Thanks for Sharing: Helpful or Hurtful?

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When we first saw the trailers for the new movie, Thanks for Sharing, we were both hopeful and trepidatious.

Hopeful, because we thought the movie might finally be a real step in bringing the problem of sex addiction into mainstream society in a real way. Could the movie help the people we know finally understand – even a little – the struggle we go through every day? Could it spark a real conversation about the realities of living with sex addiction? Could it be a line to help us connect with our families?

Trepidatious because we have lived so long in the dark. Sex addiction is such a joke in our society. Would this movie contribute to more eye rolling and giggling? Or would it make sex addicts look depraved and base instead of the flawed husbands, fathers, and brothers that we know them to be? Could the movie possibly drive us further into the shadows?

We were eager to discover the answers to those questions, but also fearful to actually go and sit through the movie. Any honest depiction of sexual addiction is bound to show things that are triggers. We wondered if we could handle it.

Two of our brave coaches, Marsha and Meredith, went to see the movie and share their reactions to the film and the way it portrays sexual addiction.

Marsha's Thoughts After Watching the Movie, Thanks for Sharing

To be honest, I went to watch this movie thinking I was doing a chore. Jennifer, our webmaster, had asked if we could all watch it, then share our thoughts about the experience. So, almost begrudgingly, I did, never expecting to get sucked into a good story. Boy, was I in for a surprise.

Though I had been told the movie wasn't performing well, I felt bad for the producers when saw that I shared the theater with only 15 other people. I quickly took that as proof that the next 1 ½ hours were indeed going to be a chore.

Right from the start I was grateful I hadn't taken my 84 year old mother with me; she never would have made it through the first five minutes because of the language! I've never heard so many four-letter words in the space of an hour and a half, which I doubt was necessary to capture the essence of sitting in an SAA meeting. But it did give the film a gritty texture, and soon I tried to just ignore it.

But the biggest surprise was how quickly the story sucked me in. Sitting alone in the center back, my reality soon melded with that of the six main characters. The four who are sex addicts battled personal wars that had to be waged every waking moment; wars made all the more difficult by their Manhattan-based lives. There, nearly every scene held triggers for their addictions. And of course I felt every pang that pierced the the two characters who represented we millions of sex addicts' partners. Each character added depth and meaning to the mix.

Tim Robbin's character played the wise, older-sponsor role; a gray-haired, flannel-shirt sort of fatherly figure. His wife's character gave the film a soft, maternal anchor; a seasoned, wise-older-woman to represent the journey taken by those wives who stay for the long haul. The addiction had cost her. It gave her Hepatitis C. Mark Ruffalo's character provided the earnest, good-looking, younger hunk. A guy you really want to see make it. And that desire only deepens as Gwenyth Paltrow's character charms her way into his heart. Then there's the young, addicted M.D, brilliantly played by Josh Gad. He shows us a pudgy, bafoon-of-a-jerk that left me shaking my head at times. But before the movie was over, even he melted my heart, and I caught myself rooting for his recovery. And Pink's character...well, she was the icing on the cake. She plays a very colorful, 30-year-old female sex addict who desperately wants to stop sleeping around so she can finally have a real relationship. Adding her to the room full of men at the co-gender SAA meeting was the perfect way for the writers to soften the face of the addiction, and at least in my case, to stir up compassion in the hearts and minds of viewers for those who struggle daily against this beast.

One of the things I loved most about this movie is that none of the characters are one-dimensional. Rather, each is a fascinating mix of goods and bads, strengths and weaknesses, curses and gifts. This multi-layered perspective makes each one all the more real. But it also reflects what we know about ourselves, whether we're addicts or the women who love them: even if we achieve freedom and success in one area of our lives, there will be other areas to keep working on as long as we draw breath. We see this best in Tim Robbin's character, usually a teddy bear of a guy. But we're also exposed to his darker side as we watch his chemically addicted young adult son's tremendous emotional pain as a result of growing up with Tim, and the still dysfunctional, sometimes abusive, way father treats son.

But I was most mesmerized by how desperately all four sex addicts wanted their freedom, and how dreadfully hard they had to work to keep it. Watching Tim's character almost blow his sobriety after 15 years sober was enough to make me cry. And seeing Mark Ruffalo's character, Adam, who had five hard-won years, throw it out the window was heartbreaking. I went into the theater with great empathy for addicts of any kind, but I left with ten times more. And now, a week after seeing the film, it's characters still roam my mind several times a day. They seem to have taken root.

But in one realm the writers failed miserably. By reflecting the predominate mindset of most of the treatment community, they showed zero empathy for either female who loved a sex addict. And they went further: they flattened Tim Robbin's wife to a mono-dimensional cardboard figure in regard to her husband's addiction. This usually soft, wise-older-woman became robotic and emotionally sterile about what the addiction had cost her when Gwenyth's character asked her how she did it. And with Gwenyth's character, we watch what I know to be a normal response to finding one's recovering lover on the phone at 2am become a verbal tussle resulting in a decision to walk away from the relationship, only to reappear later quipping the dominate treatment rhetoric as if she had been to CODA camp. Again, we're presented with a now flat, “good partner.” Here the writers only mirrored Patrick Carnes.

The Movie's Failures

  • Lack of understanding of their best target audience (men, women, and families impacted by the addiction) as demonstrated by including a really raunchy strip tease scene, thus rendering the film too triggering for addicts, for most partners, and for children wounded by sex addiction. Many addicts I know would never consider risking their mental sobriety by watching this film.
  • Lack of awareness and understanding of the partner's journey. In this category, the writer's are in complete ignorance of the impact sex addiction has on partners, and what true healing from their trauma requires. That saddens me. We really need to see a sequel that shows sex addiction through the lens of addicts' partners.

My Takeawys

  • Though imperfectly done, this movie moved the predominant sexually-charged global culture forward by beginning a conversation about the reality of this rampant addiction. Thus, it raised the public awareness by showing us this curse really does exist; that it is dangerously powerful; and that it can—and does—destroy lives and relationships.
  • I was, and remain, completely aware that I never could have sat through this movie were I there with the addict I loved. Nor could I have stayed if I were in a relationship with a sex addict currently and lacked sufficient healing of my own. It would have triggered me severely. And I am completely aware that because I am single, and because I could watch and assess the film from a clinical perspective, the impact it had on me is far different than it will likely have on other partners of sexual addicts who watch this movie.

If You Watch Thanks for Sharing

If you do watch Thanks for Sharing, I offer these recommendations:

  • If you see it in a theater, I strongly recommend that you go with another woman who understands this addiction, rather than your addict partner. And go prepared for triggering.
  • Use your detachment, self-soothing, healthy self-talk, and every other skill you've learned in your support group. And go knowing you will need to process the film after watching it, probably with your counselor.
  • Better yet, watch it at home with ClearPlay, a player that cleans the movie so you can watch it without the strip scene and other overly-trigging sexuality. Viewed this way, it holds the potential to help husbands and wives, and parents and children discuss the addiction in productive ways.

Coach Meredith's Thoughts On Watching the Movie, Thanks for Sharing

I went into seeing it very hopeful, as well as prepared for a few triggers as a counselor friend of mine said it did have some "racy/triggering" scenes. The trailers all looked like it was going to be pretty well done, and give a pretty accurate picture of recovery. The counselor friend said it was "pretty true to the addiction." While I do believe it was that, I had a few struggles with it.

One is that there was a scene that was highly triggering to my trauma, even as prepared for that as I was. Being able to relate to the whole recovery world as much as I can because of my own recovery and that of my SA husband, I was right there with the main character who had 5 years of sobriety and said it was the most important thing in his life. I really identified with him and the whole recovery community throughout the film.

There were all kinds of 'minor' triggers as I watched him fight his battle with his addiction. But I was prepared for those based on the movie trailers and the rating info. These minor triggers included things like Victoria Secret billboards and a lot of hot women walking by. Then he meets Gwyneth Paltrow's character and there is quite a bit of her coming on to him and lounging around in lingerie. But again, the trailer had prepared me for that.

Patrick Carnes' books are heavily featured. And while the film does a good job being true to the consequences in all of these characters' lives for the most part, (i.e. Tim Robbins wife has Hep C, and Tim's character has a terrible relationship with his drug addict son; a sexually addicted doctor who just 'plays' at recovery until he looses his job trying to film up another doctor's skirt; and PINK does a excellent job covering the female sex addict’s life as well) there is also quite a bit of neglect to the level of pain and destruction this particular addiction can cause in the partner's life. Gwyneth talks to Tim Robin's wife at one point and asks her how she does it. Her overly

simplistic reply is that she keeps her focus on her side of the street, and encourages Gwyneth to look at what attracted her to an addict in the first place. Which brings me to my biggest trigger point. Gwyneth starts freaking out one night when Mark Ruffalo's character is on the phone with a sponsee in the middle of the night. She asks to see his phone as proof, and he refuses, saying there has to be some trust if they are going to be in relationship. Then they have a fight where he points out her exercise/eating/control addictions and she bails on the relationship. Mark's character then tailspins while he is on a work trip, which we have seen him handle just fine with recovery tools all throughout the movie, but this time he can't get a hold of his sponsor and winds up going to at store, buying a computer and masturbating to porn. I started having a trauma response at that point as I watched this guy give in after 5 years of sobriety. I was literally sweating. Then a prostitute shows up and we see him have sex with her in a number of different ways where we see her breasts, which shocked me because I had checked the rating description specifically for nudity. That scene went on so long and I was already so related to the characters that it felt as though I may as well have been watching my own husband have sex with a prostitute!

Again, it all caught me so off guard. I've never really had much trouble with that subject matter in TV shows and movies, but I think since this film was actually about sexual addiction recovery, it took it to a whole new—much more personal—level for me!

All those trigger points aside; I think the next part was where I really had a problem with the film itself. We see this main character spiral out of control for a bit until a young woman he is trying to have sex with tries to commit suicide in his bathroom. Then he gets back on track with his recovery and moves on down the road. He apologizes to Gwyneth for bringing up her ‘stuff’ and she says, "No, thank you, you were right. I did need to look at all of that stuff," and it seems as though they get back together. We see no fall out whatsoever from his relapse in the context of their relationship.

Quite frankly I wanted to be on board with this film, and I think most in the recovery community will be, and I am for most of it, but for me some of it also played right into a number of problems I see in the way the recovery community currently operates. One example is they minimize sobriety and addicts' ability to stay sober.

I had also thought the film might be great for making the topic much more mainstream, and had even thought some of our non-recovery friends who know about our recovery life might get a glimpse into our lives, that would be helpful. But after seeing it, I realized they would see all of those things in relationship to my husband like I did, except with even lest context to help them move through it. So I fear it could potentially be more damaging to those relationships, rather than helpful because no matter what, addiction of any kind is just hard to comprehend for those that don't struggle with it. Are our friends gonna worry now that my husband—or anyone that says they struggle with this—may try and film up their skirts or rub up against women on the subway?

The movie has not performed well at the box office so your chances to see it may very well be limited to a DVD release. This is a bit shocking considering it has a star-studded cast and is a very well-told story. But I think this speaks to my previous point. This movie is so well-done and depicts the SA recovering community so well that I think few outside of this world can connect to it or even understand much of the great humor it manages to squeeze in.

Now having said all of that, I did in fact see this film a second time. The above is a very raw initial reaction to my first viewing and I was quite curious to see how I would feel after a second go around. This second screening I went to was actually put on by a local CSAT counseling center and included a panel discussion afterward. I was dying to know what others’ reactions to the film would be, especially within this counseling community.

Thankfully, my experience was far less dramatic the second time around. I brought my sponsor instead of my husband so that may have helped, although I was much more sensitive to the amount of cursing in this film with her in tow, as she is almost 30 years my senior. Several of the counselors on the panel, who are CSATs but also SAs, did not see it prior to this screening, and they were actually quite affected by the film themselves! These men were visibly shaken up. One of them even started the discussion by doing a grounding exercise, which I really appreciated after my first viewing experience.

They did a great job discussing the film and each character in depth. They did also mention that they were disappointed it said little to nothing about the support needed for, and available to, partners, and I was grateful for that as well.

So after both experiences seeing this film, I feel confident in saying to any partner or SA that you WILL be triggered and you should go into it with a support plan in place.  There are valuable components to seeing it so I hate to simply say, "don't see it" but it does need to be handled with much care!

Thanks for listening, I’m Meredith.

Feel like talking about it?

We are discussing this movie and it's impact in our online community, A Circle of Sisters. We invite you to join us and share your thoughts. If you are not yet a member of our private, secure online community, we invite you to subscribe now.

Need more help processing?

Because daily we hear that many of you have no support system in place, as a team we want you to know we are available to help you process it if you need it. For that purpose, we have arranged conference calls hosted by our team members. In these calls we will give you the opportunity to share your thoughts, feelings, triggers, and ask questions in a small group context where two of our team members will help you process the impact the film had on you. Our first conference call will be hosted on Friday, November 1st at 9am pacific time/ 10am mountain time/ 11am central time/ and Noon Eastern. We invite you to use this service for your continued healing.