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Alex, the Recovering Addict, Opens the Eyes of Teens Blind to the Ravages of Addiction

I introduced Alex with just three sentences: This 24 year old man was just like you, a nice Jewish boy. I was at his Bar Mitzvah, celebrated his Confirmation and helped him get into college. Listen to his story, learn from it, and perhaps you won’t make the same mistakes as he did.

I am proud that Alex, a young man recovering an addiction to drugs, came to speak at Congregation Or Ami’s Confirmation class. Our 9th-11th graders listened intently as Alex took them on a journey: from disconnection and self-esteem issues, to drinking and drugs until he finally hit rock bottom. He spoke frankly about treatment centers, about falling off the wagon, about almost ruining his life. Then he spoke about his recovery from addictions, about his working the 12 Steps, and about making amends. He helped the teens learn where to turn when life feels wrong, so they don’t make decisions that could ruin their lives.

I was pleased with the presentation and discussion. I hoped it would touch the lives of the students. Of course, one can never be sure. And then I received this email from a mother of a student:

Dear Rabbi Paul,

I just wanted to thank you for giving my son the opportunity to speak with Alex and to give you feedback on the kind of impact it had on him. The best indicator is that my son talked non-stop all the way home from Temple! It was such a great conversation, it was extended over dessert-even though he still had homework to do! Here is what made it most helpful and different from other drug information:

* Alex’s courage to share his own personal story really made an impact. As my son said to me, he has heard the detrimental health effects a million times; yet nobody had ever spoken about the toll it takes on personal relationships (which was most affected my son) or one’s own personal life goals.

* Alex also shared the reasons he turned to drugs in the first place (low self esteem, depression). This opened another door in our relationship because it allowed me to ask my son if he had ever considered doing drugs when he felt this way. His answer was honest but scary: He said he has thought about it, knowing it would temporarily take the pain away; but he knows it would create other problems. As parent, I loved one of Alex’s solutions to poor self esteem: Do esteemable acts!!!

* As a follow through, I think it is REALLY IMPORTANT for our kids to brainstorm healthy alternatives to doing drugs to take care of the pain, struggle, and pressure of these high school years. These conversations need to take place at home but I think it would be awesome if they were addressed at Temple Teen Night as well. I envision kids sharing what works for them, giving others new ideas for how to deal with their feelings.

* Finally, I so appreciate that Alex offered to be available any time day or night if the students needed to talk to him. My son was very touched by this and I think he would call him because they made a connection.

So, thanks again for giving our kids sacred opportunities to learn and grow. Please feel free to forward this to Alex as well. I wanted to give him my heart-felt thanks for having the courage to share his personal journey.

A synagogue does many things – from studying Torah to Celebrating B’nai Mitzvah. I think the synagogue really shines, however, when it becomes a place of connection, where people help each other walk down the challenging journey we call “life”.

Alex, fresh off a perilous journey, back on the straight path, did just that. And so we hope — we know — that there are a group of tens out there who just may be a little more prepared to defend themselves from the seductive pull of booze and drugs. Now that’s something to celebrate!

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