- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In the hours after Tiger Woods gave his Feb. 19 televised statement, a flood of reactions were posted online.

Some writers accepted Mr. Woods’ apology at face value, but most did not. Instead, they chided Mr. Woods for putting on a “repulsive display” of phony contrition, using a speech “written for him” by public relations hacks. This “carefully staged” appearance, others said, was designed to telegraph to fat-cat sponsors that he would soon be back in the swing.

Many Americans questioned why Mr. Woods even bothered to apologize because (A) he’s never going to change (“Cheetah”), (B) he is only sorry he got caught or (C) the things he did are what any other rich guy does.

Comments like these illustrate the “cultural denial” of sex addiction, as renowned addiction specialist Patrick Carnes puts it.

Mr. Carnes is the founder of the Gentle Path program at Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services in Hattiesburg, Miss. This is where Mr. Woods reportedly received treatment.

In a recent interview with WDAM-TV in Hattiesburg, Mr. Carnes said sex addiction is hard for the public to understand because it is a “secret” problem and doesn’t involve an outside substance such as alcohol, drugs or tobacco.

It took decades for the nation to recognize alcoholism as a genuine illness, and it will take at least another decade for it to fully grasp the seriousness of sex addiction, Mr. Carnes told WDAM. However, with Internet cybersex bombarding American homes, schools and workplaces, there’s no time to waste, he said. “We have a tsunami coming.”

Already, two-thirds of junior high school youths “are watching pornography while they’re doing the homework” and 34 percent of them “are going to go on to have a problem” with it, Mr. Carnes said. It’s no longer a question of whether the disease of sex addiction exists, he added. The questions are all about “How does it all work?”

In his statement, Mr. Woods did not say why he was getting inpatient therapy. But his words frequently sounded like he was cooperating with the kind of treatment Mr. Carnes has been recommending since he published his seminal 1991 book, “Don’t Call It Love: Recovery From Sexual Addiction.”

One of the tasks of a recovering addict is admitting that he or she needs help. Mr. Woods did that when he said, “It’s hard to admit that I need help, but I do.”

Another task is to be forthright about the extent and nature of the addiction. Mr. Woods was direct and clear when he said, “I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated.”

Yet another task is to understand that each of us is vulnerable, ordinary and human. Surely Mr. Woods can be forgiven for imagining he was a master of the universe, but his statements reveal a change of heart: “I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to … I felt I was entitled,” Mr. Woods said. “I was wrong. I was foolish. I don’t get to play by different rules.”

These and many other of his statements mirror those of people who are serious about walking away from the chaotic, out-of-control, self-destructive and deeply shameful world of addiction.

The harsh reactions of journalists to Mr. Woods’ statements have surprised me. When I began my newspaper career in the 1970s, it seemed as if half the people I knew were in Alcoholics Anonymous and the other half were working their way in. I saw many people’s marriages and careers destroyed by addiction. I also saw that when people admitted they were powerless over something, that they had hurt the people they loved but were on a path to recovery, they were not doubted or mocked. They were appreciated and welcomed into the fold by older, wiser people.

One statement Mr. Woods made gave me special comfort, especially given his vast wealth and fame. He certainly talked about golf, but it was not the main thing on his mind. “I need to regain my balance and be centered,” he said, “so I can save the things that are most important to me, my marriage and my children.” That sounds like first things first to me.

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzst[email protected]

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