HAMSA: A Jewish Response to the Heroin Crisis
I am no different than any other drug addict or alcoholic. I’ve spent days, months and years powerless over my need to drink and drug. Powerless to stop desire, an obsession that used everyone and everything as a tool for acquiring a manufactured release into a constant state of consumption.
“What’s the point of living if we can’t feel good, can’t feel happy or high all the time?”
That’s a real thought. A thought that had plagued me for years. The last time I had that thought, I was lying in my room, detoxing from heroin…
Three years ago, I shuddered atop my bed as my body began to deteriorate. I gritted my teeth as cold sweats bled through bedsheet.
I had resorted to slamming my own fist into my skull. The physical blows and ringing in my ears distracted my thoughts from the toil of withdrawal. The pressure of pain provided by the removal of substances thrust my mental into a state of delirium. Around the third day of my detox, I began to look for a way out.
Lying there, daylight creeping in through window blinds, I began to consider ending my life. The thought of instantly allowing myself to feel nothing eased my pain. I played what-if scenarios in my head. I wanted a quick release, an end to my suffering.
“I could go into my roommate’s room, grab one of his rifles, and end it all. I can pull the trigger and blast myself into a state of nothingness. I can end everything for the relief of nothing.”
I fantasized the scenario. I thought of how my family would feel, how traumatic it would be to leave my friends and loved ones behind. The future, dead me, would not have to worry about how other people felt. I wouldn’t even have to worry about me.
As I write this, I must admit the reason for not committing a final act of self-sabotage is because I don’t believe I would ever have the guts. I can’t divulge to you what the impact of suicide has on a family, or on an individual, because I have not experienced it. I’ve never lost a loved one to suicide.
But I have lost loved ones to addiction. I’ve seen families struggle to help those who don’t want to be helped. I’ve shed tears, lost in the story of another’s grief as mournful emotion projected itself outwards.
As I stood in my housemate’s room, staring at his rifle, pain and discomfort swelling in my gut, a thought popped into my head:
If I do this, if I pull the trigger on my own existence, if I end everything for the relief of nothing…I won’t be able to see the new Star Wars movie.
With that thought, my mind began to reach towards hope…A New Hope (Authors note: Nailed it.)
I began to see my pain as temporary. Within my mind, I grasped at the vestige of a memory — experiencing a holy land, a birthright. Remembering the freedom I experienced during a trip to Israel.
A purpose for my pain began to develop, and I stayed stoic in my fight for freedom. I knew the removal of heroin from my system would spark a new outlook on life, a new sense of purpose and a reason to live. I held on to a past experience of living without the crutch of drugs and alcohol as I clenched my teeth and gripped my bed sheets. I would be OK again. I would fight through the pain of now. Eventually, I knew I would be able to wake up and not need anything to feel OK.
I’ve been sober ever since.
Since that afternoon, I’ve worked to remove myself from the misfortunes of my past. The mistakes I had made, the people I hurt and the only broken heart I ever experienced — everything affected how I felt and the way I interacted with the world.
The therapy provided by working a 12-step program allowed me to understand the man I was no longer exists. The only thing real is the man typing right now.
Recovery aimed a magnifying glass at the voice in my head — a voice that wants to live a life of creativity, that wants to be heard and understood.
Through JF&CS’ HAMSA program, I have been provided unique opportunities to connect with other Jewish addicts and alcoholics. In a 12-step world of recovery that revolves around the idea of G-d, it is liberating to be involved with a sober community based around our culture and our religious heritage.
The foundation of principles I discovered within the rooms of 12-step meetings provided me with the gifts of purpose, spirituality, self-esteem, confidence and self-awareness. These are gifts I have been able to apply in my life as I pursue the things I love.
I’ve been given the tools and the mindset to see my dreams unfold in front of me as I pursue what I believe in and what I feel.
Since recovering, I have led two sober Birthright trips to Israel. The vision that got me through my detox, the hope that I would find purpose for my pain, has manifested.
I write every day and now have a manuscript of my own personal journey since recovering. A documentation of what life is like for a person who has recovered from heroin, and is now pursuing a dream: to become a published author.
In sobriety, I discovered that the most important aspect of recovery is a willingness to be honest and transparent. A willingness to share courageously with a room full of strangers. Only when I opened myself up to the world around me did I find the support of people who wanted something as badly as I did. To live free from the grip of drugs and alcohol.
Now, I have a new goal that can only be achieved by me. I cannot rely on anyone to put in the effort. It’s a disparate duality. There is no one I trust more than myself, yet a lot of the time I feel I am incapable of being great. Incapable of finding the true support of someone as passionate as I am about succeeding as a writer.
It took seeing others achieve incredible things to show me anything we want in life is attainable. As I move forward, I will hold on to my past experiences of achieving. I will use my memory and my mindset to keep myself afloat, and I will apply the same techniques I learned in recovery.
We have the ability to turn any negative emotion or experience into a potential asset. When we share truthfully, the actions we take for ourselves, inspire the rest.
From My Minds Eye to Yours
Note: A shorter version of this article was featured in the February 1 issue of Atlanta Jewish Times.