As part my life experience there have been some hard-earned lessons in the area of addiction. Lessons learned through heartache tend to stick around for a long time and will either spur one to change their life in a positive manner or continue along the destructive path until they crash and burn. I took the latter road and it wasn’t much fun.
Thankfully I came out the other side better than I entered. Many people helped me along the way and many still do. I am grateful for the ones who have invested emotionally in my life and the ones who slowed their progress long enough to reach back for me and offer a hand to hold, a listening ear, hugs, and when needed, a swift kick in the tuchis.
Part of my commitment to G-d and to others included the willingness to share my experiences with others who are struggling along the same lines I did. It can be daunting and can try one’s patience. It can also be very rewarding. As Jews we are taught that to save a life is to save the world. Pretty lofty idea and one that motivates and inspires when the task gets a bit weary.
I don’t mind the calls in the night if it keeps someone from using. I really don’t mind any of it other than the heartbreaking news the battle was lost and the one struggling with addiction has lost their life. Addiction usually ends either in recovery or mental hospitals, prison, or death. I batted 2 out of 3 in this area. I thank G-d each day He restores my soul unto me and allows the opportunity to give back to others the gifts I have received.
In putting my name out there to help I never know who is going to call. I really don’t care who it is. I am here and will listen to their story and hopefully offer some wisdom for their situation. Sometimes a listening ear is all that is wanted. My recent referral was quite different in some ways from the norm. Obviously the attributes of an addict are similar in many ways but the stories are sometimes vastly different.
The guy is a huge guy. He was recently released from prison after serving several years. During his incarceration both his parents and his grandmother died. I know the feeling having lost people I loved while living out the consequences of my choices. It’s hard to grieve in an environment rife with facades of machismo. Weakness can get one hurt. This guy was no different. He bottled up his emotions and given the right provocation would probably explode.
We’ll call the guy Leo though that is not his name. Leo is a skinhead, a white supremacist. At least that is the image he puts forth. He has all the skin art which goes along with his projected image. Among his body art are Swastikas and other Nazi symbols. His language and lingo matched his persona.
After going through the introduction, fist bump, and so forth I told him to spill his guts. He did. I learned he claims to hate blacks and Jews. Imagine my effort to keep a straight face as he railed against our people. Thank G-d I was able to listen with my heart instead of my feelings. Here was a guy before me who hated no one other than himself. I have been there; self-hatred is corrosive and will eat at you like acid. After a while Leo lost steam and we got down to the crux of the matter. Leo like everyone else wants to be loved where he is, as he is.
Here’s the choices before me: Take umbrage at the anti-Jew rhetoric and walk away or view Leo as a man made in the image of G-d and embrace him, tattoos and all. The choice for me was easy, I’ve been so broken and shattered I find solace in sharing the pain with someone paddling in the same boat looking for a safe harbor. I am often reminded by the precious people in my life who have loved me with all my faults and foibles that love makes a difference. If Leo can find his way and love himself he will extend that love outward to others. The ones who have fallen the farthest often shine the brightest on the other side of the experience. May it be so with Leo.
The work of recovery is difficult as is anything else worth achieving. It is a day-by-day and sometimes a minute-by-minute struggle. There were times early on in my recovery a few minutes of peace were all I craved; a cessation of the nerves in my body screaming for a fix tormented me for days on end. Plodding along doing the things I knew to do and the things others were teaching and showing me made a vast difference. What am I to do today other than pass those things on to others and shine the Light on their path so it doesn’t seem so dark and scary?
To be honest if Leo asked me how recovery works I probably couldn’t tell him. I just know it does. There certain rules in life that never change; one is this: If you do this, you will get that. Following that premise, it is also axiomatic if you keep doing the same thing you will keep getting the same results. The latter is also true for me spiritually. As I began my journey as ba’al teshuvah, I often got frustrated because I wanted to run instead of walk. It’s sort of like what many men are accused and guilty of: trying to assemble something without first reading the instructions. Usually doesn’t work out too good. Follow the instructions.
Leo and I will talk and I will be there for him as best I can. There are many broken people in my life and their stories resonate with me. I think mine resonates with them too. The beauty of the whole thing is the One who made me knows me by name and He has instilled a passionate purpose within me and all of us. May we live our lives to the fullest and be all we have been created to be. Who knows, by the time Leo and I are done maybe I’ll be the guy he talks about when he says “I once knew this Jew who was a nice guy.” One can hope.