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Tiger in a whole new world

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

Hello, I'm Tiger Woods and I'm a sex addict.

Those might be the toughest words Woods ever had to say, assuming, of course, he stood up and said them at a clinic in Mississippi.

That's also assuming Woods is currently residing at the Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services clinic in Hattiesburg, though photos taken by a certain tabloid suggest it to be true. If so, the world's greatest golfer is under the care of a superstar in his own field, sexual addiction treatment pioneer Patrick Carnes.

Unfortunately for Woods, greatness on the greens doesn't count in group therapy. Unlike golf, he has hardly any way of controlling what goes on.

It begins the same way for all. You can't be treated until you acknowledge there's a problem.

"I don't know if he can stand up and say it," said celebrity shrink Dr. Drew Pinsky, who hosted a VH1 sexual addiction reality show. "But it's a key component of these things."

For now, the frantic hype over where Woods is has begun to subside, if only because the consensus is that he indeed is behind guarded gates. The paparazzi have, for the most part, left Hattiesburg, driven out by a new fence encircling the clinic and the fact the money shot has already been taken.

Desperate times reportedly drove Woods to a place he never would have imagined.

It's easy to see why. There's no driving range, no chipping green to work on the short game. So far, no one has spotted Woods at the nearby athletic club where patients sometimes pump a little iron.

And if Woods thought preparing for the Masters was tough, he's likely now spending long days filled with lectures, group sessions and the ever-present 12-step program every patient must conquer. Patients must dress a certain way, address each other a certain way and, most importantly, can never touch another patient without permission.

Cell phones are left at home.

"These kind of programs are very structured," said Maureen Canning, a clinical consultant for sexual compulsive programs at the Meadows treatment facility in Arizona. "It's basically a 12-hour day every day, plus homework."

Treatment centers like the Meadows and Pine Grove are places where people end up only when the consequences are so painful they have no choice. For some it's divorce, while for others it's a lost job, jail or even disease.

National scorn? Well, that, too.

Indeed, for Woods the pain has to be magnified by the fact he's such a public figure. People cheered his every move, dreamed of what it would be like to be him.

Behind it all, though, may have lurked a very different person.

"Most sex addicts are extremely lonely emotionally," Canning said. "They look really good. They're intelligent, bright and personable. But emotionally, they're lonely because they don't know how to feel feelings or allow anyone close. They confuse the intensity of sex with that of intimacy."

Canning says the best part of her job is helping a patient sift through his or her life to find the underlying reasons behind the addiction. For almost all, she says, there was a traumatic incident in childhood, anything from being spanked to more extreme things.

Often, it has something to do with the parent of the opposite sex.

That, at least, is Carnes' theory and that of his followers in a relatively new field. There are other skeptics who believe the whole thing is a bunch of psycho babble and that some people, mostly men, are inclined to want to have sex with reasonably attractive people of the opposite sex because it's in their DNA to do so.

The American Psychiatric Association does not list sex addiction as a diagnosable mental disorder, and there are no real statistics on how many people it might affect or the cure rate.

"It is what alcohol was 25 or 30 years ago," Canning said. "People don't want to talk about it and, because of the shame, people don't have a lot of places to go. They stay isolated in their pain and behavior."

If Woods is to change that behavior, his wife, Elin, likely will need to play a role. Spouses are encouraged to join some of the therapy because they are considered part of the overall problem.

"There's a reason that person chose to be with that identified addict and that tells you that person needs to do a bit of work, too," said Pinsky, an addiction specialist and longtime radio advice show host. "It's often difficult to get them to do so because they're thinking 'Why should I be doing anything when I'm so betrayed?' But you do hope in Tiger's case that his wife commits to the relationship and appreciates the effort."

That's the short version anyway.

"We actually did a whole Oprah on this," Pinsky said.

Don't count on seeing Woods on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" anytime soon. The six weeks of inpatient therapy is just the beginning for a program that can stretch up to five years.

This long-term program is much like one for alcohol or drug addiction, which means making sure Woods' environment is structured so he doesn't have the urge or opportunity for sex outside his marriage. Usually that involves having someone around to make sure he stays out of trouble and keeps up with his 12-step meetings.

That can be tricky for someone who travels around the world to make a living, especially if his wife and kids aren't along. Woods will have to abide by new rules, and his Vegas haunts will surely be out.

He may find it particularly difficult to adjust to a confining lifestyle while trying to regain his dominance on the golf course.

The reward is that it may be the only thing that can save his marriage.

The bonus is that it may some day also help salvage his reputation.