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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Our thanks to Joyce and Marty Litchman for sharing their story with us.  We’re sure this will resonate with some of you out there.

I am the parent of a recovering drug addict. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. It began innocently. When my son, Ben, was 8 years old, he was diagnosed with ADHD and was prescribed Ritalin. My husband, Marty, and I trusted our pediatrician, and Ben began taking the medication. It certainly helped with the ADHD, but we had no idea at the time the monster that the medication created. By the time Ben was in middle school, he was no longer taking the medication, but instead, crushing and snorting it. From there, Ben just went onto much bigger and better drugs. There wasn’t anything he didn’t try.

Ben eventually went off to California for college, and that is where he found his drug of choice, heroin. We were totally unaware. Even when Ben came home for school breaks, he was very good at hiding his addiction. We had no clue he had a heroin problem. In his senior year, his addiction got out of control. We got a call that he needed to go to rehab. Since he was in his last semester before graduation, Ben told us his professors would only allow him to miss 10 days of class, so he could only go to rehab for that period of time. Being new to this club that we never wanted admission into, we said yes. We had no idea that 10 days in rehab was worthless and a total waste of money. Ben came out and went right back to his old ways.

When Ben came home after the summer, he had no job or place to live, so of course he moved into our home. Problems quickly escalated, and it was apparent that Ben had a serious drug problem. He went into a 30-day rehab. Marty and I were grasping at straws, and looking for answers as to what we could do to save Ben. I was reading the Jewish News one day and saw an ad for a play that was being performed at Temple B’nai Or in Morristown called “Freedom Song.” The article said that it was being put on by a rehab facility in California called Beit T’Shuvah. Marty and I went to see the play. We had no idea that that evening would change the trajectory of Ben’s life. The play was written and acted by recovering addicts. The theme of the play was set around the Passover seder and focused on how people are enslaved and how they can find redemption and freedom. As I watched these 20 or so young people put on this play, I thought if these people could get their act together and get clean, so could Ben. Marty and I were so impressed by the message of the play and all of the young people who performed it. Afterward we spoke with the cast, and we left with information about Beit T’Shuvah. We were so excited to find a Jewish faith-based rehab and couldn’t wait to share this newfound information with Ben. It fell on deaf ears, but I tucked the information away, and from time to time, I did bring it up to Ben.

Marty and I finally went to a support group. We sat around a table with about 10 people as they told their stories. It was all the same story. Their addicts lied, stole from them and were manipulative. We walked out of that meeting saying “That is not our son,” and never went back. Well, that was indeed our son, and we came to find that out quickly.

Marty and I so wanted to help Ben, only to discover years later that we were not only, not helping him, but in fact, allowing him to continue down his dark and scary road. We were enablers. Ben spent years in and out of detox and rehabs, and more often than not came back home and the cycle began again—lying, stealing, cheating, manipulating. We thought we could fix him, and so we spent good money after bad bailing him out of all his legal problems: bailing him out of jail, paying neglected tickets that escalated to hundreds of dollars. We just kept pouring money into keeping him out of trouble, and it was getting us, and him, nowhere. As long as he needed to get money to support his habit, the cycle would never stop. We were Ben’s safety net, and he knew it. Finally, things came to a head when an expensive piece of jewelry went missing, and we knew Ben took it. It was a cold winter day when we told Ben to pack up and get out. That was probably the worst day of our lives, but we knew we had no choice, and that Ben had to decide what direction he wanted his life to take. From time to time we spoke about Beit T’Shuvah, but Ben wanted nothing to do with it.

To sit and watch our child turn into some stranger whom we no longer knew, do things that were unimaginable and feel helpless made matters worse. There were so many tears and so much heartache. Marty and I decided we had to take a step back and let go because we weren’t helping him. This was the hardest thing ever. Ben always knew we loved him, but now he had to figure things out for himself.

Ben was finally ready, and in January of 2016, we got a call that a bed was available at Beit T’Shuvah. I was so happy and truly believed that the “Shuv” was the magic bullet Ben needed and would be his last stop on his road of addiction. As it turns out Beit T’Shuvah was everything and more than we had ever dreamed of. Ben arrived scared and nervous but quickly fell into the routine and was so happy there. It is such a warm and nurturing place. They made Ben realize that it was ok to be imperfect and to embrace exactly who he is. Today, Beit T’Shuvah is Ben’s California family, and he has stayed connected to so many people there. He goes back every year on his clean birthday to celebrate. Ben has been clean for two years and three months. He is happy, health, thriving and getting married. For me that is enough for today.

Eta Levenson can be reached at [email protected] Lisa Lisser can be reached at [email protected]

By Joyce and Marty Litchman