IS TIGER OUT OF THE WOODS?
It is not my pleasure to engage in gossip or speculation. However, as a psychotherapist and addictions counselor I would feel remiss if I didn’t express my concern for Tiger Woods, his wife, and the “other women.”
Whatever therapy he has had thus far has made him aware of the fact that his actions have had severe consequences. His family and fans have not been as forgiving as he might have assumed they would be. In fact, he hadn’t given that any thought, because as an addict (if we agree that he is one), he is guilty of not thinking but acting, satisfying an uncontrollable urge to gratify whatever his need may have been.
Without knowing his entire history, I’m not even certain that I agree with those who are labeling him a sex addict. It sounds to me as though he’s a relationship addict, because his drug of choice is not merely a one night stand or merely having sex with someone whom he doesn’t care about. Quite the contrary! He has, according to taped messages released to the media, confessed his love and devotion to nearly all of the women with whom he has carried on long-term relationships. He has lied to each of them, humiliating himself and, more importantly, his wife, in the process.
One of his mistresses was quoted as saying: “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” I wouldn’t go that far. If I didn’t believe that people are capable of changing, I wouldn’t be a therapist. Therapy has, no doubt, helped him find the humility to admit that he felt entitled and therefore acted irresponsibly. Ultimately, it may even help him to live a very different life, but unfortunately it will be harder for him to do so (as it is for all celebrities) and not easier. The world will be watching his every move and no matter how hard he tries he will not be able to maintain his privacy and walk the walk with any degree of ease, even if he learns to talk the talk.
Whether it’s Buddhism, psychotherapy, a 12-Step program or a combination of all three, he will still need to forgive himself. And for that forgiveness to occur I believe that anonymity is necessary. That’s where I’m skeptical. I don’t believe he will be afforded the privacy needed to heal and then to change.
If, for example, he returns prematurely to the world of golf, all the old triggers will be the same ones that led him to where he finds himself today. And how exactly will he be able to resist his old lifestyle? For those of us who believe in the disease model, self-control was not at the root of his problem and it will, in fact, have little to do with the actual process of recovery. On-going treatment and having a sponsor — someone who has been where he has been and who is available to help him face his fears and vulnerabilities and experience his pain and shame – is what he needs. Otherwise, he will never truly feel the remorse and subsequent courage necessary for change to occur.
When money and power has led to corruption, then those who are corrupted are easy prey. Why? Because at the core of each of us is our character. And while it is true that many men in power (presidents of the United States, other politicians, and those who became rich and/or rich and famous in a variety of arenas) have acted with the same degree of shamelessness, it doesn’t make it acceptable to the women with whom they have dallied and especially not to their wives.
So, while I wish Tiger Woods well, and I do hope he finds a way to allow recovery to work for him, I can’t in all honesty say that I think he is out of the woods or will ever be out of the woods. Forgive the pun, but if he had known himself better, he wouldn’t have married in the first place. Had he acted from his heart and from the Buddhist teachings he now claims to have strayed from, he would not have made the choices that he made.
Perhaps – and this is a big perhaps – if his wife stays with him and he is forced to prove day in and day out that he is a rehabilitated man, we will all witness someone whose personal and professional life has been redeemed.
I have treated many addicts who have taken their recovery very seriously and have gone on to live honorable lives, but I do think that when someone’s in the spotlight – as Tiger will no doubt be – his chance for success is slimmer, not greater.
There are simply more distractions for those who are famous. Staying focused while the entire world is watching – whether it’s on a putting green or elsewhere – is far more challenging, the stakes far higher!
Tiger’s early rise to fame, his enormous wealth and seemingly picture-perfect life give us all pause to reflect upon our own values, our own vulnerabilities, and the consequences of whatever decisions we make and actions that we take.
Please share your thoughts with me.