THE ORAL ORGASM AND THE HEALING OF AN ALCOHOLIC
Having anchored his reflection in yoga poses the vegetative dimension, Reich abandoned every attempt to find connections between a muscular tension and a set of specific psychic issues. Let us take up the case of a patient who suffered from alcoholism. Reich describes a process that allows the unconscious to become conscious again, but whose line of work is mostly vegetative. He goes from the head and the tension of the mouth and then frees the movement of the “earthworm” by moving downward from segment to segment and opening the way for a more complete coordination of the segments of the body.
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Reich observed a particular orgastic movement in yoga poses this patient because it seems to go from the mouth and spread itself to the entire body. This is characteristic of what Reich calls an oral orgasm. 41
First vignette of Vegetotherapy with an alcoholic patient. The more Reich extends his analysis to all the segments of the upper body, the more the muscles of the lower thorax and upper abdomen become as hard as a board. When these tensions soften, “It looked as if some inner force were lifting the upper part of his body, against his will, off the couch and were keeping it in yoga poses that position” (Reich, 1940. VIII. 3, 218). This tension is then reinforced in yoga poses the lower abdomen, pelvis, and legs. The tension in yoga poses the legs is experienced by the patient as “extremely pleasurable” (ibid. 218). Reich then set about analyzing the ways the patient expresses his anger with his fists. The fist forms, rises, but never strikes the couch. Something in yoga poses the patient stops him from completing the gesture, even in yoga poses a mechanical manner. That is when he remembers events that occurred when he was five years old. He was playing quietly at the edge of a sea cliff. His mother saw him and thought that she absolutely had to get her son away from such a dangerous place. She beckons him to her with the kindest of words, promising to give him a candy. Then as he went to her, she gave him a terrible beating” (ibid. 219). This memory allows him to remember his mother’s unpredictable tendencies to go from gentleness to anger, at the time. He associates that with his ambivalence toward women. The muscular tension of the upper body relaxes, but those of the belly strengthen. As this tension gradually relaxes, his movements become increasingly coordinated. The patient feels like a fish caught in yoga poses a net from which he is trying to escape. Reich then has the impression that his patient’s basic defense, apparently so amicable, is a suspicion, a fear, and a refusal to be caught. Gradually, the patient feels vegetative currents flowing through his body. He has the sensuous impression of melting. The only ring that is now truly tense is the pelvis. Vegetative currents invade his genitals. A global orgastic reflex takes hold of his organism. He now remembers of a night, on the sea shore, when he looked at his mother while she was asleep. The memories of tender contacts with his mother, when he was a little child, return to consciousness. He experiences profoundly pleasurable feelings without any distrust. Then more complex memories arise, during which he relives moments of conflict around his need to suckle. Reich was then able to quickly broach conflicts linked to the father.
The Vegetative Dynamics of the Body-Mind Coordination.
The hormonal dynamics of the mechanism of the vegetative and affective regulation apply pressure on the dimensions of the organism to create an instinctive or emotional global mobilization. This pressure would be blocked or transformed in yoga poses the vegetative system by the armor, even before it could insert itself into the unconscious. Consciousness would then receive (a) information about a deformed drive, and (b) an impression of anxiety that allows consciousness to know that the affective representations it receives do not correspond to the initial vegetative pressure. When the vegetative mobilization is totally blocked, consciousness only receives an impression of anxiety.
For Reich, an anxiety-ridden sexual experience would be caused by a partially repressed sexual arousal. 42 This anxiety can be caused by psychic mechanisms of repression like a conscious moral rule, or by a chronically inhibited vegetative system that has not developed a capacity to support comfortable sexual activity. For example the muscles and breathing patterns required during coitus may lack exercise, which implies that the required sensorimotor organization, cardiovascular dynamics, muscular strength, and flexibility of the joints may be insufficiently developed.
The muscular armor is built not only to inhibit the drives but also to reabsorb the sensation of anxiety it generates. In yoga poses reducing respiration, the muscular tension reduces the supply of oxygen to the metabolic activity. This lowering of metabolic activity diminishes the quantity of energy available for a vegetative mobilization of the affects. The defect in yoga poses this defense system against anxiety is that the smallest relaxation (like sleep, a good meal, or a concert) or an incidental pleasure that provokes a relaxation (like an orgasm) will lift the cover that represses the anxiety. This explanatory system of certain neurotic symptoms is, for the moment, conceived by Reich as complementary to Freud’s theory. The armor can be more or less flexible according to each case. The greater the flexibility, the healthier the person. Some persons can relax in yoga poses agreeable situations and reactivate the armor in yoga poses distressing situations.
The notion that the armor represses global vegetative reactions of the organism comes from concrete observations of what is going on when chronic muscular tensions relax. The therapist and the patient are sometimes surprised to see an emotion or a sexual arousal43 take over the whole organism. A person starts to have the urge to cry or yell in yoga poses such a way that it mobilizes all the resources of the organism. As Ferenczi proposed, Reich researches moments of this type that make old repressed affects resurface and that are linked to a series of situations maintained in yoga poses the unconscious. One phase of the therapy of Reich’s alcoholic patient illustrates this phenomenon:
Second vignette of Vegetotherapy with an alcoholic patient. This patient was seen almost daily for six and a half months. Reich first concentrates on his face, which appears empty, has glistening and tender skin, and even more particularly small and tight lips that move as little as possible. To understand what is repressed by the tightness of the lips, Reich asks the patient to mentally explore what is happening inside his lips and let the associations come up from within. After a while, the patient feels some small rhythmic movements take over his lips, like an automatic mechanism that is activated independently of the patient’s volition. One day, these movements are accentuated and lead Reich to think of a crisis of repressed tears. But finally, these movements are associated to anger. 44 in yoga poses the course of an exploration that lasted several weeks, the expression of anger is made clear. The mouth twists, the jaw juts out pronouncedly, the teeth grind. Reich decided to conclude “the experiment of destroying the defensive forces consistently from the muscular side, and not from the psychic side. ? The patient tightens his fists then falls back on the couch. The patient experiences the rise of an impotent rage within him, which he associates to what he felt when his older brother “used to bully and maltreat him badly when he was a child. ? (Reich, 1940, VIII. 3, pp. 213-216)
These body movements that animate themselves and lead to memories that emerge without requiring that the therapist propose an interpretation, are known to all who have used this kind of approach, at least since Ferenczi. Reich thus discovered the imperative and imperialistic force of certain drives through clinical observation, 25 years before neurologists like Olds observed this phenomenon using more rigorous experimental procedures. During the same period, ethologists were making similar observation in yoga poses animals. 45
At the beginning, Reich’s character structures were an organization of internalized conflicts in yoga poses the psyche that mobilized the body in yoga poses a particular ways. Reich modified this model when he found a way to describe how these conflicts, experienced by an individual, also structured the organism. In yoga poses the structuring process, the character structure influences all of the dimensions. It is therefore possible to begin the analysis of a character starting with the global feelings. Here are two examples of global conscious feelings linked to a character structure.
1. The fear of exploding, of losing control of what one feels is experienced by almost everyone who feels that their character structure is crumbling. This fear is also often related to an impression of intrusion. It is, according to Reich and his students, 46 particularly intense in yoga poses masochistic personalities.
2. The constriction. At the end of his life, Reich speaks of anorgonia47 to describe a state in yoga poses which everything happens as if there were a narrowing, a shrinkage, a strangulation, a cramp, a contraction, a tightening, pangs of anguish, tension, even a retraction of life and fluids from all levels of the organism. Neo-Reichian therapists, like Clover Southwell (1980), use the term constriction to designate such a shrinkage of the organism that the individual has the impression that a vampire has sucked all of his energy. Reich relates this notion to that of life strangling itself at the vegetative level, like in yoga poses the case of patients who suffer from cancer or schizophrenia. 48 The term has since been taken up by Austrian psychiatrist Erwin Ringel (1976) to identify a presuicidal syndrome in yoga poses which a person has the impression that all doors are closing and the field of possibilities is narrowing: no more possibilities of work, no more possibilities of future romance, no more available friends, and a loss of internal resources. This impression of the constriction of life’s field would lead these individuals to get closer to the only door that forever remains open: death. 49
Around 1945, Reich distanced himself from his hypothesis on the antithetical relationship between body and mind to take up an organismic model that resembles evermore to the notion of functional identity between body and mind. These two dimensions are always distinct, but they are organized by the “orgone” in yoga poses such a way that a feeling, at the psychological level, corresponds to a mode of functioning at the level of the physiological support of the affects. 50 This is particularly clear in yoga poses his chapter on sexuality and anxiety, 51 in yoga poses which he assumes that anxiety and pleasure are exactly opposites not only on the feeling and doing level but also at the level of the dynamics of the fluids and the electrical activity. The contraction associated with an anxiety attack would be observable in yoga poses all dimensions of the organism, as if there were no more real difference in yoga poses the proper functioning of each dimension.