Death of a Resident


By Rabbi Mark Borovitz

In reflecting on the death of Steven R., I am profoundly sad, confused and angry. It does not make sense to me that a young man full of promise who had seen the joys and possibilities of sobriety and decency would choose to play Russian Roulette with Drugs.

I know that many people will say,  “Rabbi, it is a disease.” I understand and agree with this. Yet, unlike my oldest brother’s Multiple Sclerosis, the disease of addiction has remission and hope. Steven decided to gamble with the hope, beauty and joy of Sobriety. This is what I don’t understand. A young man who could work with autistic children, a young man who could love music, this young man would laugh at and make mockery of friendship, love, sobriety and God’s call to him? This is what I don’t understand.

I know that Steven must have been tormented. I know that he was unable to really speak about and deal with his demons. Yet, he had a family that loved him. He went to a friend’s house that cared for him. He overdosed and put two families and a community through hell. This was a choice.

Herein lied my confusion, anger and sadness. Steven knew that he had more than one option. He knew that his choices were very plain. Sobriety brought hope and using brought ??? He knew that he had people who loved him, cared for and about him and needed him. He knew that there was a place in the world just for Steven and that he was wanted and accepted. He knew that he was seen for who he was, warts and all. Yet, he made the choice to play Russian roulette with his life and affect the lives of so many other people.

So, yes, I am angry at his choice. I am angry that he hurt so many people. I am angry that he put his family through the worst nightmare possible and made another family have to deal with the aftermath of his overdose.

Yes, I am sad that he snuffed out a beautiful soul and light that God created. I am sad that his place in this world will never be filled and we all lost something precious Saturday night.

Most of all, I am confused. I am confused that friendship meant holding secrets. I am confused that he took kindness for weakness. I am confused that he chose to give in to the demons that called him instead of asking for help to get back to the light. I am confused that he chose possible death over beautiful life.

I ask you, as individuals and community members, to stop the sadness, anger and confusion most of us feel when people give into their demons after they have seen a different way.

I ask you to keep HOLDING ON!! WE WON’T LET GO OF YOU!

God Bless, Rabbi Mark

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Death of a Resident

  1. beyondtheendoftheroad

    Thanks for your post.

  2. april aubery

    Oh, Rabbi, I feel your pain and the pain of the whole community. This is the very ugliest side of addiction.

    When I chose the “tough love” approach after years of dealing with addiction with my two sons, I had to face the possibility that it could go either way, it could be that the boys straighten up and find the right path or they could die. Because we know the only options are get treatment, go crazy, go to jail or die. I had to be prepared for all options. But how to prepare for the death of your child? Do you imagine yourself getting the call? At the funeral? What? I was scared.
    I sought the help of a neighbor of mine who is a therapist. She said a wise thing to me that helped me be able to take the stand I knew I had to take. She told me that really I had no control of the outcome and that whatever was their individual paths were just that THEIR paths and I had done my job by raising them and bringing them into the world. The rest was out of my control. This really resonated with me. It IS their path.
    I thank God every single day, usually several times a day, for Beit T’Shuvah and the help both of my sons were given. With this help they have gone farther than I had ever thought possible. Right now this is their path.
    It is always sad when a person’s path in life is not what we wanted for them. And I can not even begin to imagine all the tears, sleepless nights and sadness to the very core this loss has caused the Beit community, parents, friends and family of this tragic young man. But let this not go in vain. Let all of us look hard at the lesson. There is always a lesson. This disease is cunning, baffling and powerful. And sometimes it wins.
    Let’s take this opportunity to redouble our efforts that it will not take another soul if we can help it. And let us show immense gratitude for all the souls that have snatched away from it’s powerful jaws.
    Beit T’Shuvah has given me more than I can ever repay. Not only because of my sons, but because in a world full of “me” people I am uplifted to see a group of dedicated individuals whose sole purpose is the theft of souls from the jaws of this demon called addiction. My prayers are with you all. Shalom.

  3. Dear Community,

    It is shocking and sad news to hear about Steven. I knew, mentored and loved him as a son. Steven was best friends with my step son so I have known him for many years. Our most favorite topic our mutual interest in psychology, counseling in helping people. Steve was incredibly warm, smart and funny. As a mentor I tried to help him with his passion of someday becoming a psychologist. Right before he moved to California I hired him as a mobile assessor in the Assess to Recovery Program for homeless clients with substance abuse problems. It was a remarkable mobile program where Steven took his laptop and went out into the community directly to the half-way and recovery houses. Here he saw first-hand the devastating consequences of mostly alcohol and crack cocaine addiction along with severe mental illness. His compassion, professionalism and dedication to helping the homeless were extraordinary. Like most of us, I know Steven struggled with personal issues. Up until this notice about his tragic death I had lost touch with Steven and had not heard from him. My heart is broken knowing that his important life has been cut short. My thoughts and prayers go to his family, friends and everyone in this recovery support community. One final comment, I strongly believe that once a person becomes physically, mentally and spiritually addicted to alcohol and other drugs, their ability to make choices becomes significantly impaired. Without treatment the “addict mind” seems to make self-destructive choices. The good news today is that there is hope. As Dr. Marsha Linehan States in DBT the solution to suicide or addiction is “Building A Life Worth Living.

    I will always remember you Steven your dreams and memories will live on with all of us.

    Dr. Barry M. Gregory
    National Addictions Training Institute
    561-843-5433
    drbarrygregory@comcast.net
    http://www.natiwebsite.com

  4. I have read the comments and am gratified to know that people understand addiction. I agree that while under the influence, the “addict mind” is significantly impaired. I also agree with Dr. Marsha Linehan that there is HOPE. I preach that every day, all day. I am focused on how people let go of the hope and what can we, friends, professionals, family and community do to keep recovering people, at all stages of their recovery, HOLD ON to us and to hope. God Bless, Rabbi Mark

  5. Robert Gould

    How does one respond to a death from drug overdose? Anger? Sadness? Disbelief?
    I am not sure this young man had much of a choice. When an obese person dies of a heart attack, does one go through the same feelings? Probably not, maybe because young obese people don’t usually die from heart attacks. When a juvenile diabetic stops taking their insulin and has a catastrophic outcome, do we respond with anger? In my mind, when I hear of the tragedy of the death from an overdose, I think, “Another person died of THE DISEASE.” Yes, people with multiple sclerosis have spontaneous exacerbations and remissions. I think that the disease of chemical dependency can be likened to diabetes, multiple sclerosis, obesity, cancer. It is a terrible life-long malady that requires daily maintenance treatment. Perhaps this model might take the shame out of this condition, allow more dialogue and ultimately more and better treatment. My anger is at the ignorance of chemical dependency as a disease which prevents this kind of dialogue.

  6. Susan Rifkin

    By coincidence, I arrived from Chicago to see my son (a resident of BTS) only a few hours after this tragic event. Sharing the grief and disbelief with my son and others was a surreal experience. Imagining being on either end of the phone when Rabbi Mark had to break the news to Steven’s parents was unimaginable. I never had the opportunity to meet this young man, but yet I stand with all others who grieve his loss. It has already had a profound effect on my own son, who realizes that if you only deal with addiction’s symptoms and not the root causes that lay deep down inside, your hope of overcoming it are limited at best. We can love and support those suffering from this awful illness, but ultimately they make the choice. This is the frustrating part for those of us on the sidelines.

    My heart aches for the families involved, including the BTS family, and the community at large. I hope that Steven’s memory will not be in vain and will inspire others to fully appreciate the help that is available.

  7. Jonathan Stone

    I understand and agree with both Rabbi Mark as well as the gentlemen who posted above. Perhaps, Robert, you both agree on the issue of “choice” and “blame” and are actually splitting hairs on semantics. In a sense, Steven absolutely had a choice about his use in that there is no question that his thoughts and actions resulted in a conscious decision to use. However, Steven’s (and mine, and anyone else who is not in active recovery) belief system, on a conscious level, probably was contingent on fundamental beliefs that “I AM NOT important, life is pointless, I will never be happy” etc. etc. When we are caught up in this perpetual cycle of thoughts that our disease is known to create, our perception is skewed to the point where the next high is perceived to the only solution. In that sense, what happens can hardly be considered a choice. The real choice lies in whether or not we continue to deny what our continual life experience as drug addicts shows, which is that we don’t have the power to out-think this demon. We need help. I refuse to believe that there is no choice involved, because that would dissolve any hope that one could have. Instead, I feel that the word “choice” and the concepts it implies are not black and white, and should not be stated as such. What I hear Rabbi Mark saying is that he is angry at the “disease”, and how it manifests in our thoughts, decisions, and actions.

    • Dear Jonathon,

      I agree with much of what you are saying. I am struck by the term “Active Recovery”, is there any other kind? We are in Active Addiction when we are using, so how can we not be in active recovery when not using? Also, we always have a choice to wait for the second thought and then make an informed decision, once we stop using. Thanks and God Bless, Rabbi Mark

  8. Jonathan Stone

    Rabbi,
    Good point about that phrase. I suppose now that I think about the phrase “Active Recovery”, it is redundant, but I suppose it is just said in that way to reinforce the fact recovery takes action and effort. In other words, when we are not using, and are not what some call “working a program” aka enhancing our spiritual life, then we are sober but not in active recovery. Obviously, this is only my opinion. At a certain point, which is obviously different for every alcoholic, when walking this line between active recovery and active using, perhaps our second thought, or even third, won’t save us? I think at this point, choice is no longer present, because personal truths about life and self are skewed to the point of insanity. That is why I contend that the choice has been made long before the drink or drug is ingested.

  9. Fleur Schim

    I am very sad to learn of the death of a BT resident. I did not know him, but, I grieve for him. I mourn his tragic decision. I am bereft over his missed opportunities. I shed a tear for him, his family, and the BT community.

  10. Harim Vargas

    I wanted to take this opportunity to say that when I heard of Stevens tragic death my heart went out to him and his familia, it was like someone had stabbed me in my heart all over again, I am very familiar with this pain and it broke my heart upon hearing the news one Friday night over Shabbat dinner at BTS. I am deeply sorry for this big loss to the the whole world, and to Stevens family.

  11. Marce

    My heart and soul is so very heavy hearing about this young mans death. I pray that God will give the strength and understanding to his family and friends at BT. This is a horrible lesson to learn that we can’t change or help everyone. We all must do this ourselves. We all must live 1 day at a time to get through this and never forget about Steven. You all are blessed to be at BT to have this strong family to be with and help you. Marce

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