Many news sources continue to incorrectly report that I “broke” the news that Tiger Woods is in treatment. I did no such thing. Over the weekend, several media outlets (including an NBC affiliate) broke the story (with sources inside the center) about where Tiger was undergoing treatment. A different source also later confirmed this to me. I put that confirmation on my blog. I did not “break” this story, nor would I have.
With that said, I do regret reporting further confirmation of the name of the treatment center. As a person in recovery, I should not have confirmed the name. I am in awe of anyone with the courage to confront and recover from their addiction. If my posting and the subsequent media coverage of it affected anyone’s ability at this facility (or at any other) to recover anonymously, I am deeply sorry.
Still, I will continue to speak out publicly about sex addiction (and other addictions) in venues where I believe I can help people, affect change, and lessen the stigma that surrounds this topic. In an effort to correct popular misconceptions about what goes on inside a treatment center for sex addiction, I will also continue to talk about the reality of what treatment is like. Now, more than ever, we need voices who will publicly counter the knee-jerk mockery and derision that so often accompanies discussions of this addiction and who will challenge people who speak and write about this issue without knowing the first thing about it. It’s easy to be flippant about sex addiction. It’s harder to cover it with intelligence and a modicum of respect. My hope is that we can get there.
There was a time in this country when we didn’t believe in alcoholism. That term was seen by many as an “excuse,” a way for people not to take responsibility for their actions. Now science (and common sense) tells us that some people are, indeed, addicted to alcohol and drugs. Next came gambling addiction. There is no substance involved, people argued, so can it really be an addiction? But now we know (again, science and common sense) that gambling can be addictive for some people. Calling something an “addiction” doesn’t mean that addicts get to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. The opposite is true. Recovery is about honestly taking responsibility, sometimes for the first time.
Today, the controversial topic is sex addiction. It’s easy to mock sex addiction as “one big party,” or to dismiss it as a way for people to make “excuses” for their behavior. I can’t speak to the motivation of celebrities who go to rehab, but I can speak to the motivation of the vast majority of people who seek help. They seek help, I sought help, because we had lost the ability to regulate our sexual behavior, just as an alcoholic at some point loses the ability to regulate their drinking. The behavior becomes a tool to make ourselves feel better, to numb out, to escape from feelings we don’t want to feel, to play out childhood traumas. This addiction often costs us our jobs, our families, our friendships, our sanity. Those of us who seek treatment for this are your friends, family members, neighbors, and, yes, celebrities.
Neuroscientists are beginning to confirm that sex addiction affects similar parts of the brain as other addictions, and some medications that are successful to treat drug addicts also work for sex addicts. But the most persuasive evidence to me that sex addiction is real (other than my own story) are the words used by the hundreds of men I have met in recovery meetings who first identified as drug addicts or alcoholics. After getting sober from substances, some realize that another behavior (sex) is playing the same role in their lives that drugs and alcohol did. They speak of their sex addiction as being just as destructive, just as powerful, just as maddening.
Fortunately, there are many resources to help, and they all don’t involve spending $30,000 for rehab. www.sash.net is a good place to start.
Sadly, there is still much we don’t know about addiction. I often wonder how and why I became addicted to sex. I can take or leave alcohol and drugs. I don’t like gambling. I don’t overeat. In so many areas of my life, my willpower works. Why doesn’t it with sex? Why do I have to relearn how to have sex in a way that actually makes me happy? I don’t know. But I do know this: With help, sex addiction—like all addictions—can be treated.
A note about anonymity: In my book, I explore at length the concept of anonymity. The 12 Step tradition of anonymity has, and will continue to be, critical to the success of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. At the same time, we need people to put a face to recovery. That is what I am doing by speaking out about my addiction, and that is what organizations like Faces & Voices of Recovery are doing. We can tell our stories without naming our recovery fellowships.
In my book, I write, “By keeping our recoveries private and anonymous at all costs, we have unwittingly excluded addiction and recovery from the national conversation and cemented the popular belief that being hooked is something to be ashamed about.” In one recent poll of Americans, half the respondents described addiction as a personal weakness. In another poll, two-thirds said they believed that a stigma—defined by the pollsters as “something that detracts from the character or reputation of a person, a mark of disgrace”—exists toward people in recovery.
Jody, an addiction counselor and one of the eight addicts I write about in America Anonymous, says that the only way this can change is if people in recovery demand that it changes: “Nothing will really change in this country until people in recovery, and those who care about people in recovery, decide that they’ve seen enough heartbreak, enough needless death. People in recovery need to stand up and demand to be counted… Where are the millions of addicts in this country who are sober and have turned their lives around? They need to be on the front lines of this war, but they’re at their AA and NA meetings in church basements, talking to each other. And that’s great, and that’s important, and personal recovery depends on it, but man, that’s not enough anymore.”
Sex addiction expert Patrick Carnes told me: “Can you imagine the power of millions of recovering addicts walking on Washington, demanding that the government devote as much money to addiction research and treatment as they do to breast cancer and AIDS? I predict it will happen, but I wonder how many more addicts will have to die before it does.”
He’s right. Untreated addiction is one of our deadliest and costliest public health problems. As Joseph Califano Jr. writes in his book, High Society, “What drives up health care costs, breaks up families, spreads AIDS… and frustrates so many efforts to eliminate poverty? Substance abuse and addiction.”
More corrections: Several media outlets have erroneously reported that I underwent treatment at the same facility as Tiger. I did not. I visited the center as research for America Anonymous. I attended two other facilities for my own recovery.