The Addiction Cycle
Although Hefner was approaching forty-five, and had been involved with hundreds of photogenic women since starting his magazine, he enjoyed female companionship now more than ever; and perhaps more significant, considering all that Hefner had seen and done in recent years, was the fact that each occasion with a new woman was for him a novel experience. It was as if he was always watching for the first time a woman undress, rediscovering with delight the beauty of the female body, breathlessly expectant as panties were removed and smooth buttocks were exposed—and he never tired of the consummate act. He was a sex junkie with an insatiable habit.
—Gay Talese, Thy Neighbor's Wife
Del was a lawyer. Brilliant, charming, and witty. He had a special breakthrough in his career when he was appointed as one of the governor's special aides. His wife and three children were proud of his accomplishments. However, Del's public visibility was creating a problem because he was also a sexual addict. His double life included prostitution, porn bookstores, and affairs.
Del would initiate relationships with women, feeling that he was "in love." After the initial sexual contact, he would desperately wish to be free. These relationships became characterized by his ambivalence. He wanted to be sexual, but he did not want the relationship. Yet he couldn't say no clearly without fear of hurting the women's feelings, so he never quite broke off the relationships. Instead he hoped their frustration would force them to give up. The result was that he had a series of relationships at the same time in various stages of initiation and frustration.
There was not only the juggling act of keeping his relationships straight. Some of these women were vital to him professionally. He exploited relationships to receive cooperation. His problem was that the women would believe that he cared for them. The professional complications were extreme. At one point, he was involved with a colleague and her secretary at the same time. The secretary went in to talk to her boss about this "problem" she had. Del had to face two very angry women.
His other behaviors were also problems. In porn shops, he was sexual with a number of men in the movie booths. Worse, the shops he frequented were near the capitol, an area where he was liable to be recognized. He vowed to stop when, sitting in a meeting in the attorney general's office, a plan was described for a raid on a local porn shop—the one he had patronized two days before. But he did not stop.
Neither were his visits to massage parlors without peril. One night his masseuse was a young girl quite high on some form of drug. Del decided to have his massage anyway, including a "hand job." When she masturbated him, she hurt his penis. Del was too shameful to complain or even to tell anybody. When he got home, he was so upset, he masturbated—despite his penis being sore.
Late one evening, Del pulled up next to a young woman at a stoplight. He had always had the fantasy of picking up a woman on a street. He looked at her and she smiled at him. Del became very excited. They drove side by side for several blocks. She returned his stares at each stop sign. Soon she pulled ahead of him, turned off the road, and pulled to a stop. He followed and pulled up behind her. She waved toward him and pulled out again. Del thought she wanted him to follow.
Del's mind raced ahead to where she could be leading him. She drove in the direction of a well-known local restaurant with a popular late-night bar. Convinced that was where they were headed, he speculated that after a drink, they might end up at her apartment. With his mind full of fantasies, he pulled up behind her when she stopped. As he was opening his door, she leaped out of her car and dashed into the building. Surprised, he looked up to see that he was not in front of the restaurant. Rather, she had stopped at the police station three blocks away.
Horrified, Del got back in his car and raced home. While driving, he was in shock at how out of touch with reality he was. She had not been encouraging him to follow her, but was in fact frightened. He, on the other hand, was so caught up in his fantasy that he failed to notice she was parking at a police station.
He felt a flood of remorse for subjecting the woman to a frightening ordeal. Also, he was terrified that she would accuse him of attempted rape and that he would be arrested. When Del arrived home at 1:30 a.m., he was so scared that he sat and prayed. At 2:00, there was a sound of a siren in the distance. He promised God that he would change. He fantasized about what it would do to his wife and kids. Truly, it was the most desperate moment of his life. Finally, he went to bed.
When he awoke in the morning, he felt tremendous relief. He knew he was not going to be picked up. He went to work and put enormous energy into his job that day. At the end of the day, he felt in need of a reward. He stopped at a massage parlor.
Del was a man who valued the law. He also prided himself on his honesty with people, a fact he often parlayed into seduction. His children and wife were central to his life. He had worked hard in his career. His addiction, however, violated his own values and the law and jeopardized his career and family. His story—of which just a few pieces are related here—is one of constant predicaments. Del's addictive behavior put him in situations in which he was vulnerable to tremendous consequences. His degradation was only exceeded by the violation of his own principles. Because of Del's sexual addiction, his fantasy became more real than the nightmare he created.
What Is Sexual Addiction?
A way to understand sexual addicts like Del is to compare them with other types of addicts. A common definition of alcoholism or drug dependency is that a person has a pathological relationship with a mood-altering chemical.1 The alcoholic's relationship with alcohol becomes more important than family, friends, and work. The relationship progresses to the point where alcohol is necessary to feel normal. To feel "normal" for the alcoholic is also to feel isolated and lonely, since the primary relationship he depends upon to feel adequate is with a chemical, not other people.
Sexual addiction is parallel. The addict substitutes a sick relationship to an event or a process for a healthy relationship with others. The addict's relationship with a mood-altering experience becomes central to his life. Del, for example, routinely jeopardized all that he loved. His vows to quit were lost against the power of his addiction. The only thing that exceeded his pain was his loneliness.
Addicts progressively go through stages in which they retreat further from the reality of friends, family, and work. Their secret lives become more real than their public lives. What other people know is a false identity. Only the individual addict knows the shame of living a double life—the real world and the addict's world.
Leading a fantasy double life is a distortion of reality. Del was so caught up in his fantasy that police station became a restaurant and a cooperative prospect was, in fact, a desperate and frightened woman. An essential part of sanity is being grounded in reality, so in the sense that addicts distort reality, the sexual addiction becomes a form of insanity.
The Addict's Belief System
How does addiction begin? How does the progressive insanity occur? It begins with the delusional thought processes that are rooted in the addict's belief system. That is, addicts begin with core beliefs about themselves that affect how they perceive reality. So important is this factor—the belief system—in the addiction equation that it is a theme running throughout this entire book. For now, we need only to point out its role in the impaired thinking of the addict.
Each person has a belief system that is the sum of the assumptions, judgments, and myths that he or she holds to be true. It contains potent family messages about a person's value or worth, relationships, needs, and sexuality. Within it is a repertoire of what "options"—answers, solutions, methods, possibilities, ways of behaving—are open to each of us. In short, it is a model of the world.
On the basis of that model we
• plan and make decisions
• interpret other people's actions
• make meaning out of life experiences
• solve problems
• pattern our relationships
• develop our careers
• establish priorities
For each of us, our belief system is the filter through which we conduct the main task of our lives: making choices.
The addict's belief system contains certain core beliefs that are faulty or inaccurate and, consequently, that provide a fundamental momentum for the addiction. Generally, addicts do not perceive themselves as worthwhile persons. Nor do they believe that other people would care for them or meet their needs if everything was known about them, including the addiction. Finally, they believe that sex is their most important need. Sex is what makes isolation bearable. Their core beliefs are the anchor points of the sexual addiction. If you do not trust people, one thing that is true about sex—and alcohol, food, gambling, and risk—is that it always does what it promises—for the moment. Thus, as in our definition of addiction, the relationship is with sex—and not people.
Out of the belief system—the set of interacting faulty beliefs—come distorted views of reality. Denial leads the list of ways that addicts distort reality. Addicts use many devices to deny—to...