Category Archives: 12-Steps

Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body


By Eliot Godwin

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The modern marathon as a sporting event was inspired by the fabled story of Philipedes, who ran from the battlefield at Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the Persians. After uttering his last words, “joy to you,” he promptly collapsed and died. When I ran the L.A. Marathon earlier this month, I wasn’t bringing any news to anyone in particular, but I certainly felt like collapsing and death was probably in play at some point.

You see, I took the marathon lightly. I went to the weekly training sessions because my counselor suggested I get involved in any and all physical activities offered at Beit T’Shuvah. Running a few miles on Sunday mornings seemed like a logical extension of that. I’d train for the half-marathon and just run the full on race day like no big deal. I rarely considered the marathon as an actual task; in my mind it felt more like just the end of my Sunday running appointments.

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Even on race day I complained about having to get up so early (4:30 A.M.) and tried to sleep as everyone else stretched and got excited for the race. When the race finally started, I felt great and decided I’d have no problem keeping pace with my friend who had been training seriously for months. This went against everything our coaches had repeated week after week, but I was a lifelong athlete, I’d played a Division I sport in college (12 years ago, mind you) and how long is 26.2 miles, really?

It’s long. By mile eight, I’d given up on keeping pace with my friend but I still thought I’d be able to finish no problem. At mile ten the five-hour pace runner had come and gone and I started feeling…a little less confident. At the halfway point I was supposed to stop and take a van to the block party at mile 19 but something about that just felt wrong. Get in a van while my fellow runners continued to suffer? Quit halfway and go party? It seemed like a metaphor for how I had lived my life thus far. I’d take a passion project lightly so when I inevitably quit halfway through, my lack of follow through wouldn’t carry much sting.

I was drawn to gambling because there was little effort and/or preparation required but lucrative, tangible results were attainable. No effort, cash reward? Sign me up! But I soon found out the principles of life don’t change just because you’re in a casino. Add compulsive addiction to the mix and I was licked. Preparation and discipline are key to any type of success, they just manifest in different, sometimes more subtle ways. I thought I could get by on my wits and guile, like a college student who shows up to a sociology midterm half-drunk expecting to ace it. But college and casinos aren’t real life until you leave.

At Beit T’Shuvah I’ve learned that pain and hardship are inevitable. Our impulses can often be damaging and will always be there, but preparing accordingly to deal with them will afford us a healthy, balanced life. Sitting with discomfort is possibly the most important part of overcoming addiction. My sojourns to the casino were attempts to not only completely escape the difficulty of life but to live life on my own terms, without the pain. And what did I eventually find in the casino? Pain, destruction and misery on a whole new level.

At mile 15 the pain was so great that I convinced myself I wouldn’t be able to finish. After all, I had only trained for the half-marathon, was it so bad if I stopped at mile 19? 19 miles was a lot, a terrific accomplishment. But when I scoffed my way through the halfway point I had committed to finishing. They say running a marathon is more mental than anything. At that point my body was telling me to stop and my mind was agreeing wholeheartedly. I was convinced I would need a wheelchair for months and that my knees would be irreparably injured. But something inside of me kept whispering, “finish.” At the 19th mile block party, stopping was never a real option as my friends cheered me on with hugs and high fives. The surge of confidence and adrenaline I got from this brief interlude carried me until my mind again intervened with the realization that “you’re almost there!” really meant, “you have more than seven more miles left.”

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Through miles 20-23 I saw multiple people carried away on stretchers, heard people talking about a 28-year old male who had a heart attack (I’m 34), and was passed by the older brother of Rip Van Winkle on one crutch. Still I persisted. The pain was unbearable but I bore it proudly like the medal of supreme achievement that would soon hang on my neck. After a few more miles, I could see the finish line! When I finally finished and obtained one of the few remaining medals, a race volunteer promptly removed it from my neck and replaced it with the half-marathon medal that matched my special yellow bib. The look of confusion and exasperation on my face must have been enough to persuade one of the blithe, less-experienced volunteers to give it back.

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I’ve always thought my shortcomings were the result of my refusal to finish what I’d started, not a lack of confidence. I thought I had confidence in spades and I just didn’t care enough to follow though on anything meaningful. But really I didn’t believe in myself enough to allow myself to fail. I was scared of what would happen if I finished something I cared about and it wasn’t all that good. I finished the marathon in six hours and 45 minutes. Over that span, the winner of the race could have run three marathons and still have time left over for a shower, a shave, and a leisurely cab ride to the airport. Instead of being upset with myself for taking so long, I am filled with confidence because I finally committed to something and I followed through to the end. It may not have been the Greeks defeating the Persians, but it was definitely a joyous occasion for me.

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Filed under 12-Steps, addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Beit T'Shuvah, BTS Communications, Community, Current Events, Gratitude, Judaism, LA Marathon, Run To Save A Soul, Sobriety, Spirituality, T'Shuvah

Reaping What We Sow


By Eliot Godwin

Nestled in the charming confines of Beit T’Shuvah’s Comey Complex on a cool Saturday evening in February, BTS residents, staff and a few lucky guests broke bread and shared laughs during the first ever Farm-to-Table Harvest Dinner. Conducted by Organic Garden co-founders Davis Watson and Allison Hennessey, whose aim is healthy living and active recovery, the dinner was a rousing success from start to finish.garden

“We’re building a sense of community by connecting people to the land,” Watson said. “Part of why the food tasted so good is because everyone’s hands were on it. We invited the staff and others, and everyone got to know each other better.”  This egalitarian attitude defines the Beit T’Shuvah philosophy, and when residents recognize this, they can’t help but dive in and flourish.

“Community is not just a word here,” said Jonas Eisenberg, a resident. “For Rabbi and Harriet to share their personal time with us was really great— it was an amazing experience.”

It began early afternoon at Beit T’Shuvah where residents harvested a healthy crop of greens and vegetables from the Organic Garden. The yield was so great that only about half of it was used to feed the twenty-plus attendees.

“We got boxes and boxes of food, and the garden looks like we didn’t even touch it,” Watson said before everyone dug into the feast, which featured lamb and kosher chicken stews with dried figs and apricots on a bed of couscous, organic arugula and mesclun mix salad. Soda bread made by celebrity guest Fionnula Flanagan, and freshly baked spelt flatbread with ricotta cheese and assorted toppings, started off the dinner with flavor rich foods.

Watson’s sister Anna, a food writer from New York City, was the organizing force behind the dinner and head honcho in the kitchen. Beit T’Shuvah residents and distinguished guests alike assisted her with preparation of the meat for the stew, rinsed and cleaned the salad greens, chopped vegetables and herbs, and took her expert direction with smiles and laughter. Rabbi Mark Borovitz happily chipped in, kneading and rolling the flatbread dough with aplomb.

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Anna’s keen, positive attitude kept the machine churning throughout the evening. A travelling food writer, published in large concerns like the Wall Street Journal and Food & Wine magazine, Anna said she was “happy to be here! It’s great to be part of something so unique as this.”

Watson and Hennessey urgently deflect praise for the success of the garden to the community, but it’s their diligent effort and subtle flair for horticulture that has quickly turned a fledgling project into a prodigious enterprise, inspiring many residents to get involved and keep the garden growing.

 “This mirrors how we look at addiction,” said Rabbi Adam Siegel, a spiritual counselor who oversees the garden program. “People tend to live compartmentalized lives and create artificial barriers. At Beit T’Shuvah we are made of all the compartments, and [tonight] showed the level of respect that staff and residents have for each other. Whether it means being part of this program or another program, we are helping people see the holy soul within them.”

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Filed under 12-Steps, addiction, Beit T'Shuvah, Community, Current Events, Gratitude, Judaism, Mark Borovitz, Sobriety, Spirituality, T'Shuvah, Uncategorized

Judaism and The Arts: Freedom Song Update


 By Stephanie Lager

In writing our Judaism and the Arts blog we didn’t need to look far to find the perfect topic for our next post. Beit T’Shuvah’s very own creation, Freedom Song, has been exploring performance art as a way to engage audiences with the relatable feelings of addiction, family dysfunction, and personal slavery in a side-by-side musical presentation of an A.A. meeting and a Passover Seder. The three-act play’s cast is made up of Beit T’Shuvah residents, alumni, and staff members, which culminates in a Q & A session that ties the whole performance together.

freedomsongJessica Fischel, the show’s coordinator and an associate of Beit T’Shuvah’s Prevention department, weighs in on why she is so passionate about promoting Freedom Song. Even though Freedom Song performs for audiences as young as 7th graders Jessica says, “I’ve never spoken to a kid that didn’t relate to someone in the play. Everyone can see a bit of themselves and their family on that stage, regardless of being an addict or not.”

Jessica gets the most pleasure from witnessing firsthand the impact Freedom Song has on everyone that sees it, from people coming up to her after a show, seeing audience members’ eyes well up with tears, and receiving letters that attempt to put into words the profound impact it had on their life as they realize that they aren’t alone.

With a constantly changing cast, Laura Bagish, the show’s director, announces current updates and reflects on what we can expect from this profoundly moving performance.

With almost all new cast members, Freedom Song is preparing for their first new show on November 13th at 5:30 p.m. at the Jewish Federation, which is open to the public.

In response to the new cast, “It’s a process for me, starting over with a new cast each time. For me, to have new people that are enthusiastic, makes me enthusiastic, and helps me keep it fresh,” Laura says.

On being the director, “It’s taught me patience; I hadn’t a lot of acting experience before, and being the director for the last few years has taught me a lot of how to bring the best out of people, and how to be brave and overcome your fears.”

We also had the distinct pleasure of interviewing one of the newest cast members, Shayna Aken, and picked her brain as to why she decided to join the cast.

Eager to express her enthusiasm, Shayna explains, “I joined Freedom Song because I really want to stay sober, and do it by being connected to the community. I used to act in plays and theater when I was younger, and I also wanted to get back to that part of myself—the real me—while I’m at Beit T’Shuvah. It was like I forgot my passion, and what I really like to do, and how I define myself.

On how it helps her: “The play helps me in my recovery by being accountable, and having a commitment. The other people in the play count on me to be there, and that’s really important in terms of my recovery. In a way, it’s like having a smaller community within the Beit T’Shuvah community that I can have a connection and camaraderie with—we’re doing something in the real world together, a true team effort.”

On the character she plays: “It’s funny that I actually play a character that I have the same name as, and it’s a woman who’s really been through it: she’s had abusive relationships, and she’s working in recovery. She doesn’t have a lot of sober time, but she’s already helping the newcomer, and she stands up for herself. And I like that very, very much.  It certainly mirrors my life; I can relate to it a lot.”

We are thrilled to announce the upcoming performance from this new group of cast members on November 13th at 5:30 p.m. at the Jewish Federation. If you haven’t seen Freedom Song yet, you’re not just missing out on a part of our community, but a performance that will make you reflect on what you may be living as a slave to.

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Filed under 12-Steps, addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, art, Beit T'Shuvah, Community, Current Events, Family Wellness, Freedom Song, Judaism, Sobriety, Spirituality

Interacting With The Opposite Sex


By Chris Alvarez

How do you find interacting with the opposite sex without alcohol?

Its strange, I used to need “Man in a Can” to be able to interact with girls. I had no confidence. I thought nothing of myself.  My ego told me drink and then maybe girls would like me, it worked for a night or two, but then it didn’t.

Alcohol was a tool I used to get over my anxiety and low self-esteem. It was useful until it wasn’t and then it just hurt me and degraded me.  The very thing I was using to help me feel better and give me “confidence” was just bringing me down. There was a point when I realized this but couldn’t stop drinking on my own.

However once I stopped drinking and began to work on myself my confidence level skyrocketed.  Now that I am sober I don’t need “man in a can”.  Sometimes I’m overconfident, to the point where I think I’m to good for anyone;  or at least to good for the girls I am purusing. grabbingbutt This causes me problems because I get frustrated when they don’t like me back.  I wonder, “why don’t you like me, any girl would be lucky to be with me and you don’t even realize it”. This is the same ego that used to tell me to drink because I wasn’t good enough for anybody.  This thinking can cause me to act in jealous irrational ways and must be stopped before it can do any harm.

I don’t like everyone and not everyone has to like me.  When I remember this, it’s easy for me to interact with the opposite sex.  Now it’s all me, no more “Man in a can”, people are just people and I have nothing to worry about.

(To be continued)

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Attention Please!!!!


By Chris Alvarez

Why do all the “deadbeats”, the people that disappoint us, the people that fall get so much attention? And the winners, the people that succeed, those who try so hard to do the next right thing get little to no attention for their actions?  In the “real world” this isn’t the case but in the world of recovery it’s the sad truth.

Do people root for the underdog or do they look at them as a way of seeing how much better off they are. Do they see a part of themselves in that person who just cant seem to do anything right? But the people, who do succeed, the ones doing the right thing, are they less worthy of attention? Shouldn’t they receive some praise for their success?  The incredibly successful ones, the top one percent of the top one percent do get attention but that’s such a tiny number of people.

a little attention please

a little attention please

Now I guess being awarded or acknowledged for doing the right thing isn’t needed; doing the right thing should be reward enough, but is giving attention to those who do “bad shit” for attention the “right” thing to do? Probably not, but most people do it anyways.

I try not to give into those who crave attention and act out in all the wrong ways. I see myself as a beacon of light for those in the dark. I never venture into the dark, I let those in the dark see the light and come to me. Am I doing the right thing? Who knows we all see life through a different lens. Let us know what you think about this post and remember giving someone attention might send the wrong message but… it might send the right one too.

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Questions From a Normie #5


By Chris Alvarez

What Do You Do in Those Meetings?

“Those” meetings also know as AA meetings or 12 step meetings are private. So for me to tell you what exactly what happens in them would be wrong. However I can give you an overview, and touch on the reasons why we do what we do.

Basically AA meetings are places where people who want to stop drinking or using can go to get help. They are also a great way for those who have stopped drinking to maintain their sobriety and serenity. In the meetings people  come in and share their experience strength and hope.  Cakes and chips are given to celebrate and acknowledge milestones in sobriety and show newcomers that it is possible to stay sober.

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A meeting is a place where you can speak your mind and ask for help. It is a therapeutic community of people whose only care is that you stay sober and live well.  Over the past 22 months I have experienced more love and support in these meetings than I ever thought was possible.

The knowledge and support that was so freely given to me must be given away if I wish to keep anything I have received.  All I have to say is that meetings are awesome and if you or anyone you know needs help just hit a meeting and there will be many people willing to help. Or just leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer any questions you have.

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Filed under 12-Steps, addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Community, Compulsive Gambling, Education, Gratitude, Sobriety

Tips for a Sober New Year Fun Fun Fun!!!


By: Chris Alvarez

Being sober during the New Year holiday is something many addicts and alcoholics have a tough time with.  This is one of the few days a year where it is socially acceptable for tax-paying, dog-walking, pay check-cashing, grocery store going people to act like drunken fools. Here are some tips that should help any addict or alcoholic stay sober during the holiday.

Sober Parties: Please don’t laugh. Ok you can laugh. Yes they are painfully awkward and most of the time its just a bunch of people standing around drinking Red Bulls, but they offer the addict in recovery a chance to socialize in a safe environment without the temptations of substances (besides cigarettes and energy drinks). However there are ways for one to go out and stay safe and sober.shutterstock_101105338

Sober Companionship: An addict or alcoholic can go out and celebrate with “normies.”  But it is advisable to only go out with someone who has more time than you, or go out with a group of other sober people so that you can watch each other. It may sound strange and intrusive but it could save your life.

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Sober Dances: This is just as funny, ridiculous, and awkward as a sober party but can be fun as soon as everyone decides to stop being shy (don’t hold your breath this could take a LONG time). Until that happens it’s just a bunch of sober people standing around drinking energy drinks. But that can be fun…

Hope this helps, if it doesn’t then don’t do anything. New Years is just another day, stay in and watch TV or something.

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