There's an old Jack Benny bit where a mugger jumps out of the bushes and says, "Your money or your life." Benny just stands there doing nothing until the mugger gets irate and shouts, "I said, 'Your money or your life!'" Finally Benny snaps back, "I'm thinking. I'm thinking."

In the Shema prayer we say (Deuteronomy 6:5), "And you shall love the L‑rd your G‑d with all of your heart, with all of your soul and with all of your might." The Midrash interprets "your soul" to mean your life and "your might" to mean your possessions.

In other words, you should love G‑d even to the extent of giving up your life, and even to the extent of losing your possessions. The Midrash then asks, "But if the Torah already tells us to love G‑d even to the extent of giving up our lives for Him, isn't it obvious that we should also be willing to part with our possessions for Him?" The Midrash answers, "For some people, their money is more precious to them than their life."

I guess the Torah was talking about guys like Jack Benny. But where does the Torah talk about me? I am an alcoholic. Where does the Torah tell me to love G‑d more than I love to drink? Because, you see, for me, giving up my alcohol is like Jack Benny giving up his money. If you tell me, "Your alcohol or your life," my answer is, "I'm thinking. I'm thinking."

Let me explain to you what it means — to me — to be a recovering alcoholic. Repeated experience has made it abundantly clear that I can either have everything I ever wanted out of life OR I can have alcohol. I can't have both. If I work my program of recovery, all my dreams come true. If I have one drink, I turn my life into a living hell. But that's not what makes me an alcoholic. What makes me an alcoholic is that — for me — that's actually a tough call to make.

I suppose that since I am in recovery it means that, in the end, I keep deciding that my life is more important to me than my drinking. But that's not a decision that I arrive at without a great deal of daily deliberation. Whenever I am distressed — or sometimes even for no reason at all — I contemplate whether or not I should just go for broke, go back to the bottle and let all of the chips fall where they may. After indulging this perverse fantasy for a while, I ultimately decide that it’s not a decision I'm prepared to make — not because I wouldn't like to, but because I can't live with the consequences. I know that I will just end up in so much pain that I will have to give up and — if I don't die or go insane first — go back to recovery again anyway. So I choose life. But it's not an instinctive choice. That's how messed up I am. Are you beginning to understand?

But let's get back to my question: Where does the Torah talk about me? Where does G‑d tell me, the alcoholic, that I should love Him more than I love to drink?

I look at the verse again. "And you shall love the L-rd, your G‑d, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might." "Soul" means life; "might" means possessions. Looks like I skipped over "heart." What's "heart"? What is "with all of your heart"?

The Midrash says, "with 'both' of your hearts — your inclination for good and your inclination for bad." I've got two hearts. Yes, I can relate to this. One heart loves G‑d. One heart loves to drink. G‑d wants me to love Him with the heart that already loves Him and with the heart that loves to drink.

But how can I love Him with the heart that loves to drink?

Why do I drink?

You know why I drink? I drink because it takes me away from "me." I don't like being "me." Not that I think I would be any happier being someone else, but I, for darn sure, don't like being "me." I like numbness. Mental numbness. My mind goes so fast. My brain won't shut up. The thoughts produce feelings faster than my puny heart can bear. Alcohol takes care of that. Drunkenness quiets the "me" and the less "me" there is, the better I feel. When I am really good and drunk, I have these beautiful moments where, suddenly, it doesn't even hurt so much to be "me."

In recovery I have learned that I can get from my relationship with G‑d everything that I ever wanted to get out of alcohol. When I give myself up to G‑d, it doesn't hurt so much anymore to be "me."

I guess that's really why I stay sober. I know that I said earlier it's because I am afraid of the misery and insanity and death that my drinking would bring. But that's not the real reason. Misery and insanity and death just aren't big enough deterrents to keep an alcoholic like me sober very long. They might be able to scare me straight for a while, but they're not enough to keep me sober day after day. No, the real reason I stay sober is because all I ever wanted from alcohol I can get from my relationship with G‑d.

And do you know what it was that I wanted out of alcohol? Alcohol promised that if I could just get rid of "me" long enough, then in that quiet, I would somehow finally be "me."

I don’t expect all of you to relate to this, but you can still humor me when I speak of the truth that I’ve found — that real life begins when you learn to love G‑d with the heart that loves to drink.