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Living & Loving A Sex Addict: Moving On

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This week, for the first time, Tiger Woods shared some extremely intimate truths about his sexual infidelities. Truths like, "I just couldn't stop cheating," and that he, the world's greatest golfer, was "living the life of a lie." ESSENCE.com reached out to two married couples who can relate to what Tiger called his "disgusting" behavior. Today, we hear from Brenda and Steve. Brenda and Steve have been married for two years. Brenda discovered what the experts have diagnosed as Steve's sexual addiction when she found an enormous bill for pornographic films. Steve denied they were his. "We are a Christian couple," says Brenda, "my instincts told me something was off, but I wanted to believe him. In sexual addiction counseling, the therapists told me that addicts lie. Steve would make things up and deny his addiction to porn--but then I found slews of filthy DVD's. Just like Tiger, he would say he had regrets and that he felt terribly. He asked me to take away his computer so he couldn't watch pornography, but then he accessed it on his cell phone and I found the bills. He said he just could not stop himself... She continues, 'When we went to the couples counseling--like the ones Tiger and Elin reportedly attended in Mississippi--the one thing I noticed about the wives of men who are sex addicts, is that we tend to blame ourselves. I thought there had to be something wrong with me, that I must not be doing something right. That if I were a better wife in some way, my husband would not turn to this compulsion. It took me a full year to realize it doesn't really have anything to do with me. So when Tiger said he loved Elin, that this had nothing to do with his love for Elin, I understood what Tiger meant. But, that doesn't mean living with this is easy. It is extremely painful. [Starts to cry.] "As a wife, you think if your husband has a problem, you can fix it, and you try to fix it," she explains. "And then you resort to convincing yourself it will just go away, but the truth is that sexual compulsion and addiction never ever go away. Tiger can get help for this, my husband can get help for this, but it is like alcoholism or drug addiction, it is always be with you. Unless you work at it, you can slip back just as badly as at your lowest point. Even Tiger said he had lots of low points, but 'just when I thought they couldn't get lower, they got lower.' That's what happens with sexual addiction...it only gets worse, never better." Brenda says she sees a parallel with her husband in Tiger's pattern of many women at many different times. "What I've learned is that much of this is about instant gratification. It's almost like a sex addict is in a spell, they lose sight of everything but the gratification. Whether it is with a stranger like Tiger, or a porn video like my husband, nothing matters but that sexual fix. Tiger Woods has women throwing themselves at him. For a man with a sexual addiction, that's trouble. My husband is not a famous billionaire, but on the scale of his own world and his own life, he too put everything at risk for his compulsion: our marriage, his family, his whole life, just like Tiger. "Once you discover you're married to a man like this, it is shocking. Tiger said Elin was shocked and angry, I can totally relate to her feelings. The counselors probably asked her questions like they asked me, like how my husband's acting out made me feel. It made me feel dirty, hurt, confused and alone. And the worst part of counseling is that talking about this horrible thing makes me so angry. It is very hard to accept. It makes me physically sick," said Barbara. "I feel ashamed, I hide it from my mother and my friends. I feel for all of her beauty and wealth, Elin has additional pain because she cannot hide this from anyone. Complete strangers know what is going on in her marriage, and I can't imagine how much more difficult that could make trying to heal as a couple. "She seems to be doing all the right things--caring for her children, staying away from the outside world as much as possible--but she will break at some point. I just hope she has people around her to pull her through it when she does. I feel so sorry for her, I really do. It's very hard to understand the kind of suffering something like this causes a wife. Even with the counselors, I feel like unless their spouse is a sex addict, they aren't walking in my shoes. Unless you are a woman whose husband has told you he loves you, but he has a sort of urge that makes him want to have sex with a stranger, or masturbate to pornography, rather than to make love to you, how can you understand my pain? "I feel badly for Tiger Woods, too, though. I don't feel his personal issues should be at the center of the media. He's a miracle golfer, not  a moral role model. His sponsors sponsored him as a great golfer--and he still is--so they have not been compromised. People who have sexual addictions wouldn't choose to have them. Trying to save a marrige after something like this happens is so hard...having the media involved would make it just that much worse. The only positive is that people realize there are so many couples suffering with this issue in secret. "It's sad for Tiger that it had to happen this way, but his secret coming unraveled has actually helped a lot of people who thought they had to be the only ones suffering with something like this." Recalling her personal pain, she tells me, "It is hard to trust your husband again when this happens. If Elin is trying to do that, then another tabloid story catches her attention, it could bring everything crashing down again. We want to trust our husbands again, but it is hard, and even harder for Elin. I look at Tiger and I see pain and hurt. I don't know him, but because of what my husband is going through, I can see the remorse. I feel sad for both of them." The media is focusing on the 'moving on' of Tiger and Elin, but is that realistic. Can they move on? And what is moving on really like in this scenario? Brenda says there is no real moving on. "In a sense, admitting the problem (or being caught with the problem) is a huge first step, but it doesn't solve everything. They have to admit what they've done--just like Tiger said he had to do--but in my experience, even after that phase, lies come again or you go back and remember past lies that you didn't realize were lies at the time. Your mind never stops." "Elin will have her good days and bad days. Some days I feel so many emotions I can't hold them in. Other days, I just feel wiped, as if all emotion has left me forever." Steve, Brenda's husband, says he loves his wife but counseling for sex addiciton is very difficult--and he feels sometimes Brenda doesn't want to listen to what the counselors suggest. "They told us to separate for a while, the way they had Tiger and Elin separate, then they will eventually speak to us together. Especially for me, focusing on my own recovery the majority of the time is key. I don't have Tiger Woods' billions, but I need help just like he needs help. I can't leave work and live in rehab for months, but I go to a twelve-step program for sex addicts, and I go to a community group at my Church. "There are a lot of men--and women -- dealing with this. I think when this whole Tiger Woods thing broke, there were two kinds of guys: Guys who said 'I can't believe what the great Tiger Woods is up to,' and the guys who said 'I can't believe the great Tiger Woods has the same thing that I do.' "I know there are a lot more of us than anyone thinks, because as husbands we try so hard to hide it, and we usually get away with it for a long time. It is soooo important to us not to get caught. Getting caught strips away your denial--and you have to face the truth about yourself and the life you are living. Usually it is what Tiger said it is: a life of lies." Steve continues: "It's been so hard for my wife, as I am sure it has been for Elin. When a woman finds out this kind of thing about her husband--it is a total shock, as it was in our case and seems to be with theirs--a wife isn't really in the frame of mind to sit down and hear about how her husband has a disorder, an addiction, that he needs help with. It's a natural human response that they're too angry and hurt to even think straight. "Part of the therapy I had, and read that Tiger had, too, is that they make you tell the whole truth--all of your indiscretions, the lies, the multiple times you risked your marriage for the sake of this obsession for sex. It is awful. When Tiger said telling that to Elin, and his mom, was the worst part, I knew exactly what he meant. It almost makes things worse. But the experts tell us it's the way back, so I am trying..." Check back tomorrow for Part II of this story. Another married couple struggling with sexual addiction, only this time the wife is the addict. Read more:
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