Is Dr. Drew a Phony?
Sex Rehab With Dr. Drew is a spinoff of the highly popular VH1 series Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew made by Irwin Entertainment. Using a 12-step-based residential rehab center in Pasadena, California, residents are filmed for three weeks undergoing treatment for sex addiction. I was one of them. It was shot seven months ago, has been airing since November 1 and draws to a conclusion on Sunday night.
After 13 years sober from drugs and alcohol, I realized, sadly, that I had transferred all of my miserable addict antics into my sex conduct. I had, with some ease, given up drinking and drugging, but as it turned out these were not my primary addictions. Sexually I was out of control. I was miserable, lonely and isolated in my Malibu home facing either prison or death. I fell sobbing last year into the rooms of Sex Addicts Anonymous and have never looked back. I owned up to a tranche of unhealthy behaviors, including compulsively looking at Internet porn, Internet hookup sites, phone sex, multiple Internet identities on sites such as Adam 4 Adam, intrigue with straight men, flirtation, oral sex with straight-identified men, manipulation, and lying.
The therapy was mind-blowingly good if I ignored Drew, who just irritated me.
Six months after I started addressing my sex addiction, I received an email from a casting director looking for a gay male sex addict for a sex-rehab show. Curious to know more, I picked up the phone, and within 24 hours I was sitting with the producers of Sex Rehab.
Being a Brit transplanted to Los Angeles who never owned a TV, I had never even heard of Dr. Drew Pinsky, who has made a career for himself as a television therapist, specializing particularly in addiction. I had never listened to his show Loveline; I had heard of, but never seen, Celebrity Rehab and its other spinoff, Sober House. After a few minutes with the producers, I decided that a public rehabilitation was not for me.
They persuaded me to meet Dr. John Sealy, one of the most important sex therapists in California who was affiliated with the show and would also be occasionally treating the cast members and act as the show consultant. I liked and trusted him, but again I said no to the producers. Interestingly, during that meeting Sealy confided in me that the producers of Sex Rehab had very different intentions from his. He genuinely wanted to shine a light into the shaming world of sex addiction, while Irwin Entertainment seemed hellbent on drama and titillation. (As it turned out, Sealy’s involvement on the show was minimal because he was awkward in front of the cameras, and not nearly as televisual as reality TV demands.)
As is the way of Hollywood, once I said no, they wouldn’t take no for an answer. After a protracted financial negotiation and contract re-jig, I signed. I was very eager to protect myself from opportunists who may have crawled out of the woodwork to make a quick buck. I insisted that in case of any spurious claims against me, Irwin Entertainment would seek to protect me. I was going to enter a facility committing to the process of sex rehabilitation—and I was going to submit to the vagaries of reality television at the same time.
Upon entering the Pasadena facility, I faced a feeling of panic. I am a director, and for 15 years I have been around cameramen and sound guys and first ADs, but usually they are working for me. That was the first big shock. I was merely the talent. The performer. The meat in this particular pie.
Part of me hankered to be in the control room, eating my lunch at craft services with the other entertainment people and not undergoing therapy with Dr. Drew. I needed a role. I needed to know who I was in this experience, this Hollywood adventure. I quickly settled for “12-step anthropologist.” I would be the sober guy who commits to treatment with a view, too, not only to help others, but to examining this 21st-century obsession: reality TV. How real was it going to be?
Our primary care givers were Dr. Drew and sex therapist Jill Vermeire. My first meeting with either of them happened the evening of the first day of treatment. Jill was telegenic, slightly tattooed, and her breasts fit snugly in duchess satin shifts. Drew was ruggedly handsome and built—a gray fox. It was immediately apparent that while Drew may be an astounding drug and alcohol specialist, he knows very little, or anything, about the precise science of sex addiction. More disturbingly, he does not believe in God, which is a fundamental prerequisite to any 12-step program. (He admitted to me that he is an atheist.)
In the U.S., doctors enjoy a cultural omnipotence, a perception that they do nothing to disabuse. Drew’s role as America’s kindly uncle masks Dr. Omnipotent superhero! He would recycle Jill’s lines when he began to founder—and in the edited broadcasts, we see her thoughts and insights come out of Drew’s mouth. It comes as no surprise that Drew writes about narcissism because he genuinely wrestles with his own.
The residents were younger than I am, and most of them had a feisty TV-ness about them. They were deliciously aware of the cameras and at first I was amused by the effort they put into crudely camera-hogging. It became a little wearing as the weeks passed.
After a few days of bad food and early nights, I began to get terrible constipation. I started to lose a huge amount of weight, and my beard grew into an uncomfortable bush. I made it my business to get on with everyone in the house. The therapy was mind-blowingly good if I ignored Drew, who just irritated me.
Then two things happened that began to shake my confidence.
First, I found out that all of the women on the show—Jennie Ketcham (the porn star), Nicole Narain (the Playboy playmate), Amber Smith (the model), Kari Ann Peniche (the former beauty queen), and Kendra Jade (the former porn actress)—had been wrangled and represented by a man named David Weintraub. He turns out to be a reptilian creature feeding off of the demi-fame of people like Sean Stewart, Rod’s wayward son, who had been on a season of Celebrity Rehab.
Weintraub was also behind the bitch branding of Kari Ann in our group. He knew that the only way to make the show more VH1 and less HBO was to enflame Kari Ann’s worst personality traits. She was constantly vile to staff and residents, demanding to all, and verging on racist. Yet, it felt to me, she was doing this largely at his behest so that she could appear on the next Celebrity Rehab and advance the company brand.
(In that, she succeeded. She was cast in the new season of Celebrity Rehab, which will also be on VH1. But you may know her already as the co-star of the infamous “ naked tape” with married couple Eric Dane and Rebecca Gayheart.)
The Weintraub revelation shook me because I understood with sickening clarity that the women might not be on the show for the same reasons as I was. That they might not have any desire for sexual sobriety. That I might be part of a huge pantomime.
The facts are: Kari Ann failed every one of the mandatory drug tests and yet was not thrown out of the Pasadena Recovery Center. We would be tested collectively, and found out our results immediately. Active drug users are not allowed to stay in rehab because they are actively using drugs! The excuse for the meth found in her pee was that she was also taking prescription medication that may have made her test positive. Jarringly, both Drew and Jill seemed complicit with the producers rather than with us, the patients.
The other disturbing fact was that James Lovett, a professional surfer, had been paid a huge amount of money to wear named products. Hence he wore socks on his hands and odd shoes, as every logo he wore would be logged and for that he would be reimbursed.
Watching Sex Rehab has been incredibly frustrating, since Kari Ann did indeed steal the show. And the producers’ predisposition for dumbing down and minimizing important therapeutic work has been very hard for me to endure. You see only a fraction of the work, interaction, and social activities. There are 7,000 hours of real-time footage shot on 20 cameras squeezed into 344 minutes of TV. It takes months to edit a show like Sex Rehab. The project pingpongs from producer to network, until the amorphous “show” takes shape, planished by the tiny suggestions, remarks, and notes of all the concerned parties.
Despite my best efforts to safeguard myself contractually against misrepresentation, I find myself cast as the bitchy gay guy. With the chronology of the events as they unfolded completely rearranged, even I am left with the impression that rather than getting better during the rehab process I just became worse—when, in fact, the opposite was true.
Perhaps TV really does validate one's existence—as Warhol mooted. That the cameras, the production, the care of endless PAs make one feel worthwhile. Perhaps the anger work, the “precious child” work, the real therapy with Dr. Sealy and Jill caused my friends, upon my return to them, to notice an immediate difference in my demeanor and my mood. I came away from Sex Rehab a changed man.
I was quite teary when I saw in high-definition my therapy revelation with Dr. Sealy. That was the first time I had been introduced to the idea of retraumatization. Understanding this simple truth now meant that I could make different sexual choices in the future, ones that did not include recreating situations I had suffered with my stepfather when I was a child. It made perfect, astounding sense. It was the smoking gun. It was the moment for which I had waited too many years.
After I left the rehab, as part of my deal with myself to live a healthier, less-isolated life, I moved out of my sprawling Malibu estate and into a small Hollywood apartment. I now live next door to Jennie Ketchum from the show, and we help and support each other as much as we can.
Today I face the challenges of minor fame. Since the show is now almost completely aired, I am confronted with another altogether disturbing phenomenon playing against all of my best sober sex addict intentions: the kind of men that I entered rehab to quit are now throwing themselves at me. Only yesterday, a gorgeous, straight 25-year-old man came right up to me and offered to give me the sexual equivalent of an 8-ball. So this must be the celebrity aphrodisiac I had been warned about.
In Trader Joe’s, people smile knowingly; on Runyon Canyon, couples huddle together to discuss their recognition. Friends are eager to call and invite one to dinner. Mostly I decline. I was not in a show. We, the patients, were the show. Our therapy was real and exacting and permanent. I am loathe to discuss in person the minutia of the show with strangers or, indeed, friends. It was and it will be forgotten. We helped a few and amused others. I will eventually go home to England where no one will ever know that Sex Rehab With Dr. Drew even existed. That, I suppose, is the payoff. I could go home.
Raised in Kent, England, Duncan Roy is a producer, writer and director of numerous feature films and commercials. His most well-known film is AKA . He can be found at duncanroy.com.