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How to Beat Addiction

How to Beat Addiction

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Question:

What does the Torah teach about drug addiction and breaking free from it? For instance: Why does man beg G‑d for help and still remain in addiction. It is as if religions are powerless to defeat the monster of addiction. Can you give me some insight?

Answer:

In truth, all of us are addicts—to our habits, to our emotions, to our limited perception of reality. The first step of progress out of our little boxes is to acknowledge, recognize, and surrender to a truth higher than our own. So you are right: No religion, no outside force, can defeat a man's addiction—as long as that man refuses to allow in a glimmer of light from outside his dark, cramped prison; as long as he cannot acknowledge that his own addicted mind cannot untie knots in which it has tied him; as long as he cannot hang on tight to a rope thrown to him from beyond.

This is why a Jew says the "Modeh Ani" as soon as he opens his eyes each morning, to say, "Although I feel myself to be the center of this world, I acknowledge Your presence as the Author of this world. You are bigger than me." With those words, we punch a hole in an otherwise sealed existential prison. We open ourselves to freedom.

The very concept of Torah implies that we all have free choice to direct our lives. We are never helpless. G‑d never gives us more than we can handle. But it's always with the condition that we recognize how small we are—and so we don't try to go it alone.

An addict, too, has free choice. He has the choice to continue going it alone—something akin to trying to dig himself out of a pit or pulling himself up by his own hairs—or to call out to someone above the pit who can throw him a rope.

The mind that has sunk itself in a mess is lost to that mess. Only someone who is not bound and tied can untie the bonds of another and offer him a hand to pull him out. Paradoxically, it is that first move of surrender that allows the addict to win over his addiction.

Perhaps if you can tell me more about your experience with addiction, I may be able to target in on your concerns.

In the meantime, let me know if this helps.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman for Chabad.org

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Discussion (17)
August 15, 2013
Getting HIgh Was Not an Option
"Although I feel myself to be the center of this world?" Many of us struggle with this from both sides. Thankfully I"m not an addict but I once was close to someone who was starting to be one. I don't think I"m the center of this world. I found out a long time ago, good or bad, that I"m far from the center of this world. But it is still impt for me to realize my uniqueness & importance. In a world where uniqueness is some times a trait that doesn't matter too many. I am who I am. I try to be kind &be hlpful.
The reason I was never an addict is partly because I never wanted to use a substance that would hurt my body. So I literally was very careful about what I did physically. The old saying " my body is a temple." We have just 1 body. G-d blessed us. The rest is up to us. It was my choice to Never use any drugs just for fun, getting high was never an option and still isn't.
Anonymous
July 15, 2013
pornography
the same goes for pornography, not ever a topic anyone talks about, but one of the most destructive and darkest addictions, i struggled with this for too long, you have to want to quit and you absolutely have to believe that G-d loves you and will never let you go, never look back and only speak positively. I wish someone told me this when I was struggling with this, I usually fell back into because I used to feel unloved and not valuable, but you are.

There was a Rabbi that once taught me that G-d is like our Father but you must think of it like you are His only son, that's how much He cares and loves. repent and make resolve, get rid of all triggers even material things, just throw them in the trash, by physically doing it there is nothing to go back to. Then when you want to return to it, you can always remember that you removed it for a good reason, and it's not worth returning to and it is always good to be faithful to Hashem your'e true beloved One.
Ruan
Capetown, South- Africa
May 25, 2011
Addiction
Realize that all addictions are based upon the perception of need. The "I must have [whatever] in order to maintain my life, my habit, my thrill, my feeling..." what weak creatures we are when we fail to recognize our responsibility is our ability to respond, and that we must strive to hold ourselves accountable to the higher standard: "to do no harm..." to ourselves or others... "if I am not for myself, who will be for me, if not now... when?" Maybe if we stopped and struggled with our self as much and with the same intensity as we sometimes do with others we could see through our own delusions and find a purpose for living beyond our own addictive behaviors... Addiction begins with ego, that we are too weak to stop and/or change, as well as that we are to strong to admit that we really must stop and change because we have a purpose greater than our own small mindedness. There is a difference between selfish behavior and self-centered behavior, neither serves others, or is thankful...
Reb Yehonatan Levy
Chicago/Tel Aviv, USA/Israel
May 5, 2011
addiction
G-d overcame three addictions for me, only for me to realize that I have three more addictions that G-d needs to overcome for me.

These addictions are like three beach balls that I try to push beneath the water. I can hold two down, just so the third one bounces up.

All I have is what the Torah says to me, and I have the twelve steps, yet sometimes I feel I am in a losing battle.

Any helpful advice?

G-d bless,
Anonymous
Norwood, OH
May 14, 2010
beautiful,noble,good,and pure...
Thank you Shirley!
Mirianna Thomas
Milwaukee, WI
May 13, 2010
beautiful, noble, good and pure
Gee, Mirianna, my heart goes out to you.

You want to be married to this man and yet you sort of fear being intimately connected to him.
If you can try to trust G-d more, it will not matter who you are with
or where you go
He is always always going before you.
I have to say that life is hard enough soemtimes
but to be with a partner who has a struggle with alcohol or drugs would be awful to me.
No one can tell you what to do, dear, all i can offer is my empathy and understanding of this situation.
Now, I could say this:
ask G-d in your prayers
This is what I say
If this is right and it is your will, please make it clear and show me a way to handle it
an encouragement, a sign
And if it is not your will that I do this,
please make it obvious
In Italy they have an expression "Tessa Dura"--it means hard head.
Before I got sober, I had a hard head and could not break down my psyche to change
Hashem has given me many miracles
Today and each day I have to be very careful to ask for directi
shirley
westlake vill, ca
May 12, 2010
Greetings! My name is Mirianna and I have been clean and sober from drugs and alcohol for 11-1/2 months.I found it easy to surrender that particular addiction after finding myself being humiliated by trying to control how much I used and how I acted when using. I am grateful for the humiliation, It is because of this that I am clean and sober today. I now have realized that I am addicted to unhealthy and struggle with being alone. This area is really hard for me. I have a fiancee who is still struggling with staying clean and sober and we are scheduled for marriage on June 13th. I am afraid that his struggles will rub off on me and I really don't know what to do.
Mirianna
Milwaukee, WI
February 3, 2010
beautiful, noble, good and pure
Wow, I loved reading your story
Anonymous in St Petersburg. Just so, any beauty in nature such as sunlight hitting a leaf is so splendid.
the love of our G-d is so ineffably gorgeous and huge and compassionate and kind
--and none of these words could possibly express the breath-taking splendor of G-d
and the Light of His love.
But sunlight on a leaf and a shaft of light at 3:30 or so in the afternoon,
If only we would take time--just a moment
to let the Light in and share the wonder and the awe
with everyone He puts in our path.
shirley
February 2, 2010
note: remember the pain -- it may get you through
i am a recovering alcoholic. through the grace of the Almighty and the fellowship of AA (and my sober friends) -- when i haven't been too lazy to make it meetings or pick up the telephone -- i've been able to stay away from that first drink for a bit over 21 years now. (i hit a low point in my life in November, 2009. without going into details, i took three sips of wine -- i keep wine in the house to cook with on occasion -- and promptly spat them out: they tasted horrible.
what does the Torah teach us about addiction? perhaps nothing -- at least overtly. but if we are able to love and trust FULLY in the Almighty, and to always remember it is our DUTY to (at least try) always be GRATEFUL for the splendors of G-D's greatest gift to us, our world and the people in it -- and i mean ALL people, or nearly all (there are always exceptions) -- this may be both a start and subsequent sustenance. sometimes sunlight hitting a leaf just so is, or can be, all i need to get me through the day.
Anonymous
St. Petersburg, FL
December 7, 2009
Does your addiction keep you warm?
The reason i created this title is after 18 years (Thank G-d) of freedom fr addiction to alcohol, I realise that I had a lot of illusions; and they did sort of keep me warm and feeling not so alone.
My drink was my friend for a long long time. It ruined my life but it still was my best friend.
I had this delusion that I weas so lonely and so bored that I had no other recourse but to drink to get away fr it all.
One who is in this kind of hold fr the disease--and it is a disease--tends to blame everyone or think of yourself as a victim of circumstances.
But, as I recently told a woman who said she was just going crazy
You are a daughter of Abraham, a daugher of Sarah--of the Most High
First of all addiction is idolatry because if you put G-d first you could not "worship"money or gold or certainly not drugs
Call upon G-d and He will answer.
Try saying at leas the Shema in the morning and at night and feel the power surge through You
He has all Power
the addiction has none
shirley
westlake vill, ca
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