We’d like to thank NS for sharing this letter with us. We hope it will help others suffering with addiction in their family.
From one mother of an addict to another:
Follow these steps, then take out your siddur and pray.
I remember the exact day as if it were yesterday: the day I knew I had to take back my life. I didn’t know what that looked like or how to go about doing it, but I knew that I just couldn’t live my life like this anymore. We, as parents, are all in denial at some point. So there is no time like the present to snap out of it and face reality head on. When you are living with a family member in the depths of addiction, the reality is that it doesn’t matter if you wake yourself up, or some horrible incident does it for you. Eventually the day will come when strength finally overrides the constant mental abuse—the unsafe feeling of leaving your purse on the kitchen counter, or needing to lock yourself in your bedroom when you sleep. Yeah, I know—just a few of the numerous and ongoing red flags that may cross your path before you start the long road ahead of taking back your home, your family and your life.
Step one: See a therapist and be honest. Describe exactly what is going on in your home. Tell them how long the family member has been disruptive in the house and how the family member’s behavior brought you to the appointment. When I went to see that first therapist, he said, “Just tell your son that you are kicking him out.” Oh yeah, I thought. This guy has no clue. Jewish moms don’t kick out their children, especially without feeding them or sending them on their way with clean clothing and money.
Step two: Take the therapist’s advice. After that meeting, I came home and gave my son an ultimatum. I wrote up a list of rules that I shared with him. The conversation was short and to the point. You can stay and live in this house with me but only if you live by these rules, and you agree to go to therapy once a week. Looking back, I can say that if you are already at this point, the family member needs to be in what is called an outpatient program, which is typically at least 3-5 afternoons a week.
Step three: Expect your family member to become belligerent and completely argumentative with the rules you are setting down.
Expect them to turn the blame on you.
Expect them to say hurtful and painful things.
Step four: Be prepared with a phone number of a rehab facility that is waiting for the addict’s call. Write it on a sheet of paper.
Step five: If this is the first time you are bringing up this ultimatum, then most likely, the family member will say, “Fine I’m leaving.” Now you must change the locks. Do yourself a favor and don’t ever plan on giving that person a key to the house again. I know how you are feeling. I’ve sat in Family Narcotics meetings and listened to the cries of parents that had to call the police on their children for trespassing.
Step six: Speaking of Family Narcotics meetings, find a meeting. It can be two towns away from where you live if that’s necessary. Start attending with a supportive spouse or family member once a week. You will probably attend your first meeting and say this isn’t for me; my family member isn’t going to be in rehab 3 times and isn’t living in a half-way house. Unfortunately, you need this meeting just as badly as everyone else in the room. They are just years ahead of you.
Step seven: In addition to the once a week Family Narcotics meeting, go to your therapist. I found a therapist who specialized in addiction. On my very first meeting with this therapist I asked her, “If I get my son into this rehab center, will all be good?” She looked me straight into my eye, and said, “No.”
Unfortunately the statistics are over 95% failure rate so you will have numerous runs of getting your loved one help. When you find a therapist that responds to you with such honesty, trust that this person will help you find your way home again.
Three rehabs later, I can report that my son is currently two years sober and clean of all drugs. He currently is working in a rehab center as a tech and attends weekly AA meetings with strong support from his sponsors and other caring and loving people. He’s come a long way from hallucinating with the intention of saving the world and carrying his belongings in a garbage bag while living on a drug dealers’ couch.
Addiction/Alcoholism is a disease that doesn’t go away. Parents must be aware that the choices their son or daughter makes are their choices. We have no control over them. However, we can be there to love them and support them when they are seeking the help they need. We can give them ongoing support to stay healthy.
And last but not least, give yourself permission to pray. As I pick up my siddur every morning to say Shacharis, I think to myself how I wish in the beginning, someone would have pointed me in this direction and helped me find support in words of prayer.
If you’d like to reach out to NS, write to us and we will share your email with her.
We look forward to hearing from more of you.
Lisa and Eta
By Eta Levenson and Lisa Lisser
Eta Krasna Levenson is a clinical social worker who lives in West Orange. Eta is currently running a free peer support group for parents with teens and young adult children with mental health challenges, and is now looking to develop a support/bereavement group for parents who have lost children. She can be reached at [email protected]
Lisa Lisser is a Jewish educator who recently participated in an immersive training program for Jewish educators and clergy at Beit T’Shuva, a Jewish faith-based residential rehab facility in LA. She is committed to addressing addiction in the Jewish community and helping to lessen the stigma and shame associated with it, along with providing resources so that parents and family members of those struggling can find their own sources of resilience. Lisa can be reached at