On the first page of this bare-all memoir, we pull with the author into the parking lot of the sleazy Rainbow Motel in Atlanta, Georgia. Silverman has invited us along on her date, because she wants us to witness and to understand why she must be here every Thursday at noon and must have sex with Rick, an “emotionally dangerous” man.
Silverman spends her days waiting, longing and preparing her body and mind for this weekly rendezvous, as she has for dates with dangerous men for decades. Inhabiting her own safe life with Andrew, her faithful university professor husband, is not enough. She’s bored; they sleep apart. She craves the risk of sex with strangers.
Silverman promised her therapist she would never meet Rick again – but she has squeezed in this one last date on the day before she enters rehab. At the Rainbow, as if peeking through the keyhole, we get a close look, but we don’t spend long. She hears “the second hand of his watch ticking beside [her] ear,” because “all Rick wants is to get the job done. Quickly.” The author does not mind; she’s not in this for pleasure, but for love. Though her therapist has told her she’s confusing sex with love, she needs the intensity, the danger. Her father molested her for years when she was young, and she’s learned that the only way to find the only kind of love she knows is through illicit sex.
Silverman’s husband, Andrew, thinks she’s going into rehab to work out childhood issues which caused her anorexia; he has no knowledge of the other men. But there has been a steady stream of outside sexual encounters, and as the author recounts her rehab experience, one painful day per chapter, we learn about them. She has brought along a lavender box which she opens when she needs a fix. In it are photos, jewelry and pressed flowers; “a thread from a red beret” of one man; “furious words” of another, a writer; and most precious, a frayed maroon scarf. Seeing and touching these mementos feeds her addict mind, bringing back the men. She has been having sex with strangers for more than 20 years. Her mementoes lead her to tell the stories.
Also in her souvenir box is a picture of the author’s young self in a black leather jacket. She says, “The photograph is of me and of my addict, competing for space in one body.” To the world she looks normal, but she is fractured; her addict is secretly with her everywhere. She has two wardrobes: skimpy, lacy red and black for her addict; blazers and oxford shirts for her persona in past professional jobs. At rehab, she wears khaki shorts, an old t-shirt and untied red tennies.
Silverman’s addictions overlap and merge, her eating disorder accompanying the sex addiction. In her closet hang “size four dresses to clothe [her] anorexic body,” and “size eight for when [she’s] eating.” She stops eating when her sex-addict self is acting out, because she wants to shrink to nothing and disappear. “No body, no trouble,” she says. “If no man is able to see my body, then I won’t have to keep having sex.” In less anxious times, she eats more.
When the door of the drab rehab hospital has closed behind her, Silverman feels trapped and unwilling, yet she goes through the required motions: eating “everything,” being weighed regularly, participating in group sessions and writing answers to probing questions in an addiction workbook. Her workbook writings skillfully invade chapters of her memoir, divulging truths of her past and present.
In rehab, Silverman struggles for quite awhile with being open. She lies, hides her true feelings, and spurns other women patients’ attempts at friendship. She relapses – into addictive thinking, but also by flirting with and arranging to date an attractive hospital worker who wears turquoise and has a feather in his long black braid.
But over the days, through Twelve-Step work, art therapy, spirituality groups, growing friendships on the ward and with the guidance of her long-time therapist, the author begins to know her true self. By Day 26, she realizes, “Without my addict, I won’t be alone…. It is with my addict that I am alone.” As a new friend cheers her on, she throws the maroon scarf in the dumpster, and on Day 28, fragile but hopeful, she goes home.
It’s easy to understand why Love Sick has been made into a Lifetime movie. Silverman so clearly and compellingly presents all the salient elements: characters, plot, setting, motivation. The book is a stunning look at the inside workings of addiction, and the more people who see it, through whatever medium, the better.
Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey Through Sexual Addiction
By Sue William Silverman
W.W. Norton & Company