As Tiger Woods is reported to have entered rehab for sex addiction (see ESPN story here), the media and the blogosphere have reacted more with snickers than sympathy.
But experts I interviewed for a story seven years ago say sex addiction is as physiological a malady as alcoholism or drug addiction.
“There is still this judgment of ‘what a sleazy guy,’ but what they don’t understand is that the addict has a psycho-biological disorder in which he is seeking a drug that he himself produces,” said Robert Weiss, clinical director of the Sexual Recovery Institute, on Olympic Boulevard, just outside Beverly Hills. “He is literally dosing himself with his own neurochemistry, like a drug addict with a needle in his arm.”
And rabbis have no doubt it’s a spiritual malady as well.
“All addiction is caused by a hole in one’s soul, and a need to fill it with something,” said Rabbi Mark Borovitz, spiritual leader of Beit T’Shuvah. “It’s about loneliness and emptiness. We turn to addictive behaviors and substances as a solution to this experience of not fitting in, of not being good enough.”
The story I wrote looked at how the addiction nearly ruined the lives of a Chasidic father of 12 who was raped as a child in yeshiva, a Reform husband and father who was raised by alcoholics, and another rabbi who became a leader in 12-step programs after facing his own addiction to internet porn. It’s been seven years since I wrote the story, but I still receive feedback on it.
One Friday night 33 years ago, when Yisroel Richtberg was 12 years old, an older boy sneaked into his dorm room at his Chasidic yeshiva in Israel, pulled off Richtberg’s pajama pants and raped him. The same thing happened the next Shabbat.
The boy told Richtberg (not his real name) that if he ever told anyone, the two would be blacklisted at all the yeshivas, and the attacker said he would kill himself.
Richtberg didn’t tell.
Instead, he sank into a cycle of depression, shame and isolation, one that would lead to a 20-year addiction to prostitutes, pornography and drugs, fronted by a double-life as an upstanding Chasidic rabbi, businessman and father of 12.
Today, Richtberg is alive to tell his story because he got help from therapists and 12-step programs. He has made it his life’s mission to help others conquer an addiction so coated with shame that it resides at the very bottom of the hierarchies of addiction.