At fourteen, I was drawn to a small group of older students in my yeshiva. They were clearly the “in crowd” and didn’t sweat the small stuff; small meaning homework, tests, and what anybody, including their teachers, thought of them. Happy and carefree, they exuded an aura of confidence, a quality which I was sadly lacking.
Aware of my admiration, they decided to include me from time to time and once they felt I could be trusted, . Suddenly the world took on charms that had previously escaped me; I felt invincible, able to tackle anything.
It didn’t take long for me to become an avid fan of weed, and it didn’t take long before the free ride was over. My new found friends were clear: I’d have to finance my own supply. I had already accumulated a decent nest egg from bar mitzvah gifts, which I’d earmarked towards buying a car, but the allure of a car was in the distant future and my desire to get high was in the overwhelming, ever present here-and-now. I began to withdraw small sums… at first.
I was absolutely convinced that I was doing quite well, that my smoking was giving me a clarity and wisdom far superior to others. My parents and teachers, however, were growing increasingly concerned about sliding grades and the lackadaisical attitude I’d developed towards home and school responsibilities. And yet, because they wanted to believe the best of me, they never suspected I was under the insidious influence of drugs, or that the situation would escalate.
Fast forward ten years.
Somehow, I’d managed to keep my life on a more or less even keel. Most people had no clue that the personable, capable young man with whom they were dealing was in a continual drug-induced state. I found a job that allowed for flexible hours, so my employers and co-workers only saw me at my best. I even persuaded an incredible young woman that I was marriage material, revealing my habit to her, but promising to stop using drugs if she stayed with me.
After our marriage, I kept to my word—part of it, anyway. I swore off “hard” stuff. But from my accumulated experiences of dealing on the streets, I knew how to obtain prescription drugs. Illicit pharmaceuticals, together with my continued use of marijuana [my rationalization is that’s not really a drug—it’s legal in some states], kept me “happy.”
Twelve years flew by. I had four adorable children who barely knew their father, who played at being attentive to them, but whose mind was on his next “fix” or his next glass of alcohol. My wife realized I was falling asleep at the wheel and took over all the driving—in her car (as mine reeked of “pot”). We finally progressed to the point where she even refused to leave me alone with the kids in the house.
It’s not that I was totally insensitive to what was happening in my life, and part of me really wanted to join the normal world. Over the past twenty-two years I’d seen many therapists and addiction specialists, hoping to find one that would see me on an outpatient basis. They all sang the same song: go to detox, rehab, attend 12-step meetings, and your life will get considerably better. I wasn’t interested. I kept scraping along on “uppers and downers” to remain focused enough to keep my job. I had to crash and burn before admitting the need for serious help.
And then, it finally happened.
Last Purim, I added so much liquor to my usual mix of drugs that I went totally berserk, almost killing my best friend with my bare hands. That day was rock-bottom.
For the next six weeks I got dressed in the morning as if going to work. As soon as my wife and children left the house, I was back in bed with my face to the wall, willing myself to die. And since that obviously didn’t work, I began making calls to various rehab programs, but couldn’t find one that was kosher or whose staff could really understand my particular situation or background. Even with everything that had gone sour in my life, the one thing that I’d held on to was “kashrus”, and I wasn’t about to let go of that now.
In desperation, I called Dr. Benzion Twerski, who was well acquainted with my fluctuating resolve. On hearing my voice he gave me his full attention and asked how I was doing. I admitted to finally recognizing the necessity of finding real help, but that I’d been unable to locate a program that would accommodate my Jewish needs.
“You’re not going to believe this,” he said, “but a program just opened in Florida, called Beit Hatikvah. It’s both kosher and shomer shabbos!” I’ll give you their number. Call them right away and let them know I gave the recommendation”
So I traveled to Florida and started the “detox process” with them. The first few days, isolated from my family and friends, were tough – but I realized that it was now or never to finally confront myself, my core values, and my substance abuse.
That was two and a half months ago. It’s been really hard being separated from family, but they’ve come to visit me. My wife and children are gradually learning to relax in my company, to feel that I truly treasure them and care about their thoughts and feelings.
I never before fully understood what I’d been doing to myself and my family. Through the help of Beit Hatikvah, I’m learning how to cope with frustration and disappointment, developing healthy ways of reacting to them. I finally recognize the awful ramifications and personal devastation that would ensue if I would, G-d forbid, relapse into my former state. In the process of becoming grounded, I can now focus on a healthy future.
This morning, as I was sitting in the offices of Beit Hatikvah, I noticed a large poster declaring, “there is hope at the end of the tunnel” – and I know that with a commitment to my program, and the loving support of my family, I will finally be able to make it!
To read the OU’s Purim Safety Alert, please click: Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse. To learn more about a Jewish extended care treatment program, please click: Beit Hatikvah. For additional resources on addiction and recovery, you may also visit: Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.