There’s an interesting piece by Michael Rosenwald in The Washington Post today entitled, “Obsessed with smartphones, oblivious to the here and now.” Below is a portion, followed by my take on life without a smartphone:
Doomsayers have long predicted that technological progress would turn us into shut-ins who rarely venture from our game-playing, IM-ing digital cocoons out into the physical world. But the stereotype of the computer-addicted recluse in the basement has been blown away; smartphones make it possible to turn off the physical world while walking through it.
A recent Pew Research Center study found that “a significant proportion of people who visit public and semipublic spaces are online while in those spaces.” Parks. Libraries. Restaurants. Houses of worship. The doomsayers didn’t foresee the portability that smartphones bring to digital obsession. Nor did they foresee app stores. More than 2 billion applications have been downloaded for iPhones, and the Yankee Group, a Boston research firm, expects 7 billion app downloads via all mobile devices by 2013 — an overwhelming new universe of diversion.
The competition this digital world poses stretches into life’s most intimate places. Elizabeth Sloan, a local marriage counselor, worked with a couple after the husband began surfing his smartphone during sex. ”I wish I was joking,” Sloan said. “This is a real hot topic right now for marriage counselors — and the complaints are coming from men and women. You hear this a lot: ‘I can’t reach you. I can’t find you. You can be sitting two inches from me, but you are not there. Where are you?’ Spouses are checking out at dinner, on vacation. It’s really become a 24-7 thing.”
I don’t have a smartphone. I have an old, beaten Samsung cell phone that doesn’t even have Internet access. I sometimes get funny looks when I take the phone out in public. I occasionally worry that I’m being “judged.” Some days, when I see a friend on his shiny iPhone, I get envious and want to pout. But most days I’m thankful for my ugly little flip-phone that I can barely text on. I have enough difficulty staying “present” for myself and the people around me without a computer in my hand. For me, the permanent “connection” promised by smartphones isn’t worth the price—disconnection from what I’m feeling, experiencing, and actually needing. I don’t need that new app. I need the present moment.
I have a piece in the New York Post today about Tiger Woods. The story had to be cut for space reasons, so below is the complete version:
By Benoit Denizet-Lewis
Until Tiger Woods’ press conference on Friday, I wasn’t sure what his motivation was for seeking inpatient treatment for sex addiction. Did he really believe he was an addict, or was he hoping rehab would somehow rehab his tarnished public image?
I leaned toward the former. There is very little upside to coming out publicly as a sex addict, which probably explains why so few people have. Most celebrities who go to sex rehab do so in secret. Those who don’t tend to claim they’re being treated for alcoholism, which carries less of a stigma and likely saves them from Jay Leno’s comedic clutches and the charge that they’re just seeking an “excuse” for their irresponsible sexual behavior.
Like everybody else, I tried to channel my inner armchair psychologist and body-language expert as I watched Tiger’s mea culpa on Friday. Did he seem sincere? Was he taking responsibility? As someone who has twice been to inpatient treatment for sex addiction, I have a pretty well-oiled bullshit detector when it comes to people rationalizing their destructive behavior. In the end, though, it wasn’t what Tiger said that convinced me he’s taking his recovery seriously. (Anyone can script an apology.) It was his decision to put off a return to golf in order to return “for more treatment and more therapy.”
Tiger didn’t have to seek out more treatment. Few reasonable people would have faulted him for completing his 45 days of rehab, publicly apologizing, and then going back to his day job being the world’s best golfer. But Tiger didn’t do that. He apparently took the advice offered by therapists at most inpatient treatment centers: Don’t rush back to your job. Consider doing more treatment at another facility. (There are a handful of respected inpatient treatment centers for sex addiction in this country, and several outpatient clinics.)
I didn’t heed that advice when I was 27 and finishing my first stint in sex rehab. “You’re way too busy rationalizing and convincing yourself through all kinds of intellectual bullshit why you don’t need to do the basic things that every addict needs to do every day to stay sober,” one counselor said, urging me to stay in treatment longer. Ignoring his advice (who was he to talk to me that way, anyway?), I retuned home certain that I had my problem “under control.” (A reminder to addicts everywhere, including myself: If you think you have your addiction “under control,” you’re likely not far from a relapse.) Before long, I was lost in my addiction again.
Wherever Tiger goes for a second round of treatment, it’s likely that Elin will be joining him for more couple’s therapy. Tiger is fortunate that Elin didn’t leave him. One of the most heartbreaking times of my second stint in rehab was when the wives visited for family week. At the urging of the rehab’s counselors, who rightfully believe that recovery from sex addiction is impossible without rigorous honesty, the husbands fully disclosed to their wives the extent of their cheating and lying. Many of the women staggered out of the sessions, the color drained from their faces. If I didn’t know any better, I would have assumed someone had died.
After the initial shock, some women—heartened that their husbands were finally seeking help and being honest—kept open the possibility of staying in the marriage. It appears that Elin is at this place, and that Tiger’s continued willingness to work on his recovery will impact her final decision. If she’s anything like the partners of most sex addicts, she’ll want to hear more than promises. She’ll want to see a change in behavior.
If the marriage doesn’t work out, what then? That all depends on Tiger’s motivation for his recovery. Is he trying to get better for the sake of the relationship, or is he trying to get better for the sake of his own sanity and integrity? (Make no mistake about it: Untreated sex addiction, like untreated alcohol or drug addiction, is a form of insanity.)
Whatever happens with his marriage, it’s likely that Tiger’s recovery won’t be perfect. As he leaves treatment, goes to recovery meetings, and eventually tries to fashion a non-adictive sex life for himself (unlike alcoholism and drug addiction, the goal of recovery from sexual addiction is not lifelong abstinence), at some point he might relapse. Most addicts do. I certainly have.
But most addicts aren’t Tiger Woods, which means most addicts relapse in private. If Tiger Woods does relapse, and if it becomes public knowledge, the temptation will be for people to claim that sex addiction treatment doesn’t work. This temptation—much like the temptation that addicts face to go back to their drug or behavior of choice, believing that they can “control it this time”—will feel awfully appealing in the moment. But that won’t make it true.
Tiger is early in his recovery, but his decision to delay a return to golf in favor of a return to treatment suggests it’s already working.
I was all set not to talk about sex addiction for a few days, but then this happened: The American Psychiatric Association announced today its proposed changes to the DSM-V, which is due out in 2013. Among them is a new category of “behavioral addictions.” Unfortunately, it likely will include only one behavior—gambling.
The committee says it looked at sex addiction and reserves the right to include it in the future, but that there wasn’t yet enough scientific evidence. “It was not at the point where we were ready to call it an addiction,” Darrel Regier, head of research at the psychiatric association and vice-chair of the DSM-5 task force, told USA Today. (He might have added, “And the reason we weren’t ready is because government won’t fund studies about sex addiction, and lots of people would make fun of us if we actually called it ‘sex addiction.’”)
Instead, Rieger and company created a new category, hypersexuality, which is basically a way to call something sex addiction without actually calling it sex addiction. Sneaky! And an important step forward.
The committee also created a new category for binge eating, which was expected, because, as I explore in America Anonymous, there has been significant research in this area. I would argue that binge eating should be called compulsive overeating and should be in the behavioral addiction category, along with gambling addiction, but, again, it’s a step in the right direction.
I’ll be sure to write more on the proposed changes soon.
Last night, Nightline aired this eight-minute segment about sex addiction. It was—as is typical with stories about sex addiction—rife with misinformation, knee-jerk analysis, and lazy reporting.
Anchor Cynthia McFadden framed the segment by asking this highly unoriginal question: “Is sex addiction just an (pause, quick tilt of the head to signal an important word coming) excuse?” This is the preferred question of people who first contemplated the concept of sex addiction three weeks ago when they heard about Tiger Woods and haven’t dug very deep since. But let me try to answer the question: No, sex addiction is not “just an excuse.” You know what’s just an excuse? Promising you’ll stop tomorrow and then not stopping. Blaming your behavior on your “unusually high sex drive.” Blaming your wife/husband/partner for not having sex the way your favorite Internet porn star does, then using that as a rationalization to have unprotected sex with escorts/prostitutes and not tell your wife/husband/partner wife about it. Blaming the stress of your job for why you should be allowed to spend half your work days watching porn. Blaming the city where you live for routinely skipping out on friends or family to chase sex all day (“There are so many hot people in New York City, how can you not want to fuck them all?” is a common one).
Those are just few of the actual excuses that people make before their lives get small and depressing and pathetic enough to stop and say, “Wow, my life sucks. I’ve been making excuses and denying what’s really happening for years. History has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that I can’t seem to control this on my own. Maybe I need help. Maybe I am really addicted to this.” Calling something an “addiction” and seeking recovery from that addiction doesn’t mean that one gets to avoid taking responsibility for ones actions. The opposite is true. Recovery is about honestly taking responsibility, sometimes for the first time.
(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? And won’t be abdicating personal responsibility if we call it an addiction? Well, now we know that some people are indeed addicted to gambling. To call oneself a gambling addict doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay back the money you owe. In fact, someone is much more likely to make restitution when they are in recovery.)
A minute into the Nightline segment, reporter Chris Connolly asks this nonsensical question: “If Tiger Woods is a sex addict, some say, well, who isn’t?” I’m not sure what Connolly is getting at, but if I had to wager an answer, I might say, “People for whom sex is still fun and meaningful instead of being sad and compulsive.” Connolly then goes on to wonder, “Others ask, is there even such a thing as sex addiction?”
Enter Dr. Marty Klein, a “sex therapist” and one of the country’s loudest critics of a sex addiction diagnosis. When Connolly tells him, “Some people describe thesmelves as sex addicts,” Klein responds with this zinger: ”Well, some people describe themselves as being invaded by the devil, but that doesnt make it true.” The comparison is idiotic, not to mention a cheap shot.
Then, over some grainy photos of people smoking and drinking (not sure what the connection is to sex addiction), Connolly bonds with his skeptical viewers by saying, “The idea of sex addiction can sound like a get-out-of-the-doghouse-free-card, a medically certified, image-rescuing excuse for catish behavior.” Yes, Chris, it can sound like that, especially when you haven’t thought about it for more than five minutes or looked into the research and science behind it. But, as a reporter working on a story about sex addiction, you could, for example, have made the distinction between a celebrity who may be trying to rescue his image by going to sex rehab (although it’s debatable whether publicly copping to a sex addiction is the smartest way to rescue an image, which might explain why so few celebrities have done it) and the 99 percent of people who go to treatment who aren’t famous and don’t have an image to rescue.
Next, in an interview with a sex addiction specialist, Dr. Reef Karin, Connolly offers up more knee-jerk conventional wisdom. “A lot of people are thinking, sex addiction, that’s a way to take something that guys just normally do and turn into something that sounds like an illness. It’s like an excuse.”
Then it’s my turn. You can see me walking down the block with my dog, reading a book on the couch, and then trying to explain what sex addiction is actually like. I’m followed by Dr. Klein, who argues that sexually compulsive people should be treated for OCD, not sex addiction. ”When people have obsessive-compulsive disorder, sometimes they wash their hands fourty times a day, and sometimes they act compusliveley sexually or on the internet,” he says. “We dont send people to hand-washing clinics, and we shouldn’t be sending people to sex-addiction clinics. People should be treated for obsessive-compulsive disorder.”
An argument can be made (and some people have made it) that sex addiction is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but treating is as such has not proven effective, and most people who treat sex addicts have long moved past the OCD diagnosis. The truth is that Klein’s main problem with the concept of sex addiction is that he considers it to be sex-negative. The author of America’s War on Sex, Klein has devoted much of his career to fighting against the idea that any sexual expression beyond monogamy should be discouraged, feared, or stigmatized. (I actually share his belief that we have far too much hypocricy and misplaced morality around sex.) But Klein has let his political beliefs about sexual freedom keep him from accepting what most therapists and addiction researchers now understand: that sex and pornography can be addictive for some people.
(In my book, America Anonymous, I write about one addiction researcher—Dr. Peter Martin, a psychiatrist and the director of the Division of Addiction Medicine at Vanderbilt—who used to share Klein’s skepticism about sex addiction. Ten years ago, Martin would have dismissed any comparison between sexual compulsivity and alcoholism or drug addiction. Drugs and alcohol are foreign substances. Sex is natural—a basic biological drive. Clearly, Martin thought, a case of apples and oranges. But using MRI technology, Martin began studying how people’s brains react to sexually arousing images. He now believes that there are “many behaviors, including sex, that appear to be driven by the same brain mechanisms that drive addictions to drugs like cocaine and heroin.”)
When Klein is finished misrepresenting how sex addicts should be treated and Nightline has been sure to reference the comedy Blades of Glory, where Will Ferrell plays a sex-addicted figure skater, Karim and Connolly have the following exchange:
Karim: “I get asked a lot by men, ‘Doc, am I a sex addict?’ Most of the time I say, ‘No, you’re just a jerk.’”
Connolly: “Do you often have to disappoint patients by saying, ‘You’re not a sex addict.’”
Karim: “Yeah, I’ve had a couple of patients that I’ve been, like, ‘Okay, I’ve looked at your neuropsychological testing. You did not meet criteria for sex addiction’… He was super disappointed.”
It’s an odd and misleading exchange. For one thing, Connolly asked Karim if he often disappoints people by telling them they aren’t an addict. Karim says yes and then adds that he’s had a couple of patients like that. Often and a couple are worlds apart. The reality is that the vast majority of men are not eager to be called sex addicts and will go to remarkable lengths to a) hide their compulsive sexual behavior from their therapist, or b) convince their therapist that they may have a small problem with sex, but that they’re definitely not a sex addict.
Connolly’s question, and Karim’s answer, play right into the erroneous belief that people are banging down the doors of therapist offices and sex rehabs demanding to be labeled a sex addict in order to avoid taking personal responsibility for their behavior. Again, the opposite is true. Sex addiction is still highly stigmatized (when it isn’t being ridiculed), and though some people do find hope in a sex-addiction diagnosis and a course of treatment, the vast majority of sex addicts spend years denying that they have a problem or that they are truly addicted. Denial of one’s condition is probably the most common characteristic of all addicts. In her terrific book, Lit, Mary Karr quotes an addict friend of hers who puts it succinctly: “I have a disease whose defining symptom is believing you don’t have a disease.”
Some images from the last couple of months as I’ve traveled the country researching my next book, about dogs and humans.
I helped Randy Grim from Stray Rescue of St. Louis rescue eight puppies from an abandoned house in East St. Louis. (For my previous post about the city, which is one of the poorest and most dangerous in the country, click here.) The mother is feral and wouldn’t let us near her. But the puppies had just learned how to walk, so they weren’t much of a flight risk. It’s a miracle they survived a recent freezing spell in the city. Many other puppies didn’t. Puppies aren’t hard to find homes for, so these kids will go fast.
The abandoned house where we rescued the puppies. We heard one yelping as we walked by.
The puppies, seconds after they arrive at the vet’s. They’re scared, but they’ll come around.
Randy with a pit bull we rescued.
Me and Gurl, a greyhound/boxer mix we rescued.
The couch in the abandoned house where Gurl spent her nights alone before we rescued her. She spent her days in a park, scavenging for food and trying very hard not to let us near her. Now that she’s in a foster home, she likes being petted. A lot.
And now, changing gears completely…
Two celebrity dogs (Bella Starlet and a skateboarding boxer bulldog) at a pet industry event in Las Vegas.
Uga, the University of Georgia mascot, feeling lucky.
Carla Meeske, a Shamanic animal communicator, speaking to spirits in a trance about my dog.
© 2009 Benoit Denizet-Lewis
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