My name is Shimi. In spite of the fact that I come from warm, frum family in Brooklyn, ever since I was a little boy, I always sensed that there was something profoundly different with me. I was seemingly a regular boy in yeshivah and even though I was popular, athletic and successful in my studies, I felt empty; like there was no point to life on this Earth.
Learning and studying gave me a sense of purpose, but it never lasted. I always had different hobbies to keep me busy and not be bored, because when I was unoccupied I would feel anxious. This feeling of emptiness got much more painful going into high school. My depression and anxiety became deeper and deeper each year. In high school I became anti-social to some extent, because I would not feel happy when I would go out with my friends, so I simply began disconnecting from them.,somehow kept pushing all the way to Beis Medrash years. I would always throw myself into learning to feel purpose and ultimately stop the noise in in my head, because it was not bearable.
Then at 19 years old I discovered alcohol. My first time getting drunk was at a wedding. I drank a lot. The feeling I had that night was so deep. I felt content, with a deep sense of purpose and what I thought was joy. In short ,it was the happiest I’ve ever felt in my whole life. later that night I actually regretted not starting to drink years before that. I felt as I discovered a long lost treasure that there was enough of for everyone and I felt an obligation to let them all know about it. I began drinking every shabbos, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. I was infatuate with alcohol . However that deep feeling the drink once gave me started to subside and I became more and more depressed .
At this point I began seeing therapists and doctors for my anxiety and depression. They diagnosed me with several disorders including Generalized Anxiety Disorder and OCD. I was given different coping skills , like breathing exercises, hoping this would solve my anxiety problem. However, after applying these to my daily life, nothing changed. I became more miserable and my drinking progressed exponentially. I tried many times to follow my plan based of (CBT) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but it wasn’t working.
I began to feel helpless and often sensed that my unhappiness was much deeper than a common anxiety issue. I isolated myself in the yeshivah dorm for days at a time, not knowing what to do with myself. Fnally after one more attempt at a well known yeshivah in Yerushulayim. I came home and started to work and go to college. My relationship with my parents and family was deteriorating quickly. I was hospitalized with alcohol poisoning several times. My level of observance deteriorated. I began breaking shabbos, not putting on tefillin, etc. I tried many times to stop drinking , but for some reason I kept relapsing. I almost died from drinking a lot while abusing Klonopin, yet a few days later I was drunk again, despite all the pain and lack of real pleasure.
I left college ,switched from different jobs and locations. By this time I was so angry at Hashem and the Frum community, believing that my pain was bestowed upon me and also caused by living in a relatively sheltered life in the “cookie cutter” system. I decided to officially become irreligious. Some of the times I withheld drinking, I would keep busy and work long days, but the obsession and cravings to drink would always be on my mind.
I would often think deeply where I went wrong in life. why can’t I get it together? How come the doctors, therapists, and Rebbeim that I opened up to couldn’t get me away out of my misery. This empty feeling, this “existential discomfort” got so bad, I was willing to do anything to feel deep purpose and be happy. I came to a point where I decided to cut myself off from my family and community, move to the West Coast to be “free”; let loose, drink, drug and party. I was also seriously considering the US Army, thinking that after a hile in California I would be fulfilled if I served my country. Brilliant! A few days before I planned on departing I overdosed again on alcohol .
I woke up the next day in the hospital, confused as to how I ended up drinking that day. Someone was there explaining to me that Ishould go to this program in North Miami , Florida. After being reluctant to go, he said four words which penetrated: “Peoples lives change there”. Understanding on a basic level that I needed help, I got on flight there.
When I first came to the program, I heard the group speaking about the “real addict,” that at certain times there is no defense against the first drink or drug, that there is a mental-block that occurs and they are powerless int those moments. I right away became defensive,saying “ I haven’t lost choice”, I was simply self medicating and therefore could stop on my own willpower. Moreover, I wasn’t willing to be open and honest about the details and extent of my drinking career, because Ii held myself to be better then the rest of the people in the group.
After a while ,the cravings from drinking and drugs was so powerful I knew relapse was coming. I also saw that there was something deeper in my drinking, because these thoughts were overwhelming and would come into my mind without me consciously thinking about it. Eventually, being miserable just from being me was humbling enough to start following the group’s directions.
I looked into my drinking honestly and saw that I actually tried to stop drinking many times, but couldn’t. I saw a specific time when I was at work, and despite knowing I couldn’t drink due to major physical, and emotional pain that followed, a sudden thought came to mind; just one beer, that’s it. ( I never have just one!). I ended up drinking and landing in the hospital from alcohol overdose .
I saw from this incident that addiction had a hold of me, that the thoughts come into my mind and make me believe it’s not a problem to drink or drug. In that moment that no consequences from drinking even crossed my mind, I saw that addiction will decide for me when I will relapse and on what, and there is nothing I can to to stop it. No therapist, no doctor, no change of location would help me. I experienced a feeling of doom. “ I am powerless”
Looking back at the feeling of being empty my whole life, how miserable I always was, how dishonest and manipulative I’ve become, I saw how I am stuck in selfishness. I operate from self. I’ve never done anything for anyone without a selfish interest as the primary motive. My life was truly “unmanageable” . I truly needed a miracle to get me out of addiction and out of this dark misery of my life.
While speaking to one of the group members one night about how bad my cravings to go and drink are, he told me that he doesn’t have the obsession or urge to go and use anymore. Knowing that he had the same problem as me, I realized that Hashem performed a miracle for him and others around me. They are all clean and sober, despite having had the alcoholic mind which can’t be controlled. Also, they are all getting out of self, as many of them dedicate much time to helping others who are presently in he same problem they had. In addition, seeing a recovered addict who are, knew was content, happy and not wildly chasing pleasure to feel fulfilled, my conviction grew; that it’s God who is doing this to them.
I followed the group’s direction and after a week of thinking about why he would do it for me, I thought ; my whole life I’ve tried to become happy and never experienced genuine happiness. Seeing the selfishness and self-centerdness, I realized that I’ve never done what I was created to do, which is to serve Hashem properly. All the learning and davening all those years was coming from a very selfish place. I wanted to selfishly feel purpose, gain respect from my peers, and get affection from my family. I never tasted genuine spirituality or being connected to Hashem and doing his will. I have always been doing my will…and that was the pain!!!
That unexplained anxiety was my soul not being fed properly. I understood that if I were to make it about others, to help them and carry this message, He would help me also. Seeing how Hashem was always there, saving my life many times, leading me down to this program and giving me the clarity that was needed. that Hashem is kind and all merciful, and how I blocked him off for so many years by being so self-obsessed, from there I made the decision to carry this message to others: that Hashem is source of all recovery, and he’s saving me, so they can get better by seeking him out as well.