Nov 01 2008

Victories of the Heart: A Book Review

My writer’s acknowledgement: I was involved with this men’s organization for many years from about 1991 until about 2008. I was a leader from 2004 to 2008. Though I was never fully  given credit, I was instrumental in creating a psychodrama training with Kurt Schultz which led to the rapid development of new leaders, many of whom are running the Victories Breakthrough weekend and Board as I write in 2015.  More power to these guys who I believe are trying to build a sustainable organization.

My ending with the authors and organization came after I realized these authors had influenced some key Board members and staff to allow them to deviate from the 2004 Strategic Plan and would not protect me from retaliation after about 2 years of my escalating criticism.

Since I resigned in 2008, I’ve received a few lawyer letters threatening me, one veiled email threat and a face to face threat they will sue me if I publish anything they deem harmful to the organization. My response ultimately has been to publish all the written personal notes and posts from this period and unresolved conflicts, including the controversial voicemails I received. They can be read here.

So, in reviewing this book, the incredible lack of science is almost overwhelming to me a few decades later. In 1996, there was extensive and reliable science explaining the way trauma memories are stored and the need for a more body-centered therapeutic intervention. Portugal and Dr. Mark could have been true visionaries in adapting available science to the work they were doing within their program.  This was not the only opportunity they missed.

Even this book with all the seemingly amazing breakthrough stories of the men could have been made so much better had there been some attempt to integrate science and method.  In their introduction, the authors ironically state:

“Correctly, they (publishers) note there is no introduction, no guide for what was to come. We acknowledge our desire to enter the deep water quickly. That as readers, of other’s works, we’ve tended to skip over introductions. They’ve seemed at best forgettable, at worst infantilizing, as if we couldn’t figure out what each chapter is about.” (Mark, 1996, p. p. 17)

These authors suggest their ideas are far and above the works of other authors and it would be insulting to their readers should they lower their standards and offer a more organized book with an instroduction, chapters, citations or even a reading list of the authors they criticize.

They then reluctantly go on to offer a simple view of what the reader can expect, but it’s far less than most other academically oriented books offer. I know I always read the introduction of books as they provide a brief synopsis of the important points in each chapter. If one is taking a test on a book content, understanding the introduction is a quick start in learning.  The seat of the pants way this book is organized weakens the power of the stories told by the men’s writing.

I also found the fact that the mens’ stories which I’m sure were written in the first person (I) became a third person (he) in the book. To me, this made the mens’ stories less real and relatable. The authors tell the story about the man and then comment on the man’s story. I’ve already spoken to my own negative reaction to the way my story was told. I think men’s stories told from the first person (I) would have been a more effective way to engage the reader.

I recently reviewed Dr. Mark’s book on spirituality and can see how his conceptual work with his men’s program was so wobbly and wavering. In that book, he describes a wholly unscientific approach heavily dependent on his being clever, creative, persuasive, and everyone else “removing their doubter” or critical thinking. Of particular concern is Dr. Mark’s suggestion he was able to communicate via distance meditation to dolphins. There are actually many links to the idea of communicating with animals, mostly pets. I found this section especially unbelievable.

It’s clear Dr. Mark believes he communicated with the dolphins, but I did not believe it. This is one of the examples where a reference or citation would really be helpful. Since there is none, really for any of the claims in Dr. Mark’s book on spirituality, there is no way to substantiate anything about this story and the others in his book.

Considering therapy as an art and science, for Dr. Mark it was much more art as I knew him. This doesn’t mean he’s not a brilliant therapist in the traditional sense. He is. Why he shifted so far into the non-scientific realm is confusing.

For Portugal, I believe his approach was fueled by his ability to be affectionate, encouraging and offering hope. Good things in a therapist. However, there was another side to him I heard about, I witnessed and experienced directly. It was his intermittent approval and disapproval. He was very sensitive, though acted tough with a lot of bravado. He was alone and isolated, though acted like he had many connections. He shared very little of himself, though his program was based on men revealing more of their true feelings. In my work with Portugal as his therapy client, there were moments when he shared something about himself, when I could feel his presence more deeply. At other times, I could see him struggling to keep his eyes open during our sessions.

Other therapists will understand this process where you are so exhausted, the droning on of the client puts you to sleep. You struggle to pretend your eyes are not closing and you try to find a way to sleep during the session with your eyes open. Portugal did this often. He did not read much and I learned over the years he would be very upset when he thought someone might be competing with him. Once when I was presenting a draft workbook on facilitating groups, he quickly spoke up to report to the whole board he and Dr. Mark were writing a workbook for the Wisdom Years. I looked at Dr. Mark and would have bet it was the first time he heard it. For Portugal, no one could top him. I think he was a wrestler and probably a damn good one. When he saw the opportunity, he would flip you and you would be wondering what hit you. Even if he felt criticized, as he did with me, he could become very angry, though he hid it very well.

I heard about some problems Portugal had with others along the way. I could see it, but I felt a loyalty to him, perhaps because he was my therapist, perhaps because I could identify his hungry neediness as similar to my own. I did a lot to please him, including supporting the Mens’ Room program and leaders with many referrals over the years. He was easy to support, as he left supportive voice mails at just the right time. How many people do that?

When involved again during Mens’ Room Version 2, one way I demonstrated my loyalty was to work diligently to build the program, including creating the psychodrama training program with Kurt. The other way was to actually attend the new program Portugal and Dr. Mark created, the Wisdom Years, when it was offered in Boston, Ma. This was my mistake. It was very expensive for me and I gave an honest evaluation of the program at the end. My evaluation had positives and negatives, but for Portugal, it was very upsetting. His inflated balloon of “the Wisdom Years is the only program of its kind” was pricked by my evaluation needle and deflated immediately.

The voice mails now turned negative. I had saved them so I could listen to them again. Voice mail systems have natural recording, so it was easy to go back and listen. I know Portugal became nervous right away after his last and most hurtful message, as he called me, right away, but kind of blamed me for his negative message. I have the exact message still recorded, but it was something like, “hey, I hope you can understand my feelings when a man I have spent a lot of time (helping) says negative things about me…” Anyone around during that time will admit they heard the “I spent so much time with that man…” type of messages. He was suggesting I had gotten him upset, therefore I was responsible for his messages to me.

I called him back and said, “Yea, the message you sent was not a good one, but I assume we will meet to talk about it and resolve it.” He called back and said yes. Then the cat and mouse game came when he cancelled a meeting with me, then offered to meet with me about 9 weeks later, due to his busy schedule. He never apologized and only met with me a long time after the incident. It was good to see him. I had asked him not to apologize, as I would not believe it sincere after this long time, and not to give me one of his “buddy hugs” which were the wrap around kind you wish your family could give you.

For Portugal, it was the best he could do and I appreciated his trek all the way down to the city. I asked him “why would you cause me problems when I was one of your strongest supporters? I went to the Wisdom Years, was referring men to the programs, and the other principal leaders were saying they would never do it?”

He really had no answer for me. He was uncomfortable in this different role, fulfilling his long-ago promise to meet me in person. He knew he had not apologized, though he claimed to have done so. My request he not apologize now seemed to constrict him. He didn’t try to argue he had already apologized.

I further asked “is there something wrong wrong with you? Are you sick? Your messages were very emotionally charged and not coming from a healthy place. He denied everything and retorted with each of my questions to him, “is there something wrong with you? Are your sick? Your messages were very emotionally charged back to me….”

That was Portugal in a nut shell.  Even when facing me directly, it was nearly impossible for him to deal with the conflict between us. Had he simply apologized quickly to me on the phone, I would have likely let it pass. It became a larger issue because he attempted to finesse the problem, thinking I would not hold him further accountable. The problem is I am not that type of person to avoid a conflict and can more than hold my own in such a process.  There is no doubt I felt his simmering rage in the voicemails. It was difficult for him to deal with someone like me who was so willing to speak directly and honestly with him.

I don’t believe he really wanted to know “what the guys were thinking about the Wisdom years.” I had gained a lot of power within the organization due to success of the Basic Staff training I was instrumental in developing and the very high evaluation marks of the weekends I co-led with Kurt Schultz.

I was a key person on the new program committee and Buddy knew this committee would have oversight on whether the Wisdom years would be approved for expansion to other states. Instead of a private telephone call, I rewrote the evaluation I had given after my own recent Wisdom years experience.  While an overall positive experience, I had many detailed criticisms and suggestions. Anyone who know Portugal knew he would not like to hear any negative feedback. To him, my evaluation was an indictment of his ideas. He told me in one voicemail, “those (my evaluation) are your ideas for the program…” displaying his own irritation about someone else having ideas.

Lost for him was the fact he himself had asked me for feedback twice, once at the end of the experience, and then again, prior to this conflict.

Portugal spent a lot of time trying to hide his anger and resentments, so it became difficult for him to acknowledge he crossed the line. What was initially a boundary crossing, became a violation for me as he avoided me, then (I am guessing) wanted others to believe he had apologized to me already.  I am guessing he thought his explanation that he got upset because someone like me who he had “given so much to” appeared to be critical of him.

I may have been the only one who read this book, but Portugal discusses this vulnerability to rage in his book. It’s the part where he talks about getting very upset with his father after a medical visit. He states:

“Raised to be a giver with a capital G, just like my father, there was a voice born in me that day that still to this day says, ‘Look at all I’ve done for you and what do I get?’ I carry this attitude, this hurt, and disappointment down under. It can resurface with a vengeance when I am faced with similar circumstances.”  There are even times when I set up circumstances that will give this darkness inside of me a voice.” (Mark, 1996, pp. p.118-119)

This brief passage speaks volumes about Portugal, my unresolved conflict with him, and hungry neediness for attention, admiration, and ambitious success.  All the accolades, financial success and awards he received were not enough for him. He created a world where those around him adored him and were the beneficiaries of his positive voicemails. Many of the men were waiting to be invited by him to step into leadership in this men’s program he and Dr. Mark were trying to build.

Portugal’s vulnerability perhaps provided some reason why so many of the leaders selected were private therapy clients. Maybe it was the best that could be done at the time, but engaging men who were trapped in the “transference” of admiration for Portugal (and Dr. Mark) created one too many dual and multiple-relationships.

As I mentioned, I had an understanding about Portugal and was very loyal to him, especially so, during this conflict time. I told him the truth eye to eye. He didn’t like it, but as I now understand, there was a powerful insecurity. Portugal felt safest when he could keep you at a distance. He was close to Dr. Mark, but to others, he was charming, though emotionally disconnected. I would not be surprised if many of those who thought they were closest to Portugal would have to admit they really didn’t know him. They could observe and describe him, but not really know what made him tick.

The conflict with him and the other 3 significant leaders at the time was about 7 years ago. Conflicts with colleagues, family members, and friends are common. Unresolved conflicts involving voicemail messages and poor communication and problem-solving skills by men who claim to be experts in the relationship business is pretty weird. I am pretty sure from what I heard, Portugal told the others, “I already apologized to him.” He told me he had already apologized. I told him I had saved all his voicemails and emails and it was obvious there had not been an apology. Perhaps some of his colleagues believed I was the one hurting Portugal.

To them, I say, his messages to me were symbolic of something going on with him. If you had agreed with my request to meet with me and him for a conflict resolution process, maybe he would still be alive right now. Countless people who have strokes survive and live on.

As I suggested, there could have been a confidential process which included Portugal doing some therapy about this. Maybe the therapist would have said, when was the last time you had a medical exam, blood pressure checked, carotid arteries checked? I don’t know what caused his stroke, only strokes don’t have to be fatal. People get medical treatment all the time to prevent strokes and early diagnosis helps.  . It’s simple to diagnose problems with the carotid arteries and surgery offers a challenging, but effective remedy to clogged carotid arteries

No doubt the principals back then sided with Portugal and I understand that. People associated their wellbeing with him and they naturally would side with him instead of someone with as little power as me.

I say you don’t have to like someone to love them and want them to be well. Portugal would never be someone who would have been my friend growing up and I certainly didn’t try to have him be my friend over the years. I still loved him and simply wanted to address and resolve the conflict. I tried, Portugal wiggled and wavered. I knew I would need a stronger social structure to bring him to the table. The other men refused to do so. As they have already acknowledged, they met among themselves and specifically agreed to not meet with me.

I’m sure if they could have seen into the future several years and anticipate Portugal’s stroke, they would have done something more back then. If someone is lying on the sidewalk unconscious and bleeding, we all would call 911. A stroke is an invisible killer.

So, back to this book…

If you read this book with a critical mind, there are many problems with it. First, there is very little science about group process, healing trauma, science of memory or even the idea of catharsis, which fueled the experience of men during weekends.  One would have thought the authors would have more to say than worn-over sayings.

Second, the book is driven by the stories of the men who were asked to contribute to the book during the formation stage. I was one of those asked and I felt the process exemplified all that is ethically wrong with dual relationships. This is the idea that the therapist uses their power in the therapeutic relationship to manipulate the client into giving the therapist something.

My therapist was Mr. Portugal and he kept after me until I provided a few paragraphs of my story to be included. I can’t even remember if I was offered an informed consent form or not, but was told my name would be changed so as me and my story would not be identifiable. Well, my first draft was not acceptable, so I was pressured to provide a second draft that would be “deeper.”  If you know the men involved, you can guess that the second draft was not enough, so another draft was requested. So, the third draft, I was more honest and told my story. It’s a deep story with lots of trauma.

After the book was published and I read it, I found my story and it was so transparently my story, anyone with basic knowledge of me would know it was me. More distressing was the fact that the only way the story was changed was they added a false part about my wife being very upset with me. Nothing could be further from the truth, as my wife and I have been each other’s best friends for over 35 years and been very supportive of each other in light of both of our dysfunctional families of origin.

I’m sure there are others who really liked the book and gained a lot from it. I am not one of them.  If I had not felt badgered to write something, my story not been so transparent, and then falsely changed in a way that demeaned me, I still would only give the book 1 star. There is no applicable science and the schtick between Dr. Mark and Mr. Portugal gets old quickly. In their own minds, the book and the story is amazing. In the real world of critical and analytic thinkers, the book, is, well more about the authors as people and it’s revealing in the diversionary way they speak about themselves and their relationship. The reader understands more about them and the culture of their program by reading between the lines.

Note: Much of this is excerpted from my book in progress.




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