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Recovery Blog

In Treatment For 40 Years

July 24, 2008

Studying Judaism and Recovery, I am always fascinated by the similarities that I find between the Jewish people wandering for forty years in the desert, and a struggling addict. As we read up about the Jewish people wrapping up their 40 year journey and finally crossing over into the land of Israel, I am compelled to share with you one lesson that I like to take.

Let's say I have an alcohol or drug problem, and I end up in a plush treatment center... Massage therapists are on call 24/7. There is a committed group of old-timers that come by at all times of the day to share their experience with the patients. The meals are cooked by a top-name chef. The highest qualified therapist runs the clinical program. The temperature is just right, and the swimming pool very attractive. I get to work on my real issues, childhood traumas, relationships. I do 12-step work every breathing minute, and maybe I even dream about it. Why not? Life is sober, and life is good.

Then it's time to go home. Home is very unattractive at this point. Nagging spouse. Credit card debt. Mean boss. Bad economy. Car pool. Bad Michigan weather. Wouldn't it be nice if I didn't have to go home at all? What if I just stayed here, in this safe environment and just be an honest, sober spiritual being?

I guess I would have sided with the Jews who wanted to stay in the desert. I can handle staying sober in an environment where all my needs are taken care of. I can handle recovery in a no-conflict state of being. I can stay away from my drug of choice when my DOC is out of sight.

That's not real life. And that is definitely not spirituality. That surely is not "practicing these principles in all of my affairs."

Being spiritual is my ability to be challenged, and stay my ground. Being spiritual is taking all the lessons that I learned from my therapist, counselor, sponsor and utilize them in my daily life.

It's time to go home.

Take A Side

July 18, 2008

There was a time in Jewish history, it must have been a really long time ago, when the drug of choice for most people was idolatry... Go figure. The cocaine of idolatry was Baal. The high society would secretly worship Baal.

The Jewish Prophet at the time happened to be Elijah. Here is a quote from his admonishment: "How long halt ye between two opinions? if the L-rd be G‑d, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him." For us English speakers: Take a side, G‑d or Baal.

The obvious question is, what kind of a choice is this coming from Elijah? He's giving the Jewish people two apparently equal choices, G‑d or Baal. Shouldn't he just suggest to the people to quit Baal and embrace G‑d?

The lesson to us is that sometimes blurring the line is worse than crossing it. If you know where the line is and where you stand then even if you are on the wrong side of it, at least you have a chance of crossing back. But if you blur the line to a point that you can really believe that you can use your drug and be in recovery at the same time, then your chances of getting back on your feet are slim.

What Elijah asked the Jewish people to do is to admit they were powerless over their addiction, that their lives have become unmanageable. That's step one for us.

Then we can ask G‑d to help us cross back to the right side of the line. That's step two: G‑d can restore us to sanity.

The Gift of Purpose

July 14, 2008

I once read a story that got me thinking. (Actually all stories get me thinking, but that one really got me thinking, I even decided to blog about it...)

So here it is:

A man was sentenced to spend twenty years in prison. While incarcerated, his daily assignment was to turn a massive wheel, attached to the outside wall of the jail, all day long. It was a pretty depressing job, so the man kept himself uplifted by imagining what was on the other side on the wall. Some days he thought about all the people that were fed by the flour that the mill he was powering was probably producing, some day he fantasized about all the light bulbs for which he was providing electricity. He yearned for the day he would be set free, so he could go around the wall and find out what exact service he was providing to the world. That thought gave purpose to his life, gave him the strength to continue even when his body was exhausted.

Unfortunately, after serving twenty years he found out that behind the wall there was no factory, no mill, no power plant; actually the wheel was attached to... nothing. The realization that for all these years there was no purpose to his labor was too much for him to bear. Much harder than the actual physical work was the emotional strain of living a purposeless life for so long.

Most physical things that we do cannot be described as really purposeful. I eat because I have to survive. I work because I need money to buy food. According to Kabbalah, these fall in the category of our Outer Will - things that we do but which are not our final goal. Our Inner Will is being utilized when we have no further purpose to an action. I pray because praying is the right thing to do. I am kind because it's the right thing to do. A truly purposeful action is one that comes from our Inner Will.

A purposeful action is also something that makes a difference in the world. Eating and sleeping have been done, by humans and animals alike, for millenniums. When we do something unique, we have the Gift of Purpose. A spiritual program is one that is unique to our personality, being spiritual is being purposeful.

So, by following our spiritual path of the Twelve Steps we are building a factory on the other side of the wall. By turning over our will and our lives to the care of G‑d, we have the Gift of Purpose.

The Deceiving Waters

July 9, 2008

As my job is to be a Rabbi to the local Jewish Recovery Community, my Friday nights are usually spent among Jewish recovering addicts. Our Shabbat meal is spiced up with stories of recovery and celebrations of anniversaries. Last week we had the joy of celebrating many sobriety anniversaries including 30 Days, 60 Days, 9 Months, 1 Year, and 9 Years!!!

So it got me thinking about all those years of recovery that some people have, and how some people unfortunately relapse even after 25 years of actively working the program. It reminded me of a story in the Talmud where the High Priest carried his spiritual duties for 40 years in a row, and then turned heretic. Now, you can't fake your way through walking into the Holy Temple in Jerusalem on the Holiest day of the year... But still there is no guarantee.

Another thought that crossed my mind was the Talmudic description of the "Deceiving Rivers". In Talmudic times a person who wanted to purify themselves has to immerse themselves in a body of water. In order for a river to be considered adequate for immersion it has to have a continuous flow, an all-weather river. The Deceiving Rivers were rivers that would flow regularly for up to seven years in a row, and then take a break for a while. They are called Deceiving Rivers even at the time that they are gushing and flowing with full force, and deemed unKosher for immersion.

So it turns out that Truth is Eternal. If we are connected to a source of Life and Truth, we will last forever. And if we eventually fail, it means that we were not totally truthful. It means that somewhere inside of us we were dishonest with ourselves all along. We may have appeared to be alive and involved to the maximum, but we knew all along that there was a little break in honesty, that we might just have been a Deceiving River...

Everything Happens For "The Reason"

July 6, 2008

I get into a car accident. My car is totaled, my day is ruined, my insurance premium is going up. I am upset at myself, I'm angry at the world, and I'm not on speaking terms with G‑d for a while.

Then they line up, the friends who want to cheer me up, the spiritual leaders who know better: You know what my friend... No need to be upset... No need to be depressed... Everything happens for A reason!!!

The first thought that crosses my mind is, Where is your compassion? Where is your sympathy? Do you think I need to hear that I'm suffering for a reason? I'm Suffering!

The second thought that jumps up my brain is: Oh, yeah. Obviously everything happens for a reason. The reason I got into a car accident is so that my car should be wrecked. The reason my day is ruined is so I don't accomplish any of the things that I need to do today. The reason my insurance is going up is so I can have less money to buy food for my kids. How does that help me?

Knowing that there is A reason for everything that happens doesn't take a genius to figure out, certainly there was no need for the Baal Shem Tov to come along and enlighten us that every event has a consequence.

Whoever has faith in individual Divine Providence knows that "Man's steps are established by G‑d," that this particular soul must purify and improve something specific in a particular place. For centuries, or even since the world's creation, that which needs purification or improvement waits for this soul to come and purify or improve it. The soul too, has been waiting - ever since it came into being - for its time to descend, so that it can discharge the tasks of purification and improvement assigned to it. Hayom Yom - 3 Elul
Now we are talking business. Everything happens for the reason, not just A reason. And the reason is G‑d's master plan for his universe.

G‑d created the physical world so that humans can transform it and elevate it to a spiritual state. We have the power to experience people, places and things in a G‑dly way, thus changing their composition from merely physical to a new spiritual dimension. The only reason weird things happen to us, is because we are challenged to elevate that situation from the annoying (to humans) to the pleasurable (to G‑d).

In other words "Everything happens for a reason" are not words of consolation, but a call to action. If I got into a car accident it is because there is something that I can do in that situation that can make a difference in G‑d's master plan for his universe. It's up to me to figure it out. It's up to me to make it worth it.

If only the premium was affordable...


Contact your local Recovery Rabbi and join a Jewish Recovery Community:
Boca Raton, FL
Rabbi Meir Kessler
Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Mendel Cohen
Milwaukee, WI
Rabbi Shais Taub
Montreal, Canada
Rabbi Benyamin Bresinger
New York, NY
Rabbi Yaakov Bankahalter
Reading, PA
Rabbi Yosef Lipsker
West Bloomfield, MI
Rabbi Yisrael Pinson
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