Life Ordeals

Coming Out of Denial: Personal Stories and Resources

Kids in Pain
As told to Bayla Sheva Brenner
One of our kids dropped out of high school at fourteen. He stayed in bed every day and was out every night smoking pot. He was in really bad shape.

My husband and I began attending a support group for parents of kids on drugs. We learned that kids are not taking drugs to punish their parents. They are out of control because they suffered some form of trauma. They’re kids who have been hurt and are self-medicating. We’re taught to show our child unconditional love and let the other kids in the family know that this child is sick, that he has an illness and we are going to take care of him.

These kids aren’t rebelling; they’re suffering. We don’t call them kids at risk; we call them kids in pain.

The idea is to keep them close to home, get them the things that could make them feel better, and love them where they are at and for who they are. It cuts down the fighting. You’re not yelling at them. After a while they see that their parents love them and they stop and look at themselves; hopefully, they get [to the point where they] want to help themselves.

The group leader asked us if our son likes to smoke cigarettes. He does. He told us to buy him a carton of cigarettes and write him a letter telling him much we love him. We did. We placed the letter on his bed. This was the first step. Within twenty-four hours of that, he came out of his room and said, “Wow! Thanks so much.” What kind of parents would want to buy their fourteen year old a carton of cigarettes? We continued to send him the message that we know you’re not well; we know you’re suffering; we are here to help relieve your suffering until you feel better and, when you do, we are here to help you get what you need. Within a few weeks, we started to see changes.

We started to treat all of his friends this way as well; some of them were coming to our home because their parents had thrown them out. Since our son dropped out of school, there have been deaths every year of kids who were thrown out of their homes. Communities are ostracizing their youth. We turned our home into a very loving environment for these kids. It’s a whole different way of looking at the problem. For the most part, it’s working.

Parenting an Addict
As told to Bayla Sheva Brenner
I knew my teenage son was unhappy, but I didn’t know what was going on. He was getting kicked out of one school and then another. There were circumstances at home, in particular a painful divorce, that were making him unhappy. I attributed everything to that. For a long time, I simply didn’t know what was really going on. I finally found out what was happening when he went to his first rehab.

In rehab, they have the kid sit down and tell the parent the history of his drug use. I was blown away. He said that he was fourteen when he started using drugs; he got it from his friends. I was shocked that he had started so young and I didn’t know. He wound up hooked on heroin.

He got [involved with the] worst drugs while at yeshivah. Drugs are everywhere. And it’s affecting every community. He had friends [who were users] from broken homes and [users] from the most chashuv [prestigious] families, the most learned homes with [seemingly] no problems; users run the gamut.

Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away. The yeshivas and schools have to be more open-minded and talk about it, to warn kids about the dangers. A good friend of my son died of an overdose. If you don’t talk about drugs, they become more exciting. Kids don’t understand how addictive drugs are.

After leaving that first rehab, my son relapsed. I realized then this is not over—it never will be. He wasn’t living at home at the time, so I didn’t see the warning signs. Someone called me to ask how he was doing. I said, “He’s great; he’s in school, he’s working.” He asked, “Have you noticed he lost a lot of weight?” That was it. Imagine if [that person] hadn’t called me; you can’t afford to not know the truth.

If there’s a drug problem, there are signs. They get irritable, secretive, irresponsible, nasty; they start missing appointments, meetings, school. They could lose or gain weight. When they’re smoking weed, they gain weight. If you know your kid, you can see the changes. You have to be educated. Before I was knowledgeable about these things, I kept things around that I shouldn’t have. If you have a child like this, you shouldn’t even have wine in the house. You could notice money missing and you think “no, he would never,” . . . but they get desperate.

I sent him to one rehab facility, then another. There are many, many places out there. I’m always scared for him.

These kids don’t want to do drugs. They can’t control themselves.

I joined a parents’ support group. I daven a lot. Once you realize that [the addict] has to fix the problem himself, you stop running around to get help. At the programs they are taught what they have to do. There are amazing people out there who suffered through their own addictions, and after they turned their lives around, they decided to dedicate their lives to helping others struggling with this.

Right now, my son is in a sober living facility. It’s a safe environment. He’s with others in recovery. He gets a lot of group therapy and goes to twelve-step meetings.

We can’t afford to shut the doors on these kids; then we’ll lose them.

A Former Addict Speaks
As told to Bayla Sheva Brenner
I was six years old when I was sexually molested. It took place in shul while I was in the youth group. My parents were upstairs davening and I wondered: why aren’t my parents doing anything about this?

In yeshivah [elementary school], I was the kid getting into trouble every week. My parents then sent me to a mesivta; it was the worst thing for me. I didn’t want to be in that box, learning twelve hours a day. I didn’t need more rules. I needed more understanding.

I always felt different from everyone else. At thirteen, I was introduced to alcohol. My yeshivah held tefillin parties, where parents and grandparents would bring a bottle of whiskey for l’chaims. I remember watching how they would become looser and more carefree. I thought, “I’m going to try this.” I went to the whiskey bottle and snuck a sip. I felt a warm feeling inside of me; the feelings of being inferior, of “poor me,” were gone. I felt like I could do anything. I was hooked.

I started breaking into shuls looking for liquor left over from the Kiddush clubs. I used any and every opportunity to get a little alcohol. I was a small kid; I didn’t need much alcohol to get me there. I started smoking marijuana and then went into harder drugs. I began dealing drugs.

My situation was brought to Rabbi Dov Silver at Madraigos. He told me I have two choices: either I go to rehab or everything will catch up with me and it will be a mess. I knew that if I took away the comfort of drugs and alcohol, everything I had been suppressing would come flooding back. [But] I saw that these people [at Madraigos] care about me. They love me. I made the leap.

After two days at rehab, I ran away. I swore to myself I wasn’t going to get high, that all I needed was a day or two to be off the drugs and go back to living life. The next day, I woke up in my bed high. I had no idea how I got there or what had transpired the evening before—where I got drugs, where I got the money from. At that point I realized I really have a problem.

I went back to rehab. When I finished rehab, I followed up with individual therapy. I started building a support network with people in recovery, went to AA and The Living Room in Brooklyn [a drop-in center for people in recovery].

I want to help others. I know the pain, the anger, the fear. We are talking about individuals who have been beaten down, whether by others or themselves. Many have huge resentments towards religion. A majority of them have experienced abuse in their lives, whether physical, sexual or otherwise.

The most important thing I’ve learned is to never judge people; never assume someone is a lost cause. It’s important to really get to know the individual, get to know what’s going on inside of him. Only then will you be able to help him.

Drug and alcohol recovery facilities under Orthodox auspices:
Chabad Residential Treatment Center
Los Angeles, California

Torah and the Twelve Steps, Inc.
Miami, Florida

Retorno Jewish International Rehabilitation Center
Givat Shemesh, Israel
718.285.9815 (US)
052.436.9888 (Israel)

The SAFE Foundation
Brooklyn, New York

Brooklyn, New York

Sober Houses under Orthodox auspices:
Jewish Recovery Center
Boca Raton, Florida

Arena Sober Living
Monsey, New York

Jerusalem Sober House,
Jerusalem, Israel
845.400.1024 (US)
077.540.3715 (Israel)

Chabad Sober Living
Los Angeles, California

This article was featured in the Winter 2015 issue of Jewish Action.
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