Today our child sent us a text message: “Tell me something Jewish?”

I replied: “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart” —The Kotzker Rebbe.

That exchange was more than just a quip for the moment; it was the ultimate expression of everything we have been feeling for the past few days.

She recently made an important growth step, which was the step down from RTC (Residential Treatment Center) and PHP (Partial Hospitalization) to “sober living” (a structured home for people in recovery) and IOP (Intensive Outpatient) which is 3½ hours a day of treatment at the clinic.

We had agonized for weeks as to which sober-living facility would be right. Our pledge to her as she went into RTC was that we’d find a sober-living center close to the East Coast, where kosher food would be accessible, and which would allow friends and family to visit her. She would have access to her phone, and various other checkboxes that she insisted be ticked. Oh, and something affordable since sober living is not covered by insurance.

It quickly became clear that we’d have to compromise on something. The kosher places were either not robust enough or on COVID holding patterns and not taking in new residents, the cheaper places were quite lousy, and the non-kosher places were, well, not kosher.

After consultation with recovery experts and our rabbinic advisers, it was determined that we should focus on where she can get the best supportive help (i.e a strong 12 step home), and drop the kosher food requirement. This is actually what Judaism suggests in this circumstance.

Eventually we found a place just 15 minutes from our home that seemed to check off most of the boxes. They would allow us to bring our daughter home-cooked meals, and they would accommodate her kosher needs with new toaster ovens, pots and pans just for her.

For better or worse, the place we chose was quite intense, and within a few hours of her arrival we started getting the calls.

“I am leaving.”

“I am not staying here.”

“Can you pick me up?”

“This is not what we agreed to.”

“You lied to me.”

“You hate me.”

The searing pain of your young adult child talking this way takes your breath away.

Exacerbating the problem was that it seemed that she was actually right. A lot of what she said was true-ish. The things we had been promised earlier were in fact only partially true.

Yes, she could have her phone, but only for a few hours a day.

Yes, she could begin to work, but only after two or three weeks.

Yes, she could have her car and start to drive and be back by curfew, but only after she earned that privilege.

So, now the deep soul searching began.

Do we be codependents and move her to a new location? Not that we even had any. Do we convince them to change the rules for her (even more codependent)? Do we force her to stay in a place that is actually quite good for her, but more robust than we had all agreed upon?

What price will our long-term relationship pay for us not allowing her home until she finishes the minimum amount of sober living suggested by the previous clinical team? The statistics do make it clear that the longer you stay in sober living, the more likely you are to stay sober in the long term.

What were we to do?

Everybody was broken-hearted. We all knew that the more support the better, but was this too much? Could our child handle the pressure? Were we making a bigger mistake by keeping her there despite her frustration, pain and anger, or were we doing the responsible thing?

Day one was anger.

Day two was grief.

Day three was submission.

After a long discussion with experts, we decided that we needed to stay the course and help our child learn yet another lesson: that life is full of disappointments, including this not being what we had expected. But we don’t give in when we are disappointed; we push through and survive and try to thrive.

We are not the enemy, we didn’t cause this disappointment. She is in this situation not because we didn’t know or convey all the details of this place, but because she made a bad choice some time ago to use substances to numb her pain, and this is a direct result of that action.

She needed help and we are only trying to support her in her journey to receiving that help.

She spent a few days being angry and then submissive. There is clear hurt and pain under it all, but she announced that she has learned that she can be angry with us and still get as much from her time there as possible.

The recovery community has a language of its own. Rock bottom, keep it simple, G‑d’s grace, and thousands more little wise quips. One of them is: “surrender is the intersection between acceptance and change.”

That more or less summed up our situation. A lot of the progress is made when you surrender. Surrender to your Higher Power, surrender to the fact that you do not control your illness. Surrender to the fact that you do not control what happens to you, only how you react to your circumstances.

It was a win. A painful win. A broken-hearted win, but as the Kotzker Rebbe said, “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart.”

In chassidic teachings there is a foundational concept called bittul, which loosely translates as “humility,” or more accurately as “self-nullification.” That said, while that translates the words, it really doesn’t tell the entire story. Bittul is more than a word; it’s an idea, a way of life.

I’ve heard it described as not getting rid of your “self,” but getting over your “self.” But I want to take it a step deeper for a moment. I posit, a truer depth of this concept is when we step out of the way of G‑d’s master plan and let it pass through us without coloring it with our anxieties and biases.

Lecturer Rabbi Shais Taub once mentioned that after a class on bittul, a woman came over to him and said “be-a-tool.” So he corrected her and said “bittul.” She repeated, “be-a-tool” and he again corrected her “bittul.”

After a few of these back and forths she clarified: Bittul means to “be a tool.” A tool doesn’t have a mind or ability of its own, but it is very powerful when in the hands of the person using it. In some respects, that is how we are meant to feel and behave when living in G‑d’s world. To be a tool in His hands—let Him do His thing, and go along for the ride. Let it pass through us without coloring or altering it based on our preconceived notions and biases.

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.