Addiction or Old Wisdom

The Problem of Addiction
Rabbi James Stone Goodman
Shalvah, Outreach on Addiction

The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman brings the secret back into discussion. Those of us who live in and around addiction daily are not mystified by his story, we are saddened like everybody, but we understand it. I know dozens of good, talented people who struggled mightily with an addiction, a dependency of one kind or anther, who did not make it.

It’s hard to watch the news because it’s clear from the information sources that so little is understood about addiction, how a person with twenty plus years of clean time could die that way, why couldn’t he just stop, etc., didn’t he have enough help, all these shadow questions that are the wrong questions.

It could happen, it does happen, because addiction is insidious, patient, when you have it bad you have it for life, and it requires vigilance daily, every day, and generally never alone. Few go this road to recovery alone, that’s the first truth, you can’t run and you can’t hide.

You can’t run and you can’t hide from a problem — a hunger, a need — that isn’t entirely physical. An addict has an emptiness within, a hole in the soul, a space inside that we stuff with substances; with booze, with drugs, with sex, with food, with – you name it. Drugs become everything, drink becomes everything, something becomes everything to the addict.

The perennial wisdom of the recovery model is we face the real problem of addiction every morning when we gaze into the mirror. The problem is within. You meet the real problem of addiction in the mirror.

At the deepest level, the only dependable antidote is what we call a program, a plan for living, a deeper dive into the inner world where we fill that emptiness within with something more nutritious and sustaining. We become individuals with lives of value and purpose, we call this a spiritual program, and every recovery model that I know of that helps to change lives changes them from the inside out, so to speak, and we call this kind of thoroughgoing inward transformation a spiritual change. This is old wisdom.

Dr. Carl Jung, an early influence on the treatment of alcoholism and chemical dependency, loved the use of the word spirits to indicate substance. The problem has a physical component, and it has a spiritual component. Some people are physically predisposed, as it were, and all of us are spiritually predisposed. We are getting better with new strategies to encounter the physical need; we have the oldest wisdom on the planet to grow the spiritual response.

It begins with a person taking responsibility. This is my problem and I have to do such and such to begin my recovery. There is plenty of help once one realizes that. No one can do this for me, and no amount of help will do this for me, and sometimes people who live with and around addicts make this harder for the addict by trying to do for him or her what he has to do for herself.

You can do too much for the suffering addict, and when you do, you are contributing to the problem by taking away the very thing the addict has to learn: responsibility. This is my problem, my responsibility, I have to take action. This is my problem, not yours, mine. There is what to do when you live around addicts that will help the addict come to that place; but the person must take action him or herself.

I am sorry for every loss through the dizzy decline into drugs and alcohol, especially those I have known, have worked with, have been on that hard road with. Everyone should understand that recovery from a serious drug and alcohol dependency is one of the hardest inner journeys a person makes in life. It is thoroughgoing and demanding; what we say is: all you have to do is not drink, not take drugs and change your entire life.

Change your whole life. Does that help to understand drug and alcohol dependency? To make the hole, whole, so to speak.

I am making a Kaddish in my heart for every loss, in the John Donne sense; every person’s death diminishes all of us. And my heart aches in the Deuteronomic sense too: not by bread alone do human beings live, but by Everything do human beings live [see Deut. 8:3].

Only Everything is everything.

Rabbi jsg runs a program called Shalvah, “serenity” in Hebrew, that meets every Thursday night at Congregation Neve Shalom, 7 PM. It was founded in 1981 by Rose Mass and jsg.

Jones Hungers

Jones hungers in a way that cannot be
filled. It waits an active waiting its eyes
tracking you wherever you go.

Jones is an emptiness. A space a
hunger a bottom-less-ness.

Jones will not be filled by drugs by
booze by love by success by food by —

You may try to fill Jones with all or
some of these. Jones can only be filled
by Everything.

Until you encounter Jones — its
unformed and empty-ness — until you
fill Jones with something more
nutritious, sustaining, full — Jones waits
patiently and poised to spring.

You can spot Jones every morning in
the mirror and you will need to.

You will learn not to wrestle Jones; you
will learn to be bigger than Jones.

Jones is hovering and you are called to
Grow.

jsg.usa

How Do You Know Jones

How Do You Know Jones

Does it matter? I could tell you but it’s
not significant.

I know Jones. What difference does it
make – how?

I see Jones every morning in the mirror
and Jones knows me.

I have come to know Jones better, I
think, than Jones knows me. I have the
edge.

It’s not much of an edge but that’s all I
need — an edge.

The edge keeps both Jones and I on
our toes. Nimble. That edgi-ness.

It’s a matter of degrees, edges;
Absolutes? No way.

Jones loves absolutes, will try to
distract you with them —

Do not be distracted.

Stay on the edge. Keep the edge. The
edge, baby, the edge is everything.

jsg.usa

The Dragon Jones

The Dragon Jones

You need a lot of friends to elude that
dragon. Friends and talk. Talk talk, then
more talk.

Jones insinuates itself within, the
dragon Jones. The dragon will try to
engage you in conversation. Do not. No
talking with the dragon.

Talk to your friends.

Talk to others who know the dragon.
Make it daily. First today, then
tomorrow, the next day, etc. Every day
the dragon perches.

Every day is the day to meet the
dragon. Today, for example.

Take your friends with you until you
understand. We have to be together on
this.

Alone — we are lost.

jsg.usa

Menorah

Menorah

Near Jew-town in Cochin, there is a restaurant, near the water, nice location and well equipped, that was once a large home. This is still obvious from the street.

It once was the home of one of the sustaining families of the Pardesi synagogue, our guide said, where we read the Torah on Shabbat. The Koder family were prominent Jews, the patriarch Samuel started an electric company and a chain of department stores. The home is built on a Portuguese model, some of it even gabled in Europe, three floors, one for each child. The Koder family came to Cochin from Iraq in the early nineteenth century, the home dating from the early years of the twentieth century.

Ralphy had brought kosher chickens, frozen, with him from Mumbai and gave them to the chef at the restaurant. At the restaurant, they have all the old recipes of the family that once lived here, said Ralphy, and on special occasions they prepare them. Ralphy, always conscientious and respectful, knew the Shabbat preparations were not complete without the [kosher] chickens. So he packed them up and checked them through IndiGo, Indian domestic airlines to Cochin.

We had Friday night and Saturday afternoon meals at the restaurant, called Menorah, featuring the recipes of the family that once occupied the house. The chefs were delighted to serve the meals honoring the predecessors of the restaurant. Who once lived there lives again through the family recipes featured in that house. The restaurant is named Menorah.

There were many courses. They were excellent and often a surprise. There was a dark chocolate gelatinous dish, for example, I had never experienced before, not a pudding not a jello, something startling and wonderful. And, of course, the kosher chickens from Mumbai, prepared in the deep roasted tandoori style.

We made the blessings in the melodies I had heard in my heart at the synagogue, reviving the melodies in some approximate form that are bled into the stone floors, the walls of this home now restaurant, honoring the social ritual religious spiritual physical nexus in eating with a nod to memory that the restaurant, the neighborhood, the street, the synagogue maintains. Respect and rooted gestures have a place, even in a restaurant.

It was the week in Torah when we rise to the top of the mountain, see G*d, and have a little something to eat and drink (cf. Exodus 24:11). Amen.

jsg.usa