Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Danny G.
For forty years I have been an addict, alcoholic and criminal and on September 1st, 2012 I was released from prison after almost 12 years of incarceration. I learned of Beit T’Shuvah about a year prior to my release and started writing to Carrie Newman in Beit T’Shuvah’s Alternative Sentencing Department. Being tired of my old way of life, Carrie gave me hope that Beit T’Shuvah could help me start over and learn how to live well. When I finally arrived at Beit T’Shuvah it was 1 am and that’s when the magic started. I was greeted with open arms by a warm and compassionate staff and residents that made me feel like I was someone. I felt like I was part of a family. I was given a treatment team to help me transition from the past and guide me into a future I could have only dreamed about—being a productive, sober man. Soon after I tried to locate my daughter Heather who I had not seen in over 6 years and after 30 days of searching I had no results. On one of monthly visits to my parole agent he said to me, “your daughter called she’s looking for you and wants to see you.” I just about broke down in his office after he gave me her number. And strangely enough two weeks prior I told my therapist I had a vision of seeing Heather at our Friday Night services. Putting the plan into action I arranged a ride and when I called Heather she mentioned Bruce wanted to call me. Bruce is my brother who I hadn’t seen in 12 years. That Friday night they both came and we got to see each other, spend time enjoying the service, dinner and being reunited. Beit T’Shuvah has given me back a life—clean and sober and with spirituality I didn’t know I still had. I was raised Orthodox and thought that feeling was lost forever and with it the desire to do the right thing. The miracle of having my daughter back in my life and the way it all came together in this place is truly magic— Beit T’Shuvah changes lives. I am living proof this transformation has happened in just three months and it’s just beginning. I am learning to love myself and live well. I owe Beit T’Shuvah my life, and the magic has just started.
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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 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 6, 2012 | 12:25 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By BTS Prevention
“But Mom, Johnny’s mom let him do it!”
“If Johnny jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?”
Does this conversation sound familiar?
Since the dawn of Jewish parenting, The Allegory of the Cliff has been used to illustrate the hazards of peer pressure. The pressure to get drunk, to smoke weed, to ditch class is supposedly analogous to a suicidal death leap. But this is not the reality. Peer pressure—especially the pressure to do drugs—is more like seeing your friend jump off a cliff, walk back to the top unscathed, and tell you how awesome it was. In the days before my first puff,
I was under the impression that jumping off a cliff would leave me in a pool of blood, thousands of feet below— this is what I had always been told.
But then I saw the truth with my own eyes. I saw classmate after classmate return from the apparent death leap, choosing to take another jump. They never once pushed me, prodded me, or told me that I had to jump after them. They didn’t need to. All I had to do was observe.
I didn’t see that some of those kids were jumping off the cliff because they were miserable. I didn’t see that some of those kids ended up in rehab, some ended up in jail, and some ended up dead. I didn’t see the whole picture. All I saw was the immediate reality, and the reality was that The Allegory of the Cliff was a lie.
Maybe we should stop lying to our kids. Maybe, instead, we should start telling kids the truth. If we don’t, they may do the unthinkable— they may start thinking with their eyes.
December 4, 2012 | 12:40 pm
Posted by Beit T'shuvah
By Cantor Rachel Goldman Neubauer
To quote from one of my favorite movies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “Don’t take life too seriously, you’ll never get out alive.”
I take a lot of things seriously. I’m a Type A person that will drive my coworkers up the wall with my organizational ‘tactics’—ones that usually involve color-coding systems, timelines, mass emails, and a lot of post-it notes. If you had met me six years ago, you would not be shocked to discover that I was someone who trained in classical music, because classically trained individuals are bursting with seriousness. We take those notes on the page VERY seriously…every dynamic marking, every rest, we observe it. Recovery is one of those things that requires the same level of seriousness. This concept of living well is meant to be your strong foundation in which you build an amazing life on top of. It’s a similarly meticulous process.
Something that needs to be worked into this seriousness, though, is the concept of FUN. At Beit T’Shuvah, any money placed into our tzedakah boxes (before we light Shabbat candles and officially welcome in the Sabbath bride) goes towards something Harriet devised, “mandatory fun.” It’s some sort of weekend programming, ranging anywhere from movies to field trips to the theater to museums, that comes with a philosophy of “you’re going to have fun, whether you like it or not, because it’s just as much a part of your recovery as everything else you’re learning.” Being around Beit T’Shuvah, I also had to learn how to adopt the concept of “mandatory fun” into my music. Find the “both/and.” Respect the notes on the page AND give them a free spirit. It sounds so contradictory (or at least it really felt so to me), but it’s not. It’s synergistic, actually. I forced myself to sing things that weren’t in my comfort zone—jazz, pop, anything that could push me into HAVING FUN. Six years later, I’d like to think I’m a whole new type of musician than just someone who is classically trained.
This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of producing Beit T’Shuvah’s very first “cantorial” concert, Sing to Save a Soul. I put the word “cantorial” in quotes here because, while the performers were all cantors (and certainly some of the most talented in this city in my opinion), I tried my best to shatter the rigid seriousness that seems to be in so many other concerts that feature cantors. I took the concert very seriously, and at the same time I applied the concept of mandatory fun. Everybody had to come with music that they had fun singing…that was my only rule for song selection. I stuck to my guns on it (nobody seemed to complain).
The result was far greater than anything I could have ever comprehended. It felt like everyone was letting their guard down, both on stage and in the audience. As cantors, we have years of training in voice, language, Jewish law, liturgy, and a million other things I could list off. But when you throw some occasional fun into the mix and make it a requirement alongside the required meticulous seriousness, then real spirit can thrive. I can’t describe G-d that well, but I’d like to believe that where seriousness and fun meet, He is right there smiling in that convergence.
November 29, 2012 | 7:27 pm
Posted by Michael Soter
At every school we work with, without fail, somebody asks, “Is marijuana a gateway drug?” As recent graduates from teenagedom, we grew up with police officers coming into our schools championing a Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” approach to drugs and alcohol—that if we tried marijuana, our brains would inevitably eventually turn into eggs on a frying pan, the result of daily ecstasy use. This message obviously did not work for us. When we called into question Nancy’s thesis and saw others drinking and smoking with impunity, we rejected her entire philosophy. Several years later, we checked into rehab.
While most people who move on to what have been deemed “hard” drugs started with marijuana, the majority of people who smoke weed never try anything else. The majority don’t become stoners or alcoholics or high school dropouts. For them, marijuana was the gateway to nothing other than the Del Taco Drive Thru.
However, on the other end of the spectrum is the kid who decides to smoke weed every day. It fills a hole within him, helping him cope with what was otherwise an “unmanageable” amount of stress or discomfort. He usually finds that somebody he is spending time with has access to other drugs. What started with a joint quickly escalates either into more frequent use or experimentation with other drugs. This may end in a destructive addiction. Studies show that the earlier the initial “experimentation”, the more likely it is that addiction is going to be the final stop.
So, is marijuana a gateway drug? It certainly can be. But you don’t have to start calling rehabs just because you found a lighter in your teenager’s pocket.
November 19, 2012 | 11:08 am
Posted by Yeshaia Blakeney
I came home after work and immediately got into it with my six-year-old daughter about not doing her homework. She got upset, I got upset and we both went to our rooms. Later she came to apologize, and I wouldn't accept her apology. Three hours later I realized I was being ridiculous, about two hours after she did. We both had long days at work (first grade in her case); we’re very well behaved amongst our coworkers and wanted to come home and relax (except she had homework). Whenever I find myself in an embittered battle with my six year old daughter I am shocked by how quickly I revert to a child: emotional, hypocritical, controlling, always needing to get my way. But then wait, this is not the description of a child; this is your average adult!
This got me to thinking about all the ways we are like children: sensitive, naive, playing dress up everyday, trying to save our money so we can buy the newest toy. We are jealous, narcissistic, competitive, creative and surprising. In Los Angeles, every time I see someone in a Bentley or a Ferrari, I think of my children who spend their hard earned allowance on the best Barbie castle and can't wait to show their friends. I think ”honey, wouldn't you rather do something valuable with that money? Help other kids in need? Or save up for something meaningful?” Nope, they like their toys and so do we. They like to have fun and so do we. So what are the differences between adults and children? Adults are great at rationalizing, in a way that children are not. Adults are craftier and perhaps more self-assured. On the positive side, adults clean up after themselves or at least have the decency to pay somebody else to do it. We also have a bigger schoolyard. Our games our played on a huge socio-political scale and the consequences are more than scraped knees and hurt feelings. We play bully in the boardroom, baby talk in the bedroom, pick teams in the workplace, and whine when we get home. So yes, adults are just like kids. My advice: start singing and dancing in the hallways and own it.