Tag Archives: recovery

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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The Mind of a Marathon Runner


By Eliot Godwin

Beep beep beep beep…

shutterstock_152330102I can’t say for sure why I hate my alarm clock. It’s an inanimate object. I’m definitely smarter than my alarm clock and it does exactly what I tell it. Perhaps I really just hate myself for committing to getting up early and running miles upon miles every Sunday morning. More likely it’s that I love myself enough to commit to something that makes me physically healthier and mentally stronger, and follow through on that commitment each week. Clearly, it’s tough love.

The perspective from under my comforter is bleak. A snoring, farting roommate. Accruing laundry. Clouds and rain. Once I get up, however, the world doesn’t look so intimidating. How quickly the body responds to the act of going from horizontal to vertical in the morning. The brain needs blood to operate, and getting vertical denies my brain the blood it needs to make bad decisions like ‘stay in bed’ or ‘do drugs’ or ‘gamble.’ I leave my room! I interact with people! I eat bagels!

When I start running, the endorphins start to flow and life is good. Invariably, I wonder how I ever considered not getting out of bed. With the unwavering support and infectious enthusiasm of Stephanie Cullen and Craig Miller, along with everyone else on the team, I feel a part of something. We train on our own during the week, and every Sunday the team meets at the Santa Monica Pier for our weekly runs, some as long as 20 miles.

In so many ways, my weekly marathon training is a microcosm of rehabilitation. Arresting my addiction is difficult because it is uncomfortable, like getting out of bed. Training for a marathon is hard and daunting, but the road is paved with success and encouragement, along with the inevitable difficulties. My team is supportive and present; we look out for each other and hold each other accountable.

Once training ends, the real thing awaits. Hopefully we’ve been present in our preparation and have amassed a toolbox of the strategies and skills necessary to succeed. Like life, the marathon is fraught with peril and unexpected complications will certainly arise. But failure is much less an option than a choice we simply cannot make.

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Judaism and The Blues – Part Three


In part one and two of our Judaism and The Blues series, Rabbi Mark Borovitz weighed in his thoughts  the relation between the two as emotions and concepts. In part three below, Beit T’Shuvah musical director James Fuchs discusses and illustrates the musical similarities between the two, as well as pointing out the parallels of their origins.

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Saturday Morning Shabbos Services At Beit T’Shuvah: A View From The Stage


Saturday Morning Shabbos Services At Beit T’Shuvah:

A View From The Stage

By Matthew Greenwald

I’ve had many fantastic experiences performing with the Beit T’Shuvah band on Saturday mornings. Like many residents, I prefer Saturday morning services. The laid-back atmosphere, the funkiness of the music and the overall communal camaraderie of the event is something that many of us take through the weekend. Through this informality, the reflective nature that is Shabbat becomes that much more comfortable and immediate.

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 But aside from this, to be able to see the transformation of residents during their stay in primary care is for me, an extraordinary thing to witness. Once, several years ago, there was a new resident that came into Beit T’Shuvah. She was a newly-transplanted Canadian, coming off a lengthy run with speed and alcohol, and her first few days were bumpy indeed. She was in a new town, a different country, newly-sober, and in this…unusual place. On the first Shabbat she attended, she was clearly overwhelmed by the emotionally-charged atmosphere. As the service progressed, she seemed to know the prayers, and was making some tentative effort to sing along with the congregation. However, she was painfully shy, and spent most of the service looking around the room, wondering what exactly was going on.

 A couple of weeks later, I was playing another Saturday, and during the service I was wondering if she was still in the house. I scanned the seats near the front, but didn’t see her. However, a few minutes later, during “Ashre,” I finally saw her: she was standing on her chair, screaming with exultation, “Happy are those who dwell in this house…

 To witness changes such as these and many others make the experience of Saturday services that much more rewarding for me. As a footnote, the resident I’ve mentioned successfully completed the program, and had lengthy employment at Beit T’Shuvah before going on to another job. While she no longer works here, she is still sober and will always be a part of this community.

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 Among current new residents, the feeling of having a place to be part of is underlined on Saturday mornings. “I’ll admit that I don’t always like waking up to go to services on Saturday mornings,” said one new resident, “but something happens during the first half hour; I don’t know if it’s the music or the message, or both. But the fact that this service is all about the residents is what brings it together for me, and I get to carry that through my weekend.”

I couldn’t agree more. In the end, where it’s at for me is that Saturdays are a welding of the core of the resident community, and it’s precisely this activity that forges our spirits together…from wherever you’re sitting.

 

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Israel in The Winter


By David Gole

Last Friday I arrived at LAX, still stunned from one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had – a sober birthright trip. Around October, my counselor asked me if I had ever been to Israel before on an organized trip to which I replied “Yes I have been there 3 times, but never on an organized trip.” When she asked me if I wanted to go on a sober birthright trip, I had to think about it for a minute. A “sober” birthright trip, is that even Kosher? At first, the thought of a bunch of recovering addicts and alcohols traveling the Promised Land sounded like either a lot of fun or a recipe for disaster. Being the optimist that I am, I willingly took the plunge into the unknown.littledavyisraelblg

When we arrived in Tel Aviv, everything I experienced 7 years before started coming back to me. Many of the things I had seen were just how I remembered and experienced them; only last time I did not lose my luggage. We then drove from Ben Gurion Airport up to the Golan Heights where we stayed for three nights. Though I had my skepticism about being with people in recovery in Israel, it quickly disappeared when everyone seemed to bond almost immediately as we got to look out onto Syria and hiked around Gamla. On the way to Tzfat, 4 Israelis joined our trip and so did my luggage. Like we embraced each other on that first day, we welcomed the Israelis with open arms and open hearts. After spending 3 days in the north, we ventured on our tour bus down to the holy city of Jerusalem.

The memories of Jerusalem before I went consisted of three things – Ice Cream, Candy, and Jewish mumbo jumbo that I was too young to identify with. This time, now that I am older and have a better understanding of what’s going on around me, I was able to appreciate the Jewish side of Jerusalem a lot more. Going to the Western Wall on Friday night with 50,000 Jews singing and dancing followed by dinner over looking the wall was an incredible experience. Saturday night, we went to Ben Yehuda Street for a little sober fun and danced everywhere. On our last day in Jerusalem we went to Yad Vashem where the fellowship of our group really stood out as everyone expressed their compassion for each other. After that we went to the marketplace and bargained with our Israeli friends. Exhausted from an emotional day, we all went to sleep very satisfied with our purchases and the money we saved.

The next day was our last day with the Israelis and we tried to enjoy ourselves as much as possible. We went to Herzliya where we visited a recovery center called Matrix. It was nice to see people with less time because it reminds me of where I was when I started this process and it shows them that it is possible to string time together. Proceeding our time with the residents of Matrix Recovery Center, it was time to say our goodbyes to our Israeli friends, where everyone was sad to see them leave.

New Year’s Eve in Netanya was just not the same without our Israeli friends, but that didn’t keep us down for the duration of the trip. New Year’s Day we hit Tel Aviv and Yafo with full force. Visiting Independence Hall was eventful for me because after seeing learning about what I had seen in Poland, the declaration of Israel’s Independence was very important for Jews everywhere. We did not spend the night in Tel Aviv; instead we drove south to a Bedouin Camp in the Negev Desert and spent the night with everyone in a tent.

The night in the Bedouin Tent was rough. It was cold, sandy and almost everyone woke up with some type of sickness. Early that morning we rode camels around the Negev and then drove to Masada. Even though everyone that was sick was given the option to take the tram, the resilient nature of recovering addicts drove most of us to tough it out and hike the mountain. After hitting the major landmarks in the Negev like the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi, we spent our last night 20 minutes outside of Jerusalem at a kibbutz.

On the final day of the trip, we went back to Jerusalem to celebrate bar and bat mitzvahs and have some quality time in the old city. The final goodbyes were very emotional, but our Israelis friends, dressed in animal costumes, surprised us at the airport. All in all, the experience I had on birthright with people that deal with the daily struggles of addiction was one for the ages. It was amazing how quickly these friendships blossomed and how we were able to show the Israelis on our trip that although we are not a normal birthright trip, we can still have fun without waking up every morning with a hangover. I can honestly say that this was one of the most influential moments in my life and strongly encourage recovering alcoholics and addicts to go on a sober birthright trip.

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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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Questions From a Normie #4


By Chris Alvarez

What is a sponsor?

A sponsor isn’t a friend. A sponsor isn’t a therapist. A sponsor isn’t a parent. A sponsor is something more. A sponsor is someone who has something you want.  They help those who desire sobriety regain a life worth living by taking them through the twelve steps.

Well… that’s what they are supposed to do but most of the time they end up doing a lot more.

Although a sponsor is supposed to be a guide and help keep their sponsees on a path of sobriety, the sponsee ends up helping the sponsor more than they will ever know. It’s been my experience that when I let someone help me, it also helps them.

A sponsor ends up becoming so close to their sponsees that secrets cease to exist.  They make their sponsees do things that they don’t want to do, they take sponsees out of their comfort zones and help them overcome their fears.

Ultimately all I can surely say is that my sponsor has helped make me the person I am today; and by sponsoring someone else I learn how to stay sober, or as Peter F. Drucker said, “No one learns as much about a subject as one who is forced to teach it.”

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