Friday, August 25, 1995

Case of Irwin Silverman

Case of Irwin Silverman
Chief Counsel to U.S. Secretary of Interior 1933 - 1953

Irwin Silverman was chief counsel to the U.S. secretary of interior from 1933-53.  His daughter Sue, accused him of molesting her as a child.  She states that her father, Irwin Silverman first molested her in the bathtub at age 4 and it continued with his regular visits to her room at night until she went to college.  In the end of 1996 she wrote her first book, "Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You,"that describes her life and experiences.

If you have a photograph of Irwin Silverman please forward it to The Awareness Center, Inc.


Disclaimer: Inclusion in this website does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement. Individuals must decide for themselves if the resources meet their own personal needs.

Table of Contents:  

  1. Books: Reviews and Opinion - University Presses (08/25/1996)
  2. Memoir of incest is powerful and brave (10/13/1996)

  1. Survivor reveals childhood in graphic memoir Series: Books (01/12/1997)
  2. Horror of Abuse Will Not Go Away (04/19/1997)
  3. Home Entertainment; THE LATEST IN MUSIC, VIDEOS AND BOOKS; ON BOOKS  (05/01/1997)

  1. Memoir Hard To Forget (11/15/1999)

  1. Story of sex addict starts with abuse, ends in recovery (05/29/2001)

  1. A daily progression - Author shares her fight against sexual addiction in new book (05/23/2001)
  2. Praying for Protection  (Winter 2002-2003) 
  3. Sex Addictions Real and Ruinous

Books: Reviews and Opinion - University Presses
Rich Harvest For Fall and Winter - Topics Frange from Jimmy Carter to Film to religion
By Carolyn Nizzi Warmbold, Staff Writer
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution - August 25, 1996

"Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You" by Sue William Silverman  ($ 20). The winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction writes about her sexual abuse from age 4 to 18 by her father. (November)


Memoir of incest is powerful and brave
By Mary Ann Lindley
Tallahassee Democrat
Tribune News Service (Knight Ridder/) - October 29, 1996

"Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You," is not the most inviting book title you'll find in bookstores when it is released this November. When a galley proof was handed to me last week and I glanced at the blurbs _ "harrowing, literary memoir of incest and survival," "the cry that shatters the curse" _ my instinct was to hand the book right back. Sometimes in the news business it doesn't seem possible to allow one more element of tragedy into the mind _ no more jolts of empathy to pass through the heart.

Even the book's own editor, Malcolm Call at the University of Georgia Press in Athens, said that midway through Sue William Silverman's story he threw the manuscript across the room and wept.

In fact, Silverman's book is powerfully written and ends if not quite happily, then with a sigh of relief. She eventually confronted the misery and confusion that grew in her like a tumor from ages 4 to 18 when she was raped with numbing regularity by her prominent in Washington and otherwise well-respected father.

Silverman, who now lives in Michigan and whose memoir will be featured as part of public television's "The Diaries Project," clawed her way to a kind of reckoning with her family history and takes almost drunken delight in normalcy she can now identify for what it is.

Knowing this book wouldn't be in their hands at all if Silverman had stayed locked in her abnormal world is what enables readers to pick it up off the floor where it landed and read on.

Silverman's father was Irwin Silverman, chief counsel to the U.S. secretary of interior from 1933-53, his daughter reports. Revealing him with utter courage, she describes her father as an architect of the move to establish statehood for Alaska and Hawaii, as a wealthy international banker and as one of Washington's social and political progressives.

"My father was also a child molester," she writes. "I know. Because he sexually molested me."

As with countless children who are molested, Silverman reports that her mother, Fay, stood by aware but mute. She died, as did Silverman's father, having been patiently confronted by their daughter at last with the evil they allowed. But years of denial and attachment to their own explanations, excuses and definitions were insurmountable and finally Silverman's ragged victory is her own.

Though countless articles have been written about child molestation, Silverman's beautiful, rocketing prose offers the finest descriptions of how a child interprets what is happening and, maybe, why. She learns the family legacy: As a boy her father was sexually abused and tortured by his own mother and two aunts; as a father, he abuses and tortures, too.

Silverman's "cry that shatters the curse" of her family explains how confusing and blinding it is for a child to have two sharply inconsistent lives.

"I see our pretty houses and our pretty clothes, see our Fleetwood Cadillac, see all the people who admire my parents, see all the smiling family photographs," she writes. But all this has no connection with the images of night in the pretty house, when nightly her father walks into her bedroom and rapes her with himself, furiously with bottles and _ the ultimate flourish _ with a knife to bloodily mark the most intimate parts of her body as his own.

"I love you," he says all the while. "You are my favorite. I love you most."

For a small child without any context or awareness of sex or healthy intimate behavior, such contradictions simply dominate and divide the self, which wants the love and "deserves" the torture.

"I've known no words, no symbols, no definitions, to explicate the images of what happened with my father," she tells her therapist many years later trying to reckon with concepts such as rape, pedophilia, seduction.

"Growing up, I didn't want to know those words, because if words for acts didn't exist, the acts themselves didn't exist. So I had no context in which to view the images: I never understood what I saw; I didn't want to understand what I saw."

We know that Silverman's story is replayed over and over in the dark night of children's bedrooms in neighborhoods both pretty and poor. As a young woman, Silverman sought the help of 10 therapists before their efforts finally synchronized with her ability to confront the demons. It came at a time, mercifully, when society has at last become willing to confront and discuss child molestation.

Which is why her memoir is important. It's a powerful reminder of the necessity of society to notice and to throw lifelines to these children of terror. They may be sending out signals of their distress. We all need to know enough to notice.

Praying for Protection
Lilith Magazine - Vol. 27, No. 4, Winter 2002-03
Spurred by Catholic boys' charges, Sue William Silverman remembers sexual abuse by her powerful political father and what it meant to her identity as a Jew

Even though I'm Jewish, I attended an Anglican elementary school when my family first moved from Washington, D.C. to the West Indies. I loved the church that was next to the school, the sunstruck stained-glass windows, the whisper of silken robes, the holy Fathers chanting. I was transfixed by the serene eyes of a plaster Jesus who returned my gaze as if in benediction. One day I was given a ruby-colored rosary. For hours, I'd trail the beads through my fingers, each bead a miniature sun radiating warmth up my arms to my heart. I believed my rosary was blessed with special powers, that it would protect me from nights when my Jewish father shattered the peace of my bedroom and raped me. With the magical thinking of an abused child, I believed that bad things only happened to little Jewish girls. I avoided synagogues and believed that churches offered me safety. I prayed to be resurrected as a Christian girl with blond, blond hair. . .


Survivor reveals childhood in graphic memoir Series: Books
By Janet Wilson
Austin American Statesman - January 12, 1997

By Sue William Silverman
University of Georgia Press, $19.95 

Sue Silverman's memoir of growing up as daddy's favorite girl is the most disturbing book I've ever read. For some reason, my brain is able to process the idea that strangers commit murder and mayhem on other strangers. I can imagine a time when, in the heat of passion, adults who love one another lose control and cause harm. 

But, I have never been able to fathom how parents who give life to children commit unspeakable acts on them, stealing their childhoods, their sanity and, in some cases, their lives. 

From the time she was 4 until she turned 18, Silverman's father repeatedly sexually abused her. She was raped, sodomized and physically assaulted by a man the world knew as a high-ranking government official and successful banker, but who spent his nights locked behind a closed door molesting his young daughter. 

Silverman thought what her father did to her was normal. That's all she had known. There was one brief moment at a pajama party when she encountered her friend's father in the hallway and was surprised when he said good night and went to his wife's bedroom. Was it possible that what she did every night was not repeated in girls' bedrooms across the city?
In her memoir, Silverman describes in graphic detail what it was like growing up with a pedophile. It is heart-wrenching and excruciating to read. That her plight went unnoticed outside her home was a travesty. That her mother knew about it and did nothing was a crime. 

As an adult trying to make sense of her life, Silverman went to 10 therapists before finally finding one who helped her climb out of her abyss. She eventually confronted her aging parents. Her father sought sympathy, saying he had been sexually abused as a child by his mother and two aunts, as if that somehow excused his behavior as an adult. 

But her mother's response was even more chilling. 

``Oh well, I had a terrible childhood, too,'' her mother said, when Silverman told her she had been sexually molested. ``People talk about things like this now, but back then, no one knew.'' 

``You knew,'' Silverman told her mother. 

``But I didn't understand. No one knew what it meant back then,'' her mother replied. ``How could I have left? How could I have supported two small girls?'' 

So instead, her mother listened to a radio at night to drown out the sounds of her husband raping her daughter, taking solace in the appearance of a normal family rather than creating one. It took years of therapy before Silverman could accept that the shame she felt belonged to her father, not her. The healing process continues. 

Silverman's story, while beautifully crafted, is not for a casual reader. It will be featured as part of a public television documentary.

Horror of Abuse Will Not Go Away

By Elenor Mallet
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) - April 19, 1997
Growing up means, at least in part, separating ourselves from the family story we grew up with and learning to live and tell our own.

For many, the different stories have at least some resemblance. For others, like Sue William Silverman, they are radically different.

Silverman's book, "Because I Remember Terror Father, I Remember You," chronicles her continuous sexual abuse over 14 years by her father. I found her story so disturbing that I put the book aside for several months.

Silverman's father was a powerful man at home and in the world. He was counsel to the U.S. secretary of the interior for 20 years and was an international banker. "My father was also a child molester. I know. Because he sexually molested me," she writes.

Her father first molested her in the bathtub at age 4 and it continued with his regular visits to her room at night until she went to college.

Published at the end of 1996 by the University of Georgia Press, the book won a prestigious national award for nonfiction in 1995. It is beautifully written: The evocative detail makes it all the more disconcerting.

In recent years, we have learned to approach child sexual abuse with caution. The subject has become embroiled in controversy about repressed, recovered and even false memory.

Silverman avoids those issues: Hers are not repressed memories. In unrelenting detail, she reveals this damaged childhood in a closed and outwardly respectable family.

Family life revolved around her father's rages, which were often assuaged by his young daughter. Her mother was in complicity; most of the time in the next room listening to the radio. Her older sister never seemed to be home.

To survive, Silverman created two personalities; Dina, who passively endured the experiences, and later an angry, masochistic Celeste.

In ninth grade, she goes to a sleepover at a girlfriend's where she sees her friend's father definitively shut the door to the room he shares with his wife. Silverman catches a glimmer of understanding that "what I do every night is not repeated in every other girl's bedroom." Yet it will take her another 30 years to fully grasp that.

In her 20s, she recalled that when she heard the word incest in the movie "Phaedra," it "stopped me like a slap." She looked the word up in the dictionary and then had to look up each word of the definition. She could not seem to comprehend any of the meanings.

As an adult, she starved herself and became promiscuous. In her early 40s, she found a therapist, her 11th, who could help her.

It is not surprising that Silverman, now 51 and living in Grand Haven, Mich., became a writer. Her therapy was a process of learning the meaning of the words incest, rape, child molester, pedophile. She learned to tell her own story, where terror once meant father, and love meant abuse.

In 1992, her parents died within six days of each other. A few weeks later, she began writing the book. She said writing has been part of gaining control over the experience and letting go of it.

This book is a powerful reminder that while controversy may surround child sexual abuse, that does not mean the problem has gone away or that its horrific damage has been lessened.


Home Entertainment - The Latest in Music, Videos and Books
By Don O'Briant
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution - May 1, 1997, Thursday, ALL EDITIONS


BAD MEMORIES: For years, Sue William Silverman knew she had a story to tell, but it was simply too painful to write. The daughter of a high- ranking government official, Silverman, 50, had grown up in what appeared to be a normal, upper-middle class Jewish family. In reality, Silverman was subjected to sexual abuse and torture by her father from the time she was 4 until she left for college.

"My therapist encouraged me to tell my own story, but I kept putting it off," Silverman says from her home in Grand Haven, Mich. "Then my parents died, and I started writing. It just all fell out."

Silverman's book, "Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You" (University of Georgia Press, $ 20), won the UGA Associated Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction and evoked a flood of sympathetic responses from readers who had been abused.

"Reported cases of child abuse have doubled in the last seven years," says Silverman, who lived for several years in Rome, Ga., "but a lot of people don't want to know how much of an epidemic incest is. They just want to close their eyes."

Which is what Silverman's mother did.

"I consider her a co-conspirator. She could have taken me and my sister out of the house. My mother should have had the courage to protect me."

Silverman will sign her book at 7 tonight at Charis Books & More.


Author Silverman tackles memories of childhood abuse
By Kristina Hughes, The State News (East Lansing, Mich.)

University Wire  (Michigan State University) - October 22, 1999

A child's smiling portrait stares at you from the cover of the book, "Because I Remember Terror Father, I Remember You," but behind the picture is a harrowing story of incest.

Sue William Silverman shares her family's dark secrets in a disturbing memoir.

Tonight, she will share excerpts from her book part of the Michigan Writers Series at 7:30 p.m. in W449 Main Library.

The book's hard-copy edition came out in November 1996, and its paperback was released September of 1999.

Silverman grew up in a typical middle class family, but behind the house, cars and nice clothes were secrets. Silverman was sexually abused by her father from ages 4 to 18. She hid behind a false identity. Her father was a successful banker, influential government figure and a rapist.

"I was raised to believe that when you were in the public, you had a public persona -- a mask that separated the truth," Silverman said. "Part of me knew the truth, but it is so hard to know how much your parents betrayed you."

After years of lies, Silverman started discovering who she was in her kindergarten picture. Writing the book provided a way for her to soul search.

"My therapist taught me how to find myself, I didn't have a sense of myself," Silverman said. "Therapy was a process of finding who that little girl was."

Through her book, she reveals the secrets of incest.

"I grew up with no sense of myself," she said. "The writing process provided me with the language to speak -- it saved my life."

Silverman said that writing the book proved to be a cathartic exercise of discovery.

"I've been writing the book my entire life," Silverman said. "Writing is like following a whisper, deeper and deeper into myself. It's a process of discovery one word to the next."

Along with writing, therapy and self-help groups helped Silverman reclaim her life.

"When something bad happens, you can give into it and give up your life and stay in the same emotional place or you can make something positive come out of it," she said. "I tried to deal with it in a way that it would be empowering for me and help others."

Silverman still deals with the scars of incest, but she won't let her trauma dominate her life.

"My parents ruined my childhood. I didn't want them to ruin my adulthood. This is my way to have the last word and come out smiling by making a better life for myself," she said.

Silverman's memoir depicts the confusing reality of incest.

As a child, she didn't question the abuse.

"It really seemed normal," she said. "Whatever a child's family life is, it is your reality. I didn't know anything else (and) it became normal, but there's also a sense of unreality where nobody talks about it. You don't have any language to speak about it."

Because the abuse affected the way Silverman related to men, intimacy was a struggle for her.

"College was disorienting," she said. "I sort of recreated the same situation. I was scared of emotional intimacy, so I repeated the pattern of not getting close," she said.

Silverman presents her book to colleges and women's support groups around the country. Through her book and speeches, she's making people aware of incest.

"Incest is a very painful and dark subject that people don't talk about," she said. "I want other survivors to know they're not alone."


Memoir Hard To Forget
John Keenan
 Omaha World-Herald - November 15, 1999

On the cover of Sue William Silverman's searing memoir "Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You," the words "terror" and "father" are juxtaposed, "terror" white on a black background, "father" black on a gray one.

It's a disconcerting pairing; the words terror and father don't go together, at least not in what is a normal world or a normal childhood.

Silverman, who will give a reading in Omaha Thursday night, had neither. "Because I Remember Terror" is a riveting, disturbing account of her sexual molestation by her father, a predatory relationship that began when she was 4, she says, and continued until she was 18.

The book opens with a brief prologue; Silverman, in a therapist's office, tries to decide how many of her secrets she is able to share in the name of helping herself.

After that glimpse of an older woman trying to reclaim control of her life, the book plunges into the memories of a 4-year-old whose sense of self and definition of love are distorted by a father who allows his own twisted desires to infect what should be a loving, protecting relationship.

Silverman's father was a successful man. In the memoir's preface, she lists his accomplishments: architect of the preliminary papers establishing statehood for Alaska and Hawaii; president of the West Indies Bank and Trust Co.; acquaintance of the likes of President Harry Truman and Adlai Stevenson; and a slew of other accomplishments.

Silverman is not coy. She details her father's abuses with a forlorn detachment and a growing rage. She writes of feeling as if she were apart from herself, of creating other girls - Dina and Celeste - who inhabit the body that her father so cruelly uses. She tells of a mother who pretended ignorance, sometimes in spite of such obvious evidence that the reader will be torn between heartbreak and fury.

It is impossible to read the book, compelling as it is, without putting it down from time to time to escape the horrors within its pages.

That begs the question: What if there were no escape? And that drives the terror of Silverman's experience home with even greater force.

Now a professional speaker on incest and child abuse as well as an award-winning author, Silverman spoke briefly about her book from her home in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she is about to resume her teaching career.

"I'm really only a 'professional speaker' because of the book," she said. "Right after I moved from Georgia to Michigan is when the book won the (Associated Writing Programs' creative nonfiction) award. I was planning to start looking for other teaching jobs, and I was just giving literary readings at bookstores, but then it took on a life of its own.

"That seemed to be where my energy was going to be, and it seemed for now a really important thing. I really am still teaching in a way, but different kind of students. The experience has been so empowering."

Silverman currently is working on another memoir and is the associate editor of a nonfiction journal.

It was her therapist, Randy, who suggested Silverman write an autobiography.

"I kept saying that I didn't have anything to say," she said.

Following her parents' deaths - they died within six days of each other - Silverman sat down to write what she thought would be "a page, a little essay."

"The book fell out of me in three months," she said. "I didn't write it as therapy, but in many ways it was cathartic, and it helped me understand the experience in a way that talking in therapy didn't. It was emotionally tough to write, but I also had reached the point where it was harder not to write it."

The book also details Silverman's adult relationship with her father. Despite her understandable feelings of anger and betrayal, she remained in contact with him until his death, something she said can "mystify" people.

"Incest is a very complicated issue, and I do feel a lot of anger toward both my parents, hate them for what they did to me," she said. "I can't even say I love them as adults. But what I am able to do, and as my father was dying this particularly became real to me, is love who they were as children. Because they were hurt as children, and they certainly didn't want to grow up to become child molesters.

"The other part is, the young part of me - the part I call my 'inner child' - was with them also, because that young part of me still hoped that somehow, even on their deathbed they would apologize and recognize me. That part of me kept wanting parents. I didn't get it, but that doesn't take away from the want."

Silverman will speak at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Dodge Room, on the third floor of the UNO Milo Bail Student Center, 6001 Dodge St. The reading is free and open to the public; an open discussion period with Silverman follows.


Story of sex addict starts with abuse, ends in recovery
By Terri Finch Hamilton
Grand Rapids Press - May 29, 2001


Silverman's new book "Love Sick: One Woman's Journey through Sexual Addiction," was published this month by W.W. Norton and Co. In it, she tells of the dark, dangerous life of a woman addicted to sex. When her father abused her, she says, he told her that he loved her, setting up a confusion between love and sex that fueled years of dangerous sexual behavior. 

"There's so much shame about it," Silverman says. "All other addictions -- alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders -- are much more out in the open. Sex addiction is the least talked about and the most misunderstood. 

Silverman entered a residential treatment program for sexual addiction in 1990 at the request of a therapist who finally diagnosed her illness. For years, a string of therapists had treated her for depression, not clueing in to her real problem, she says. She takes part of the blame. She kept that part of her life a dark secret.


A daily progression - Author shares her fight against sexual addiction in new book
By Kathleen Lavey
Lansing State Journal May 23, 2001

Sue William Silverman has a keepsake, a decades-old photo of herself, taken in Atlantic City, N.J.

Wearing leather, she stands next to graffiti scrawled on a concrete column: "Love is here every day."

But back then, "love'' meant "sex'' - sex with married men, sex with strangers. It meant thinking, scheming and dreaming about sex to the exclusion of other things.

Silverman details that period of her life in her new memoir "Love Sick: One Woman's Journey Through Sexual Addiction'' (Norton, $24.95). Her previous memoir, "Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You,'' (University of Georgia Press) deals with the incest she endured as a child and teenager. Silverman will read from her new book and answer questions at 7:30 p.m. today at Schuler Books in Okemos.

"I would use sex like a drug to numb pain,'' said Silverman, who now lives in the Lake Michigan community of Grand Haven. "I was using sex to numb out, or cutting myself with a razor blade or starving myself. By obsessing about these other things, that was a numbing out of the real pain, which was the pain of my childhood."

Research shows that sexual addiction affects an estimated 6 to 10 percent of people, said Elizabeth Griffin, chief operating officer of the American Foundation for Addiction Research in Minneapolis. The vast majority of those suffered emotional, sexual and/or physical abuse as children.

Sexual addiction is characterized by a compulsion to have sex, continuing the behavior despite its consequences and obsessively thinking about or planning for sex.

So far, it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a widely used psychology reference for professionals. Griffin's organization is paying for a five-year, 75,000-participant study to document the disorder in hopes that it will be included in the next version of that book, which comes out in 2008.

Silverman spent a month in an in-patient program to deal with her addiction in the late 1980s. She details her experiences, thoughts and feelings during those days in treatment in "Love Sick."

"Once I'd kind of gotten the incest and my family written about, I was ready to move on to this more adult issue,'' she said. "I feel much more shame about being a sex addict in a way. I had to overcome a lot of fear to write the second book."

One of Silverman's top concerns in sharing her story was that it be more than mere confession. The book's point of view shifts from Silverman's thoughts and feelings during the treatment to her sober perspective.

"I had to have the very sober voice as a guide for the reader, helping the reader understand why these behaviors aren't healthy and what these behaviors mean,'' she said. "It took me a while to discover that sober voice."

Silverman succeeded at that in her first memoir, which won the prestigious Associated Writing Programs award for creative nonfiction.

"To craft a good book is different than just telling your story,'' said Michael Steinberg, an MSU professor emeritus and editor of The Fourth Genre literary journal.

"She's trying to treat a real difficult subject,'' he said. "It's not a confessional book in the sense that that's all it is. There are so many deeper levels and layers of humanity to it."

After leaving treatment, Silverman attended 12-step meetings and avoided turning on the TV or going to movies.

'It's really hard to be sober in a world that uses sex to sell everything,'' she said. "We use sex to sell love, movies, cars, children's clothing, art."

Griffin said it often takes more than one approach to overcome a sexual addiction.

"For most people, it also takes some therapy to deal with underlying issues, support from a 12-step group. It often takes using a psychiatrist, because depression and anxiety are earmarks of this disorder as well."

"Love Sick'' is getting attention from national magazines such as Oprah Winfrey's O and Elle.

Writing in Elle, reviewer Francine Prose said: " 'Love Sick' provides an honest and deeply chilling account of what it's like to suffer from a compulsion to look for love in what are most definitely all the wrong places."

Since "I Remember Terror'' came out, Silverman has done more than 100 speaking engagements to help people understand and cope with incest.

"It has been very empowering for me and hopefully helpful to other people too,'' she said. "What's important is to be able to speak about it in the open as we might talk about anything else, to take some of that shame away."

These days, Silverman is involved in a stable relationship and working successfully to stay in touch with her real feelings.

"I honestly feel blessed, because when I think of where I could have been and the things that have happened to other incest survivors who kill themselves or turn their rage outward . . .

"As bad as that is, I would rather hurt myself than somebody else. The good news is that I've learned not to hurt anybody."

Contact Kathleen Lavey at 377-1251 or e-mail

Sue William Silverman writes: "So who am I really in the photo? Am I young, shy, as the smile suggests? Or am I ... seductive ... like the pose and jacket suggest? Both. The photograph is of me and of my addict, competing for space in one body."


Sex Addiction - Real and Ruinous
By Susan Kushner Resnick, Journal Health & Fitness Writer
Providence Journal-Bulletin (Rhode Island) - February 23, 2003

It's easy to be a sex addict in Rhode Island.

People who can't stop having sex, even when they want to, have countless businesses to cater to their needs. In fact, Providence has so many palaces of prurience that the city even lures out-of-staters with sex addictions looking for a fix.

"Rhode Island gets a lot of transient people from Massachusetts and New York coming to sex clubs," says William Hochstrasser-Walsh, a Cranston therapist who treats people with sexual addictions.

A person with a sex addiction is commonly defined as someone who anesthetizes his psychological pain with sex or can't control his or her compulsive sexual activities. Most people with addictions live double lives full of shame.

Robert, a recovering addict from Massachusetts who will not give his real name because of the stigma attached to the disease, regularly drove to Rhode Island to feed his addiction at massage parlors and with prostitutes.

What's not easy in Rhode Island is getting help for sex addiction.

Hundreds of sex-addiction support groups meet weekly in the United States, but only between one and three gather in Rhode Island, depending on who's counting.

An extensive search turned up only one local therapist, Hochstrasser-Walsh, who specializes in treating sex addictions.

John P. Wincze, a psychologist and professor at Brown University, also treats the problem, but bristles at calling it an addiction, preferring instead the more technical term paraphilia. Paraphilia, which he defines as "behavior that is repetitive and essential to sexual arousal and harmful," is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Sexual addiction is not.

When sex equals love Sue William Silverman thought she was simply looking for love when she slept with strangers.

"I never would have thought it was an addiction," says Silverman, the author of Love Sick: One Woman's Journey Through Sexual Addiction.

Silverman says she learned to equate sex with love at age 4 when her father started creeping into her bedroom and molesting her. He didn't stop until she went to college.

"I was given the message that he loved me," she says, "and he was showing his love through sex. The message I got was the only way a man could love me is if I had sex with him."

As a college student, she once walked up to a car that was often parked outside her dorm, got inside and had sex with the driver. She met and bedded an obscene caller. As a young adult, she spent days living the life of a proper married lady and nights picking up men in bars. Before entering a treatment program for sex addicts, she says, she "lived in a fantasy world24/7" as she prepared for her weekly rendezvous with another addict in a motel room.

"The anticipation and fantasy of it is always more powerful than the act," she said in a phone interview. "When it's in your head, you can make it perfect."

And when it's perfect, it will cure what ails you, or so she thought. But every time she "acted out," she felt worse about herself. To mask that remorse, she'd find another man until it became a never-ending cycle.

"Regardless of the drug of choice, addicts act out to numb their pain and feelings," she says. Or, as she writes in her book, the managed pain of promiscuity relieved her larger, unmanaged pain.

Robert, the addict from Massachusetts, turned to Penthouse magazine at age 14 instead of facing the fear, shame and frustration that ruled his life. He had been a teased, overweight child who withdrew from people to avoid ridicule. When he lost the weight, he replaced excessive food with excessive sex.

"I began to perceive pornography and masturbation as a way to escape and get my power back," he says. "I can only imagine [that I turned to sex] because it was forbidden and it involves human touch and warmth and intimacy, which I was really starving for."

Steven, a research assistant for a Boston hospital, was a lonely child with an overly critical father. Like Robert, Steven, a member of a support group, also turned to magazines.

"Men and women in magazines and movies don't talk back," he says. "You can act out as much as you want and no one criticizes you."

E-porn at work

Pornography and promiscuity are certainly not the only ways the disease manifests itself. Robert moved on to sexual massage and prostitutes after magazines and cyber porn lost their power to soothe his pain. Steven became a peeping Tom. Other addicts often cruise in public places. Some addicts turn to rape or pedophilia if they are not treated, some experts say.

"I currently work with some women who are into hard sex, and I've also worked with a number of men who really like the romance and sensuality," says Jeff Seat, a psychologist and certified addiction specialist in Nashville, Tenn., who is on the board of the National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity.

The Internet, called the "crack cocaine of sex addiction" by insiders, eats up hours of work time each day for many addicts. Seventy percent of e-porn traffic occurs between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

"People say they're working late, but they're really online 10 hours a day and arranging to meet people to have sex with," Steven says.

According to Seat, 3 percent to 6 percent of Americans have sexual addictions. Many are hooked on something else as well. Seat says that he's seen studies estimating that 80 percent of cocaine addicts are also sex addicts.

"We know that 48 percent of sex addicts who come to inpatient treatment centers are recovering alcoholics and drug addicts," he says.

Compulsive eating is another common cross-addiction.

"One of the ways people control sexual addiction is to morph their body so it's unattractive to other people," says Hochstrasser-Walsh, the Cranston therapist. "They think it will stop the sexual addiction. But it's a vicious cycle. The more they feel bad about themselves, the more they need to act out."

Feeling awful after a sexual act is one of the hallmarks of the disease. "I was always filled with disgust after," says Steven. "I pledged I was never going to do it again."

Of course, he couldn't stop without help, which he maintains is one of the ways to identify a person with an addiction.

"You can't automatically assume that someone doing these things is an addict," he says. "The test is: try to stop. See if you can."

'A highly functioning person'

As with other addictions, sex addicts come from all walks of life. The stereotype of the creepy guy in the dirty raincoat is woefully inaccurate.

Robert, a business consultant with a master's degree, would never have been suspected.

"I've been a pretty morally-upstanding guy in every other area of my life," he says, adding that the women he dated probably would have called him "a nice guy" because he was respectful to them. They never asked what he did with his free time.

"I was a highly functioning person, and I've always shown up for life," he says.

Silverman worked on Capitol Hill for a senator. Seat, also a recovering sex addict, was a minister. In Robert's support group, he's seen artists and construction workers tell their stories.

"There are good, smart, worthy, people in the rooms," he says.

The support groups, which are run by nonprofessionals, let criminals in the door, too.

"I've seen people confess to pedophilia," Steven says.

"We could choose not to let someone attend meetings if they're engaging in flagrant behavior," he says. "But it has to be their own conscience guiding them to go to the authorities. No one can boss anyone around."

Looking for a cause

Even when they understand it, professionals can't agree on what causes the problem or how to treat it. Marty Kafka is a psychiatrist at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., a Harvard professor and a member of a Vanderbilt University team that's debating how to diagnose and define unhealthy sexual behavior.

He disagrees with the argument that many sex addicts were sexually abused as children.

However, Patrick Carnes, clinical director of sexual disorder services at the Meadows in Arizona who is one of the pioneers of sex-addiction treatment and the author of several books on the topic, surveyed 1,000 sex addicts and found that 80 percent had experienced sexual trauma as children. Not all were victims of child rape; the trauma can be as seemingly innocuous as a preschooler being shamed for playing doctor or a child having to hear about her parent's sexual exploits.

Kafka calls this link "a bunch of baloney." He says people with sex addictions may use sex to medicate their bad feelings, but most are suffering from mood disorders, such as depression, bipolar illness or attention deficit disorder (or ADD). Only a small percentage of his patients were sexually abused.

"If you treat the depression, you treat the whole thing," he says, claiming that he has successfully treated 800 patients with antidepressants and psychotherapy.

He encourages his patients to join 12-step programs, such as Sexaholics Anonymous, for support, but he doesn't think those groups can work unless people also take medication. Others agree that medication is helpful, especially when people stop acting out and must face a lifetime of buried pain. But they don't think sex addicts can recover without 12-step programs.

"It takes a community to hold a person through this process," says Belinda Berman, a Cambridge psychologist who treats sexual addiction. "This disease has a tremendous amount of secrecy and anonymity and isolation, and a group cuts through that."

"These groups teach people how to live day to day," says Hochstrasser-Walsh, adding that this is something a weekly therapy appointment cannot accomplish. Group members have sponsors and friends they can call whenever the urge to act out strikes.

And there are some experts who believe recovery can only come from finding the root cause of the problem. Dr. Lance Dodes, a psychiatrist at Harvard University's division of addictions, wrote The Heart of Addiction to explain his position.

"All addictions are psychologically the same," he says, "which is particularly important for sex addicts because there's so much shame. It's not about sex, just like compulsive gambling is not about money and alcoholism is not about alcohol. Addicts are always responding to an overwhelming sense of being helpless."

Find what causes the helplessness, he posits, and you can stop the behavior.

Seat, the Nashville psychologist, agrees that resolving past traumas is necessary for recovery from sex addiction, as is learning to be intimate in a healthy way. It can take three to five years to achieve complete recovery. Relapse is common, especially during the first year.

'A shame-based addiction'

Silverman, the author, fell off the wagon within a month of being released from an inpatient treatment program. But she's been sexually sober for 10 years. She defines sobriety as "no sex outside a loving, emotionally committed relationship."

Robert has been sober for a little more than a year, meaning in his case that he has not masturbated or had sex with another person in that time.

Each 12-step group defines sobriety differently, with some standards being particularly puritanical. Robert went to his first group after a visit to a prostitute left him feeling as if he were "coming apart on the inside."

"I could not stop and it's devastating to realize that this disease is moving you around at will," he says. "I can remember walking around my office and just feeling like I was about to cry."

The constant lying about his activities got to him, too. And he suspects he may have gotten arrested or committed suicide if he hadn't sought help.

"Your sense of integrity starts to break down," he says. "Your fear of being caught makes you a wreck. It's no way to live your life."

Steven got help eight years ago after a clergyman handed him the card of a sex-addiction therapist. Often sufferers aren't that lucky.

"Many therapists out there don't recognize sexually compulsive behavior as a problem," he says. "We were told it was understandable behavior. Many people enter recovery because they couldn't deal with a therapist continuing to tell them it was OK."

This is especially dangerous because left untreated, most sex addicts' behavior will escalate. That's why Hochstrasser-Walsh is so frustrated with the dearth of treatment options in Rhode Island. He'd like to see enough 12-step groups to allow patients to attend several meetings a week, more training for therapists on sex addiction and more awareness of the problem.But first, locals need to be able to discuss the problem without smirking.

"Particularly here in the Northeast, and specifically in Rhode Island, people just don't want to talk about sex," he says. "We're a very parochial state and it's a shame-based addiction."



Some of the information on The Awareness Center's web pages may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc.

We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

For more information go to: . If you wish to use copyrighted material from this update for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.--Margaret Mead