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A FRUM FORMER ADDICT USES HIS EXPERIENCES TO RESCUE OTHERS FROM THE SAME FATE THAT ALMOST BEFELL

HIM

Uvacharta Bachayim

fell into the trap of drug addiction roughly seven and a half years ago. I had some issues I wanted to escape from. I needed to numb my pain. Theres almost always an underlying issue that leads someone toward addiction. Today, the American Psychiatric Association classifies addiction as a disease. But the truth is that, for myself and others like me, theres something inside, a pre-set snare just waiting to be triggered. I fell into this trap of addiction shortly after my divorce. I used that as a justification. I was married 18 years and raised a family. Then, my world fell apart. You could say that I have an addictive personality. I was a workaholic. Whatever I did was always in the extreme. At my lowest point, I was addicted to the strongest drugs out there. I had people around me who were doing the same drug who arent alive anymore. In my case, I was introduced to a very powerful drug by a business acquaintance. I lost it all. I stopped caring about my business. I didnt care about anything. The whole world shut down. All I cared about was getting money for drugs. I went right away from using to abusing to dependency (See sidebar for an explanation of these three stages of drug addiction). The drug to which I was introduced acts primarily on the brainas opposed to other drugs that travel through the whole body. Thats what makes it one the toughest drugs to fight; the brain yearns for it. Id say it took just about six weeks until I was in dependency.

Yossel Grossman

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BY YOSSEL GROSSMAN

Nothing stops an addict. I would cheat, lie, steal and manipulate to get more drugs. My life completely unraveled before my eyes, and soon I hit rock bottom. I lost credibility with my family. They wouldnt trust me with a dollar. I was missing in action for over a month. I shut my phone off. I fell into a pit that I couldnt get out of. I would do whatever it took to procure my next fix. I had a very successful business many years ago. People trusted me. One day I came to the check cashing store with a good check, and the guy who had cashed my checks for many, many years said, Im really sorry, but I cannot cash checks for you. I have no idea how he knew. But he knew. I had lost it all. I didnt care about my business. All I cared about was getting money for drugs. I didnt need to worry about supporting my family. I was in a position that they were taken care of. But I was desperate. I spent thousands of dollars a week to feed my addiction. I lived in constant fear. But the drug is so powerful that nothing held me back. I didnt care if I was hungry or thirsty; I could go a couple of days without eating or sleeping. I lost a lot of weight and didnt care about my personal appearance or hygiene. When your body is in a state of dependency theres no bechirahno free will. Theres no Shabbos, theres no day, theres no night. I used to look at my watch and see it said seven oclock, and then look outside to see if it was seven in the morning or the evening. One day, I spent thousands of dollars on drugs and we, my fellow junkies and I, spent one Motzaei Shabbos smoking all night, all day Sunday, all Sunday night, and so onall day and all night until Wednesday afternoon.

On Wednesday afternoon, I got to a point where I said to myself, I cant anymore. I called my rebbe in Monsey, who is involved in Tomchei Shabbos. I had called him a few times and told him I wanted to come to the Tomchei Shabbos warehouse for kosher food. I called him that Wednesday night and said, Im done. I would like to talk to a professional who knows about addiction. That phone call saved my life. I didnt know anything about the terminology of addiction. I just knew I was close to death. My body was malnourished; I was just skin and bones. That same week Id seen someone who was also

idea what rehab is all about. I just chose one randomly with my finger. That afternoon, I drove to a program in upstate New York. It was a program for upscale peoplelawyers, civil servants, and the like. I just didnt fit in. For cocaine you dont have to go to the hospital. You go straight to rehab. I did detox in the rehab. You need to be in a safe environment, with a doctor nearby in case you start to convulse. I was the only Jewish person there. I fought for ten days just to get kosher food. They wouldnt let me bring it in. They said, Why should you be different? Even my counselor came to me and said, Joseph,

I lost credibility with my family. They wouldnt trust me with a dollar.


doing drugs taken into an ambulance and heard as he was pronounced dead. My rebbe asked me where I was. For months I had been in hiding. When Id call him for kosher food, Id come myself to get it. Sometimes Id go to the warehouse and steal food just to hold on. For the first time, I told him where I was staying. He sent someone to pick me up. I remember I got into that van and just spaced out on the floor. I was watched overnight, and my rebbe got me an appointment with an addiction specialist for the next morning. I was in danger because at the time I owed quite a bit of money to dealers, and they were ready to kill me just to show that they cant be taken advantage of. The first thing to do was to find a way to pay off what I owed. Once that was taken care of, I was introduced to three different rehab programs and told to choose one. I had no be honest, when you were using, did you only eat kosher food? On Day 11 I ran off. I felt much worse than when I started. My counselor was working with me with passion and love, and convinced me to try it for one more day. Baruch Hashem, I stayed, and recovered. Ive been in recovery from drug addiction for 2,429 days as of this writing. Thats six years, seven months, two weeks and four days. Sitting there, in rehab, I thought to myself that if I had only had kosher food, a siddur, a machzor, a Chumashif only I had had a fellow Jew with whom I could share, and who would understand me, perhaps my recovery would have started sooner, and I wouldnt have come so dangerously close to a relapse. That moment I decided that I would do whatever it takes to be that man for the next person to fall
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There is a significant difference between an off-the-derech child and an addict.


into my predicament. I enrolled in college to earn the needed certifications and credentials, and today I work as a counselor, dealing with those who are drug addicted in the frum community. I work with people of all ages. Drugs dont discriminate. Ive been to many levayos where the person supposedly died from an aneurism or a heart attack, when the real cause of death was an overdose. Right now I am involved with 11 people in rehab in California, Florida, upstate New York, and Pennsylvania. I have an office in Brooklyn, and Im there every Wednesday. I have an office in Lakewood where I am every Sunday. And Im in Monsey on Mondays and Thursdays. My main focus is on guiding addicted people toward rehabilitation. In the state of New York there are almost 3,000 addiction programs. You need to know exactly what fits which person at which stage in his addiction. I need to interview the addict to learn about his psychological background; I need to know if hes currently on medication through a doctor. If so, he needs to go to a program where they work out these issues as they work on his addiction. We call it a dual diagnosis. Once he gets to a place where he is mentally stable he becomes eligible for rehab programs that are just for the addiction. Some kids cant read or write, and theres a lot of journaling in certain programs. So I might have to help him get into a less rigorous pro-

gram. It might be a longer, slower process in such a case. A major part of what I do is educating the family of the addict. Parents have to understand that nobody gets up in the morning and says, Okay. Today is the perfect day to become a drug addict. Something happened. Someone fed the child first or he wouldnt know how or what to get. The first thing you do is confront the addict with language, carefully choosing your words so that, ultimately, he must face the consequences by himself. For example, parents might say, If you go to rehab, youll have a better life, as opposed to We will be so proud of you if you do the right thing. When you show him that its his life and his decision, and the consequences are his, the message might sink in. Giving your child your unconditional love means that you dont care about your shame, guilt or what the community is going to say. It means doing whatever it takes to save your childs life. There is a significant difference between an off-the-derech child and an addict. Offthe-derech kids somehow developed a hatred towards Yiddishkeit and use that as justification for their behavior. But an addict has no problem with Yiddishkeit per se. Sometimes addicts will go off the derech because they have no power of choice. Theres no structure. Theres no Shabbos. He doesnt keep Shabbos because he has a fear of withdrawal and dependency. His only focus is his addiction. Our focus is on bringing that person back to reality, giving him the ability to choose who he really wants to be. To put it simply: I dont sell them Yiddishkeit; I sell life. I bring them back to uvacharta bachayim. What I do is bring the addict back to the point of being able to choose whether he wants to be an ehrli-

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BY YOSSEL GROSSMAN

che Yid or not. Rabbi A.J. Twerski says the level of teshuvah that a drug addict needs to change his life 180 degrees cannot be compared to a person who has to push himself to learn another blatt Gemara or a little more mussar. A lot of rabbanim object, asking, So, you put them in non-Jewish programs?! If thats the program they need to get back to life, if thats what will work best for the client, then yes. I myself went to an Irish Catholic program and I returned to Torah and Yiddishkeit. Today, Im grateful that I regained the power to choose how to live my life. I once ran after one specific boy who was addicted and had a psychological issue and said, When youre ready, call me. One Friday afternoon, he called me and said, Yossel, Im ready. I asked where he was and got into a car to go to Monsey for him. First, I wanted to know that he was safe. I had a specific program in mind that would be good for him. It was in Florida. I called my rav on Friday afternoon and asked what to do. Anyone who is

involved with helping drug addicts knows that when someone says hes ready its a window of opportunity, not to be missed. He wants it now. He chooses it. You have to grab it. Its a matter of pikuach nefesh. My rav told me, Buy the ticket now! So I bought it online and planned to fly on Friday night to Florida with this kid. Its very simple: Its the same way you can drive to Coney Island Hospital on Shabbos in an emergency. It just happens that his hospital is in Florida. Thats what he needs. I bought the tickets and told the kid, Okay, now youre here in my house. Call your parents. Say good Shabbos. Because next time you talk with them it will be Motzaei Shabbos. He called them and was so happy to tell them he was going to rehab. They said, What?! Youre going to be mechalel Shabbos! No way! I said, Listen. As a professional in this field I know this is what he needs to do. This program really is going to fit him. Its a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him. I have the backing of a rav.

My son is not going to fly on Shabbos! I said, Lady, hes your son. Im not going to go against your wishes. He was under 18, and I needed consent from the parents. So I didnt take him to the program. The kid got lost for a few months. The parents found him and said they were going to disown him. At the time, I wasnt involved anymore. The parents forced him into a program. He went in on a Thursday. On Monday, he ran away from the program. On Tuesday he was found overdosed in a hotel room and died. I believe if I hadnt listened to the parents I could have saved this kid. But it was out of my hands. Parents need to be educated to know what to look out for, the so-called red flags of addiction. The same way parents need to know the signs of a physical illness, they need to know the symptoms of addiction. Once they get that knowledge, they can catch it right away. Some people are very creative. They can take vodka in a coffee. You dont even see it. If your child is constantly going to the bathroom, maybe he or she is taking drugs there.

ANATOMY OF AN ADDICTIONA FIRST-HAND EXPERIENCE


As a recovering addict and drug abuse counselor, I teach people how to recognize certain warning signs of addiction. The most prominent signs are what we call the Three Cs: Compulsion Control and Not caring about the Consequences. Most illegal drug users dont become instant addicts. There are three identifiable stages, or levels, that ultimately end in addiction: Many people have no problem playing with drugs for many years. When theyre high, theyre happy. And then they stop. Thats the first level before addictionoccasional, recreational drug use. But thats not really addiction. The second level before one becomes a full-blown addict is abuse. They start abusing their money to pay for their drug of choice. They start abusing their time, their family and friends. They dont care about the repercussions. The third level is dependency. The brain manufactures dopamine. Thats the feel-good sensation, the rush. When you bring drugs or alcohol into the body it creates counterfeit dopamine. When this synthetic dopamine comes in, theres an overflow. After a while the body gets so used to this overflow that going without it causes intense discomfort. By stage three, the addict needs the overflow just to be normal. If he wants to get a little high, he needs more drugs. He needs even more to feel happy. After a while, the body gets used to that amount and he needs even more, creating a vicious cycle. The number one sign of dependency is withdrawal. As an addict, I simply could not live without the drugs. I would close myself in my room for two weeks and spend that whole time just using. It wasnt even a high anymore; it was just to keep the dopamine at the same level. The body experiences convulsions and other horrifying side-effects as the drug leaves his system.

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Users have underlying excuses for their abuses. The fact is they do not like themselves. In all likelihood, they hate themselves for doing drugs. The second component to coming back to reality, after structure, is to work out the underlying issues so theyre not stuck, chained to their past. Then they will have their free will back. The third thing is taking it slowly. There are no quick fixes. Its like a diet. You cant wake up 20 pounds lighter. Its ounce by ounce. You cannot force an addict to go to rehab. It needs to be his or her own choice or it wont work. In our community, 95% of those who go to rehab are there voluntarily. In a way its a blessing, because its their own choice. But by that same token, they can choose to run out and do whatever they want. In order to help an addict he needs the desire to stop using. Its a disease that will never go away. It is a lifelong struggle, but rehab is essential. When I first went to rehab the urge to use drugs was there 24/7. Once I was introduced to structure, got back to life and worked out my issues, the urge began to fade. Today, I can still say that I know I cannot trust myself for the rest of my life. I know I have to rely on something Higher than myself, because I could end up in detox and rehab over and over. I rely on the tools I learned: to learn to fill my empty space with something that we call a Higher Power. A religious person definitely has it easier in a 12-step program, because we know what that spiritual meaning is. One thing I tell frum people is to realize that we have trust and belief within us. We sometimes fall into a trap of saying, If there is a G-d, how come Ive got so many problems? And we use that as a justification. So I focus on bringing them to understand that

part for an addict is living with structure. Thats the first thing you have to get back to. Day is day. Night is night. Yes is yes. No is no. An addict has none of that. He hasnt had structure of when to get up and what to do for years. I had a bochur whod been on the streets with no day or night from the ages of 13 to 16. We work on bringing the key players to helpthe enablers in his life. If he has an uncle who lets him sleep at his house, if a grocery store gives him foodwe find out through the family who the key players in his life are. We bring in these individuals. We build a wall around him, so he cant say, If you dont give me money Ill go to Moishe or to Yanky. He wont be able to, because all the key players are on the same team, the clients team. When I need the advice of a medical doctor, Ill call. But I work mainly using the experience I have, and Yossel Grossman in Amis office with Hashems help, Ive cared for hundreds of addicts. In the past two the belief is at the heart of addiction itself. years alone, Ive dealt with 129 frum people For example, I believe I can take one whom I succeeded to get into rehab. Today more drink and be okay. I believe I can Im busy 24 hours a dayhelping these take drugs and not get caught. I believe people, finding them gainful employment, the dealers will have mercy on me if I dont helping them move, get married, putting pay them right away. I believe the stuff they money together for their wedding, you give me will be good. We have to learn to name it. get rid of these false beliefs in rehab. Im grateful that I can do what I do today. Another thing we learn in rehab is the Im in a place where I can see a person this opportunity to share with others, to see close to death, and a few months later hes what worked for them that might work for on his way to recovery, back to real life. you. In therapy you get to spend an hour a There is no greater satisfaction than that week with one person. In rehab you get 24 feeling. hours a day for a month or so, to speak to people going through the same thing. The author can be contacted through the In our community, theres some knowl- Ami office. edge missing. People think a rehab is like a boot camp where youre constantly told To submit your story for this column or to have where to go and what to do. That said, it your story featured here, please contact us at subdoes entail a lot of structure. The toughest missions@amimagazine.org.

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