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My client wasn’t getting enough sleep. I assumed it was insomnia, but that didn’t fit the bill. It wasn’t that she couldn’t sleep – it was that she wouldn’t sleep. She was staying up from 11 pm to 2 am, lying in bed – mostly, playing Angry Birds.

Those few hours were the only time she was left alone all day – no one from the firm called to assign her something awful to do or yell at her for something awful she’d done. To relinquish this sliver of “me time” – even for sleep – was out of the question.

Morning to night, she spent at the firm. Weekends didn’t exist, in any meaningful sense – they were workdays. Laundry went undone, as did other stuff, like getting her driver’s license renewed or her taxes filed. The only hours devoted to anything for herself were stolen from her sleep schedule, and spent slingshotting daredevil birds at sneering pigs (that’s an Angry Birds reference.)

She needed to vegetate. You need to vegetate, too. There’s only so much work anyone can do. That’s why you find yourself playing video games at 2 am instead of sleeping. You need to play and you need to sleep. You need both.

A medical resident told me law sounded worse than medicine. At least with medicine when you’re on-call, you’re on-call, and when you’re not, you’re not. With law, you’re always on call. Just because you’re asleep in bed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be working.

Another lawyer client crawled home from the office recently after midnight, only to be awakened at 3 am by the alarm on her Blackberry. She turned it off, but noticed an email from a senior associate, still at his desk. She glanced at the email, but decided to ignore it – nothing critical – and deal with him in the morning.

She forgot his account was set up so he could see she’d opened the email.

(more…)

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We found out last week that Tiger Woods has checked himself into a posh rehab center for sex addicts.

This raises the issue of whether sexual addiction really exists.  I think it is a fair question.

After all, we’re all sex addicts, to some degree – sex is a normal, necessary human drive.

Sex also seems harmless.  It feels good, and if you use a few sensible precautions, no one has to get hurt.  With other addictions, like alcohol or drug abuse, kicking the habit entirely seems like a sensible goal.  But except for a few monks and nuns, no one abstains completely from sex.

So maybe it’s like food – moderation is the goal, controlling your appetite so you don’t get fat.

But that doesn’t seem right either.  No one can say how much sex is enough for another person.  Maybe you like it every night. Maybe you like it every month.  Maybe you like it two or three times a day.  That would appear to be nobody else’s business.

Does sexual addiction exist?

In my experience, it does.  It’s a bit like marijuana addiction.  Plenty of people have sex – or smoke pot – without any detrimental effect.  It isn’t innately addictive.

It only becomes an addiction when you decide there’s a problem.

Usually, the indicators are:

1) you’re no longer enjoying it the way you used to; and

2) you don’t feel in control of your behavior.  In other words, it becomes compulsive – you can’t stop.

I’ve worked with sex addicts who cruised online for hours, exhausted, but unable to leave their computer. Some patients set up endless series of anonymous hook-ups, staying up all night until they were so physically exhausted they lost their jobs.  These patients didn’t look forward to the sex anymore – they felt compelled to repeat the same weary pattern.

Typically, with sexual addiction, it isn’t the sex act itself that you’re craving.  It’s the feeling of being pursued by someone for sex – catching a stranger’s attention, and making him want to have sex with you.

Think about it.  When was the last time you had someone’s positive attention focused entirely, like a laser-beam, on you? Probably back when you were a small child, and then it was a parent’s attention.  It made you feel important, loved, cared for – the center of someone else’s world.

As an adult, you rarely get that sort of focused positive attention – except when someone is pursuing you sexually, trying to get you into bed.  It’s hard to compete with a sexual pursuit.  It brings an affirmation, a high, an ego boost that can feel terrific.  All they want is you, now, right away.  The focus is entirely on you.

Once the sex is over, though,  you crash.  The other person’s interest fades, and you realize you hardly know him.  You might even feel awkward in his presence and just want to be alone. It’s a bit like a hang-over.

A sex addict, like any addict, runs to what once felt really good – especially when he gets angry and feels deprived in other ways. He keeps searching for the easy high of being pursued for sex – trying to escape again into that good feeling.  It becomes like a drug.

After a while, like all drugs, it stops working.  If you do manage to attain the high again, you crash even harder afterwards.

That’s sexual addiction.

The treatment – which Tiger is presumably undergoing right now – is similar to the approach you’d take with any other pattern of addictive behavior.

First, there’s an intervention, in which the people in his life let him know how his addiction has harmed them.  Certainly his wife, and maybe the other women he’s been sleeping with, could confront him with how he’s hurt them by lying and betraying promises.

Then, fellowship is created.  Tiger goes to a place – a rehab center or a 12-step group – where he can meet other people who share his problem, and exchange stories and experiences.  He is educated about his addiction.

Finally, self-awareness.  He is encouraged to be honest with himself, and own up to how he’s been living, and decide for himself whether he wants that pattern to continue.

I haven’t met Tiger Woods, and I cannot say for certain if he is a sex addict.  He might just be a guy who needed to get out of his marriage and do some dating and decide what he wants in a relationship.

Only Tiger can decide if he has this addiction, or whether he’s going to address it.

But that’s the nature of any addiction – no one can make these decisions for you but you.

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