Lynn Beisner would consider giving Anthony Weiner a third chance, but only after he’s completed a thorough recovery program and has at least five years of remission under his belt.
Anthony Weiner’s recent press conference was exactly what I expected. He was slippery, covertly defiant, and had recently relapsed. Based on what I know, that is exactly what the early stages of recovery from a sexual compulsion look like.
My first husband, Todd, was a sexual compulsive. I did not learn about the condition that had driven him to repeatedly betray our marital vows until after we had gotten divorced. Much of what I learned about sexual compulsion came from watching my husband’s best friend, Roger, and his family struggle with the compulsion and its consequences.
I attended the co-addicts group with Roger’s wife, Karen. At first, I went to support her, but later I went to process what had happened in my own marriage. I read Don’t Call It Love, which has been called the definitive text on sexual compulsivity, and recognized my past relationship on nearly every page.
Something wonderful happened when I learned about what sexual compulsion is and how it works. I knew with absolute certainty that there was nothing I could have done to keep my husband faithful or to save our marriage. I knew that it wasn’t about me being frigid or unattractive. Compulsion knows no logic and holds no one dear.
Watching what Roger and Karen went through changed forever how I viewed behavior like Weiner’s. I will admit that at first, I was terribly judgmental of Roger. But as time went on, I saw how much the sane and rational Roger loved his wife and how very much he wanted to stop hurting her. But when he was in the grip of what he called an addiction cycle, Roger was a slippery guy who had a predilection for Weiner-like behavior.
When I first got to know Roger and Karen, their marriage was on very shaky footing. On a couple of occasions, he stayed in our spare bedroom while Karen tried to deal with his latest slip. And on one memorable night, I kept her teacup filled as she sobbed and filled out separation papers.
Despite all of the moments when I was sure their marriage was over, and all of the times that I secretly judged her for staying, Roger and Karen are still together. And Roger has gone years now without a relapse. Like an alcoholic or a drug-addict with years of sobriety, he can never take his recovery for granted. Yet his recovery has made him not only a person his family can trust, but also one of the most humble and kind people I know.
Given the positive outcome that Roger and his wife experienced, you might think that I would be very understanding of the position in which Weiner finds himself. In fact, I do have compassion for him as I would anyone facing the terrible disease of addiction. I am also a strong advocate for staying out of other people’s sex-lives, politicians included. Were this a straight-up case of adultery, I would say that it was none of our business. But I would not trust Weiner as mayor or in any public office right now precisely because he has a compulsion.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe that we should discriminate against people with addictions or compulsions or bar them from holding public office. Rather, I believe it is irresponsible to give him the power and pressure of governance when he is still clearly in the very early and very shaky stages of the recovery process.
I also think that it is important for compulsives to learn to deal with the completely appropriate anger that their behavior inspires. Weiner has violated the trust of the people he proposes to serve, and many are rightfully furious. I can understand that when he had to confess two years ago, he would not have understood that this is a process and not a conversion experience. But for him not to come clean at this point, to not say that he has a compulsion and that he has yet to achieve any sort of remission indicates that he is not doing the work of recovery, that he has no empathy for people he has hurt, and that he is more interested in getting out of trouble than getting well. I have very little compassion for that.
There are two reasons why Weiner would not make a particularly good public servant right now. First, any sort of addict who is not secure in recovery creates very real issues of liability. The truth is, we do not how far out on a limb Weiner will go in the grips of his compulsion. Some compulsives never escalate and some do. It is bad policy and not fair to the women he might target to give him power when he is clearly still being driven by his compulsion.
The second reason is that like any other compulsive, Weiner will go to great lengths to keep from getting caught. That means that he will lie not just about the sexual acting out, but also about anything tangentially related to it. This is not a statement about his character as a whole. It is just what compulsives do when they are not fully in recovery.
In addition, it seems worthy to consider how electing Weiner could harm him and his family. I believe that if elected, his recovery would be either severely hampered or might stop all together.
Recovery, when it is done earnestly and in good faith, consumes a great deal of time and energy. Roger’s recovery happened because he was in a highly structured program for recovering sexual compulsives. He had homework that included writing, having very specific conversations with his wife, and making tapes of himself doing various exercises. He also attended 12-step meetings and saw a therapist privately. And of course, every relapse created ripples of drama and pain that he had to spend hours correcting. Roger put at least 20 hours a week into his recovery for the first couple of years. Where would the mayor of New York City, who is also the father of a small child, get that sort of time?
Recovery also requires learning rigorous honesty. One of the hardest things for Roger was breaking through his shame and denial to learn to tell the truth about his compulsive behavior. He could fool his therapist and his wife. What broke Roger’s denial and kept it from reasserting itself was his group check-ins. Somehow the other people in the groups would know when he was lying or being evasive, and they would confront him on it. Where could Weiner go as the mayor of New York for that sort of intervention? Who would call him out when he got slippery?
I believe that one day, with treatment and support, Weiner may make a full recovery. But we do not owe him any sort of public office if he does. Just because we understand this as a compulsion does not mean that we or anyone in his personal life is obligated to be long-suffering or supportive. If he wants to run for public office, the onus is on him to prove that he would not once again violate our trust.
If I were a constituent would I ever give him a third chance? Maybe. After he has five years of remission under his belt and after he has paid for an independent private investigation firm (not one person whom he can charm) to do a thorough job of making sure that he is not still lying.