It is such a sad story. Once again, a major political figure, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is taken away in handcuffs for alleged sexual crimes. And then the usual comments follow. From some, indignation: “This could not be the important and intelligent man I know; I refuse to believe it.” From others, who have watched this pattern grow, we see something more like resignation: “It was only a matter of time.”
But the sadness on the faces of those who will carry this pain for decades comes later, when the shock wears off, when the cameras are somewhere else. There are the daughters whose innocence has been compromised because the same warm and tender father’s arms that embrace them now feel sullied, and the sons who feel tarred by the same brush, who begin to question themselves, who carry shame that shouldn’t belong to them. Then there is the wife who wonders. The pain of the family. The betrayal of trust.
When Eliot Spitzer was arrested and I wrote “Is Elliot Spitzer a Sex Addict?” the responses ranged from, “How could you say such a thing?” to, “Finally someone is saying it.” But many have now become more willing to treat sex addiction as the disease it is. It’s a grassfire, one set by the Internet, where, if you don’t begin as a voyeur or predator, the infinite opportunities available to train you to be one online can lead you in that direction. You can satisfy too many fantasies, too much of the time. You can self-medicate by getting your own adrenaline, which is as addictive to the brain as any drug, flooding your system through imagery that becomes self-stimulating. Any time of day or night — or during office hours, which is most common.
Addiction is chronic and progressive. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was already known as “the great seducer,” for his reputation with women. This, apparently, is not news; the pattern is well established. Why are we so surprised the when the pattern simply takes the next, logical progression?
People have known it; they have chosen for one reason or another, to turn their gaze in another direction or to outright deny it. But who wouldn’t want to look the other way? It is pretty sickening to look at, because when you do, you are forced to wonder things like, “Does his wife know? Do his children know and are they hurt by it? Is his pattern progressing? Have the grandiosity and recklessness, so characteristic of addictive behaviors, grown, and is he feeling sort of bulletproof or willing to risk what he has spent his life trying to achieve for a moment of gratification?” Poor impulse control is another hallmark of addiction — a willingness to do almost anything to get that “feel-good” sensation one more time.
When does any addict move past that invisible line when a behavior becomes an obsession?
If you want to get analytical, you might wonder why this so often seems to happen just when someone is about to take their next high leap into success. If that is the case, then is this kind of high-risk, acting-out behavior a form of self-sabotage? Is sexual addiction, at its core, a cry for affirmation and attention from someone who is feeling a kind of shame that keeps him feeling like a fraud? Is he self-medicating his own anxiety, fear and pain?
Whatever the continued fate of Dominique Strauss-Kahn may be, where there is smoke, there is fire. Whatever the outcome in the courts, there is a pattern here that is out of control. However, hope is on the horizon: there are so many cases like this blasting the media that maybe we can add another image to the one of the man in handcuffs. That image would be the man, or woman, coming out of recovery, reuniting with their families through love, commitment and honesty, and giving up their secret life for a life of becoming healthy and whole again.