Recovery Blog

Bringing the Inside Out

August 27, 2008

My friends in recovery have a saying: "We are only as sick as our secrets.” I keep on hearing this, but I have a hard time accepting this idea. I have always wondered: After all, isn't it important to have some privacy? Sure, there is a value in asking advice from others, especially from professionals; but aren’t there some things in life that should be left unsaid?

I wonder no more. I was recently studying the first chapter of Ethics of our Fathers, and I came across the teaching of Rabbi Joshua, who said: "Provide yourself with a teacher; acquire for yourself a friend.” Based on this Mishnah, The Rebbe always emphasized the importance of getting a teacher, a mentor, someone who knows you intimately. Throughout the generations, our Kabbalistic masters have always encouraged us to pick a special person in our lives with whom we can discuss our deepest inner feelings, as well as areas of our lives that need improvement. In the 18th century, Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk recommended that everyone should have a trusted friend in whom he can confide, and to whom he can reveal all his thoughts—as well as his actions. By following such advice, we bring the inside out and we shed light on what is hidden.

Once again my friends in recovery made perfect sense because getting a teacher/mentor means having someone to tell everything to. Getting guidance based on limited information is like getting a phone number less one digit. We need outside help in order not to be fooled by the internal rationalizations that bribe us all into self-deceit. When I have a person in my life with whom I can share where I really stand, it helps me not to be overwhelmed. We all need to be wary of these internal misconceptions. With the help of a mentor (or a sponsor), I experience how much I gain by not holding onto any secrets. It's the two of us against the foolishness of my inner terrain. That inner terrain is called a "bad neighborhood" – and I should definitely try not go there alone. So having this type of relationship is probably one of the greatest safeguards against fooling myself.

But this teacher/confidant needs to know absolutely everything about me because, after all, I am only as sick as my secrets.

Am I a Hypocrite?

August 15, 2008

I have my moments.

Sometimes I am genuinely inspired. I feel uplifted. I feel spiritual. I feel that I have what it takes. A Chassidic way of expressing this feeling is "a tefach hecher" - an inch above worldly matters.

More often than not, however, I feel earthly, materialistic and unrefined. Most of the time, I also act upon this feeling and say things that could be considered unrefined, or do things that are unspiritual.

I also have the ability to follow that unrefined action with a totally focused moment of spiritual uplifting. I can be gossiping, and a couple seconds later I can be engrossed in prayer.

So I ask myself: Am I a hypocrite? Who is the real me? How can a mouth that just uttered angry words to a fellow switch over to read G‑d's praises?

This refutes a common error. When a foreign thought occurs to some people during prayer, they mistakenly conclude that their prayer is worthless, for if one prayed properly and correctly, no foreign thoughts would arise in his mind. They would be correct if there would be but one soul within a person, the same soul that prays being also the one that thinks and ponders on the foreign thoughts. But in fact there are two souls, each waging war against the other in the person's mind. - Rabbi Shneur Zalman Of Liadi, Tanya chapter 28

In other words, defining ourselves by the type of thoughts we think is a grave mistake. Our "self" will never be clearly defined, as long as the battle is raging. We can't call one part of ourselves the winner just because he scored a home run. Until the game is over, there are two talented teams who are fighting for the prize.

In our body we have two souls who are trying to win control over our thoughts, speech and actions. There is always a team that is ahead, and one that is catching up; but there is never a winner. Until we exhale our last breath, we are still in the game.

So now I know that I am not being an hypocrite. It's just about winning the next hand, one hand at a time. I hope you know who I'm vouching for...

A Taste of G-d

August 8, 2008

King David says in Psalms (34:9): "Taste and you will see that G‑d is good." In order to appreciate the goodness of a food item, a person, or even a vacation spot, we need to develop a taste for it. Even before she tasted the first bite of it, my daughter's reaction to a new food is "I don't like it!" Most of us will avoid trying new things because we fear the possible results. We would rather stay miserable in familiar territory than taste change and maybe find some happiness.

However, just as we developed a taste for alcohol, drugs, gambling, and other addictive behaviors — so, too, we gradually develop a taste for spirituality. One woman just told me that she is willing to go to any treatment center in the world, as long as it is not based on the Twelve Steps. In other words, I'm willing to try only something that I'm familiar and comfortable with... But it's impossible for me to actually make real changes in my life, because I already know that I'm not going to like it.

So King David says, "taste." Just take a little taste. You don't have to agree to everything right now. You don't have to change every single thing today. Just try one little thing, one little sip of G‑dliness. And G‑d's promise to us is (as quoted in the Midrash): "Open up to Me [on opening the size of] the tip of a pin, and I will open it up for you like the [wide] opening of the Temple [entrance]." If I do my best, if I give it an honest try, things will get easier. I will develop a taste for spirituality.

Holy Cravings

August 5, 2008

As an observant Jew, and especially a rabbi, I am exposed to prayer and praying on a regular basis. Yet, I learned one of my most favorite prayers from a recovering crack addict. He told me that whenever he feels the urge to use drugs, he closes his eyes and prays: "Please G‑d, help me find in You what I am looking for in the drug."

The Kabbalists teach us that nestled within every created thing is a spark of G‑dliness. When the human body hungers for a piece of physical bread, this is but a reflection of its soul's craving for the spark in the bread. The craving is coming from the holiest place within each one of us — our soul.

The very fact that we have this yearning is powerful proof of how G‑dly we really are! Our prayer is a way to ask for Divine assistance; we’re asking to be able to discover what it is we are really looking for.

So next time you feel a pull, an urge to use — stop, close your eyes, and ask G‑d to help you find in Him what you’re looking for in that cookie. Just open your eyes, make a blessing and enjoy. You have just ingested a spark of G‑dliness.

I Don't Want to be ME

August 3, 2008

Sometimes a message is conveyed better through a story. My favorite one is a famous story of Reb Zusha of Anipoli:

Reb Zusha told his students: When I come to Heaven and they ask me "Why weren't you like Abraham our forefather?" I will answer: "because I wasn't Abraham." If they inquire: "Why didn't you match the greatness of Moses?" I can answer that I wasn't Moses. Even If they try to compare me to my brother Reb Elimelech, I can still say that I wasn't Elimelech. However, If they ask me why I wasn't the way Zusha needed to be... to that I have no answer.

I repeated this story recently at one of our Jewish Recovery meetings. We went around and different recovering addicts shared the different messages they heard.

One person shared: "I don't even have to try to be someone else - it is not whom G‑d wants me to be."

Another person said: "Besides not being someone else, I have to put effort into being me. The reason for that is, that if I won't be me, then who would? If G‑d put me in this world, obviously it is because I can serve a unique purpose that no one else can."

This brought up an interesting thought from a third person, echoed by others: "My drinking didn't stem from the fact that I wanted to be somebody else, but from the fact that I didn't want to be me. My recovery starts when I start being me without the barrier of the alcohol and drugs."

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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