Monthly Archives: October 2011

Be Afraid

By Jaron Zanerhaft

With Halloween approaching fast, horror is on my mind.  The breath of fall draws the hair on the back of my neck slowly upward, waiting nervously for winter’s snarl and bite. It’s the perfect time of year to evaluate my own fears and take a flashlight to the darker corners of my soul. 

So, what am I afraid of?  Throughout my life, I’ve dealt with some pretty irrational yet amazing fears.  When I was really young, I used to be scared that something as large as a whale could exist and still be alive.  Around the time I started college, steeped in doubts and questions of self-definition, I developed a fear of people who sleep naked.  These days, I fear losing the semblance of an identity that I’ve already created for myself.

Recent research has shown that the same area of the brain that governs the extinction of conditioned responses associated with fear is also allocated to respond to triggers that lead to relapse in drug addiction.  This means that overcoming your fears makes it easier to stay sober. Even when the fear has nothing to do with drugs, working through it strengthens your ability to resist temptation.

Luckily for Halloween, this kind of research strongly supports exposure therapy.  Visiting the full-sized model of a Blue Whale at the Museum of Natural History in New York helped me work through my fear of large life.  For a few nights in college, I decided to sleep naked, and I quickly got over that fear.  I have found fear to be a good thing, something to walk into and something to help me grow.  You might be better for it.  It might even keep you sober.

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Filed under addiction, Beit T'Shuvah, Current Events, Family Wellness, Sobriety, Spirituality

Run to Save a Soul 2012: I Run For Something

By Justin Rosenberg

I moved from Florida to Los Angeles in January. I was broken. I checked into rehab. My life changed. I got sober.  I got better. This is NOT that story! This is the story of what has happened and what I’ve been through since I got sober.

First, let’s flashback a decade. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a debilitating gastrointestinal autoimmune disorder in Spring 2001.  Since that initial diagnosis, I have been hospitalized, poked, prodded, probed, put under the knife, and doped up on every thing from corticosteroids to rather potent narcotics to experimental biologic-agents with names straight out of Star Trek.  I used to joke with the hospital staff, calling the hospital my vacation home . . . not quite the Hamptons.

Now, back to the present. In April, having already been clean and sober (and working a great recovery program) since January, I began to have the worst Crohn’s flare-up since I first got sick a decade earlier.  I tried to be my own superhero and “tough it out.”  I thought I was fooling everyone I had come to love out on this coast, but they knew better.  Each day I would hear “Justin, please go to the hospital, we don’t want to lose you!” I still opted to feel like I was born on planet Krypton. On the first Monday in June, I was speaking with my sister on the phone and she was begging me to let her take me to the hospital.  I told her I’d “think about it”.  I hung up the phone and meditated on one single concept–for the past 30 years of my life, I had been doing things my own way, assuming that I knew better than the world.  I thought long and hard for about 30 seconds (any longer and I would’ve intellectualized and convinced myself not to do what I did next).  I called my sister back and told her to come pick me up to head to Cedars-Sinai emergency room.

The next few weeks were an existential haze.  I met with a plethora of GI doctors, Colorectal Surgeons, Med Students, and some rather cute and amazingly endearing nurses.  I had cameras shoved in every hole in my body.  I felt awkward, violated, embarrassed, ashamed–and, of course, physically worse than I’ve ever felt in my life!! But regardless of all the negative aspects, I felt something I had not felt for as long as I could remember–CONNECTED!  I did something different with this hospital stay; I decided to let people in (literally, as in let them into my room, and metaphorically, as in let them into my heart).  The outpouring of love and support from the Beit T’Shuvah community, the doctors and nurses at Cedars, and my friends and family back east, just utterly blew me away.  I had not asked a single person to care about me.  Hell, in the past, I had actually rejected the love thrown my way!  I didn’t realize that something had changed in me; 5 months of “Beit T’Shuvah time” under my belt had obviously been a catalyst for an internal perceptual shift.

And just as I take my recovery “one day at a time”, I’m also taking my running “one step at a time”.

I should probably mention that on June 16th, the surgeons at the hospital removed my ENTIRE large intestines, and left an ileostomy bag in its place! Although this was a major, life-altering surgery, I have tried to treat it as the opposite of that.  In the past, I’d turn the most minor of life-issues into mega-apocalyptic excuse to not give back to life.  This time, I made the conscious decision to turn a major event into a springboard to rebuild my life beyond just not using drugs.

While I was in the hospital recovering, I began doing research on what would be possible with my specific surgery.  To my surprise, nearly every article, blog-post, interview, etc that I came across all had to do with the surgical-recipient not looking back and instead continually challenging themselves in ways not before possible while sick in the throes of Crohn’s Disease.  So . . . I decided that I would set a goal of running 26.2 miles in March, in the form of the LA Marathon. Adding to my own internal hype about this decision, is the fact that I get to not only run to save and change my own life, I get to run to save and change the lives of the countless souls who will be my predecessors as future residents of Beit T’Shuvah.  Raising money to help the community that embraced me and saved my life is both an honor and a privilege.

As I write this, I am mentally preparing for this upcoming Sunday’s 8-mile training run.  Just as with the 5K a few weeks ago, and the 6-mile run last week, I know that this Sunday’s run is going to sting a bit.  But more so than sting, it is going to foster growth–both my own growth, and the growth of many to follow in my footsteps.  And just as I take my recovery “one day at a time”, I’m also taking my running “one step at a time”.  I know that by running 26.2 miles this upcoming March, I will not only be completing a tremendous physical accomplishment, I will also be completing a momentous spiritual accomplishment.

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The California Society of Addiction Medicine Honor Rabbi and Harriet

By M. Alexander

Last week, Harriet and Rabbi received The Community Service Award from The California Society of Addiction Medicine (CSAM).  Since 1985, the award has been given to assemblymen, doctors, philanthropists, and clergymen. Now, the doctors and health professionals at CSAM, a chapter of The American Society of Addiction Medicine, have honored the leaders of Beit T’Shuvah for their contribution to the advancement of addiction treatment.

At Beit T’Shuvah, we have always operated against the grain of traditional treatment centers. We are not a behavior modification model—making residents sweep the floor with a toothbrush. And we are not a plush for-profit recovery model—offering butler service and lobster dinners.  Rabbi and Harriet run Beit T’Shuvah on the principle that every addict, alcoholic, and criminal entering the program is an individual and the program should be tailored to their unique needs.  The doctors and researchers at The Society of Addiction Medicine have officially recognized our program, bestowing a new shade of medical legitimacy to the work we have been doing for 25 years.

The society honored Harriet for “embracing the challenge of an unpopular cause, fighting the widespread denial that ‘nice Jewish men and women’ could be addicts and criminals and whose passion, creativity, vision, and love have built and sustained a unique program.”  CSAM said of Rabbi that his “personal journey from con man and prisoner to Rabbi and community leader has given him insight and makes his message uniquely accessible to those with disordered lives and a desire to return to spiritual values.”

Both Rabbi and Harriet “have built Beit T’Shuvah into a unique resource, a home for Jewish ex-cons and addicts utilizing a recovery model blending Jewish spirituality, cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step philosophy and the creative arts, restoring lost souls, and returning them to themselves.”

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The Washingtonian Society – This Is Going to be One Hell of a Fourth Step

By Ben Spielberg

Can a junkie get sober in a shooting gallery? How about a crackhead in a crack den or an alcoholic in the 19th century? Believe it or not, history has shown that alcohol use was almost three times higher in the 19th century then it is now. The Washingtonian Society was essentially the first group of people to deal with alcoholism around the mid-19th century. Beginning with just six people, Washingtonians held meetings every week that were like modern group therapy circles, telling tales of their experiences with alcohol addiction and relaying their hopes of remaining sober.

Try finding a sponsor in that mess

The search for facts around the Washingtonian [Temperance] Society is riddled with conflicting dates, contradictory values, and differing versions of the group’s demise. Sponsorship, chip taking, and the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous were all conceived almost 100 years post-Washingtonian times.

For as long as people have been able to distill grain, alcoholics have needed the support of one another to pursue a normal life. While the details are muddy, meetings of the Washingtonian Society were weekly and in a multitude of cities around the east coast. Much like AA today, some meetings featured a “speaker,” while others consisted of strictly shares. Also similar to today’s AA community, the Washingtonian movement seemed to fragment into different groups focusing around different issues. Today, we have Narcotics Anonymous, Sex and Love Anonymous, The Other Bar (AA for lawyers), etc.

The spiritual aspect is unclear. There are some sources that say they were strictly against God/religion of any kind, there are others which state the opposite. Anonymity was also not considered, which meant that certain “known” Washingtonians got some pretty bad publicity during a relapse.

While fragmenting groups by addiction-type works in the support groups of today, you may remember that Washingtonian’s had no uniting traditions like there are now. This brought different political influencers inside the rooms of the Washingtonian Society that led to even more fragmentation into groups of prohibition supporters (both men and women), and anti-abolitionists. As differing politics began to seep into the rooms, with no common practices to unite them like the AA meetings of today, the Washingtonian Society ultimately collapsed.

Alcoholics have the ironic potential to both bring people closer together and tear each other apart. Despite the blood alcohol level in their veins that unites them, politics, religion, and philosophy can still tear them apart. It seems that in order to provide sustaining recovery, certain unifying practices in these meetings must be in place to keep people together in their quest for sobriety despite their differences.

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In Memoriam: Elaine Breslow

By M. Alexander

Today, the mood at Beit T’Shuvah is somber, but in times of sorrow we band together.  Yesterday, we lost one of our great matriarchs, Elaine Breslow. Those who knew her describe her as a mother, a friend, and a savior. Those who did not know her personally are aware of the work she has done to help better their lives.  In Elaine, our community has lost a luminous spirit and an eminent figure—a person who not only worked tirelessly and contributed greatly, but one who exemplified Beit T’Shuvah’s mission.  Every person that she encountered left her presence feeling that they were counted, that they mattered, that they too could make a difference.

Though the Beit T’Shuvah community is saddened by this loss, we still stand strong in support of her mission and her life. Today at Beit T’Shuvah, we are all present, honoring Elaine’s memory, seeking comfort in the company of one another.  Rabbi sends his condolences to “Warren, Jamie, Julia and Elaine’s sister Barbara.”  He describes Elaine as a “life saver,” and he prays that “God [will] send comfort to her family and many many friends.”  Harriet knows that “Elaine’s soul and spirit live on in the lives of all the people who have lives worth living because she saw who they could become and cared about them deeply.”

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Procuring Principles: Whose Side are You on?

By M. Alexander

Northern Israel. Monday, October 3rd, 2011. A mosque burned. “Revenge” and “Price tag” spray-painted on the crumbling walls.

The West Bank. Mosques burned, Palestinian possessions torched, and an Israeli army base vandalized.

Wasilla, Alaska. Journalist Joe McGinniss moves in next door to the Palin house to write a new book. Writes speculation about family’s drug use and racism. Todd Palin says McGinniss is obsessed with Todd’s wife.

The world is a battleground between competing labels. Jew vs. Muslim. Liberal vs. Conservative. Orthodox vs. Reform. Mac vs. PC. All of these conflicts breed a single question, “Whose side are you on?” We are told that we must choose. Otherwise, we won’t belong, we will be outcasts.

I cannot choose between the set of labels that have been given to me. When a Jewish man destroys a Muslim place of worship, I will not stand on the side of the Jewish man. Instead, I will stand behind the principles that I believe Judaism supports—“Tolerance. Truth. Rising above the hate.”

When journalists begin malicious smear campaigns, I will not stand behind the liberal. I will stand behind the principles that I believe America represents—“Justice. Equality. Joining together instead of falling apart.”

Instead of fitting into the established paradigm of “Us vs. Them” we need to return to the first dichotomy we ever learned, “Right vs. Wrong.” Somewhere along the way, we were told that “Good” is equivalent to a specific series of labels; for instance, Democrat=Good, Republican=Bad. We must return to the core values and wrestle with righteousness vs. wickedness, instead of latching onto the principles that particular personalities project into the populace.

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A Message from Rabbi Mark on Kol Nidre

Dear Everyone,

As we embark on finishing our journey that we started last week on Rosh HaShanah into the new year of 5772, I wanted to share some thoughts with you.

Tonight we sing the Kol Nidre Prayer, yet do we let go of the resentments towards others for not fulfilling their vows?

Tonight we sing the Sh’ma Koleinu Prayer, asking God to hear our voices, yet do we hear the voices inside of us and those of others calling to us?

Tonight we acknowledge our “missing the marks” and ask for forgiveness, yet do we ask for and give forgiveness to others and ourselves?

Beginning tonight and lasting through tomorrow we are able to look at ourselves and our relationships with others, yet will we remember to do the same on Sunday?

Tomorrow we will pray and be together as family and friends and community for a whole day, yet will we continue this practice throughout the year?

Tonight and Tomorrow you will have an opportunity to sign our yearly Ketuba, yet will it make a difference in how you live in the coming year?

This Yom Kippur, I beg of you to make it matter to yourself! Let yourself be immersed in the day so you change not your attitude, but your actions. Let yourself be immersed in the day so that you no longer try and fit in, YOU BELONG! Let yourself be immersed in the day so that you enter the Gates of Forgiveness, Compassion, Kindness, Love, Truth and Life and bring others, your loved and unloved ones, with you.

G’Mar Hatima Tova, May you be sealed in the book of Life

Have an easy fast and a GREAT YEAR,

Rabbi Mark

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