It’s been more than a month since we last spoke. Our daughter transferred from her first PHP (partial hospitalization program) and supportive living center to a proper RTC (residential treatment center). The first place was not a good fit. I’m tempted to say it was an absolute waste of time, but I’ve come to realize, as they say in the program, “time takes time.” That can mean a lot of different things, but what it means to al-anons is that just as it took time for things to fall apart, it will take time for things to come back together. If at all. You have to let the process play itself out.

As a rabbi, I’m familiar with this idea. We live our lives with a strong belief in hashgachah pratit - Divine providence. Whatever happens—things that are not in my control and even those which are (in my mind at least)—is ultimately only in G‑d’s control. At the end of the day, notwithstanding our best efforts, He is at the wheel directing every aspect of our lives.

It took “wasted” time to get my child to realize that she needed a higher level of care. The good news is that she got there on her own, and with one caveat—that we find a kosher sober living home within proximity to family and friends—she is going willingly. The higher level care center that we found has truly been a blessing.

The first words out of my daughter’s mouth when “blackout week” was over (for the first week they cannot communicate with home, and after that they have access to the facility’s phones for 15 minutes a day, but no cell phones), were “This place is great! This is exactly what I needed the whole time.”

The goal is a month or so at this center, then sober living, and then home.


There is a famous quote from the Rebbe of Kotzk:

There is nothing more complete than a broken heart, and nothing more upright than a crooked ladder.

On the surface this may seem like some witty wordplay, but upon deeper inspection these are actually some of the deepest truths one can experience.

There are multiple ways to look at things; the very same thing can be seen diametrically differently by two different people.

Typically, we perceive something crooked as being flawed or broken. A crooked picture on the wall is flawed, but with a little effort it can be straightened. Crooked teeth might be a bit more challenging. A crooked (cracked) iPad, well, that’s simply a goner.

What about a crooked person? Not crooked as in a thief or charlatan, but crooked in the sense of not going along the “typical” route - whatever that means. Their life is not “direct,” as it may be for others. Is this person broken beyond repair, like the iPad? Or repairable, like the off-kilter wall hanging?

I posit that not only is this person not crooked, but like the Kotzker’s line about the ladder, he or she is as upright as can be. Better than perfect. An upright ladder is dangerous; only when it’s crooked is it able to accomplish its mission. In the same way, there are souls that need to dance to their own beat, do things in a circuitous way, to accomplish their mission in this world.

And if they can step up and make that happen, they will shine brighter and with greater depth, vulnerability, sincerity and self-awareness than the person who was never crooked to begin with.

If you have ever attended an AA or NA meeting, the authenticity in the room is astounding. It is more than the accountability they have to one another and honesty about their addictions. Their journey has brought them to a place of utter surrender, to the point that they are cleaner than a non-user.

A non-user will show up at times and present the best version of themselves, and at other times a less-than-perfect version of themselves. A person in recovery, however, will always bring their best self to any occasion or experience. They can’t afford to risk anything less. The price to pay is simply too high, the work they've put in too great to squander.

They embody the idea of there being nothing more upright than a crooked ladder. You know why? Because there is nothing more whole than a broken heart. They've journeyed to the abyss and back. They’ve experienced ego-death in the highest and deepest way. Their hearts are complete because they have been broken.

Another wise statement from the Kotzker Rebbe:

Where is G‑d to be found? Wherever we let Him in.

The addict understands this better than anyone else. When they let G‑d in they thrive, when they kick G‑d out, they die.

So, dear daughter, you are not crooked, you are not bent, you are not misshapen. You are you, and you are perfect in your imperfections.

The author is a rabbi in North America. This is part of a series of articles chronicling his daughter’s ongoing struggle with addiction and mental illness.