Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
10:00am - I have finished my last counseling session and I meet a new resident who is a compulsive gambler. We begin to talk and he is in some denial regarding his issues. Kyle (a fictitious name) is aware that he has suffered losses in his life, materially and emotionally; he is just bewildered that he is considered a compulsive gambler. I ask him why and he starts to tell me his story. He doesn't go to casinos or racetracks, he does not have a bookie or bet on sports events. He is a serious "investor" in the stock market. Yes, he says, he has had a lot of losses but, he proudly proclaims, he has really hit it big at times. I ask him if he ever saved any of his "winnings" from when he hit it big and he drops his head and says no in an embarrassed tone. I ask him what he means by "serious investor" and who's money he invested?
Kyle tells me that it was his money as well as money from his family and the real problem is that none of his family, including his wife, sees the brilliance of his strategy! What is the strategy, I ask. He proudly proclaims: " I am a shorter." “Huh?” I ask. Kyle tells me that he looks for companies that he thinks will go down in the market, they are being overvalued, execs not as good as they think they are, etc. and bets against them. I ask him how he finds these companies and he doesn't give me a clear response. I am intrigued by this. He tells me that Hedge Funds do this all the time, they invest long term and short the companies they invest in as well, hence Hedge Funds. I don't go into that area with Kyle, rather I ask him what he does to determine these "bad" companies and why not to invest in companies he believes in? Kyle's response is outrageous to me.
"Rabbi, you don't get it! I go out and find these companies and then I start talking smack about them on the Internet. I never actually accuse them of wrong-doing, I just ask questions that can undermine the investor confidence and then watch the stock go down! It is like being King of the World when that happens, it is a process that has been around for a long time. I just think I am an artist about it!"
My mouth is hanging open and I feel my blood boiling! I am about to erupt like Mount Vesuvius. I am livid and agree with Kyle. "You may or may not be a compulsive gambler, Kyle. You are, without a doubt, a person who perpetrates evil on others, however. Your glee at the misfortunes of a company is disgusting and your attempts to cause the downfall of others is ethically, morally and spiritually criminal. No wonder your family threw you out of their home and don't want anything to do with you. You are bankrupt financially, you and I agree. You are also bankrupt in your soul, mind and emotions."
I am on a roll and I feel myself wanting to go ballistic, to Defcon 5! I am trying to hold it back, yet I am so angry it is hard. I take a breath and look at Kyle and his bewildered looking at me and I realize I am a looking at myself 25+ years ago. I was that guy who revelled in the misfortunes of others as long as I profited. I stopped myself from DEFCON5 by remembering that Kyle wasn't me and I didn't have to be mad at myself or him for my past errors. I remembered that I was redeemed and Kyle could redeem himself! I engaged with Kyle in a different discussion. I talked to him about the difference between legal and ethical living. I explained to him that what he was doing was evil because he was using the vulnerabilities of another, the companies he was shorting, against them. He was appealing to the lowest part of himself and others, the desire to "win at any cost.”
He wanted to be "king of the world" at someone else's demise, not based on his own merits. Kyle argued with me, of course, and I continued to explain to him that God created the world and brought order to chaos. Judaism is a way of living that does the same. We are created in the Image of God and our responsibility is to bring order to chaos, distinguish between right and wrong, light and dark, etc. When I told him that I learned from Meir Tamari, a leading financial ethicist in Israel, that there are 28 laws about Kosher Food and over 100 laws about Kosher Money, Kyle was shocked. How we make money, how we spend it, how we save it, how we do righteous acts (Tzedakah), etc. are what is important.
I was struck at how easy it is for so many people to revel in the demise of others rather than helping others succeed. I am always sad at the people who attack me, Beit T’Shuvah, their own families, Israel, Judaism, other people all of whom try in our own imperfect way to lift others up to their highest selves. I ask you all to consider these two questions with me: 1) What is the pleasure I/we get out of watching/helping the demise of good people? 2) How can all of us help ourselves and others be focused on creating goodness rather than promoting destruction and evil?
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December 13, 2012 | 10:10 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By BTS Prevention
Two weeks ago, I asserted in my blog that marijuana is not the gateway drug. So then, I must propose a subsequent question: “What is the gateway drug?”
Is it alcohol? Is it heroin? Is it cocaine? Bath salts? Spice?
No. The actual gateway drug, the thing that most often leads to other illicit behaviors, is a discretionary income. Kids are running around Los Angeles with a wad of bills and their parents’ credit cards—they are bored and searching frantically for excitement. There are only so many movies they can go to with their friends, so many clothes they can buy, so many expensive lunches they can purchase—before they want to find a more exciting way to spend their money. Eventually, in many cases, the more exciting purchase is a bag of weed or a bottle of pills.
Here is an elementary principle of economics: the more money you have, the more goods you can buy.
Sure, in low-income neighborhoods, kids hustle and steal so that they can buy their drugs. But a few miles west, they don’t have to go to these extremes. They just ask their parents for a little money, call their friend, and wait for their excitement to arrive.
December 12, 2012 | 1:00 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Ben Spielberg
Shy B recently presented an issue with the reductionist approaches to understanding. I would like to offer an interesting rebuttal by using a behavioral economics approach to understanding addiction. A story:
Two men are arrested, and immediately separated. Then, the interrogator offers each of them some possibilities. If one person confesses to the crime, and other stays silent, the confessor will be freed and the other will do full time. On the other than, if both people confess to the crime, they each spend half the allotted time incarcerated. If both parties don't confess, they both do full time.
This is called the Prisoner's dilemma. It's an easy paradigm to fit into different scenerios—in this case, we are looking at addiction through the eyes of the dilemma. George Ainslie, for instance, took the story to another level by adding in information about the future self. There are many options here:
Somebody can relapse today, and relapse in the future.
Somebody can relapse today, and get sober in the future. (Sound familiar?)
Somebody can be sober today, but relapse in the future (A fruitless endeavor).
Somebody can be sober today, and be sober in the future.
Obviously the best choice is to be sober today, and be sober in the future. The problem is the payoff: drugs offer a greater reward than sobriety does. This is called “hyperbolic discounting.” From Ainslie's Behavioral Economics of Will in Recovery From Addiction, “The rewards from drug use are immediate and the adverse consequences tend to be delayed; were the reverse true... it is unlikely there would be problem drug use.” Drug addicts make irrational decisions because feeling good now feels better than feeling bad later.
On the contrary, there is also the interesting option of being sober today, and relapsing in the future. Hyperbolic discounting could be accounted for in this option, as well; if I were to stay sober for a long time, I know that the effects of drug use would feel even better. It's kind of like the marshmallow experiment with children: if the kids don't eat one marshmallow immediately, they can eat two marshmallows in ten minutes (I would totally eat one immediately and regret it). The kids who were able to wait were found to have higher executive function capabilities than those who quickly succumbed to the sugary puffballs.
Ainslie misses the mark, though, because it would seem that there would be no rationality that actually gets somebody sober. Here is where the systems approach to everything tends to break down; cars are not just chemical reactions and momentum, just as addiction is not just Economics 101. Addiction is a combination of hyberbolic discounting, of spiritual maladies, of blips in neurotransmitter production. Regardless, next time you think about whether or not addiction makes sense, try to remember that it fits so well in the Prisoner's dilemma because it's a tough choice for everyone. Or maybe I've just had too many marshmallows.
December 11, 2012 | 12:50 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Michael Welch
In 2007, I opened a business to finance my addiction. My idea was to help addicts; prey on the vulnerable. I would find those who were desperate and capitalize on their need.
Within one week I was pulling from a massive line of credit. At two weeks, the proper business paperwork was in place. At three weeks, I had a physical hub and full business facilities. By the end of the month, I was open for business. At no time was anyone aware that I was in full-fledged gambling addiction, barely getting by financially. I looked good and acted the part. I was to spare no expense with cars, dress, relationships, and good etiquette. The level of anti-social conduct I was participating in had taken on a personality of its own.
I spent the majority of my time in Vegas by holding down the basic business responsibilities via phone, stepping foot on my property maybe once a week. Within months I had lost everything, but I still believed my intentions were good; I believed I could keep hustling as long as I convinced my clients to continue to participate in more unsatisfactory treatment services. My salesmanship suddenly began to falter; I panicked. I went to my investors and found ways to increase capitol and give myself more wiggle room. The lies began to compound, people began to question, and for the first time in almost a year it was clear to me that I was "out of control".
The gig was up. I couldn't stomach the lies any more. I had to throw my hands up and confess. Instead, I ran. I hid. I turned to drugs. I couldn't face anyone. I was a fraud. I was no one. My façade was swiped from me and the reality of what I had done slowly saturated.
Through criminal intervention, I am face to face with a Rabbi who is coined the "holy thief.” He saw right through my empty arrogance and immediately spoke to a part of me that I assumed was lost. Over the next year, a very cathartic experience began to take shape. He imparted the most important approach to self-perception that would prove to keep me afloat and stay the course: "Don't let your past actions rule who you are today.”
I was approached by a friend last week who shared with me that he felt like a fraud. That his life was over, everyone who had been there was now gone. He was facing serious legal repercussions for his actions. I didn’t look away in shame or judgment; I understood exactly what he was going through. I was filled with anxiety and compassion. I knew what he was up against. I think I know what we are all up against. I don't look forward to facing my wreckage, but it’s necessary for people like me. I have to promote the message to live on.
December 10, 2012 | 12:34 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Yeshaia Blakeney
Michel Foucault defined the beginning of modernity as the period when human beings first took themselves as the subject of scientific inquiry. This period is commonly known as The Enlightenment, and began in the 18th century. This is the beginning of the medicalization of the body, the psychologization of the mind, and the eradication of the soul. It used to be that people walked around believing they had a soul, an eternal essence given to them by G-d. This soul was encased in the body, but that body was simply a vehicle for the soul. Science has yet to find this elusive soul, so they freed us from this childish idea and replaced it with a new and improved one, the self. The self is kind of like the soul, with a few exceptions: the self is not eternal; it dies when the body dies because, in fact, it is created by the body. It is kind of a magic trick the brain plays on us, making the self think it is indeed a self, when in reality it is just a few organs wrapped in skin, trapped in space-time, heading for oblivion. The soul needs confession; the self needs therapy. The soul suffers, the self feels empty. Actually this is one of the most interesting things to observe about the self when it has problems. It says things like: I don't even know who I am? I feel so empty, so numb? It feels as if there is a G-d shaped hole in my life. Duh, we extracted the soul from the body because it was a huge pain in the ass to be eternally accountable. We gained a lot of freedom from this procedure but there are some small side effects: we feel a little empty, a little robotic, a little, well, dead.
In all seriousness I am frightened by how removed we have become from our souls/selves. Whenever I am in class or hearing a psychological lecture they talk about people, human beings as if they are objects. There is a total and complete denial of essence, of all of that which makes existence unique. That which you feel to be most essential about your life (namely YOU) is being denied as real. The deeper we inquire into the nature of ourselves, the more we create language and systems to understand the pieces and their relationships, the further we are getting from the capital Truth! I believe this is a law of learning. The more you know about something, the less you know about something, it is a paradox. The reason for this is we are inquiring into infinity—the more you look, the more there is. I don't, therefore, promote ignorance, rather I believe true genius is the ability to delve into the small components, and simultaneously not lose sight of the big picture. To hold both ways of seeing at the same time is one of the defining features of man; to hold a vision of the universe in all its glory, from the most minute to the possibility of eternity; from the vibrating potentials in the flutter of a butterflies wings, to the infinite potential of the human spirit. I believe there are certain eternal concepts that help us to not lose this vital vision of the whole. These concepts are (for lack of a better language) sacred. The soul is one of those concepts. It means there is a you in there that is significant beyond its parts, that is more than an existential experience, that loves, hurts, strives, and most importantly... LIVES! There is one other reason the soul should not so quickly be discarded; the soul is accountable to G-d, the highest measure. The self is accountable to itself, embarrassingly pathetic at times. I believe, as we can see that modern life presents as many crises as it proposes to solve, this old raggedy soul might need to be pulled out of the linen closet, dusted off and placed back in our complicated selves. It may not save us, but perhaps it will make us worthy of being saved.
December 9, 2012 | 1:32 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Josh Silver
Blowing up a Death Star is no easy task. True, all Luke had to do was fire a missile into a conveniently placed ventilation shaft but that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about how to destroy your own personal Death Star. Each of us has one—that looming shadow which shrouds our life. All of us must either overcome it or continue to suffer. For me that Death Star was addiction. For years my addiction to drugs overshadowed all of the good that I tried to accomplish. Every time I thought I had made steps in the right direction, my addiction pulled me back into despair.
That was, of course, until I entered Beit T’Shuvah. While there I realized something that I think Star Wars had been trying to teach me for years. First of all, the Force is real. No, I’m not crazy and no I don’t think that if you try hard enough that you can make objects fly around a room. What I do believe is that inside each and every one of us is the potential for good and the potential for evil. Judaism refers to this dual nature of humanity as the yetzer tov (good impulse) and the yetzer rah (evil impulse). One of the many lessons that I learned at Beit T’Shuvah is that in order to have a balanced life we must all occasionally give in to both sides of ourselves. Star Wars offers a simplified view of human impulse. According to the films, if you lean towards the dark side then you will be pushed in that direction until it eventually destroys you.
This leads me to one other aspect of the films that people seem to overlook. Darth Vader wasn’t the bad guy. Yea, I said it. The real villain was the Emperor and who killed the Emperor? Darth Vader. Who ended up saving Luke Skywalker’s life in the final minutes of Return of the Jedi? Darth Vader.
If you look more closely at the films, the story of Vader is really just a tale of redemption. According to the teaching of my Rabbi, Mark Borovitz, we must all perform T’Shuvah (redemption) the day before we die. Since none of us know what day we will die, we must do T’Shuvah every day. This is exactly what Darth Vader did. He was the ultimate bad guy—the so-called “unredeemable.” Yet, in the last moments of his life, he saved Luke and fatally wounded himself in the process.
How did I destroy my Death Star? First I realized that every situation in life can be related in some way to Star Wars. More importantly, I learned that no matter how far I had gone to the side of darkness, there is still a person worthy of redemption inside of all of us.
December 8, 2012 | 12:41 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
Adam Mindel is the Family Program Coordinator at Beit T’Shuvah. He is also a former resident of the program and has now made it his mission to help fight addiction both for the individual and their family. Here is what he had to say about Beit T’Shuvah and the process of redemption.
What is your idea of redemption?
My idea of redemption is to come to know yourself as a decent man. To live your truth, to live a life as best you can according to your beliefs and morals. I don’t think it’s possible to redeem ourselves and to go against ourselves consistently. I think that we can grow into the people that we want to become. I think redemption, true redemption, is knowing your own decency.
What was BTS’s role in your life?
Beit T’Shuvah was the 10th treatment program that I went through. And obviously something happened for me here. I have 9.5 years sober. It was the only place that I went to that spoke to a part of me that I didn’t know existed and that was my soul. I saw here how that little spark, even though I couldn’t really comprehend what that was, I knew that if I could grow that piece that it would be a path to wholeness. Through wisdom, community, support, love, and encouragement I have grown as a man.
What do you like most about yourself?
I think I have developed a sense of compassion in myself and for other people. I’m pretty proud of that.
What quality do you value most in your friends?
If they can make me laugh, that’s really important. But I would say that the quality I value most in friends is really love. Love in all its forms. It’s really about them being true to themselves and true to me.
What is your favorite occupation?
I love what I do here at Beit T’Shuvah as a therapist. I get to be a part of change every day. It’s amazing that I get to share all of life in one day. All in one day, we share in the whole fabric of life. From sorrow to joy, from success to failure. The other thing I love to do is I get to work as an interventionist for Beit T’Shuvah. I really love it. I get to change people’s lives and it’s really incredible to take somebody from a hotel room and then the next day they’re in treatment and their life is changing—it’s incredible to be a part of that.
Who are your heroes real or fictional?
I was never one who really had heroes in life. I was talking with one of the spiritual counselors the other day, though, and we were talking about who we would like to meet the most. So the one we ended with was Moses. Right? Because he actually saw G-d so we thought that’d be a trippy conversation—I’d like to hang out with that dude.
What inspires you?
The idea of Tikkun Olam, of healing the world and healing myself, that seems to have a real meaning. Sometimes I’m inspired by the fact that in this crazy universe, that I’ve been put in a role where I get to help people. I forget how blessed I am sometimes.
What is your major fault?
My biggest fault is impatience. I am learning patience every day. I meditate and I continue to learn patience. It’s really about the mind. It’s really about changing your ideas of how fast things can happen.
What is your motto?
Life is good.
What is your present state of mind at this moment?
December 7, 2012 | 10:26 am
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
Continuing my "day in the life" and my struggles with being human: My entire Rabbinate is based on listening and being open to the souls of others. In order to do this, I must be able to “Re-spond” and not “Re-act” when I encounter a disagreement.
8:30am- My first meeting was with a staff person who passionately disagreed with a decision I had made concerning his counselees. I realized I hard hurt the counselor's feelings and I felt guilty about that and also angry that the person hadn’t realized I knew better. We get involved in a passionate argument about my decision and the counselor feeling hurt that I disagree with their solution. I start to play spider solitaire on the computer and continue to talk to them. I do this because I feel my emotions get very intense and I go to diffuse my passion by multi-tasking. I explain to the counselor that I have to divert myself so that I don't go overboard in our discussion. The person knows this idiosyncrasy of mine and is still upset. I explain my reasoning and talk about the need to be right vis a vis knowing when one is right and keeping an open mind to learn something new. I know I am getting frustrated because as a graduate of the program, my expectation is that he/she will understand the way we do things at Beit T’Shuvah. I find myself having to manage and tone down myself otherwise I will miss a teaching moment and an opportunity to learn more about the issue, the resident and the counselor as well as myself. I find that I have to continue to be open when I just want to say "I am the boss and just follow my directions.” We resolve to agree to disagree and both of us feel heard and can see the reasoning of the other person. It is a win-win. In this instance, the counselor comes to me a few days later and says that my decision was, after all, correct. She/he asks me "how did you know?" I laugh and say it is God, not me.
9:00 - Spiritual counseling w/residents - this is one of my favorite activities. I am working with a person who has built a life based on lies and bad vision for so long, that they are jaded and want to use psychological reasoning with me. I have her write "lies I tell myself.” This is an amazing exercise because they start to see how their core beliefs have led them to live a life of lies, hopelessness, despair and selfishness. We engage in a discussion about her actions and her lies. After defending for the first 10-15 minutes, I ask some questions and when her ears turn red and her face starts to blush, this young woman starts to laugh and yells at me, " that's not fair, Rabbi! You get into my head and I can't defend myself.” I smile and say, "I am the advocate for your soul. I am only giving voice to the other part of you that you have refused to listen to and act on, your authentic, God given knowledge." She looks at me and laughs and says, "okay, I am going to follow that voice this week. See you next week". I am left with my own feelings of triumph for God and my own memories of how I shut that voice of God down for so long, causing so much pain. I reach for the phone and call my daughter, mother, sister, friend, brother, whomever I had harmed in the same way and do T’Shuvah with them. We end up laughing about how often I realize these types of errors after counseling someone else and how my calls help the other person see their own priors in acting the same way. It is 10:00am and I know the day is a great day already. I have learned and done T’Shuvah, connected with other people, and feel totally present and alive!
I struggle each day with the same issues I always have. I realize that the difference is that I am able to come out on God's side, the side of decency, truth and authenticity much much more often.
Follow Rabbi Mark Borovitz on Twitter @Rabbi_Mark