisted.

1. Do not sit for extended periods of time. Alternate your positions–standing, sitting, walking, lying down. When driving long distances plan to stop every half hour or so for a brief walk.

2. Walking is the best exercise for you at this time. Temporarily discontinue all other sports activity and exercise programs. Ask us about a particular activity if you are not sure.

3. Avoid movements that use your abdominal muscles and the muscles of your lower back. Avoid awkward twisting, bending, and lifting movements. Get next to, under, or behind any object or load that you need to lift. Use your leg muscles as much as possible and spare the muscles of your lower back. Avoid “sit-up” type movements.

4. Avoid movements that spread one leg far apart from the other–all straddling positions.

5. Do not cross your legs or ankles.

6. If any discomfort occurs in the sacroiliac area ice can be applied 15 minutes out of every hour.

7. The proper procedure for lying down and getting up is most important. To lie down, first sit and then slowly lower your body bringing up both of your legs, being careful to keep them together. Then, turn your body on your back using your arm and leg muscles. When arising, turn your body on its side, drop your feet to the floor while pushing up with your arms and legs, not using your stomach or back muscles.

8. When moving objects from one place to another, make sure that both your feet are pointing in the same direction as your upper body. Do not keep one foot planted while twisting your body and moving the other foot the direction your are twisting.

I’ve been working with the University of Oregon Men’s Center since last spring, helping out with their research projects. During one of our last meetings, a couple MBA students pitched us the idea of growing mustaches for “Movember” (Mustache + November) as a way to increase awareness of prostate cancer. We went for it, so I’m six days into a mustache. (If you want to see the final product, read at least the last paragraph in this post.)

Here are the “Rules for Participants” from the Movember website:

1) On Shadowe’en (October 31st), the complete moustache region, including the entire upper lip and the handlebar zones, must be completely shaved.

2) For the entire duration of Movember (Movember 1st – 35th inclusive), no hair shall be allowed to grow in the goatee zone – being any facial area below the bottom lip.

3) There is to be no joining of the moustache to sideburns.

4) Failure to conform to all of these rules may, at the discretion of the official Movember Committee, result in instant blacklisting and may void invitation to the end of MOnth festivities (this year lip-marked for Movember 35th!)

5) Movember Committee accepts no responsibility for lost jobs, rashes, food/beer encrustments or any other such mishaps caused to the wearer (or his partner) of a Movember Moustache. You grew it yourself.

So I’m growing a mustache and it’s a little terrifying. I think I look silly. I wonder if my clients will be able to take me seriously. And this is the first time that I’ve resented my therapist costume. In my street clothes I can (maybe) pass as a moderately hip guy who’s growing a mustache because it’s silly. In my therapist costume–khakis, button-up shirt–I look like nothing but an overly earnest businessman who is clueless about the fashion implications of a mustache. I squirm about it.

It’s also poking me in the homophobia, much like taking ballet did last year. My mustache reminds me a lot more of Freddy Mercury than one of the Beatles. I’m getting over that, though, by watching footage of Queen on Youtube. Freddy Mercury was an incredible rocker.

And anyways I like to push myself in these ways, bust my ego a little, uncover and deal with lingering homophobia, and support a good cause.

Prostate cancer has an amazingly low profile, considering that it’s more common in men than breast cancer is in women. One in six men in the US get it and it kills 30,000 of us a year–more than every other kind except lung cancer. The prostate cancer rates are so high in the elderly that it looks like pretty much every man would get it if they lived long enough. It doesn’t tend to produce symptoms for a long time after it starts growing, so it’s important to get checked after you hit 40. Yes, unfortunately this involves a “digital rectal examination”–a finger in the butt that could save your life. I’ve had one and it’s no fun but it’s not that bad.

Here are the major symptoms according to the Google Health:

  • Urinary hesitancy (delayed or slowed start of urinary stream)
  • Urinary dribbling, especially immediately after urinating
  • Urinary retention
  • Pain with urination
  • Pain with ejaculation
  • Lower back pain
  • Pain with bowel movement

I’m also registered with Movember, so you can donate a few dollars to the cause in my name. The proceeds go to the Prostate Cancer Foundation and LIVESTRONG Young Adult Alliance. Just click here and follow the directions. If my donations add up to $100 or more, I’ll post a photo of the final result in December.

I just went to my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It was the closest one I could find using a Google search–a few blocks from my house, maybe a four minute ride, in a house that I’ve passed hundreds of times. I didn’t expect that. I probably would have guessed that there were something like five or ten AA meetings in all of Eugene and Springfield, but when I searched “Eugene 12-step meetings” I immediately had a list of one hundred and seventy-eight meetings within 15 miles of my zip code. One hundred and thirty-four of those were AA, most of the rest were Narcotics Anonymous, and some were Gamblers (4) and Overeaters (10) Anonymous. They happen every day of the week, from early in the morning until late at night. This movement is huge. No one knows exactly how big because there is no registry, no dues, and the meetings are self-organized, but there were 10 people at my meeting, and this was Halloween night. If 10 is average, that’s something like 1,800 attendees per week, though there is certainly lots of overlap–people attending multiple meetings. Still, that’s a lot of people sitting in a lot of meetings, and that’s in an area with a population of about 200,000.

It was interesting to be so outside of my normal social bubble. I was nervous to go, and nervous when I got there, but everyone was super nice. There were 6 boomers, 2 X-ers (including me), and 2 millenials. I guessed a few were middle class and the rest working class. I’ve been working class my whole life, but these days my social circle is mostly upper-middle, with thin skin and clean hands. My eyes were drawn to the “mechanic hands,” with grease practically tattooed into the grooves of the fingers, and the rough, thick faces of hard lives. We sat in a circle, introduced ourselves, and started reading from Alcoholics Anonymous, the Bible of AA. We each read a paragraph and then passed to the next person. About half of us had what sounded like a grade-school reading level, another reminder of the thin slice of society I live in, so highly educated.

The story was about a rich alcoholic, who failed to get sober in the US and went to Carl Jung in Europe, who also failed to cure him. Apparently, after some effort, Jung told him something like “I have never had any success helping your type of drunk. Sometimes a spontaneous spiritual epiphany can do the trick, and I have been trying to produce that in you, but have failed. You are a hopeless case.”

The format was that anytime anyone felt moved to speak, they would pipe up: “I’m so-and-so, and I’m an alcoholic” and then tell their story or make their comment on the reading. I found it moving to hear their stories and even just to cop to being alcoholics. There was clearly power behind that ability to admit powerlessness. One woman shared about how her life before sobriety was “insanity,” not only in that she was constantly miserable to the point that she felt like her life was “hell,” but in that “What I thought or what I decided about drinking had no impact on whether I drank that day.”

A lot of the readings for my Modern Issues in Addiction class are critiques of the 12-step model, the “disease model,” of addiction. The in-vogue model in post-modern circles like my Couples and Family Therapy program is the “harm-reduction model,” which is secular, so it requires no spiritual epiphany to reorganize the addict’s behavior, and is not aiming at abstinence, but at reducing the damage done by the addiction. One reason harm-reduction is appealing is that you are allowed to count positive outcomes that fall short of abstinence; isn’t it a victory if someone who used to get drunk every night now gets drunk just 3 nights a week? Yes, I think so. Another reason harm-reduction is appealing is that God, even as vaguely defined as it is, is such a dicey topic, hard to manualize for therapy, hard to justify getting behind for us multiculturalists, not wanting to offend the atheists or the theists who have another word for God. The AA God has a male pronoun, for God’s sake. So unhip. It’s hard for us to get behind a program that is not for everyone.

The critiques of the 12-step model have all been theoretical critiques of theory–a form which is quickly becoming my least favorite form of writing. If you have a theory you want to critique, please use data to do so. Please build your counter-theory on data. That would be lovely. The trouble is, the data does not contradict the 12-step model. The summaries of evidence I’ve read (which were written by the critique-ers) basically say that 12-step programs work at least as well as harm-reduction programs, however you measure outcomes, and they work significantly better for addicts who are religious.

The God part of the program was clearly a key part for the folks in my meeting. Two men told harrowing stories about their pre-sobriety days that focused on their denial of their problem. They would go to meetings but they didn’t really “get it” and things got worse and worse. Both described turning-point moments that turned on a prayer. One night, one said in anguish simply, “God, help!” The other said, “Oh, God, I will do anything.” And suddenly they knew that they had a real problem, and that they were personally powerless against it.

I have a difficult time relating to the concept of a second-person God–it’s hard for me to believe anything I can’t directly experience–but I think there is something real and useful going on here. It reminds me of what it’s like to sit in Vipassana meditation. I sit and systematically observe the sensations in my body. It seems as if I have some control over what part of my body I’m focusing on, but I don’t seem to have any control over what sensations I experience in that part of my body. I look and feel what is there, and what is there is given. I am learning to relinquish control over the things that I cannot control. I am practicing not reacting against what is given. And really, how I react is also mostly not in my control, also part of what is given, so I sit with the intention of allowing reality to happen and watch. Suffering is part of the reaction. If I have pain in my body and I react against it, that is suffering. If I have pain and I don’t react against it, that is just pain, which is radically different. And the difference between reacting and not reacting, I think, is grace. It’s my willingness to sit and pay attention, and grace. This is not so different from an alcoholic turning their life over to God. It’s like the serenity prayer, which we said:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

When we went around the circle introducing ourselves, each person (just like in the movies) said their first name and that they were an alcoholic. When it came to me I said “Hi, I’m Nathen, and I’m new here.” I was a little nervous about it, but they seemed to like that fine and said “Hi, Nathen!” with just as much enthusiasm as they did for the others.

I’m not an alcoholic. I don’t like alcohol. The first swallow can be pretty interesting, especially if it’s expensive stuff, but after that it starts tasting like something you would scrub your sink out with. I think I inherited that from my mom’s side of the family. That’s how you can tell the Pikes from the in-laws at a family reunion: The in-laws are drinking, the Pikes are not.

I can relate to compulsive behavior, though, mostly around food. And when I say food, I mostly mean sugar. (I seriously considered going to an Overeaters Anonymous meeting for this project instead of AA. I think that I didn’t because I (unfairly, I’m sure) imagined the real food addicts staring at me, maybe hating me in my effortlessly thin body.) At times, I can relate to the woman who said it didn’t matter what she thought or decided about drinking. I can make what feels like a very serious decision not to eat any more cookies today, for example, and then find myself rationalizing my way back to the package. Or ice cream, chocolate, pretty much anything sweet. I can remember sitting, my stomach already feeling kind of bad, looking at a half-eaten bag of chocolate chips, and realizing that I was going to finish those chips. It didn’t matter that I would feel terrible. It didn’t matter that I would have trouble getting to sleep. They weren’t even tasting that good anymore. But I was going to eat them all. I find that disturbing. I think of myself as the kind of person who can and does make decisions and follow through, all the way. That is the kind of behavior psychologists call “ego-dystonic,” or counter to the conception of the self.

So I had my moment of feeling like I was in the right place. It was Halloween night, and they had a big container of candy on a table in the middle of the circle and said, “Help yourself!” It was all crap, in the sense of my intention for this year, “Do not eat crap.” I saw that immediately. I was not hungry, but I wanted some candy. I thought, “I should probably eat a piece or two of that candy to take part in the culture of this group.” I took and ate two Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups–probably my favorite of the crap-class candy–during the meeting. I’m certain no one would have noticed if I hadn’t. My rationalization was just my rationalization. I felt a little guilty for breaking my intention and I noticed my attention going back to the candy throughout the meeting. It was easy not to eat any more, but that may have been because there were no more Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups visible. I would have had to dig noisily through the container while others were reading or sharing.

But while I did have that experience, I don’t mean to make light of the experience of the people at that meeting, or of actual food addicts. I am not a food addict. I have some usually-mild compulsive behavior around food, but not to the point that I’ve ever done anyone wrong or maintained an unhealthy lifestyle. These folks were dealing with something on a whole other level of suffering and trouble. And they seemed to be doing admirably. One man described how when he started craving alcohol, he knew it was time to “reach out”–go to more meetings, call for support, be with good people. As with the others’ sharing, I was moved by his sincerity, conviction, and wisdom.

After an hour of talking, we stood, held hands, and closed with the Lord’s Prayer. I did not expect to be moved by it, but their delivery of the about temptation and evil had such feeling and meaning after hearing their stories:

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen.