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Recovery Blog

You Never Have To Be Alone Again

September 27, 2009

“In the Sukkot (booths) you shall dwell for seven days." - Leviticus, 23:42

The Sukkah remind us of the Clouds of Glory that surrounded and protected our people after leaving Egypt. During their forty years of wandering through the desert, on the way to the Land of Israel, these Clouds of Glory continuously protected them. It inspires us to believe that today, too, G‑d protects us in His special and unique way.

The protection in the desert was primarily from the elements — the sun during the day, the hot sand, and the harsh winds. Today we are not threatened on a daily basis from the hazards of such a hostile climate. Nevertheless, since Judaism must be relevant, since the commandments of the Torah are not just commemorating the past, there must be a lesson that is applicable in our lives. As a friend in recovery just asked me: “What does this holiday mean to me today?”

I know how fragile many of us can be. Both the addict and the non-addict alike may feel vulnerable and fearful, feeling that they are totally alone. Who doesn't need reassurance at times? We need to know that G‑d is taking care of us, and can always be counted upon. This reassurance is needed — especially if there has been any personal history of feeling rejected, abandoned or hurt. It could be very difficult for the addict to trust anyone, let alone an invisible G‑d.

While I am sitting in the Sukkah this year with my friends who are in recovery, I realize that they know exactly what they need protection from. It’s not what is outside — the heat or the cold, but it is what is on the inside. As I have heard many times, "It’s all an inside job." Self-doubt, fear, ego and resentment are the problem areas, just to name a few. Can G‑d protect me from my own thinking? Can G‑d protect me from myself?

Along comes the holiday of Sukkot, which allows us to tap into that deep knowledge that G‑d Has, Is and will be there for us. The Torah tells us to "dwell" in the Sukkah. I need to dwell on how I am not alone, that I can always count on G‑d. And no matter what my negative thinking says, I need to remember that I am worthy of G‑d’s care — simply because I am His child. If I can enter the Sukkah and sit still, study, pray and expose my self-sabotaging thoughts for what they are, I can hopefully experience what this holiday is all about — a 7-day hug from my Father in heaven.

We have a poster at Chabad Project Pride that says, "YOU NEVER HAVE TO BE ALONE AGAIN!" I think I can add: “And you never really were!”

A Diamond is a Diamond is a Diamond!

It gets dirty; it can even lose its shine. But a diamond always remains a precious stone.

September 21, 2009

On Yom Kippur we ask forgiveness for what we have done; not who we are. Our sins and our Self-Imposed Nonsense are the actions that get in the way between us and G‑d. There are certain things about our personalities that give rise to self-destructive behavior. The Talmud says that the only way we could do anything contrary to G‑d’s will is because we are under the influence of a state of “folly” or “nonsense.”

Over the year we have done plenty of things that cause dirt to gather on our precious soul. The challenge is to communicate this to the struggling addict: That the dirt is acquired and not what defines us. We may be dirty, but we are not dirt!

How to get this message across to the people I work with, people suffering from addiction, is not only a challenge — but it is the main challenge. There is so much self-loathing that they find it impossible to believe that G‑d wants a new and intimate relationship. Addicts are usually filled with shame and guilt. Guilt is healthy and necessary for the recovery process to take place. Shame is different. It is not a regret of what I have done; it is a regret of who I am. "I am bad" vs. "what I have done in the past is wrong." The difference is that our character faults cannot define who we intrinsically are.

The essence of who we are remains unaffected; it needs dusting. And that’s what Yom Kippur does. It’s the annual buffing of the soul. The soul, like the diamond, always remains precious.

Recovering from addiction includes being able to see ourselves rightly. It is distorted thinking that can cause a person to continue to use. One of the thoughts that is so dangerous is that “I am bad.” This thinking takes on a life of its own. It’s called shame-based self-perception. I see myself as my actions and that’s it. But, in reality, I am so much more than my actions and my speech — and even more than my thoughts.

I need to own my own dirt. I need to go over all the actions that need cleansing. I also need to see myself as a diamond. My character defects are acquired; they are not me.

On Yom Kippur we stand before G‑d. We have looked at ourselves rightly; we have repented and committed to a positive future. Our Creator now embraces us as only a parent can embrace a child.

Our true essence shines. The angels dance, and the world rejoices. And, finally, I am okay being me.

A Time to Reconnect

September 15, 2009 1:00 AM

On Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the birthday of Adam — the first human being — created on the sixth day of Creation. The Talmud tells us that the reason Adam was created as a single human, as opposed to all the animals who were created in multitudes, is to teach us the inherent value of a single human being. At that moment of creation, Adam was all of humanity. Were something to happen to Adam at that moment, all of humanity would have been wiped off the face of the earth. And so it is with every human being, at all times — in each one of us lies the power of all humanity. So on this holiday we celebrate and have the energy to increase the power of each one of us. It is a time when the value and the influence of each person is as important as ever.

As the director of Project Pride, an addiction crisis center in Montreal, I see the pain and loneliness of each addict struggling to recover. I hear these questions repeatedly: “Does what I do really matter? Does G‑d know me? Does He care?” These questions are a symptom of a general intimacy problem that I find in people who are suffering from addiction and isolation. People who are “intimacy challenged” find it difficult to connect with others on a deep level, and find it hard to believe that anyone would want to have a relationship with them. To think that G‑d Himself would even know of me, let alone want to have a relationship with me, is unthinkable for someone who is not used to being in a two-way healthy relationship.

The story of Rosh Hashanah and the history of Creation tell us otherwise. G‑d not only desires to have a world with people, G‑d wants an intimate relationship with each one of us. He desires that we create a home for Him here—in this physical world and in our hearts. He trusts us to fulfill His deepest desire here on earth.

On Rosh Hashanah eve, the world waits for His presence. The Creator retreats into the innermost part of His being. It is there, in that most intimate of places, that the essence of the Jewish people enters through their prayers. Once there, the moment is so holy, and the closeness so deep, that G‑d allows Himself to be compelled to reinvest in our relationship in an even greater way.

So, do we really matter? Does G‑d really care? The answer is a resounding "Yes!" It is easier said than felt, especially for those challenged with addiction. But, if I take the next right step towards opening myself up to G‑d, I am on my way to an understanding of just how much G‑d cares.

Letter To A Mourning Parent

September 7, 2009

Dear Fred,

Let me just share with you a few thoughts that I had driving to and from your son's funeral yesterday.

When I was in rabbinical school I decided that I never wanted to teach children or teenagers. They are so fragile, and the way we affect them can change the course of their lives for the good or for the not so good. I decided that it is too big a responsibility.

Instead I ended up helping people that struggle with substance abuse and other related issues. And I’m thinking about the trade off… Here my actions, my words, the spoken and unspoken, don’t only change the course of a life, but sometimes life itself.

There is nothing that you and your family didn’t do for your son. I am not sure that anyone besides your son had the power to change the course of his life. Still, the thought always eats at me: maybe there was a word I could have added or a gesture I could have made. Unfortunately, I’ve attended the funerals of many struggling addicts in the past years, some I knew more, some less. I don’t know which deaths pain me more, the ones that I was so close to, or the ones that I just knew about.

Our religion believes in experiencing pain, as opposed to ignoring it. We believe we have a right to complain to G‑d, but we also know the value of faith and the consolation that comes only through action. My faith is that G‑d’s will for me, for you and for your son was accomplished. G‑d’s will pains me profoundly, but the only permanent result of that pain will be my commitment to do more for my fellow Jews — struggling addicts that I get to know, and the ones I will seek out.

I was proud to hear yesterday that the issue of your son’s substance abuse was not shoved under the rug, but clearly communicated to the Jewish community. This will go a long way in breaking the silence of other suffering addicts. You will hear soon from other parents, and hopefully you will be able to turn your pain into action and help them with your experience and hope.

May G‑d console you and your family among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

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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