William C. Moyers
Beyond Addiction by William C. Moyers
Improving our understanding of alcohol and drug addiction
Abstinence vs. recovery
Maybe it was last week's full moon or the train of winter storms rolling across the country, but an awful lot of readers were provoked in a not-so-gentle way by my recent column on Tiger Woods' sexual addiction. Here is one of the few printable opinions.
Dear Mr. Moyers: You can't have it both ways. You always harp on the "disease" of addiction to suggest abstinence is the only answer. But then you suggest that Tiger's bad behavior is really an addiction to sex and that we all owe him the benefit of the doubt because he came clean in public (after he got caught). Sex really can't be an addiction as you define it, because people can't (or, dare I say, shouldn't) abstain from it. If recovery is about "sobriety," sex doesn't fit the mold. We're all human! We not only want it but also need it! Our future as a species depends on it. Someone like Tiger can't "recover" from something he never will stop doing.
— Deidre M., Nashville, Tenn.
Deidre's point is a good one, even if her jab hurts. If sex is an addiction, how do people recover from it if they don't first stop doing it? Her comments and many other comments from readers helped me to realize I should have turned to someone who has been there and done that before I wrote last week's piece. I asked for insight from Benoit Denizet-Lewis, a writer for The New York Times Magazine and author of "America Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life." He's a recovering sex addict who has openly discussed his own struggles with one of life's essential activities.
"First, the goal of sex addiction recovery is not lifelong abstinence — for most sex addicts, at least," Denizet-Lewis said. "The goal is to learn how to have a healthy and meaningful relationship to sex, which many of us have never experienced. The goal of recovery from alcohol and drugs is obviously not to have a healthy and meaningful relationship to alcohol and drugs. With that said, many recovering sex addicts do go through a period of total abstinence (anywhere from a few months to a year or two) in early recovery."
According to Denizet-Lewis, "sobriety" means different things for different sex addicts. "You develop your sobriety plan with your (mentor)," he said. "Sex addiction can take different forms (porn, strip clubs, anonymous sex, phone sex, voyeurism, etc.), and people are powerless over different behaviors, so specific sobriety plans (often called a 'bottom line') can be different."
There is a common goal, though. "The goal of recovery is certainly a kind of redemption," he said, "and in that pursuit, we use the same 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous ... to learn a whole new life based on honesty, integrity and a connection to a higher power. Miracles happen in sex addiction recovery." (Read more from Denizet-Lewis at http://BenoitDenizetLewis.com/blog.)
And that's what impressed me about Woods' public statement, especially his apology and his choice to stay off the links and instead remain focused on his treatment and healing the wounds he's caused his family. Someday the greatest miracle of his remarkable life may have nothing to do with golf.
March 6, 2010
Postscript: In last week's column, I noted the lack of empathy for Woods from my fellow Minnesotans, who are generally supportive of the thousands of recovering addicts and alcoholics who live there. Add Gov. Tim Pawlenty to the intolerant bunch. While on the pre-presidential stump in Missouri, the potential 2012 candidate made a crude joke about Woods. Too bad.