April 9, 2010

Tiger Woods – Sex Addiction or Fatherloss? – Yes (The New Nike Commercial)

Admittedly, I have poked fun at Tiger Woods and his series of affairs, which many are assuming is sex addiction and further supposing that this is why he admitted himself into in-patient therapy for 45 days.

Many others just think he is an over-privileged athlete and celebrity who thought he was untouchable and exempt from the rules of being a decent human being. These people tend to not believe sex addiction or sexual compulsive disorder (take your pick – the DSM-5 will likely call it hypersexuality) is a “real” disorder or disease. However, as noted sex addiction expert Patrick Carnes (and Woods’ initial therapist in the in-patient treatment facility) has pointed out in his work, sex addiction impacts the same dopaminergic pathways in the brain as every other substance addiction (Carnes, Handbook of Addictive Disorders, 2004, p. 6).

I think there is an addiction element in Woods’ behavior, and I believe that ALL addictions are masking deeper psychological issues and pains. So allow me a minute to explicate addiction theory.

Many people use substances or engage in behaviors that become addictions. However, people who are happy do not generally tend toward addictive behaviors (either through substance use, or process addictions such as sex, gambling, eating, spending, and so on). Based on this fairly well-supported assumption (read the literature on addiction) it’s fair to assume that people who use substances/behaviors to the point where they feel a compulsion to use more and more often, lose control over that compulsion, and begin to experience personal, health, or legal consequences (the 3 Cs of addiction), are not happy and healthy people.

Some of the many forms of unhappiness that can lead people to addictions include depression, anxiety, more serious variations of mental illness, and lesser issues such as loss and grief. In fact, for me, it was the death of my father and the resulting grief, for which I had no tools to cope, that led me into substance use and abuse. I struggled with substance use for many years before Buddhism and psychotherapy saved my life.

My father and I were not close for most of my life with him. In fact, I feared him more than anything else. However, during the final year of his life we began to get to know each other more and spend more time together. This made his death (I was 13) even more difficult.

Within a year of his death I was using marijuana daily, drinking often and a lot, committing petty crimes, and engaging in sexual acting out (a lot of one night stands). This was my immature and uneducated way of dealing with the grief I did not know how to feel or express. I was using these chemicals and behaviors to numb myself – and to an extent it worked. For a while.

In one way or another, addicts experience consequences. I had legal consequences (incarceration) and school consequences (suspended in high school, flunked out of college after one term), but it wasn’t until I was in college and in a serious relationship that the consequences got my attention (she kicked me to the curb).

My story is not too different from most other addicts. And in a sense, it is not much different than Tiger Woods’ story.

Sex addiction is real, even though it does not appear in the DSM-IV (the diagnostic manual for counselors and psychiatrists), although as I mentioned above, hypersexuality may appear in the DSM-5, due in 2013. Here is the basic definition of sex addiction:

What has been called sexual addiction is characterized by sexual behavior over which the addict has no control, no choice. Here again we see the pivotal loss of control as the key to aberrant behavior that can include masturbation, pornography, serial affairs, phone sex, as well as compulsive visits to topless bars and strip shows. Inaba and Cohen (2001) point out that some sexual addiction activities can result in legal difficulties, such as prostitution, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, voyeurism, exhibitionism, child molestation, rape, and incest. Several sexual disorders are listed in the DSM-IV, but these do not involve compulsivity. A basic behavioral pattern involving compulsion, loss of control, and the potential for continued socially or personally damaging sexual activities would seem to mimic the pattern seen in drug addiction. (Coombs, Handbook of Addictive Disorders, 2004, p. 27)

Sounds like what Tiger Woods was up to, doesn’t it? The affairs, the text messages, the voice mails, the Ambien and Vicodin (most “process” addictions – like sex & gambling – take place in the presence of drugs or alcohol) – it all fits the pattern.

You know what else fits the pattern? The death of his father in 2006 from cancer. Within weeks, Woods was back on the golf course at the US Open, the first time he had ever missed the cut in a Major. Unlike my own experience, Tiger and his father were VERY close.

“My dad was my best friend and greatest role model, and I will miss him deeply,” Tiger Woods said on his Web site. “I’m overwhelmed when I think of all of the great things he accomplished in his life. He was an amazing dad, coach, mentor, soldier, husband and friend. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him, and I’m honored to continue his legacy of sharing and caring.”

It’s unclear how closely associated the death of his father is with his recent sexual affairs. My guess is that they are closely associated. Fatherloss is a monumental event in a man’s life, no matter his age – but it’s a more powerful event when the relationship is close and when the son is still relatively young (Tiger was 30).

This is not just an issue for me or for Tiger – nearly all boys in our culture become men who carry an intense vulnerability, dependency, and emptiness within them. Part of this stems from the varieties of loss we all experience in our lives, going all the way back to the loss of the primal bond with the mother. Boys are not give much in the way of interpersonal replacements for that lost connection, while girls tend to recreate it with friends and relationships. This does not only impact our relationships with women, but with our male friends as well.

We may cover those wounds with career, with achievements, with marriage and children (or with addictions), but the loss of someone close to us (a parent, a friend, a sibling, and so on) can tear that unhealed wound wide open.

Maybe this is why men are twice as likely as women to experience addiction or substance abuse:

A large American study has found that men are twice as likely as women to have a substance dependence disorder, with a lifetime prevalence of almost 36 per cent for men and 18 per cent for women. In other words, over one third of the male population of the US have been dependent on alcohol or drugs at some stage of their lives. Men in the 25 to 34 year age group were twice as likely as those in the 45 to 50 year old age group to report substance dependency.

I’m sure we can add sex addiction, compulsive gambling, workaholism, and now even eating disorders to this list of addictive behaviors (some estimates place male anorexia as 1 out of every 4 patients).

In Fatherloss: How Sons of All Ages Come to Terms with the Deaths of Their Dads (2001), Neil Chethik suggests that sons who lose their fathers between the ages of 18-32 are in a period he calls “Too Soon.” Men at these ages are not yet fully formed, although the enjoy all the benefits of adulthood, and are still dependent on their fathers – for guidance, mentoring, emotional support, and so on.

There also is unfinished business between father and son, as often as not, which adds to the grief of the loss. Loss at this age is often just as traumatic as it is for younger children.

[M]ore so than middle-aged and older sons, the men I spoke with who lost fathers in early adulthood faced formidable threats, including substance abuse, social withdrawal, and on-going battles with self-doubt. (p. 48)

Woods’ father cheated on his mother often, and not very quietly. Apparently, Tiger knew about it back in high school and college – and it tore him apart according to an ex-girlfriend. Talk about unfinished business – my guess is that Woods never had a chance (or the courage) to confront his father about his behavior.

So what happens? In his unresolved grief and mourning, Woods begins acting out sexually just as his father did – hurting his family the same way the elder Woods hurt Tiger and his mother. This is a very common pattern in dysfunctional families – the old saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” is a little too true in these cases.

It’s not at all surprising to me that Woods has often mentioned his father in his recent and brief press conferences – in fact, right now on EPSN, following his excellent first round at The Masters (-4), he has mentioned his father three times in less than a minute and also talked about the impact of the death of his father. My guess is that the death of his father is something that has come up quite often in Tiger’s therapy.

So, in my opinion, YES, Tiger Woods is more likely than not suffering from sex addiction or a sexual compulsion disorder. But we need to understand that no one chooses to live that way – it is a maladaptive response to an unbearable emotional pain.

Just because he may be an addict, however, does not excuse his actions – he is responsible, he CHOSE to do those things. He has been very clear about taking responsibility for his actions in his public statements, which is generally a part of the 12-step approach to recovering from any form of addiction.

If he is doing the 12-steps, there will come a time when he has to come clean and makes amends (steps 5, 8, 9) – I’m sure the media will have fun with that, but I, for one, will not be laughing.

I want to conclude with the new Nike commercial for Woods’ like of products, featuring the voice of Earl Woods. Despite the general sense that this commercial is creepy and manipulative, I think it very revealing about Tiger and why his life has come undone:

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