It’s hard for Avraham to speak about his battle with chemical dependency without choking up.
The 26-year-old said that before he came to the Chabad Project Pride-Centre Lifeline in Montreal four months ago, he had almost lost everything. Avraham – like all of the recovering addicts interviewed for this article, he preferred that his real name not be used – was convinced that his drug addiction had made him incapable of being helped.
“The more I would feel like a lowlife, the more I would act out,” explained Avraham, whose parents intervened and took him to Project Pride. “For 10 years, I was so sure that I was bad.”
A conversation with Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Benyamin Bresinger changed that outlook. The Project Pride director emphasized to Avraham that his addiction was a disease, and like any disease could be treated; recovery, the rabbi stressed, was not only possible, but necessary.
“He believes in me,” said Avraham. “It’s starting to rub off on me that maybe I’m someone to believe in.”
Some 200 people heard stories like Avraham’s at Project Pride’s seventh annual dinner last week. The common denominator among them was the power of positive thinking to effect change.
“This is front-line intervention,” said Bresinger, noting that addicts – 60 percent of whom are not Jewish – often come in off the street because they can’t pay their rent or have lost their jobs.
At the dinner, one recovering addict told the crowd about how she became an alcoholic despite growing up in a supportive family and obtaining a Ph.D.
“Alcoholism does not discriminate,” said Bresinger.
According to the rabbi, a full 10 percent of any population struggles with addiction, in all its various forms. Consequently, Project Pride’s staff of four has seen it all, and seeks to provide all-around assistance to addicts and their families.
One women once called seeking help for her husband, who was addicted to crack cocaine. Instead of telling the woman to bring the man in immediately, social worker Keren Bresinger asked first about the couple’s children. It turned out that the woman was emotionally and physically exhausted, and had been caring for four children – including a diabetic baby – while her husband would disappear for days on end. Their house was facing foreclosure.
With some help from Project Pride, the husband checked himself in to a detoxification clinic. Meanwhile, two seminary girls helped the wife out for two hours a night, four days a week. Two weeks later, Project Pride staff picked the husband up and took him to an out-of-province rehabilitation center.
The man is home now, and “is struggling,” said the rabbi. “But he’s attending our 12-step program three days a week.”
Frank, another of the recovering addicts to address the dinner, came to Project Pride after a 30 year battle with drug addiction. His original intent, however, was to commit suicide. During a visit to his mother, which he though would be the last time, he opened a phone book and found the listing for the center.
Staff member Ruth Weinberger answered the call. Frank didn’t say anything.
Instead of hanging up, Weinberger said to Frank, “come have some coffee.”
“Those words changed his whole life,” said Bresinger.
Frank, who has been off drugs for a year, said that “the Jewish people saved my life.”
Likewise, Avraham credited Project Pride with giving him hope.
“This place,” he said, “is saving my life.”