There is a secret community within our communities whose existence is known only to those in it.
They purposely keep quiet, drawing no attention to themselves so they can best serve their purpose. They are full of eager, driven individuals whose aim is self growth. They fear stigma, publicity and judgment. We may know that some exist or suspect an individual of belonging, but we have no confirmation.
I am referring to the community of recovering addicts, better known as the 12-Step rooms.
I am breaking the silence due to some harmful comments caused by blatant ignorance. Those in the struggle know good and well how intense, powerless and spiritual it is. Those in the greater community, however, may view them with disdain, denial or perpetuate the addiction by sheer lack of knowledge. A little information can be power when it comes to recognizing symptoms in yourself and others.
Myth: Addiction is just a made up excuse. Addicts are weak people shifting the blame and just lack willpower.
Nothing can be more counter-productive than this belief. To help an addict means to recognize that addiction is a disease. Yes, I repeat, a bona fide disease.
To begin, let’s define addiction. Addiction is when a person compulsively repeats a behavior or is addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity. People with an addiction do not have control over what they are doing, taking or using. Their addiction may reach a point at which it is harmful. Many addicts feel awful about their behavior but cannot stop.
Their brain is wired so that the object of their addiction constantly sends endorphins through their system. Their body is always pushing them to get the next endorphin fix. They may be born with this condition or develop it when exposed to the addictive substance. Addictive substances are endless: food, work, internet, pills, a feeling such as fear, drama, alcohol, etc.
Addictions only progress with time. An addict may promise to change but it is not in their power to fulfill their promise. As honest as their tears were, as remorseful as they felt about their behavior, they physically can’t stop. They were not trying to deceive you; they themselves are trapped in their web of addiction. Most dislike themselves and their behavior strongly.
Additionally, as the brain gets used to the current level of addiction, more extreme behavior is needed to get the endorphin rush. This leads to worse destructive behavior. To be cured requires more than willpower.
Myth: Everyone is addicted somewhat. Who cares?
It is true that many of us have addictions. The question is how much it impacts our life. In a true addiction, the affect grows until life becomes unmanageable. Those are the people who may need to seek help.
Myth: I can tell who is an addict from a mile away.
Maybe. And maybe not.
An addict develops a certain character to protect their addiction. This may include rage, blame, denial of all wrongs, and a host of defense mechanisms. Some addictions are hard to hide as they take over more and more of an addict’s life. With other addictions, you may feel something is off but not know what. Many difficult personalities can be hiding an addiction. Just as many may not be.
The important thing to recognize is that no one is immune. Any family can have a member with an addiction. It is important to ask yourself if there are any concerns about this individual and not be dismissive of any red flags.
Myth: I’ll force them to go to therapy.
Just as the addict can’t control their addiction, neither can you. You didn’t cause the addiction, you cannot control it and you definitely cannot cure it. All the filters in the world, locks on every cabinet and cross examining will not make the addict stop. They will find a way around every lock, filter and question. They are desperate for their fix and you cannot stop them. This is not a natural craving that can be discussed- it is a disease. Many of them are unaware how sick they are. However, sometimes knowledge that others know of their addiction can be their impetus to seek help.
Myth: The addict is the one who needs help.
While you can’t force the addict to recover, you can control your involvement. Therapy or a 12 step program can help make you self aware of your own unhelpful behavior, such as enabling, and gives tools to deal healthily with the addict, such as boundary setting. Even if the other person never changes, you don’t have to be trapped in worry and despair and can take steps to protect yourself.
Myth: Who needs a 12 step program? Chassidus has all the answers.
Absolutely, all the answers are in Chassidus. Unfortunately, many in our generation don’t know how to properly apply it. Many people viewing the addict can judge, “You know what all these people need? To learn that chapter of Tanya, or this maamer.” All the learning can be unproductive if there is no 12 step program or therapy in place. Many addicts themselves can be frum and chassidish and specifically learn the relevant Chassidus to give them the impetus for change. All the logical understanding of how wrong they are acting does not last. They are stuck in a disease and cannot ‘unstick’ themselves. They need a radical mindset change to proceed, which can be found in the 12 steps. They need the setup, language and fellowship of a program to really live Chassidus. They cannot do it on their own.
Once someone is applying the program principles to their lives and is staying sober, Chassidus is the best source book. Every concept they are practicing is straight from Tanya. Our Rabbeim expounded on all that they are struggling to apply.
Chassidus has the ingredients of a 12 step program. It has a sponsor- a personal mashpia you are honest with, a textbook- treasures enclosed in our seforim, and group support- a farbrengan where honesty is paramount and we demand of ourselves to keep our standards. So yes, Chassidus does have all the answers, but no, unfortunately we are not at the level for it to help an addict alone.
Myth: You can never trust an addict.
While they are in active addiction, that is 100% true. They will say and do anything in order to get their next fix. However, like any disease, the symptoms can disappear during recovery.
You may have good reason to mistrust an addict, but you can be way off by mistrusting a recovering addict. Recovery is an intense process where morals and values are paramount. A recovered addict learns amazing self control, true bittul, simcha, and real bitachon. They are forced to work on themselves, day in and day out, for fear of slipping. They can become the ultimate chossid, applying moach shalit al halev and Tanya to themselves. They can become people of real value and integrity, a rare find today. It is a shame not to recognize their growth and positive qualities and to continuously view them as weak, dangerous individuals.
Myth: Addiction is a new invention of this generation.
You are right. Many others in previous generations may have been afflicted with no help in sight. We are lucky that it is recognized today as a condition.
On Yud Bais Tammuz 5747 (1987), the Rebbe said: You may ask, “Why is it that was we find ourselves in the highest times, the threshold of Moshiach, awareness is growing about some of the darkest human challenges?”
The explanation is: We learn that in the time before Moshiach arrives “many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined”. Therefore, if there is no awareness bought to undesirable human traits and problems, it is unlikely to remedy the issues and achieve purity and refinement.
So although these unpleasant traits and actions were concealed from society for many years, and in some cases, even the person himself was not made aware how unfit it is, today, it’s exposed! For what purpose? So that we can become motivated and compelled to address the issues immediately, achieving purity and self refinement -before Moshiach’s imminent arrival.
(Courtesy of the Moshiach WhatsApp, (718) 813- 4850)
With this new awareness, we can better understand others before we judge or condemn, deal smarter with those who may need help and be aware of tools that are out there.