Our Yiddishkeit Changes in Recovery
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski sent us the following question:
Secondly, let’s not forget this: what of his life of Torah and mitzvos before recovery? Was he living as a frum Jew until now? Was his being a Jew and believing in Torah an advantage - or was it actually a great source of misery for him? It is usually bitterness. We all sin sometimes, but consider this: was the addict just a sinner? No, the addict knows that he or she was a fraud. Perhaps no one is as poor and sorry, as the addict. Perhaps not from his Bar Mitzvah, but certainly from the time his sexual acting out became habitual and obsessive, the sexaholic is an empty, confused person. Whether Jew or goy, frum or not, an addict of any kind is mostly a fake. His dependence on gambling, heroin, lust, or alcohol are all the same, in that they seem to replace his allegiance to the values that he wishes he'd live by. No addict wants to face that - and is certainly horrified to have anyone else accuse him of his bankruptcy. Getting caught is a heartbreaking experience for the addict. He often blames others, including those who caught him, for his debauchery. But it’s not actually the getting caught sinning or drinking that is the killer here. It’s his getting caught being desperate to get something that no one who thinks they know him can even imagine him wanting to do! That’s the shock, for him as well as for them! (You can check out a GYE post called “The Captain Kirk Moment" about this, if you like. See at the end of this article). Actually, in the case of a Jew, the frummer he is, the greater and more complex a faker and liar he needs to be in addiction. 'Meshaneh mipnei haShalom' becomes the rationalization he lives by. Furthermore, many of us look back and see that in some respects we grew to be our very ‘frummest', mainly while our addictive behaviors were growing their very worst. So why do normal people expect the frum addict to appreciate a beautiful life of Torah and mitzvos - if all he had for all these years was pain?
Patience and love born of understanding is needed here. The frum addict needs to be treated a bit like a new ba'al Teshuvah. Patience and love... even though a normal Yid might be frightened by it. Frum Yidden who are secure in their own Yiddishkeit, will be the best able to help a recovering frum sexaholic. They will not misjudge him in his early recovery. Those who are insecure and try to push him now, will end up setting themselves up as the enemy to his return to real Torah observance - and this happens frequently. The addict needs time, for in some respects, he has really not been frum till now.
Thirdly, for the sexaholic, hanging onto the fantasy that he is caught in that epic struggle to do k'vishas hayeitzer and Teshuvah, is the root of his denial all along. It lends some respectability to his struggle, and we pretenders really need some respectability! So we hang on to the lie that we are 'doing Teshuva' even though it cuts on the other end, for we always fail.
For normal people, it is no fantasy at all, for k'vishas hayeitzer and Teshuvah are precisely what they need to engage in. But things get really bad when non-addicts innocently (and sincerely) try to convince an addict that he or she is normal. This just backfires (see ‘The Doctor’s Opinion’, in AA). Confusion grows like a canker for the addict. It’s just as bad as trying to convince a normal person that he must believe he is an addict - and I have seen both of these occur many times on recovery forums. Maslow said that “To the man with only a hammer in his toolbox, every problem looks like a nail.” We all like to get others to try what works for ourselves and we find comfort in other people seeing the wisdom of our approach when they follow it. Nu. But the poor addict who keeps trying tools that were not made for him gets very miserable and stays miserable. He eventually feels convinced that he must just have 'basic emunah issues’ or - though he rarely admits it - decides that he is truly a classic rosho and grows ever more disgusted with himself. That just leads to needing more acting out/gamblingr/drinking. Isolation becomes the name of the game. The feeling that 'No one really understands me,' starts to mold his avodas Hashem as well. His Yiddishkeit has already been twisted enough to tolerate outrageous behaviors for years and years (‘I'm busy doing Teshuvah' - while he is still acting out) and also to protect his behavior by keeping it absolutely secret (because telling anyone who could really help him would just be a 'chillul Hashem’). He thinks he is hiding his behavior because of shame - but really, long ago, he knew that it needs to be protected at all costs. His addiction behavior became his most precious item - and still is. His avodas Hashem grows even sicker and actually fuels his addictive behaviors (see “The Nuclear Reset Button” for one example of that. See at the end of this article). Even though it seems clear to him that when he is being good, he is a true tzaddik - he is sure he is a true rosho when ‘falling.’ The saddest truth is that either way he is just a sick man on a painful spiritual roller-coaster. He is neither tzaddik nor rosho. But who wants to inform him of such a terrible thing? Might it not lead to hisrashlus, damaging his already tenuous avodas Hashem? Who but Shlomo haMelech had the guts to tell anyone, "al titzdak harbei"? No one wants to be ok with a Yid reconsidering his living a lie, if it seems to jeopardize his observance... but what value is an observance whose primary objective was to cover up and enable drinking, sexing and other behaviors? Who has the guts to face that? Few do. Those who try to get the addict to persist in playing the game - just because Teshuvah is working for them - are putting a stumbling block before a blind man. A holy stumbling block is no different than any other kind, of course. It’s bad.