A candid autobiographical account of a young man’s ongoing struggle with substance addiction
Alan’s Odyssey, Part 1
This is the story my personal "suicide mission" and the miracles that brought me back.
When I was in my early 20's I got caught up in drugs and alcohol. I had been a pot smoker since my late teens. I had experimented a bit with hallucinogens. But that was about it. After graduating law school, I decided to take a detour into the world of day trading. It was 1999 and people were making money hand over fist in the stock market. I was barely 24 years old and I figured I was young enough to take a shot at getting rich quickly. Besides, I never really wanted to practice law anyway. I only went to law school because I was graduating college at the ripe old age of 20 and I didn't know what else to do with my life.
The life of a day trader was fast and furious. Some days we made a lot of money, other days we lost A LOT of money! We also "partied" hard. I, of course, sought out the traders that partied the hardest. Next thing I knew, I had a serious prescription pain medicine habit. When that got too expensive, I switched to heroine.
My parents were a bit concerned, but they really had no idea what I was doing. As Eastern European immigrants, heavy drugs were simply not a part of their upbringing or life experience.
At around this time, both of my grandmothers were seriously ill. Although I was totally not religious at the time, my mother insisted that I accompany her to the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Ohel. I had gone to modern orthodox day schools all my life, but after graduating high schooI never looked back at Judaism. Needless to say, I didn't want to go with her. I was embarrassed to go there. Even though I wasn't religious, a part of me did believe in G-d and his Tzadikim. How could I, a drug addict, go to stand before G-d and one of the truly righteous of our generation?
Thank G-d, my mother prevailed. One Sunday my parents and I made a trip to the Ohel. While there, I saw a sign on the wall which explained some customs that were followed at the Ohel. One of them was to write a kvittel. I figured that since I was already there I might as well try it. I wrote honestly and with a broken heart. Yet, I could make no promises about trying to help myself and that in all likelihood upon leaving the Ohel I would most certainly meet my connections in order to get high.
Not more than two days later, I almost got into a head on car accident in the Midtown tunnel (because I was driving while high). I was rattled, to say the least. The next day, I found myself in a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.
I didn't sleep for weeks from the withdrawal! I had a headache for what seemed like a month! Somehow, I managed to get clean without medical intervention! About 10 days into my recovery, I was speaking to a fellow recovering addict who happened to have been a doctor. I told him about the extent of my drug habit and he couldn't believe that I didn't go to detox or rehab. I don't think he truly believed that I was clean! He told me that I was a miracle. When he said that, I remembered my trip to the Ohel. I realized that my recovery began within 48 hours of going to the Ohel! I immediately realized that G-d had intervened to save my life. Having a doctor hear my story in disbelief really brought the extent of the miracle into focus for me.
I immediately started to learn Torah. It was truly like cool water to my extremely parched soul. I immediately realized that addiction (like so many other afflictions) has its roots in a sickly soul. I also immediately felt as though G-d had plans for me. I intuitively sensed that G-d expected me to use my experiences to help other similarly situated people.
A few months into my recovery, my sponsor was going to speak at a rehab facility for teenagers out in eastern Long Island. He asked me to join him. I was extremely hesitant as (a) I never went to rehab and wasn't sure that I'd be able to relate and (b) I always connected more to older people as opposed to young people-even though I was young myself! (People tell me I have an old soul!). My sponsor, however, wouldn't take no for an answer.
So off we went to the rehab facility. As we were walking into the building, I noticed a mezuzah on the door. I thought nothing of it as many medical facilities in New York are owned, donated and/or supported by Jews. Before going into the meeting room, I made a detour to the bathroom. While in there the door opened and in walked a teen-aged boy wearing a kippa! I was floored. We walked out together and I introduced myself by saying "Hi I'm Alan". He said, Hi, I'm Alan too!" My heart pounded with excitement as I could sense that G-d wanted me to come to this place. As I walked to the meeting room I walked by a big open recreational room where a handful of kids were sitting around while one of them played the guitar.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a wall to wall book shelf filled with beautifully embroidered books. I stopped dead in my tracks. "Only seforim (religious books) look like that", I thought to myself. I took a few steps back and walked into the room and directly up to the book shelf with my jaw dropping to the floor. They were seforim! The kids in the room were looking at me as though I was nuts. "Hasn't this guy ever seen seforim before?!?" they seemed to be thinking. I looked at one of them and said, "Where am I?" Now they definitely thought I was nuts! They proceeded to tell me I was in a rehab facility for jewish teens. I had to hold back the tears - I had been praying to Hashem to help show me what He wanted from me. How did He want me to give back? I was starting to feel as though my prayers were slowly being answered!
I went into the meeting and listened to my sponsor speak. After he spoke, the floor was opened up for "sharing". I introduced myself and told the kids that I, like them, was also Jewish. They asked me to come back to speak the following week.
I gladly came back the following week to share my story. I made a concerted effort to avoid speaking about my "war stories" and drug use. Instead, I tried to focus on the solution, which to me was Jewish spirituality. The meeting was lively and went well. After the meeting, a lot of the kids lined up to ask me questions and get advice. I took the opportunity to encourage the kids to learn the inner dimensions of Torah. I gave them the names of seforim translated into English and web sites that they could go to. It was so satisfying to help others.
To be continued.