Tiger’s apology lecture probably did more good than bad with sports consumers. Saying that, I did smile when he said “I don’t get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me” to a handpicked audience of friends, employees, sponsors, and relatives, all of whom had to hie themselves over to PGA Tour headquarters so they could be used as background props for Tiger Woods. Still, his remarks got me to thinking about sexual addiction. I don’t know squat about sexual addiction.
Meet David Peters, 51, licensed marriage and family therapist with a private practice in Mission Valley. According to The Therapy Directory, his strengths are: relationship issues, depression, and sex therapy.
Before we get into this, you should know that Peters won’t comment on Tiger for obvious reasons. So, the following may or may not have anything to do with Woods, but I thought it was good enough to hand him the microphone. Follows is extracted from one long telephone interview and an email. I wanted to know how sex addiction is treated.
“We’d do a thorough evaluation and an extensive sex history from your first experience of sex in childhood all the way up to the present. We’d go detail to detail… It’s not just what happened and how bad it felt; it can also be how good it felt or what sort of arousals took place.
“Most often there is a recommendation to begin attending a support group for sex addicts. There has to be endless work breaking the denial, breaking the secrecy, and learning to talk openly about it.
“It’s very much like an AA group. Mostly the same language. It’s telling your story and it’s also working on lots of issues that are not sexual. They’ll work on what you do about job stress — because with the addict, an increase in job stress will lead to acting out again. If you’re in a marriage and it isn’t going well, you need to talk about that.
“People will debate whether [sex addiction] should be called a technical addiction or not, but I think it’s best to treat it as one because it carries a lot of similar elements, including shame that leads one to hold silent. The more shame there is, the more likely they are to continue the addictive or compulsive behavior — because the behavior gives you a neurological release, the arousal gives you release.
“The fact of not holding the secret reduces the chances of relapse. When you have a terrible secret that you cannot speak about to anybody, it’s kind of like a computer that has data on it that must be cloaked. And so you have a cloaking program that disguises that data so no other program accidentally runs into it. And what happens is that the Excel spreadsheet program, the writing program — or in real life it would be your marriage program or your professional program or your good-neighbor program — bumps into the program that’s cloaking the data, notices something’s wrong, and begins to tap at it. So, you need a second cloaking program to cloak the first cloaking program to make sure the data isn’t accessible. More data is entered because the addiction goes on, and that data must be cloaked. And what you end up with is a hard drive that’s clogged: the memory becomes slow, none of the programs really work well because the computer is spending so many recourses trying to deal with the shame. So, just the act of revealing it to your spouse and significant others, the brain gets to settle, the brain gets to calm.
“The majority of people who abuse drugs or alcohol realize, ‘What am I doing? This is crazy.’ And they just back off. Only some people can’t back away. A lot of people have done sexual things, like, ‘Whoa, that was really way out there. I shouldn’t have done that. What was I even thinking?’ and they back off, they learn to contain themselves…. Some people do work their way through. But for a lot of people, if you’ve had sexually addictive behavior for years and you’ve been trying to quit it and you’ve failed to quit it, especially if it caused you harm and you still can’t stop, then you need professional help.…
“I would define [recovery] as keeping the urges in check successfully and keeping your life completely open to certain key people — your therapist, your spouse, a couple of friends — so that there’s nothing to hide. That would be being in recovery. But, if it’s truly addictive behavior, you’re never recovered.”
More next week.