The last few week's buzz has been about Tiger Woods and his infidelity. The story, all too familiar, has the stuff that enthralls. Pro-athlete, super model, sex, recorded phone messages, etc. But this sad current event is more than water cooler fodder. Similar stories are being played out behind closed doors and in the lives of anonymous people everywhere. This is not just Tiger's tale, but rather the face of sexual addiction.

Already eyes may be rolling at the term "sexual addiction." For some this misunderstood concept feels like an excuse for poor behavior. For others it seems ridiculous to tie addiction to something God created like sex -- or food for that matter. The real concern lies below the surface, and sex is simply the symptom of deeper issues. For all our bold talk about being liberated and open-minded, we still get sidetracked because sex creates shame, causing strong reactions like curiosity, nervous laughter, critical judgment, even anger.

I have walked down a path similar to Tiger's wife, Elin. I have also witnessed both the assumptions and realities of this addiction during my eight years of ministry to women and couples in broken relationships. The first time my husband told me he was "medicating pain in his life," I wanted to scream, "Take an aspirin!" Later, I heard the same phrase from another recovering addict in a separate context. As I continued my healing journey, reading everything I could find on the subject, the connections between pain and addiction were confirmed repeatedly.

All addictions share core principles. Webster puts it this way: addiction is a "compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal." All addictions are a way of escape, and sexual addiction is no different. In lieu of man-made drugs, the addict learns to use their own body chemistry to concoct an adrenaline-endorphin-dopamine cocktail that temporarily numbs the emotional pain and convinces them they are the kings and queens of their world.  And yes, there are symptoms of withdrawal. One sex addict described it as worse than the withdrawal from crack cocaine.

At this point it's important to stress that just because sex becomes an addiction for some, it doesn't mean they get a pass for all poor choices. Slapping on the term "addiction" doesn't somehow validate an addict's actions. Addiction is not the excuse; it's the definition. Rather than making excuses easier, recognizing an addiction can motivate a person to take their behavior more seriously and get help. Defining the addiction also helps explain why simply wanting to make better choices and trying harder isn't enough.  Sexual addicts are wracked with shame, guilt, and the reality that their lives are out of control. Subsequently, the spiral of negative emotion sends them deeper into the behavior.

Sexual addiction is not solely a character issue because almost every addict feels like the lowest of the low. They don't understand that their character was arrested the moment they gave into the addiction. For most men this began between age 8 and 15. They now have to go back and find the root that started it all. The journey of discovery and re-wiring is typically slow and painful, but it's the only way to break the addictive cycle.

Of course, God has the power to heal addiction miraculously. But for the majority of people, God asks them to count the cost and do the work. Significant steps to healing include taking an honest inventory, writing a timeline, taking responsibility and making amends where possible. This can be daunting for someone who has been progressing in the addiction for 20 - 30 or more years. This arduous process works best in therapy and with accountability

I know full well the power of God in the life of one who is surrendered. I thank Him every day for the man I married and the efforts my husband continues to make to become more Christ-like. He has been free for over eight years from this addiction. Because he has the proper definition, he will never take for granted that he is cured or beyond temptation. That is the power of the truth. Christ heals, yes, but He won't take away a person's choice. My husband wanted to be free for years, but that alone wasn't enough. Calling it an addiction didn't give him an excuse; it gave him a plan of attack.

God's gift to us is the dignity of free choice. He lets us write our own stories - even though people get hurt. What's amazing is that He can use our worst decisions to create something beautiful. That same opportunity exists for everyone, including Tiger. So if you are in his shoes or perhaps identify with Elin or know another couple on this painful path, knowing the truth about this addiction can set you free.

Next week will no doubt bring yet another water cooler conversation about some other public figure caught in some sexual indiscretion. Unfortunately, it's an issue that will continue to grow until there is greater understanding, compassion and available resources. This is not a tale to be told, but a truth to be understood.

March 2, 2010

For more information, go to http://www.hopeafterbetrayal.com

To hear Meg's interveiw, listen to Family Life Today, March 8-10. Preview here.


Meg Wilson
 is a regular speaker to women's groups, Bible studies, and conferences. Six years ago she founded the 
Healing Hearts Ministry to offer help and hope to women whose husbands are caught in the web of sexual addiction. She is author of the book Hope After Betrayel: Healing When Sexual Addiction Invades Your Marriage (Kregel Publishers, 2008). You can visit her website at www.hopeafterbetrayal.com