Monthly Archives: April 2010

My Own Private Prison


By: Brad ­­­­­

Make No Mistake, As Addicts We’ve All Been There

Today I’m writing on my 50th week of recovery.  I imagine that I’m like many who approach a birthday – there is a considerable amount of time taken to reflect on the prior year(s) – and believe me, I have plenty of time!

As my byline suggests, I’m writing from a Federal Prison Camp.  As the word “Camp” implies, the world I inhabit resembles nothing of a County Jail or even a Low Security Prison.  There are no fences, no barbed wire, no guards with guns.  There is complete freedom of movement, with the exception of the obvious: I can’t leave.

That description doesn’t sound too far off my home on Benedict Canyon Drive for the nine or so years I lived there before I became a resident at Beit T’Shuvah.  Simply put, while I was never sentenced by a Judge, I was living in my own prison.

I received so much positive advice from everyone in the community while I lived at Beit T’Shuvah, especially the select few who have done meaningful “time.”  The common thread that I gathered: the key to spiritual and mental survival is to get a productive “routine.”

Back to my life from 2003-2008.  I certainly had a routine.  But it was anything but “productive.”  My time was spent trying to navigate the financial markets daily.  It didn’t matter if I was at the office or home – CNBL and/or Bloomberg TV was blaring in the background 24/7, with the only exceptions being sporting events that I’d watch religiously – hoops, football (pro and college), baseball and golf.  It got so bad that every Sunday afternoon at 3pm Pacific time I had to be in front of a computer or tuned in to Bloomberg TV to catch the weekly opening of the stock futures.  This was, in hindsight, pure comedy, as the opening of that market had little bearing on how stocks would open the following morning.  But I was gripped to it, and as it turns out, trapped by the whole exercise – whether I was at my trading desk in the office, or my computers at home, I couldn’t escape the fact that the financial markets had imprisoned me.  So much so that when conditions became unbearable, I had to misrepresent my results to maintain my self-anointed image of a successful hedge fund manager.

Those that know me are aware that my “prison” extended beyond my professional life into my activities as a pathological gambler.  I’m not gonna get into the whole post-mortem as to what caused this behavior.  Like most of you who will read this, I’m an action junkie.  But that doesn’t do justice to explain how the disease affected me – I’ll just say that little else mattered.

It’s interesting to think that as I write this, this was precisely the time of the year when I went on some of my biggest gambling runs.  I often play back the tape to determine why this was, and the best answer I can come up with is the sports calendar acted as a major catalyst.  Think about it: In a 2-week period, we have the Final 4, Baseball Opening Day, the Masters, and the start of the NBA playoffs.  Perhaps this was a way for me to vicariously satisfy my impulses.  I’m not sure.  What I can say is that the intensity and duration of my gambling knew no bounds.  Worse yet, nothing, I mean nothing else mattered.  I can vividly recall 2008 Final Four Weekend.  We started playing cards at noon on Saturday.  Played while watching the games until Sunday noon.  Regrouped a bit.  Work the next day until the close.  Went right back to the game.  Played through the epic final game between Memphis and Kansas, through the following morning.  I was so deluded that I missed Mario Chalmers’ game tying 3 point shot because I was worried if my pocket kings would hold up (they did).

This is precisely what incarceration is all about.  It has very little to do with being confined to a physical space we inhabit.  It has everything to do with an attitude.  The way I see it attitude is not a product of circumstance, it’s a choice.  It’s what we determine.  The problem is for me – I let the circumstances defeat me, those embedded in the misconceptions of a self-image I thought I had to maintain.  An appearance, a lifestyle I thought was expected of me.  This completely errant self view meant one thing, and one thing only: I was never free.

It’s a paradox, to say the least, that I have more freedom today, while incarcerated, than I have had in memory.  I can live a decelerated existence and be completely content. My life is not about an adrenaline addicted, me-first existence.  I am cleansing from the obsessions that were destroying me.  I can watch that Final Four, wishing the kid from Butler could have sunk the game-winning shot, without worrying if I was “stuck” on the card table.  I can watch the Masters in complete freedom of mind, marveling at Mickelson’s 6-iron from the pine straw at 13 on Sunday, while Tiger was busy 3 putting from 4 feet on 14.

Let me submit, however, that I’m a major work in progress.  Recovery isn’t linear, and I don’t want to sugar-coat what I’m going through.  One of my biggest challenges by far: I question this whole process I’ve gone through.  To be sure, I’m not referring to what I did – I’ve accepted responsibility and completely understand the dislocation I have caused to a select group of family, friends and clients.

What I have trouble with are resentments.  I resent myself for not taking a more active role in my legal process.  I should have known that when in my first meeting with the US Attorney, she said, “You made a great, great choice in legal counsel,” that I was toast.  I can’t let this go, as it is clear major mistakes in my case were made.

I’m struggling big time in that I have resentments for some of the very people I am working to repay and repent to.  This is a very difficult thing.  I know that true freedom can only occur if I let go and continue to do my t’shuvah.

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Road of Truth


By Jeff Hewitt

Jeff Hewitt

I always thought of myself as a underachiever. I can remember as a young child in elementary school, observing other children and wondering, how can they always finish their homework? How can they always get such good grades? Why is everyone so good at sports and I’m always the last to be picked? These questions and many more would continue to baffle me throughout my educational career and into my social life. As a child, I was always so insecure and my self-esteem was nonexistent.

I began to tell absolutely fictitious stories to give others a false perception of me. When I would tell people these false truths, it would give me a bogus sense of pride coupled with a sense of impending doom that if they found out I was lying or making up stories, then they would get to know the real me, and since I didn’t think much of myself, I didn’t think they would think much of me. Soon, the gamble of getting found out for my excessive lying, became a thrill.  Sometimes people would find out, and sometimes they wouldn’t. The odds of this somewhat became an adrenaline rush.

Looking back, I now realize that this was the first manifestation of my alcoholic mind. Lying was the first drug I used to get out of my head, the head that told me I was not good enough. Then I was introduced to drugs. Having an older brother already addicted gave me access to substances and finally lower companions started to think I was cool, or so I thought. Drugs gave me the self-esteem that I never had. The only problem is that it was a phony sense of self-esteem. At this time my father and my brother were both addicted to various drugs. This created a giant hole in my spirit that I would try to fill by self-medication.

After years of trying to medicate and solve my emotional problems synthetically, it all came crashing down. Drugs and alcohol only work for so long. Then I decided that I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. In my first couple months of treatment, I realized I had always tried to solve my problems from the outside in, what I did not know was the answers to my problems were already within me, I just did not have the tools to access them. I began to go after a quality life with the same fervor in which I used to get high. Now I am proud to say my father and my brother both have continuous sobriety and are living meaningful lives. Today I am a person that no longer has an empty hole of sorrow inside of me. I am filled with passion and purpose.

Now that my father, my brother and I are all sober. We share a relationship that cannot be matched. All the years of low self-esteem that I endured have now been turned into a bond between the three of us, for we all have gone to through the war of addiction and day by day are winning the battle. To me, it is amazing how when spirituality filled my soul, I began to live life. The trick was I just had to give my true self a chance. I believe that I, just as god has created me, am wonderful person.

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Prison Poker Champ?


By: Brad

It had to happen soon enough, that the guy they called “LA” would soon have his identity from the “outside” revealed.  Until now, I was just a guy trying to find his way in his new and temporary “home,” the Satellite Camp at FCI Big Spring.  Until now, the other 157 inmates knew me for my regimented work-out routine, how I loved to read for at least 90 minutes a day, and how I loved to buy an absurd amount of Oreo cookies at the Commissary Store.  That’s basically what they knew.  They didn’t know “me” – they didn’t know my story.

A little perspective is needed.  At Beit T’Shuvah, we learn about transparency; we understand that telling “our” respective stories is an integral part of the therapeutic process.  There, at Camp, interaction is different, if not the complete inverse from what we have been taught.  While the Camp resembles nothing of that life is like “behind the fence,” there is protocol.  And one of the unwritten rules is: you don’t advertise your “story” to the general population – unless specifically asked.  Eighty percent of the guys are here for drug offenses, about ten percent white-collar, and the rest a mix – firearms and alien trafficking. All this brings me back to last Wednesday.  I was sitting around with a few of the guys, after lunch, when one of them brought to my attention that they needed “one” for their nightly game of Texas-Hold’em.

“C’mon, play!  The games are great, a lot of fun.”

I politely declined.  “Thanks for the offer; I’m gonna watch the Laker game.”

“We’re gonna watch while we play.  You never play.  C’mon, it’s not gonna kill you.”

I could only smile and chuckle at that one.  Funny, that’s exactly what I thought when I started playing cards in the locker room after games in high school.  I certainly never thought it would kill me to play seemingly every night in my fraternity house in college.  And it wouldn’t kill me to play games in a suite at the Four Seasons for the last 3 years.

But it came close.

As those of us in the program know, in the “Yellow Book” of GA, it explicitly states that the destruction of gambling “can lead to prison, insanity or death.”  If insanity is to be defined by trying to obtain a different result with the same and repeated behavior, I almost hit a triple crown.

No, gambling didn’t kill me.  But it came dangerously close.  As I told my story of deceit and destruction to a few of the guys, they certainly understood, respectfully, that I should be nowhere near a card table, a domino game, or dice.

I’m actually pretty proud of how far I’ve progressed.  Certainly, nobody would ever know if I sat down for a game.  The stakes are miniscule.  As inmates, we don’t carry currency – it’s considered contraband.  We have our commissary accounts – $350 per month is our spending limit.  By the way, it’s always amusing and very easy to spot the “losers.”  They are the guys who leave the commissary with more merchandise that they can carry themselves.

The fact is, I had no interest, no desire to engage.  I was thinking to myself how pathetic it would be – I get financially obliterated playing at home, but I could get a nice consolation prize: Poker Champ of FCI Big Spring.  Just what I didn’t need.

I wish the guys well who play.  I have absolutely no resentments, no triggers, no problems with it.  As is true with the outside world, some will get it, some won’t; some will have the ability to abstain, some will be devastated.

Kathy has noted that gambling fills 3 major voids: impulse, coping and depression.  I’m certainly in a place where there are 157 other guys who might need it.  I don’t.

And now I don’t have to be worried about being dragged in.  They know my story and respect it.

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A Sober Israel Experience


Rabbi Jay Siegel

By: Rabbi Jay Siegel

For ten days young adults from Beit T’Shuvah , JACS, people looking for a sober Israel experience, and Israelis came together to share what was nothing less than life changing. Coming from all over the United States, Canada, and Israel, we set out to have a spiritual, physical, and emotional experience. No one could have imagined on our first day how we would all bond as a group, and how each person would change their perspective of how they connection with Israel, God, themselves, and others.

We arrived in Israel in the late afternoon and immediately we drove north to the holy city of Z’fat. We spent the next few days getting to know each other and exploring the ancient history and spiritual nature of Z’fat. On Shabbat evening some experienced services with the locals, and came back glowing from the singing and dancing. Shabbat morning we had a wonderful discussion about spiritually and religion and how it works in peoples lives. Most people experienced Z’fat as a spiritual place and felt an immediate connection!

After Shabbat we made our way to Tiberias, where we spent the next day and a half exploring, hiking, and having fun. Back on the bus we visited an Israeli drug and alcohol treatment center where we were able to hear from two Israelis our own stories. Go figure, addiction and recovery know no boarders. True to the pace of the trip we found ourselves in Tel Aviv and Jaffa. We had a moment of reflection and discussion at Rabin Square. People in our group did not realize how much this would touch them. Seeing a place where so much hope was, is, and, unfortunately, can be shattered was mind-blowing for some. In contrast to that heavy moment we stayed the night in Bat Yam, a wonderful beach community with clubs, restaurants, and coffee shops lighting up the beach life. Some people decided to have an evening A.A. meeting on the beach. I wonder if it was a first.

The next morning we met up with four Israelis who joined us for the remainder of our trip. Each one brought a new perspective and dynamic to the group. We spent the morning on the beach and then off to Tel Aviv, Independence Hall, and shopping around Sheinkin Street. After this brief stay in Tel Aviv, we rode south to a Bedouin camp. We rode donkeys, learned about Bedouin culture, and slept in tent, a real experience for some of our more pampered folks.

The next morning we climbed to the top of Masada. There we learned of the ancient and awesome history of that sacred site. We quickly went to the Dead Sea were folks bathed in mud and salt water, and after we dipped in a pool at Ein Gedi. We left just in time to make it to a beautiful dusk view of Jerusalem from Mt. Scopus. There we said a prayer and came together as a community to simply take in the awesome moment.

A day trip from Jerusalem brought some of us to Returno, an Israeli drug and alcohol treatment community. We heard stories from patients and the founder told us what prompted him to start this international program. One of our Israeli friends shared her experience of her own personal darkness, and that again brought a unity to our group. When we returned to Jerusalem we went right to the Kotel, the Western Wall. For many in our group this was the first time they had seen the Kotel. It was a moment I know moved them and all around them.

We then made it to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, Mt. Herzl, the military cemetery, and then brought Shabbat in at the Kotel. This was a moving and hard day for most of us. The sadness and joy, the destruction and recreation, and the exhaustion and zeal all played part in, what I would call, the most moving day of the trip. The next day was Shabbat where we wrapped up all our experiences and had a tour of the Kotel tunnel. Then we were off to the airport for an early Sunday flight.

In short, as you can see, we packed in the physical and the spiritual with the past and the future. It was truly a trip that incorporated everything one could have imagined. Friends were made and experiences were had. It was truly a trip that none will forget. I know all would do it again in a heart beat.

*To see the photos of the trip go to Beit T’Shuvah’s Flickr site.

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