“For what he did, I forgave him the minute he did it. But for being the reason he did it,
I will never forgive myself”
“We need a solution,” Mr. Richter said. “He wants to come back to our house and we don’t know what to do.”
I’d been working with the Richters for a while, but Mr. Richter was still using terms that made me uneasy: a “solution,” like it was a problem; “our house,” not “home.”
Like any kind of growth, addiction recovery happens in stages. Stage one, which I like to call The Grab, is when the addict admits he has a problem. The second stage, The Hug, is when the addict realizes he cannot achieve recovery on his own. In stage three the addict finds appropriate avenues of help: The Plan. And stage four is The Gibor — maintaining sobriety, repairing relationships, and reintegrating into the community. Each stage has it own challenges; none is easier than another and none can be skipped. Each requires a lot of time, planning, and patience — and a little bit of help when things get stuck.
Aaron was at stage four. He had successfully completed a rehab program and now he wanted to go back home and start over.
But his father was pushing back. “Isn’t there somewhere he could stay until he proves he’s really changed?”
“Sure. Plenty of places,” I said.
“Great.” He was relieved. “Then let’s get him into one. Maybe we can also get him a job and a chavrusa.”
“No,” I said.
“Why not?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Listen, I thought about this a lot and I really think this is the best way to prove that he’s stable and functioning. It doesn’t have to be a fancy job, any job is fine, I just want to make sure that he really has changed and can function independently.”
The truth was, Aaron was already set up with a job and all the support he’d need to move back home. Pinny Brescher, a close friend of mine who serves as clinical director of the DAAS Wellness Group, was going to oversee the therapy side, and we had a sponsor ready to attend meetings with Aaron. But I didn’t want to tell that to Aaron’s father. I didn’t want that to be the condition on which he was accepted home.
“I didn’t mean ‘no job,’ ” I clarified. “I meant, ‘no, he shouldn’t live somewhere else.’ We have a plan in place and a very productive schedule for him. But even if we didn’t, he should be allowed home.”
Aaron’s father was incredulous. “You can’t be serious. Why?”
“Because he wants to be with his family. He did a lot of work in rehab and he’s come to realize that he needs to create better relationships in his life. And he wants to start with you, his parents.”
“But he hasn’t proven he’s ready yet!” Mr. Richter argued. “If he comes home, it’s going to be a disaster!”
“What are you afraid of?”
“Nothing.” He wasn’t very convincing; I waited. “It’s just… before he went to rehab it was very hard to have him at home… there was always yelling and fighting… believe me, I don’t think he really wants to be at home.”
There it was — the shift I needed. Home. He called it home.
“He’s just going to sleep all day and then provoke me until I fight with him! Come on! You think that’s gonna be productive?”
“He has everything all planned out — a job, meetings, therapy,” I said quickly, trying not to make the homecoming conditional but realizing I would have to offer something or it wouldn’t happen, “but if that still doesn’t sound like it’s going to work, I need to ask you again: what are you afraid of?”
A long pause.
Finally he sighed. “I never did right by him,” he said in the smallest voice I’d ever heard him use. “I knew he had a problem and I just yelled at him and threw him out.” He was choking on the words. “What if I say the wrong thing and he starts acting out again?”
In cases like this it’s common for everyone involved to secretly believe they’re the ones at fault. Especially the parents. Especially the good ones.
“If you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, don’t talk,” I told Mr. Richter.
“I should ignore him?”
“No, you could listen.”
“It’s going to be dangerous.” There was real fear in his voice.
“Do you love Aaron?”
“That’s a dumb question.” I’d been working with the Richters for months, we didn’t agree on everything, but Mr. Richter was a good man and he cared deeply for his son. I knew he loved Aaron, but I wasn’t asking for my sake.
“I love him more than anything.”
I held my breath. Please, G-d. “Do you forgive him?”
There was another pause. I heard him swallow a sob.
“For what he did, I forgave him the minute he did it. But for being the reason he did it, I will never forgive myself.”
I let out my breath. “Mr. Richter, I think you are going to be extremely impressed with the real growth Aaron has achieved. I also think you and Aaron have a lot to discuss and I know that Aaron is ready to move past everything and build a new relationship with you.”
His voice held a mixture of longing and disbelief. “How do you know that?”
“Let’s call it a hunch,” I said. “But you need to be willing to give him and yourself that chance. This can work if everyone can put the past behind them and work on building something new.”
We ended the call. I breathed deeply, trying to process everything. Then I looked across the desk at Aaron.
He wiped his eyes. “You’re going to gloat, aren’t you?” he said.
I had taken a risk, but it was worth it. When you can build or repair a relationship between loved ones, it makes the difference in the recovery of both the addict and the family.
“I would, but I’m hungry and someone owes me a shawarma.” I smiled at him. “Besides,” I winked, “it’s boring being right all the time.”
Identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of patients, their families, and all other parties.
Rabbi Yossi Bensoussan serves as mashgiach ruchani at Yeshiva High School of Cleveland. He is a Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) who currently maintains a private practice, and does motivational speaking and community education on addiction all over the US and Israel.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 788)