Speaking Up About Addiction, the Ultimate Slavery

March 12, 2018

Isaac’s road to sobriety hadn’t been particularly easy.

I had originally seen Isaac and his wife, Etty, for couples therapy due to his drinking problem. He had been motivated to stay sober but wasn’t willing to give it the time and energy it truly required.

“The firm won’t let me take off any time to go to a rehab,” he had infamously told me.

And while I felt otherwise, I couldn’t push him into a move that he wasn’t ready to buy into. Luckily he was willing to go to the AA meetings at the local Young Israel.

This wasn’t enough support to keep him sober, but he was able to build an important relationship there. His sponsor, Yehudah, worked hard to support Isaac but it wasn’t enough. Things began to implode after Etty caught him sneaking nips and began to ask questions about their SUV which had suspiciously been “damaged in hit and run while parked in the driveway.” Luckily Yehudah was able to bring him back to my office for an intervention.

Etty made it clear that while she loved Isaac, she would be forced to take their baby and to go to live with her parents unless he got sober. Isaac was resistant but reluctantly agreed to let me coordinate a 30-day rehabilitation stay for him. In the end, his boss was no fool and was happy to have Isaac get the help he needed in order to have his top litigator back to 100%.

Following the 30-day program, Isaac was back with a vengeance and ready to restart his life as a new man. He became a dedicated member of the AA group and began leading meetings. His relationship with his wife and child blossomed as he brought a new energy to the home. And, of course. his work in the office was infinitely better now that he wasn’t sneaking drinks in between clients.

Isaac even asked me to prescribe him a medication–Antabuse–that would cause an awful hangover should he ever put any alcohol in his system. He proudly took it every morning in front of his wife and told me, “I couldn’t even drink now if I tried or this little pill would give me the worst hangover of my life.” He was correct and had experienced this first-hand after accidentally swallowing some mouthwash one evening and feeling ill for the entire night. “I’m never gonna make that mistake again,” he laughed.

“I finally feel like an Eved HaShem instead of just an Eved to my addiction,” Isaac said one afternoon during a therapy session in my office. “Slavery. Addiction is actually a form of slavery because drugs and alcohol own your every thought.”

Isaac was on a roll. “I’m sober now for almost two years and it’s a beautiful thing. My life couldn’t be better and I want to scream out to HaShem and tell him how grateful I am. I’m doing well at work, my wife loves me, we’re having another kid now, things are fantastic and it’s all because I’m sober. This is why I’m going to start sharing my story.”

“What do you mean Isaac?” I asked.

“I’ve talked it over with my sponsor Yehudah and I want to start telling people about my addiction and how I’ve been able to get sober. The AA group, having a sponsor, going to rehab, being in therapy, taking a medication to stop me from drinking. The whole story.”

“That’s great Isaac,” I responded with some trepidation. “But is Etty OK with that?” The frum community isn’t always so open-minded when it comes to people with substance-abuse issues and I wanted to make sure he’d considered this and what it might mean for him to bring this information into the public forum.

“Isaac thinks it’s a great idea. So does my Rabbi.”

I couldn’t really argue with the hazakah of his sponsor, his wife, and his Rabbi. Plus I was a strong believer that people in the frum world needed to know more about substance-abuse and available treatments and was therefore supportive.

Isaac continued, “So I’m gonna start now, right now, right before Pesach. I’m going to tell people about my life and how I used to be a slave to alcohol and now I’m sober, happy, and healthy. People need to know that alcoholism exists in the religious community and that it’s a problem. But more importantly they need to know that they can get sober. Yetziat Mitzrayim is for real!”

“You sold me on it Isaac.”

“It’s just really the right time for this too. Pesach is about freedom and addiction is the ultimate Mitzrayim. What could be a bigger slavery than constantly craving your next drink? What could be a bigger freedom than sobriety and finally having your life back?”

I nodded in agreement. Isaac was definitely on point.

“The Rabbi at the Young Israel is totally on board too. He’s going to let me speak on Shabat Hagadol right before Pesach. I feel like it’s perfect to speak there too because that’s where we have the AA meeting every morning. It’ll be great. There will be hopefully close to 500 people there to hear my drasha. This will really get the idea out there and make it public. And it’s completely emes. It’ll be practical, too, about how to get help.”

“I’m proud of you Isaac, but most importantly you should be proud of yourself.”

“I am. But truth is that I’m most proud of my wife for sticking with me and believing in me. If she hadn’t pushed me to do something and to listen to you when you recommended a rehab I’d be in jail by now for a DUI or even something worse.”

“True,” I said. “She’s an amazing woman.”

Isaac stood up to finish our session. As he neared the door he asks me, “Maybe you’ll be able to come hear me speak, Dr. Freedman?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. As you said, conquering addiction is the ultimate Yetziat Mitzrayaim and every generation needs to feel it. Reliving your success story makes it real for me!”

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.