Human beings are remarkably resilient to stress. One way or another we manage to persevere, to survive, and to have our moments of pleasure, peace and fulfillment. We are expert copers of internal and external problems. We cope through prayer and religious beliefs, through involvements, denial and diversions that feed our need for joy and belonging. We cope and are buoyed up by sharing love and receiving encouragement from others. Writing has been one way that I have been able to cope with my compulsions and diversions and receive support and encouragement from those who understand the predicament in which I find myself. Maybe my way of coping with the stressors in my life could be referred to as maladaptive, but at this point in my life I will do almost anything for those rare moments of peace, fulfillment and pleasure.
My wife and I have not spoken for over a week. We have not had any sexual encounters with one another for over a year. Our lips have not met for months and my hand occasionally sympathizes with her by rubbing her back. My love for her in ingrained all the way into the root of my soul but a wall has been slowly erected between us that is forcing each of us to cope with a good amount of stress in relation to the other. We both have our means of coping. She works, makes video art on her computer, dances, does grief rituals and smokes and drinks red wine. I on the other hand spend hours looking at Craig’s List Erotic Adds and seek out the company of prostitutes and psychologists. I have been going to therapy at least once a week and I joined a meditation group that is based in teaching the methods of mindfulness. I spend casual time in the company of prostitutes for at least fifteen minutes a week and hours upon hours driving around in my automobile seeking them out. Lately I have taken to purchasing a bottle of red wine and driving around while drinking and listening to jazz. I search for prostitutes in the darkest corners of the Oakland ghetto but nine out of ten time I return home hours later drunk and without having seen a single attractive hooker. My therapist thinks that my way of coping with my stress is not only destructive but maladaptive.
What psychologists mean when they use the term maladaptive to label a person such as myself is that the individual has found ways of coping with stress in ways that are actually self destructive. These attempts at control are labeled “maladaptive coping” because although they do help us tolerate stress and give us some sense of control, in the long run they wind up compounding the stress that we experience. “You can think of maladaptive as meaning unhealthy, causing more stress,” my therapist told me.
One favorite maladaptive coping strategy is to deny that there is any problem at all. When I am high on red wine driving around in my automobile searching out the handy company of prostitutes, spending my days on Craig’s List looking at erotic adds such as Cumm 2 Me Daddy or Two HOLES For The $ Of One, with my hand down my pants, or hanging out in derelict strip clubs or massage parlors- I am not worried about any of the problems facing me in my life. My unemployment, pysiological maladies, marital torments and financial crisis are as far away from me as the moon. My unpaid bills, lack of motivation or aspiration, and anxiety problems are all but gone. It is as if pornography, prostitution and red wine are a kind of medicine for all the stressors that haunt me during the majority of my waking hours.
The other day I went to visit the hooker in the tree and we had a conversation about human beings and our amazing capacity to deal with stress. I paid her forty dollars to undress and provide me with a hand job as we spoke. I told her about how I felt as if I was existing in a state of chronic hyperarousal. She giggled when I told her this but I quickly reminded her that it was not the kind of arousal that she was thinking. “It is my sympathetic nervous system,” I began to explain. “I feel like I am suffering from all the symptoms of long term physiological disregulation.” The hooker in the tree continued to gently rub my penis with some kind of soothing lotion and asked me what I meant. I looked around at the branches, and squirrels that ate what looked like pine nuts while curiously trying to figure out what these two strange humans were doing. It was mid afternoon and in the distance I had a beautiful view of San Fransisco and The Golden Gate Bridge. “I feel like I am suffering from problems like increased blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias, digestive problems, chronic headaches and chronic anxiety,” I told her as I watched her hand which seemed to be hypnotizing me with its slow and graceful movements. I don’t think that she understood what I was talking about but I know she sympathized with me because after I had an orgasm she gave me back the forty dollars I gave her and told me that “this visit is a gift.”
At my meditation class last week the teacher talked about how a healthy alternative to being caught up in self destructive patterns is to stop reacting to stress and to start responding to it. “This is the path of mindfulness in daily life,” the teacher said. I am not ready to give up my rare moments of sex induced pleasure and peace but I am beginning to see ways that I can cope with my stressors that may be more productive than a hand job or drinking a bottle of red wine (on a daily basis). I am learning to simply acknowledge how I am feeling (without judgement), feel what the sensations are in my body and sit with them without reacting. I inhale and exhale many times in a row and before I know it I have found my moments of peace, fulfillment and pleasure without needing the comforts of Craig’s List Erotic Adds, pornography or hand jobs from prostitutes. We will see how long this lasts.