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Overcoming Denial by fdh56iuoui


									     Overcoming Denial
             As members of the American Jewish community explode
                           myths about female substance abusers, more
                                     treatment services are being offered.
                                                  by BARBARA TRAININ BLANK

           ore than 30 years after the         says. “But once you pick up whatever it            “JACS offers meetings, retreats and
           Federation of Jewish Philan-        is, it activates something in your system     opportunities to network with others
           thropies of New York’s Com-         — physical, psychological and spiritual.”     facing the same problems,” she says.
mission on Synagogue Relations pub-                  In her case the “it” was drugs. Klein   “Our meetings are held in conjunction
lished a book on Jews and drugs and            smoked cigarettes in middle school and        with Alcoholics Anonymous and other
established a Task Force on Jewish             marijuana in high school. She took am-        such groups. We don’t tell people to
Alcoholism — eventually leading to the         phetamines and other pills to suppress        stop going to those, but we provide a
formation of the organization called           her appetite and developed an addic-          Jewish spiritual component. At our re-
JACS (Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically            tion to pain medication.                      treats, a rabbi in a black hat might sit
Dependent Persons and Significant                    “It became a challenge to find all      next to a tattooed motorcycle rider. Ev-
Others) — many in the Jewish com-              the pills I needed, so I forged prescrip-     ery Jew is welcome.”
munity still say: “Shikker iz a goy. Jews      tions and got arrested,” Klein says. “But          There are many, alas, to welcome.
don’t drink or do drugs. Certainly Jew-        that wasn’t enough to stop me from us-        Klein eventually reached out for help,
ish women don’t.”                              ing or trying to get drugs illegally. I was   but it is unknown how many girls and
      Another myth many subscribe to is        very resourceful…. I lied, cheated and        women out there have the same prob-
that drinking was something Jews didn’t        stole doctors’ prescription pads and          lems but don’t seek help or don’t even
do until they began to assimilate and be-      took pills from other people’s medicine       know where to look. Often addicts
come upwardly mobile. “But the truth           cabinets. The last 10 years of my ad-         struggle alone, because on top of what-
is,” says Marcia Cohn Spiegel, founder         diction I tried to stop, every day. The       ever dependency problems they have,
of the drug and alcohol program of Jew-        shame and remorse went on for years.          they also have to face communal denial,
ish Family Service of Los Angeles, “that       But an addict cannot not use.”                especially about women.
when we read about the shtetl, we real-              After the death of her father and            Because of the intensity of the
ize everyone knew who was drunk and            of a friend’s child, Klein finally sought     shame female substance abusers feel,
who beat his wife. It was confined. It was     help from JACS, which since 1992 has          they’re usually “farther along in the ad-
only when Jews moved here and lived in         been a program of the Jewish Board            diction before seeking help,” observes
apartments with closed doors that we           of Family and Children’s Service (a           Linda Gringras, head of the Drug and
began to buy our own propaganda. Why           beneficiary of UJA-Federation) and a          Alcohol Action Program at JFS of Los
is it so important for us to pretend?”         core service of its Rita J. Kaplan Jewish     Angeles, which focuses on education,
      The facts don’t support the myths.       Connections Programs. Though head-            prevention and some treatment refer-
Alcohol and chemical dependency don’t          quartered in New York, the grassroots,        ral. “They come later, and in bigger
discriminate, affecting Jews and non-          volunteer-driven organization serves          trouble.” Of those who do seek help,
Jews alike, and women as much as men.          Jews through affiliates across the Unit-      males are more likely to self-refer.
Addiction and alcoholism can be found          ed States and internationally.                Women come into the system often
in every socioeconomic and religious                 JACS encourages and assists Jewish      indirectly, after seeing a counselor for
segment of the Jewish community.               alcoholics and chemically dependent           depression. “It becomes apparent to
      Blanche Klein* leads a full life to-     individuals and their families, friends       that counselor that there’s a substance
day — happily married to her second            and associates to explore recovery in a       abuse problem,” adds Gringras. “Or the
husband, with several children and step-       nurturing Jewish environment, explains        woman may go to a doctor for anxiety
children and a satisfying career. But years    Vickie Griffiths, administrative coordi-      or a sleep disorder. In other words, she
ago, she was a “precocious youth with          nator. It is an information and resource      tries to treat her problem another way.”
particular wiring” for trying risky and        center on the effects of the disease of            Rabbis and other professionals
dangerous things. “All kids have it,” Klein    alcoholism and chemical dependency            working with female substance abus-
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.   on Jewish family life.                        ers note issues particular to women:

4       Na’amat WOmaN          WINTER 2009/2010
Their problems are often exacerbated              Valerie’s story is one of 20 first-per-   tance and return) and chesed (caring for
by an obsession with beauty and the         son memoirs of girls and women with             others). It also features contributions by
body that drives some to destructive        addiction problems (or family members           experts such as Rabbi Abraham Twer-
behavior. Women are affected by alco-       who have them) that appear in a book            ski, a psychiatrist and Hasidic rabbi
hol more rapidly because they tend to       JACS published in 2007, with the help           who founded the Gateway Rehabilita-
have a higher proportion of body fat        of a grant from the Jewish Women’s              tion Center in Pittsburgh and who has
than men; women also metabolize al-         Foundation. Jewish Sisters in Sobriety was      always emphasized the consonance of
cohol more quickly than men. Mothers        a “real labor of love,” says Valerie, one       the 12 Steps and Judaism.
who are alcoholic or drug-addicted may      of the coeditors as well as a contributor.           Valerie, who now runs a crisis line
have children born with fetal alcohol             The book introduces the essence           for JACS, says that admitting “you’re a
syndrome or drug addictions. And since      of 12-Step Programs, originated with            woman, you’re a Jew, and you’re an ad-
mothers are usually the primary care-       Alcoholics Anonymous, which are the             dict” helps break the isolation and “ter-
takers of the children, the disruption      guiding principles of recovery for ad-          minal aloneness” Jewish women with
of this function because of the debili-     dictions and other compulsive behav-            addictions often face.
tating effects of alcohol abuse can have    iors. Among the A.A. steps are admit-                And being in a Jewish context also
serious consequences for the psychoso-      ting one is powerless over alcohol and          helps the recovery process. “You could
cial development — not to mention the       that one’s life has become unmanage-            be sitting next to a woman with a shei-
safety — of their children.                 able; making a searching and fearless           tel or someone with a halter top and
     Are Jewish women drinking and          moral inventory of oneself; deciding to         belly button ring,” says Valerie. “No-
doing drugs more than before? “We           turn one’s will and life “over to the care      where else would their worlds connect.
have no statistical data but do know        of God as we understand Him,” and mak-          But at JACS, all barriers are wiped away.
observationally that addictions among       ing amends to people one has harmed.            One thing we all had in common was
Jewish women have absolutely grown,”              The book includes a glossary, check-      that no matter how unaffiliated we may
Griffiths says. “We see more women          lists to help the reader determine wheth-       have been with Judaism formally, we
at JACS meetings and retreats, both         er he or she has a significant substance        expressed discomfort with churches,
in terms of numbers and percentages.        abuse problem, and a resource list. Jew-        where many A.A. and similar meetings
Some of them are family members ac-         ish addiction experts point out that the        were held. We were uncomfortable with
tive in Al-Anon, the organization that      guidelines to teshuva dovetail with the 12      the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer at
supports the friends and family of prob-    Steps. In keeping with Jewish tradition,        the end of meetings. We felt we didn’t
lem drinkers.”                              the book reflects the core values of tik-       belong. So rather than attend, many of
     Sometimes the problem starts with                kun olam (repairing the world),       us felt we’d keep our secrets — and die.”
another person in the addict’s life, cou-                               teshuva (repen-          When Rabbi Isaac Trainin launched
pled with the addict’s low self-esteem.                                                     the Federation Task Force
The husband of Valerie* verbally and
physically abused her, calling her “ugly”
— even though they had met at a Purim
party where she was named runner-up
in the Jewish American Princess Pag-
eant. Her husband threatened to take
their son away, and the violence escalat-
ed. For solace, she turned increasingly
to alcohol until, as Valerie puts it, the
faith in God she thought she had aban-
doned saved her and brought her to an
A.A. meeting.

Because of the intensity of the

shame female substance abusers feel, they’re

usually farther along in the addiction

before seeking help.
on Alcoholism in 1974, it was in re-           binical training, during which time she       spirituality. It’s not just about putting
sponse, to a large extent, to Jews who         was invited by JACS staffers to a retreat.    down a drug but about being able to ad-
felt uncomfortable in the churches             “People could talk about all their issues     dress the hell inside the soul and change
where A.A. and similar meetings were           and find out they weren’t alone,” Steiner     to a nobler soul. It means acceptance
held. Today, some counselors see such          says. “It was a profound shock to find out    and turning things over to God.”
discomfort as just another form of de-         about incest and family violence as well           “The Jewish community has insti-
nial and resistance. While calling on          as the ravages of drug and alcohol addic-     tutionalized the concept of denial with
the community to establish Jewish lo-          tion. We have to provide a place where        regard to alcoholism and addiction,”
cations for A.A. and JACS groups, they         people in a spiritual recovery program        says Rabbi Nahum Simon, a Certified
emphasize the consistency of the 12            can experience it in a Jewish context.”       Addiction Professional and educator
Steps with Judaism and urge that re-                 Since 2000, Steiner has returned        who co-founded Rodfei Shalom Fel-
covering substance abusers at A.A. and         repeatedly to JACS retreats and meet-         lowship, Inc. RSFI is a nonprofit dedi-
other meetings recite whatever prayer          ings and has been called a “JACS rabbi”       cated to providing meaningful spiritual
they want.                                     because of her frequent attendance. “I        and educational experiences for men
     The trouble is, says Valerie, only “one   can’t cure, but I can listen,” she says. “I   and women in recovery. Simon also di-
in a million” people know about JACS,          can affirm that people are worthwhile,        rects the Techiya Program, Behavioral
and many who know don’t acknowledge            and I can help save lives. Denial runs        Health of the Palm Beaches in Florida.
there is a problem. “If I go to speak at       deep in the Jewish community. If peo-              While JACS focuses primarily on
a JCC, I may get 10 people out of thou-        ple know who you are, your whole fam-         alcohol and drug recovery, RSFI is open
sands who need it. There’s so much de-         ily may be tainted. They may not marry        to other addictions, including gambling,
nial. When I spoke at one shul in Long         you or do business with you.”                 eating disorders, sex and relationships.
Island, a parent said to me that her son             Ezra Bloom* describes himself as a      “When I was growing up in the 1950s,
knows nothing about drugs. But the kids        regular run-of-the-mill ultra-Orthodox        women were using tranquilizers,” he
there know who all the dealers are.”           pulpit rabbi until about 15 years ago         says. “It was an acceptable addiction. So
     Overcoming communal denial can            when members of his congregation              was gambling. Since then, there’s been
begin in the school system. Gringras           identified one of the pillars of the com-     an increase in the use of street drugs….
says that through educational efforts          munity as an alcoholic. Bloom had been        Often Jews have multiple addictions.
with area schools, the JFS drug and al-        aware of the congregant’s problem, but        Teens tend to suffer from disordered
cohol program tries to shed light on and       didn’t know what was expected of him.         eating and body image problems.”
“destigmatize” the issue.                      He called Rabbi Twerski, who advised               There is also the growing problem
     The resistance can be strong. For         him to do an “intervention.” It didn’t        of geriatric addiction, points out Si-
two years, one school wouldn’t allow           work. “I called Rabbi Twerski again,”         mon. “People come down [to Florida],
the program because of parents’ objec-         says Bloom. “He said to me, ‘I forgot         and when their partner passes, they
tions. “They were afraid people would          to tell you that if you want to help an       may become lonely and drink. There’s
think there’s a drug problem,” Gringras        addict, you’re in it for life. You have to    also overmedication in the senior popu-
explains. “Finally, a few years ago, after     work the 12 Steps yourself.’ ”                lation. They become addicted to pre-
a worker convened all the rabbis for an              That summer another congre-             scribed medications.”
Awareness Day, there was some easing           gant came to his attention, this time
of the attitude. Our goal is to decrease       a woman, who was “stoned out of her
the shame. Sometimes parents resist, but
kids often embrace treatment,” despite
peer pressure to drink or use drugs —
                                               mind” and was responsible for driving
                                               around kids. “I got her into rehab,”
                                               Bloom recalls. “When she left, she tried
                                                                                             The scopeamong Jewsresidentialabuse
                                                                                                          of the substance

                                                                                             establishment of Jewish
                                                                                                                     has led to the
and the sense of “immortality” teenagers       to commit suicide, and we got her into        ters. Tova House for women is one of
tend to have.                                  Gateway, Rabbi Twerski’s facility, as         two halfway houses in Baltimore. Col-
     Part of overcoming the denial in          an outpatient. That’s when I started          lectively called Jewish Recovery Hous-
the Jewish community depends on rab-           working the 12 Steps myself. I saw that       es, Inc., the facility was founded in 1996
bis and leaders becoming more involved         there’s a lot of good stuff in it — not       due to the realization that all Jewish
— not only opening their synagogues to         just for alcoholics and addicts.”             men being released from prison were
A.A. and JACS meetings but attending                 After years of involvement in JACS,     alcoholics or drug addicts. Four years
such meetings themselves.                      Bloom has come to believe all Jews            later, the women’s facility was added,
     Tehilla Steiner* had little experi-       should be in 12-Step recovery. “They          and shortly after, the facility — initially
ence with addictions except for a brief        need to be taught the steps of spiritual-     run by volunteers — was professional-
stint with Overeaters Anonymous. Even          ity, of self-improvement,” he says. “Just     ized. Tova House can accommodate
when she treated patients with those is-       because someone goes through the out-         nine women, 18 and over.
sues as a health care professional, she        side part of religion doesn’t mean he’s            Executive director Martha Meehan
didn’t fully understand what they were         not assimilated. So much of Orthodoxy         has seen an increase in both the num-
going through.                                 feels empty to people. They go for the        bers of females using alcohol and drugs
     But then Steiner underwent rab-           homriut, the stringency, rather than the      as well as in the percentage of women

6      Na’amat WOmaN     WINTER 2009/2010
                                                                                                                                  Photos: Istock. Collage/illustration: Marilyn Rose
I lied, I cheated and stole
doctors’ prescription pads
and took pills from other
people’s medicine cabinets.
The last 10 years of my
addiction I tried to stop,
every day.

among the total population of
addicts. “As the community gets
past denial, we’ll have more,” she
says. “I have a full house — and
a constant waiting list. If two women                                                   are “meccas for recovery.” The center
move out, I can fill their beds the same         Previously, Rossetto had worked        emphasizes the importance of the Jew-
day.” She adds: “Women are starting         with jail populations and mental health     ish spiritual component in recovery
younger. And they get sicker than men       patients, noting that many people who       through Shabbat dinners and Jewish
and hit bottom faster.”                     were incarcerated had alcohol and drug      classes. “Surrendering to the Higher
     Tova House has a monthly Shab-         problems as well as other compulsive        Power mentioned in the 12 Steps is
bat dinner that is required for residents   behaviors. Women prisoners also tended      parallel to Torah and mitzvot,” he says.
and open to the wider community. They       to have relationship problems. Because      “We take the 12-Step program and bring
also hold a Passover seder and celebrate    people coming out of jail often had no-     Torah into it to make it Jewish.”
the High Holidays. “We integrate Juda-      where to go, Rossetto decided to estab-          Kessler sees the need for an addi-
ism into the program,” says Meehan.         lish a place of her own with a one-time     tional element in the recovery of girls
     The inclusion of Jewish spirituality   Federal grant. This “healing community”     and women. “They need a place where
can be an important part of recovery.       has housed addicts as well as sex offend-   they can be with other Jewish females,”
“We’re always getting criticized for tak-   ers and wheeler-dealers. “I took the idea   he says. “They need more protection,
ing only Jewish clients,” says Meehan.      from Rabbi Twerski, to integrate Juda-      a sense of comfort. They need a clean
“But that’s what makes the difference,      ism, the 12 Steps and psychotherapy,”       place. Young girls, in particular, are
that the clients have common spiritual      Rossetto says. “We added other things,      more impressionable and vulnerable
and cultural backgrounds. They all work     in the creative arts.”                      than boys. Even if she’s an addict in re-
together in a therapeutic community.             Recently Rossetto has seen an in-      covery, a girl is still a girl, needing love
Though the Jewish backgrounds differ,       crease not only in addictions but in eat-   and tender care. Women can’t wing it
they all have a common background           ing disorders, self-mutilation and body     like men. I know feminists say there’s
and understanding. As part of recovery,     dysmorphia. “A lot of women use drugs       no difference, but to me, women need
they reintegrate their Judaism.”            to manage their eating because of the       love, care and protection as they go
     Harriet Rossetto founded Beit          emphasis on being thin in this culture.     through recovery.”
T’Shuvah in Los Angeles in 1985, and        People become obsessed with their
co-directs it with her husband, Rabbi       bodies.” Rossetto has also seen more af-
Mark Borovitz. At any given time, Beit      fluent young people who have been giv-      Barbara Trainin Blank writes feature
T’Shuvah houses some 120 people in dif-     en “everything but opt out of life. They    articles and arts previews/reviews for
ferent stages of recovery, age 18 and up,   need stimulation to feel alive.”            Jewish and general publications. She lives in
men and women. Some residents live               Rabbi Meir Kessler, a Chabad           Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
there six months; others work and pay       rabbi, directs the Jewish Recovery
rent for years in the independent living    Center in Boca Raton, Florida, which        Jewish Sisters in Sobriety can be ordered
division. Some even marry each other        incorporates a halfway house for men        from: JACS/JBFCS, 120 West 57 Street, 6th
and have children. “I don’t believe in a    and another for women. He has found         Floor, New York, NY 10019. Phone: 212-397-
cookie-cutter solution,” Rossetto says.     that areas with geriatric populations       4197; Web site:

                                                                                    WINTER 2009/2010         Na’amat WOmaN                      7

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