In honor of recovery month, I sat down with an amazing Jewish woman* with firsthand experience with addiction and recovery. Through this interview, I was able to discover what addiction, recovery, and community mean to her...and what lessons we can all glean from her inspiring journey.
To give us some background, in a few words - who are you?
I am a 35 year-old Orthodox (single) mother from Brooklyn. I lived with others suffering from addiction for many years (siblings, spouse.) I used to be a teacher and am now a mental health professional specializing in addictions. I have three children and am pursuing my PhD focusing on addiction research.
Using both your personal and professional experience with the subject, can you describe what the words "addiction" and "recovery" mean to you?
At first, to me, the word addiction represented pain, suffering, hopelessness and a constant feeling of not having the energy to live. Over time I came to realize that addiction is not a lifelong death sentence . There is hope; there is recovery.
Recovery is a lifelong process. I began going to Twelve Step meetings after my therapist basically forced me to. He realized I was almost suicidal, while living with a spouse who was in active addiction.
I still remember the first time that I went to a Twelve Step meeting and someone was celebrating 30 (!!!) years in recovery. I still remember clearly (I can literally feel it now as I type these words) how my heart dropped to the ground.
For some reason, I had been under the impression that “curing addiction” entailed going to therapy and meetings for a few months and then it’s all good. I get to put it behind me and move on with life…I had no idea that addiction and recovery would become a major part of my life forever. I felt as if I was stuck in a nightmare and there was no getting out.
I had three very young children and just kept thinking to myself how insane this is. Imagine having my grandchildren and great grandchildren coming to visit me while I’m still attending meetings….
Over time I came to realize that yes, addiction is always going to be a big part of my life . It’s up to me how I want that part of my life to look.
Instead of choosing to associate that part exclusively with pain, trauma, hurt and depression, I chose to also associate it with G-d, recovery, hope, stability, strength, friendships, and service.
That's an absolutely beautiful change in perspective. In those moments before that perspective shift, what were some of the "low points" you witnessed or experienced?
I tried so hard to “fix things." People, events, and many things that I was not in control of. The more things spiraled out of control, the harder I tried. As anyone in recovery can tell you - that is not the solution! I was simply going in circles and all it caused was terrible anxiety and depression. I also suffered from PTSD due to various things associated with living with active addiction.
During those low moments, what is the most powerful piece of advice you've ever gotten?
I was at my lowest point when someone that I respect told me “you don’t stay in the same place forever."
Imagine you’re 30k feet up on a plane and you’re stuck in turbulence - you’re terrified , but planes don’t stay stuck in the same place forever . Hopefully it’ll land smoothly. I felt so stuck, alone, and hopeless but the message I got was life moves on, try to ride the moment , hopefully the next one will be better. This is something that sticks with me now in many different circumstances and I’m forever grateful to that person.
Which plane are you on today? What does your life look like?
Thank G-d we are all doing very well today. We have all been in therapy. We are open about addiction and learned that keeping things hidden takes a lot of emotional energy that can better be used in other ways. My children are thriving. I have completed another degree while focusing specifically on addiction in my studies.
I have become a better, kinder and happier person through my struggles. I work in the addiction field and love the work that I do. It’s fascinating to see how awareness is becoming more prevalent in our community and how much research is being done on addictions in general.
And lastly...how can we, as a community, be doing a better job supporting individuals' recovery?
I think that the community needs a better understanding of addiction and recovery in order to support individuals in recovery.
There are so many things I wish I would have known while I struggled alone. I struggled alone for so long because I was ashamed and uneducated about addiction. I want others suffering to know that there is so much help and support out there both for those struggling with addiction, and for those that have loved ones suffering.
*Our author, Chana Doe, has chosen to remain anonymous. Her words bear witness to her powerful journey.
For more information on the CCSA blog and/or contribution process, please reach out to Elana Forman at email@example.com with "CCSA Blog" in your subject line.