Mel Gibson: behaving worse than a beast

The Thinker by Rodin

Wouldn’t it be nice if our star actors and actresses were as wonderful and as interesting in person as the characters they portray? Some of them doubtless are, but some of them are also like Mel Gibson who, at least when he is drunk or under stress, behaves like an angry and psychotic asshole.

Should you have the stomach to hear for yourself, you can listen to two Mel Gibson cell phone rants with his now ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva. Oksana is also the mother to their daughter Lucia, born in October 2009. In the calls, a distressed, raving and hyperventilating Mel Gibson is very upset with Oksana for many alleged transgressions, for which he repeatedly calls her a “bitch” and terms much, much worse than that. Her many egregious sins apparently include falling asleep in bed with him before first giving him a blowjob and not making the bed in the morning.

Presumably, Oksana taped these calls as evidence in future custody proceedings. I am not entirely sure that surreptitiously recording these calls is legal, but they certainly are a window into Mel’s soul. I assume that Mel had been drinking when he made these calls. Heaven help the man if he was not. Mel’s propensity toward inebriation has gotten him in trouble before, most famously in 2006 when he was arrested for driving under the influence, and subsequently made anti-Semitic remarks to the arresting officers. After that arrest, Gibson reputedly underwent therapy for alcohol addiction. These phone calls suggest the therapy did not take.

Aside from being a depressant, alcohol is also known for reducing inhibitions and they are in full display in these phone calls. Thank goodness Mel and Oksana were at least separated in physical space. If someone went off like this with me in the same room, I would be rushing for the exit. People like Mel make an excellent rationale for owning a firearm, which statistics show is most likely to be used in a homicide to kill an intimate. If I were Oksana and had been in the same room with him when he said these things, I would be reaching for the gun because Mel sounded angry enough to use one himself. I might even have used preventively.

Love, alcohol, family history and bad genetics can make us behave like beasts. However, Mel behaved worse than a beast. Most members of the animal kingdom are not naturally angry or cruel. They kill primarily to survive. They will rarely lose control, even when their lives are in danger. Losing control when your life is in danger is an excellent way to die.

Just for the record, Mel, words like c*nt, bitch and whore simply mean that you believe that some women are not quite human. By labeling a woman this way, you are essentially saying that they are subhuman, so they might as well be slaughtered and turned into Solyent Green. Just to utter these words to a woman, but really anyone, says that you believe they should be stripped of their humanity, integrity and personhood. They should not be uttered at all, no matter how much you personally dislike someone. Now it is okay, though not polite to call someone an asshole, as I called you, when they have clearly earned the title. With your reckless and unrestrained actions toward a woman, you clearly demonstrated that you are an asshole. You also are mentally ill and need more help.

You are not, however, a prick, which, like c*nt, would suggest you are nothing more than your sex organ, although from these phone calls it would be hard not to make the inference. We know you are not a prick because can see the better Mel in your movies. Perhaps you have turned to directing movies in part to exert control over some sphere of your life since it is lacking in others.

It sounds like much of your anger was due to other life events. It sounds like you are financially overextended and you were taking it out on Oksana. So sorry you had to give up your L.A. Lakers box. I really doubt, as you allege, that Oksana cost you five million dollars. However, even if she did, it was your decision to allow her to spend the money. You two are not even married!

It sounds like you are getting therapy. You need more. A lot more. It may be time to change therapists because it doesn’t look like your therapy has been very effective. Certainly there are women out there who are gold diggers and as thoughtless and emotionally abusive. In fact, I have known a few. Maybe I got lucky, but none of them said or implied that I was worthless. In that sense, they bested you.

You crossed a line, but what your raving remarks truly reveal is not that Oksana is worthless, but that some part of you believes that you too are worthless. You are not. You have been emotionally abusive (which research suggests you learned from your family) and show every likelihood of being so in the future, unless you can change. So please, find a better therapist. Heal yourself, man. Perhaps someday, you will understand that certain words and certain tones of voice do not just scratch, they maim, sometimes for life. The most likely one to be maimed though is not the victim, who may have some feelings of self worth and integrity, but the perpetrator who is already maimed and is now more so.

I am wishing you a speedy healing.

Pondering the genogram

The Thinker by Rodin

I had hoped that I had graduated from therapy last year. There were many days last year that I felt euphoric. Nevertheless, in life bad stuff is bound to happen. Euphoria, by its nature, is fleeting. What brought me crashing to the ground this year was my mother’s death last November.

It took me six months or so to realize that I was not as okay about her death as I thought. In dying, my mother left quite a wake. I must have been near her ship when it passed. When the wave finally hit, my boat came close to capsizing.

I did what I usually do when I do not fully understand what is going on. I found myself a therapist. Unlike my last one, this one lives locally. While I had few complaints about my last shrink, I saw no compelling reason to seek him out again, particularly since I had to cross the Potomac River to see him.

I found Pat, my latest therapist, in an odd sort of way. I subscribe to Washington Consumers Checkbook. This is like a Consumer Reports for the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Surfing their web site I was surprised to find a listing of therapists. I searched through the list of local therapists and reviewed the comments left by users. There were not many comments overall, but one person left a very positive comment about Pat. I left her a message then forgot about her for a few weeks. I was almost ready to dial another therapist when she called me back and told me that she could see me.

We have had an excellent relationship. One thing I noticed about Pat from my first appointment was that she had one essential tool to do her work: a blank piece of paper and some pens. As I yammered, she listened, asked questions but rarely stopped drawing. Over the course of many sessions she constructed a genogram of my family relationships.

What is a genogram? It is simply a visual depiction of a person’s many familial relationships and medical histories. It is a family tree where the emotional baggage is symbolized. Someone trained to read genograms can look at them and quickly get a broad picture of the emotional state of a family across many generations. It may not be entirely accurate, since it is impossible to know precisely how family members think or feel. It is easier of course to be more accurate with your immediate family. However, it gets more challenging the further back in time you go, or the more casual the family connection.

Thanks to Pat, I have been learning a lot about myself by examining distant and not so distant relations. In a way, my mother’s death was a blessing. While putting my mother out of her suffering, the event also raised many feelings that were either dormant or that I rigorously suppressed. I was able to put together a few of life’s puzzle pieces working with my last therapist. Thanks in part to the genogram that Pat has painstakingly put together I have been making rapid progress. What I am learning is interesting and a little frightening.

One thing I am learning is that most children carry the burden of unresolved emotional issues that affected not just their parents, but also their grandparents’ generation and beyond. This seemed very strange to me. I knew my paternal grandparents only tangentially. My maternal grandfather is largely a distant boyhood memory, since he died when I was ten. My maternal grandmother died before I was born. Nonetheless, I am very much connected with both sets of grandparents in ways far more profound than genetically.

I know from my mother’s biography that her mother frequently went through abandonment scenarios with her children. Some of my mother’s most traumatic memories were of her mother disappearing when the stress level got too high in her house. Given that her family was very poor and she was trying to raise a dozen children, her reaction though deplorable was understandable. Her mother’s reaction to stress was likely one reason why my mother was attracted to my father. Not only was my father very much calm and devoted, he is the oldest of two children. In addition, there are seven years between him and his sister. My father was also very attracted to the idea of a large family. Perhaps he felt he missed something by not growing up in a larger family.

My parents created eight of us. While my mother never physically abandoned us, she was often emotionally unavailable. She was not skilled at nurturing us because she had not seen it modeled in her mother. She had the dutiful part of mothering down pat. She could create tasty meals and keep the house spotless. He could nurse us to health and shuffle us between many appointments. Eight children were clearly more than she wanted. Unfortunately, she expressed her stress in occasional physical and emotional abuse. As a result, I carried her baggage about how difficult it was to manage a large family. That was likely one reason my wife and I chose to get out of the childrearing business after one child. It may be that our daughter has been picking up these largely unarticulated feelings. She tells us that she does not want to have any children. In fact, she has embraced celibacy as a personal choice. She seems to want to avoid any new intimate relationships. She may well be channeling three generations of desire for a life free of what she may perceive as the crushing burdens of parenthood and responsibility.

Partially because of my therapy, I have been talking more with my siblings about our shared childhood. I am learning things I did not expect. On the negative side, I am finding there is sometimes a disconnect between my older and the younger siblings. In some cases, they feel like they hardly know each other. This makes some sense. My oldest sister was starting puberty by the time my youngest brother was born. She had left the house by the time he was in second grade. On the positive side, I have found an odd virtue to being a middle child in a large family. I have become a connector sibling that bridges the older and the younger sides of my family. I may be in a unique position to allow both sides of my family to reconnect on a deeper level.

Looking at our families genogram (since my wife’s side of the family must also be modeled) I am puzzled why one of my siblings has had so much bad luck. With one exception, he has been unable to hold on to a job for more than a few years. He is often unemployed or underemployed. The same was often true of our maternal grandfather, although this was a common enough problem during the Great Depression. This brother might well be expressing his grandfather’s issues, which he may have picked up as a young boy talking with my mother.

I married a woman markedly like my mother. While I loved my mother, it was not as though I wildly admired her. My mother clearly had issues and I see some of them in my wife. To the best of my knowledge, I did not seek my wife out because she reminded me of my mother. I believed I was attracted to her because of her intelligence and our shared interests. Temperamentally though she is very similar to my mother. Thanks to Pat, I am learning to not react to her when she becomes emotionally expressive as I did with my mother.

There is much more to learn from my family genogram. While it cannot be entirely accurate, it does accurately depict how I perceive my family relationships. Perceptions may matter more than reality because we react based on our perceptions. Many things are falling into place. For example, my mother was very distraught when my oldest sister was born. She was born premature and nearly died. While any child’s brush with death would be traumatic to their mother, my mother also had two sisters die at an early age. One brother died at age 26 in World War II, and two others died in their thirties. Altogether, four of her eleven siblings had died by the time my oldest sister was born. Her own mother was in serious decline and would die a year later. Her traumatic feelings at my sister’s premature birth were quite understandable.

I have also been looking at family divorces and marital stresses. My wife’s side of the family is rife with these. She herself is a product of a broken home. It is a point of great pride to my wife that we have been married for twenty years. While my father’s sister was divorced, there was not a single incident of divorce in my mother’s side of the family. This was not to say that her siblings always had healthy and sustainable marriages. While many of these marriages worked out fine, others appeared dysfunctional. Among my siblings, I have just one brother who divorced. It is almost as if we are demonstrating to previous generations that we have the right stuff.

Perhaps future generations of my family will get it right. Each life has a high potential for self-improvement, but it seems to come only through significant effort. There is no way to know for sure, of course. For my part, I do hope that my daughter will not carry forward too much of my baggage. Nevertheless, it is clear that her suitcase is not empty.

Another Victim of Parochial Schools

The Thinker by Rodin

Hi my name is Mark and I am a victim of parochial schools. During my nine years in parochial schools I witnessed abusive behavior by the Catholic Church that seemed both weird and natural at the same time. Because I grew up in a devout Catholic family in upstate New York in the 1960s the sort of behavior I witnessed was not at all unusual. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” was a frequent parental mantra of the time. Getting or witnessing a spanking at home from my mother seemed entirely normal, if somehow weird. I knew of other children who got much worse, including getting whipped with leather belts and the occasional shiner.

So I was not surprised that the sisters at our parochial school practiced this philosophy. The values in school modeled the values at home. I understand that parochial schools today, at least in this country, have now become violence-free institutions of learning. I am relieved to hear this, if it is true. I can tell you that I witnessed behavior from sisters representing the Catholic Church in the 1960s and 1970s that today would be considered physical and emotional abuse of children, and would put people away in jail for years at a time.

Now granted elementary and middle schoolers are little volcanoes that are frequently erupting. Many of the boys in my class were in fact little savages constantly getting into trouble. To keep the tuition low I doubt the good sisters got much in the way of an education in child psychology. I’m not even sure they were ever accredited to teach. But anyhow who needs to read psychology books when you have the Bible and the Baltimore Catechism with the answer to all of life’s persistent questions? Those of us who grew up Catholic know that somewhere in that Catechism were the answers to every conceivable moral or ethical question. There is no moral ambiguity in the Catholic faith.

The sort of behavior I witnessed was primarily a lot of physical abuse. For example, an overactive boy (these were the days before ADHD was recognized) running too much on the playground would get real sweaty during recess. This would infuriate our sister who would have the boy come up to the front of the class, bend over her desk, and wack him very hard, repeatedly, in front of the other children, with two yardsticks doubled up together. The boy would usually howl and sometimes cry. Such punishments were reinforced with the moral lesson that such behavior was sinful and against the rules of the school, thereby humiliating the student and causing emotional abuse.

The reason I bring up this unpleasant topic is because I am reading the book “Adult Children of Abusive Parents: A Healing Program for Those Who Have Been Physically, Sexually or Emotionally Abused” by Steven Farmer. It is an eye opener for me, although it should not be. One of the points of the book is that if you feel you were abused then you were. There is no question in my mind that I was both the victim of physical and emotional abuse meted out by the sisters at our parochial school. I am a somewhat dysfunctional adult because of this toxic environment that I endured for nine long years.

The book talks about certain roles that those of us who suffered this abuse bring forward into adulthood. I see elements of many of these roles in myself. For example I often find myself in the caretaker role of trying to make things better for everyone, almost obsessively so. In addition I often find myself emotionally distant. When conflicts arise in my life (particularly if it involves strong emotions) I run away from them and hide. I prefer a safe room somewhere so I don’t have to deal with the associated feelings. These are very powerful roles that I cannot seem to break, and probably won’t be able to break without spending a lot of personal energy and going through a lot of therapy. But it seems to be something I will have to work on, or I will likely make the rest of my life a lot more miserable than it would otherwise be.

I am actually looking forward to seeing the new movie The Magdelene Sisters. It depicts the lives of some “fallen women” in Ireland sentenced by their families and the Catholic Church to forced labor in Catholic laundries. I am hoping it will provide some sort of catharsis to my own feelings about the abuse I experienced and witnessed.

While I am glad that child abuse appears to have vanished from our nation’s parochial schools (although apparently not from its rectories, as numerous news accounts of abusive priests make clear), I am also still angry. Maybe I am an anti-Catholic bigot. If I come across that way, well tough – deal with it. I have noticed that the pews of Unitarian Universalist Churches are full of traumatized ex-Catholics. I have spoken to many fellow victims and the stories are similar. A significant number of those I went to school with I have learned, anecdotally, are carrying the physical and emotional abuse into adulthood and wreaking havoc on a new generation of children.

We have freedom of religion in this country. It is probably a good thing, since the theocracy experiment hasn’t worked out well elsewhere in the world. But when I think of my experience with Catholicism, that I know is replicated in many other religions in this country, I often think certain religions should be banned. In my opinion Catholicism is one very toxic meme. I won’t debate today the theological arguments but it is obvious that it has caused generations of wholly unnecessary suffering for millions, if not billions of people. I do acknowledge that Catholicism can be a beautiful religion. I can still be touched by the feeling of sacredness I get when I am in the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington, DC. The theater and drama of a high Mass can be quite a show. But in my opinion this religion is at its core rotten and evil.

But it is a meme that will keep going on. I am sure 2000 years from now, no matter how technologically advanced, we will still have a Pope. People will still be shuffling off to church to repeat the same words over and over again. It would be nice if, like a surgeon, I could remove the bad parts of the religion and leave its beauty intact. But that can’t happen. It is a hierarchical, top down directed religion that at its core tolerates no dissent and requires orthodoxy to many beliefs that are wholly unreasonable.

It is, in some ways, similar to an abusive parent. If you are a round peg of a person, you must become a square peg or you are not welcome. Junior must be whipped into shape with a belt by his Dad to stop his sassing. Similarly you, if you are gay, must not actually practice your homosexuality or you risk sin, the wrath and scorn of your clergy if it becomes known and possible banishment and excommunication. And if you are a divorced Catholic and your marriage was not annulled by the church, no matter how bad the physical, emotional and sexual abuse you encountered, don’t you dare take communion and don’t even think about getting remarried in the church.

Leaving the church is a very hard thing for most Catholics to do. Most are born into the faith and going to church is as much a part of their lives as is eating and breathing. It’s a fundamental part of who they are. Like the sexually abused child who later in life unconsciously seeks out co-dependent relationships, Catholicism warps the growing mind in dangerous ways. The institution is one large mortal sin, but too puffed up in its own pretentiousness to recognize it. And unfortunately we can expect a continued trail of human carnage from it and similar institutions for millennia to come.