Author Benoit Denizet-Lewis, a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, recently came out as a sex addict in the pages of the Modern Love section. He's on the last leg of his first book tour, promoting America Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life, and last night he appeared at the Barnes and Noble on North Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale.
In addition to his own recovery, the book chronicles three years in the lives of addicts of every size and shape. For Denizet-Lewis' thoughts on sex addiction, the future of the recovery community, and a crack addict-turned-successful treatment center operator-turned crack addict-turned counselor named Jody in West Palm Beach, jump.
In his confessional essay, Denizet-Lewis discusses driving 130 miles and waiting in the parking lot to have sex with two strangers he met over the internet, and having his life crumble around him as he lost relationships, friends, and jobs when he couldn't stop looking at pornography and cruising chat rooms for possible hook ups.
If you ask alcoholics about the first time they became drunk, many will say it was the moment they finally felt O.K. in the world. I never had that sensation while drunk or stoned, but I did feel it the first time I entered a gay men's chat room, while in college. In a kind of hypnotic trance, I sent out photos of myself to rave reviews.
But there were never enough reviews, never enough guys, never enough validation. Within three months, I had hooked up with 20 guys from online. Within six months, I was routinely skipping out on friends so I could spend nights in chat rooms. Within a year, I had essentially lost the ability to control the time I spent on the Internet. For the life of me, I couldn't sign off.
So when he showed up in South Florida - often called the recovery capital of the country - there were plenty of representatives from the recovery community on hand. (Of course New Times knows a thing or two or three about the local addiction community too.)
Denizet-Lewis talked about the cultural definitions of addiction (in France, he points out, they mock Americans pathologizing things like sex and food addictions) and explained why addiction is the number one health problem facing the country.
He talked about the fact that most family members of addicts will refer to the affliction as a "disease," but that those same family members, when asked what the afflicted relative needs to do to get better, will generally say something about "will power."
"What other disease can you get over with sheer will power?" the author asked the audience.
One of the main problems, he said, is the stigma association with addiction. The shame. "I'm not ashamed," he said of his own sex addiction. "It's unfortunate, but I'm over the shame of it."
And there is an obvious social injustice at work in the war on drugs, he said, pointing out that black people and white people use drugs at about the same rates, but that black people are 10 times more likely to go to jail for a drug crime.
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He feels like his own addiction might have been caused by childhood trauma, or "maybe my mother just didn't show me she loved me enough, who knows?" He says his recovery has made his life better, but that he's far from relapse-free himself.
The entertaining, insightful scene he read from his new book focused on a local almost-blind addiction counselor named Jody. The author takes Jody around downtown West Palm Beach, looking at the crack houses, lamenting the ill-conceived war on drugs; Jody points out that he's never met an addict who quit because he couldn't get the drugs.
Eventually Jody says change won't come to the recovery community until they organize political action committees and demand addicts be treated differently. Denizet-Lewis says that's one of the reasons he wrote the book: to inspire people to unite with the hope of changing the way people think of addiction.
His book doesn't propose any cures or easy solutions ("addiction will never be eradicated," he said last night), but rather a look at the struggles of regular Americans trying to get over everything from meth to booze to gambling to steroids. We still know so little about the disease, he said, "Anyone who says they have addiction all figured out is on crack."