Addiction has remained a largely silent epidemic within the Jewish community. Many Jewish families and individuals grappling with addiction have felt isolated, misunderstood, and unable to share their struggle and experience with their communities or fellow congregants.
Here we share with you some personal perspectives from Jewish individuals and family members whose lives have been impacted by addiction. If you or someone you know is grappling with the disease of addiction, these experiences show that you are not alone.
I’m a professional musician, who drank and drugged his way to the bottom, when I had every opportunity to make it to the top. By the time I got sober, no one wanted me around. Loving, well-meaning people said things like, “If you’d just get sober, you’d be ok.” I knew they were wrong. I was ok so long as I wasn’t sober. There came a time, however, when it just wasn’t fun anymore, but I just couldn’t stop. I’m not a specialist. I’d do anything I could get my hands on. I was addicted to heroin for many years.
I went to visit my cousins (nice, religious folks, five kids) and while I was there, I had a seizure in the kitchen and blacked out. When the ambulance came I caused a scene in the neighborhood and was taken to the hospital in handcuffs, kicking and screaming.
My brother, who at that time was three years sober, took me in with the caveat that I get a job and go to AA meetings. I got a sponsor and worked the program. Even though I relapsed after some years of sobriety, I soon got sober again. It’s been six years now and I’m back in the music business with my focus on serving others and my community.
I was a deer caught in the headlights. I have a daughter. She called me from college seven years ago and said that she needed to check herself into rehab. I was shocked and astounded that her “normal” drinking and drug use was out of control. Several inpatient and outpatient treatment programs have led to limited periods of abstinence, but not long-term sobriety. Next month she will graduate with a master’s degree in education, and will embark on a new career teaching elementary school. She is involved with family, especially her elderly grandmother. She had over 100 friends at her bat mitzvah, but now has few friends. She seems good at times, while abrasive at other times. I’m holding my breath to see if her changed behaviors will last or if I’ll get that awful phone call again…but this time it might not be from her asking to check into rehab, it might be the police or worse yet, the coroner.
The experience with my daughter propelled me to action. I became a leader in my Jewish community, committed to doing all I can to increase awareness and resources to address the addiction epidemic so families can get the support, understanding, and compassion they need.
I am a Jewish wife, mother, and grandmother, a retired teacher, and an alcoholic in recovery with more than 30 years of sobriety. I used to think I couldn’t really be an alcoholic because I wasn’t a skid row bum, I didn’t have any DUI’s, I never went to work drunk or drank on the job, and I didn’t lose my family, my job, or my life.
However, I did suffer and so did my family. I have learned that alcoholics come in all sizes, shapes, and backgrounds. I have been through the very worst and the very best things in my life during my sobriety. I have learned how to live life on life’s terms…a day at a time.
I was a daughter first, then sister, followed by wife, and now a mother.
I’m considered a leader in my community.
A health care provider.
A great cook, and a good friend to many, but I’m a sad, empty shell of who I used to be.
I build walls around me to protect myself,
I cry myself to sleep,
I have panic attacks when my phone rings in the dead of night,
I keep secrets and lie to your face when you ask me how I’m doing,
I avoid you, your frivolous complaints irk me, I don’t have time for small talk.
Your narrow minds and thoughtless comments cut deep,
Your stereotypical prejudices anger me,
Your perfect world is a sham, I see straight through it.
You say this would never happen to your family.
I said that once too,
I truly live day by day because,
I am a mother of an addict.
I am a person in long-term recovery. What that means to me is that I have not found it necessary to pick up a drink or a drug since February 10th, 2003. I was 18 at the time, and given the option to be homeless and cut off from my family who are also in long-term recovery or go to treatment. I chose treatment.
If you had asked me at 18 what type of life I would want to have when I am in my thirties, I would have sold myself short. I am over 15 years sober with more friends than I can count, and I have my loving family back in my life. I have reconnected with my Judaism in a way that I never could before, and I get to help other young people struggling with the same things that I was struggling with at their age. I absolutely love the life that G-d has given me today as a result of getting out of the way and allowing him to work in my life.
I am the mother of a son who struggled mightily with substance use disorder. Unfortunately, in 2016, he succumbed to this heartbreaking disease of addiction at 24 years young. He was 3,000 miles away from us, just out of sober living, and had been missing for nine days. After enduring the inconceivable horror of having a missing child who is battling a serious illness, my husband and I got the phone call every parent dreads. Our son was dead from a heroin overdose. We never imagined this could happen in our family. Our son went to a Jewish day school and was brought up with love in a wonderful area. But I know now that none of that matters, and it did indeed happen to our family.
The director at the Jewish high school our son attended encouraged me to remember the wonderful young man he was rather than focus on the hell he and we went through. It was her love and ability to see what a beautiful soul he was that empowered our family to keep his memory alive by establishing a fund in his name at the school to bring addiction awareness programming to our Jewish community. Life will never be the same, however, through working on ending stigma, telling our story, and our involvement in a 12-Step program for family members, we are learning to cope, survive, and even put some joy back into our lives.
I’m retired from the aerospace industry, I’m a military veteran, I was married for 40 years until my wife passed away in 2009, I’m the father of two children, and was the grandfather of one grandchild who drowned in 2015. I’m very involved in my synagogue.
My first drinking experience was in high school and resulted in a blackout. I struggled with alcoholic drinking for years after. I drank and drove, received a ticket for reckless driving, and was arrested after being in an accident that occurred because I was inebriated.
I finally went to an AA meeting and for six years attended meetings off and on while my drinking got worse. My wife eventually left with our children. A few months later, I went back to AA and took it seriously; I went to meetings every day, found a sponsor, and worked the program. My wife came back when I was nine months sober and our marriage blossomed. I’m still very active in AA and have 37 years of sobriety. Helping other alcoholics is a big part of how I practice Tikkun Olam.
I’m a daughter and a sister, I’m an A student attending college, I’m a leader of young women, I’m a pre-school teacher, I’m an upright, respected member of my community. I’m the good child. I’m the daughter who watches her mother struggle every day, I’m the daughter who watches her mother hide her tears. I’m the daughter who asks for nothing, as I know that there’s nothing left to give, I am a sister of someone who battles the disease of addiction.
Addiction is a Jewish issue. We’re working to address it.