Sometimes, a client will come in and know exactly what is wrong, without the ability to act on that knowledge. They may repeat a cycle again and again, trying desperately to break old habits that have become so second nature, sometimes even to the point of addiction.

Addiction does not discriminate. People from all walks of life—from all agesAddiction does not discriminate and stages, from all socioeconomic groups—grapple with addiction to various substances and behaviors.

For many years, the solution was out of reach. An alcoholic was hopeless. But today, many recognize that a spiritual solution is so powerful that the obsession and compulsion to act out can be lifted.

In the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous, Dr. Carl Jung is quoted as revealing the solution to alcoholism: “Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences.” He understood alcoholism as a low-level thirst of G‑d manifesting itself as an extreme desire for the addictive substance. The solution, therefore, was spiritual in nature.

Jung believed that if an addict was to give his or her life over to the care of a Higher Power, he or she would be transformed. If an addict could give up trying to control people and places, but fully acknowledge that G‑d controls the world, it would have a powerful effect. Addicts have a change in psyche sufficient to relieve themselves of their addiction. They would become new people. They would not be the same individuals who once craved alcohol, but a new version of themselves, doing what G‑d wants them to do. Instead of filling a G‑d-sized hole with alcohol, they would get the spirituality their souls truly craved. (The Big Book enumerates 12 steps, all based on the premise of giving our will over to G‑d, followed by spiritual inner work and connecting to a Higher Power.)

There is a fascinating law in the Torah that sheds light on this phenomenon.

When an ox gores a child or acts in a destructive manner three times, it is known as a shor mu’ad, a “warned ox” or shor nagach, an “ox that gores.” It has made a habit out of goring, and in a sense, is addicted to its destructive behaviors.

How does an ox undo its status? How does it get freed from its behaviors? When it gets a new owner. When it is transferred over to a new boss, it gets a clean slate. It has a new chance to be free of its previous negative behaviors and establish a new identity. The “other” ox would gore, this one doesn’t. Simply having a new owner gives it an opportunity to start again.

The Rebbe explains that this is symbolic of the inner ox inside each one of us. While we all have a G‑dly soul—a soul that does only what G‑d wants—we each also possess an animal soul, an energy that wants to act selfishly and sometimes destructively. When we give into our inner ox once, twice, three times, we get caught in its grip and find it difficult to break free of our negative cycle. We get stuck in the rut of mistakes and demands of the animal soul. We are, so to speak, “addicted” to our negative behaviors, whether with or without a substance.

That is, until we establish a new owner for ourselves. Until we change ourThere is daily spiritual maintenance to maintain domain to a domain of holiness, committing to do what G‑d wants: actively choosing that G‑d is our boss and not the animal soul, and submitting to our new boss. The decision alone of establishing a new owner is what helps free us from the grasp and power of the ox that gores. It is a powerful spiritual change that affects our inner psyche. We are no longer an ox addicted to negative behaviors, but a person committed to doing what our Creator wants. When G‑d is our boss, then the inner ox isn’t.

Of course, this work isn’t easy. There is daily spiritual maintenance to maintain. The ox will be faced with the urge to gore again. We need to constantly recommit to G‑d being our Power, our new boss. It is helpful to have a daily morning routine in which we actively choose to give ourselves over to G‑d. This can be during morning blessings, or a set time for meditation and prayer. These spiritual practices fill our soul with a connection to G‑d we so crave and function as ammunition against the inner ox that might be tempted to “gore.”

So when we are faced with essentially spiritual challenges, we ought to respond with spiritual solutions.

Self-reflection: Have I personally experienced spiritual growth that has helped me with my day-to-day struggles? Can I guide my client with spiritual tools?

Source: Likutei Sichot, volume 36, sicha 1. Also see Under New Management.

Note: Addiction is complex and may require professional assistance. These ideas are not a replacement for professional help, but rather sharing spiritual guidance and perspective.