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March 29, 2012 - Image 56

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-03-29

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health & fitness >> addiction & recovery

Don't Let Shame Stop You


hen I was the director of
Friendship House, I went to
meet a new potential member,
a Jewish person who was struggling with
addiction. He was a successful profession-
al, an esteemed member of his synagogue
and a donor to Jewish causes.
Our meeting went very well;
he decided to take his recovery
seriously and asked me to help
him in his journey. He wanted
to meet with me once a week,
so I invited him to come see me
in my office. He was shocked by
such a proposition. "If people see
me with you, they will know that
I am an addict!" he said.
Apparently, just being seen
in the company of the Recovery
Rabbi would be letting the world
know about his problem. I came
up with a solution. "If anyone asks how and
why you know the rabbi, just say that he is
helping a family member',' I suggested.
Now the man was really offended.
"Rabbi! Don't ever say that to anyone,' he
said. "I don't want them to think negatively
about my family. What an embarrassment!"
I am not here to tell you about the
shame that exists among addicts and their

families. I am not here to give you tips on
how to avoid shaming an addict or his
family. I'm not even here to tell you that
there is nothing to be ashamed of. I'm here
to talk about courage — the courage to do
the right thing.
In all my years of experience in the
field of addiction and recov-
ery, I have never met a person
in active recovery who was
ashamed of his or her condi-
tion. The shame exists only in
the mind of the addict, and it
exists only as long as he doesn't
take action to remediate his
illness. In reality, shame needs
to be added to the long lists of
excuses that hold addicts back
from addressing their problems.
When an addict or family
member summons the courage
to join a recovery program, he finds there
is nothing to be ashamed of. Quite the
opposite: There is everything to be proud
of. The individual has taken charge and
control of his life and is no longer staying
in a desperate condition because of the
alleged judgment of others.
Unfortunately, the addict and the family
members are so burdened by the disease

that we can hardly expect them to be active
in dispelling their own shame. It is incum-
bent upon every community to take actions
to alleviate the shame and to encourage
more addicts and their families to seek help.
Here are a few practical steps:
If you are a recovering addict, speak up!
While members of 12-step programs are
not supposed to disclose their affiliation to
a specific Anonymous fellowship, such as
AA, nothing stops them from identifying
themselves as recovering addicts. By doing
so, you are proudly showing your courage
in doing the right thing and are empower-
ing others to follow suit.
Organizations that help addicts need to
be openly supported by community mem-
bers. Every time a person makes a contri-
bution of time or money to such an orga-
nization, they are legitimizing the work
that they do. This is especially true for the
Jewish community and for organizations
that specifically target Jewish addicts, such
as Friendship House and Jewish Family

The very fact that these programs exist
lets everyone know that the Jewish com-
munity supports Jewish addicts and their
If you are influential in your synagogue,
organization, neighborhood or family,
speak up. Tell others that you do not judge
addicts, that you understand the disease
concept of addiction and that you know
wonderful people who are winning the
fight as well as those less fortunate who
succumbed to the disease.
The more addicts and their family
members are openly accepted and under-
stood, the less fear they will have about
being judged and ostracized, and the more
likely they will be to seek out help.
Replace shame with courage and
pride! LI

Rabbi Yisrael Pinson served as director of the

Daniel B. Sobel Friendship House from 2002

through 2011. He continues to work with Jewish

recovering addicts and their families. Find more

of his writings at www.JewishRecovery.org .

This column is a project of the Daniel B. Sobel Friendship House, a program
of the Friendship Circle, which provides support and guidance to individuals
and families struggling with addiction, isolation and other life crises through a
welcoming Jewish recovery community. For more information and a complete
list of meetings and programs, visit www.friendshiphouse.org or call (248) 788-
8888. All 'calls are held in strict confidentiality.



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