My son's life as we knew it came to a crashing halt on October 8, 2009.
Fortunately (and coincidentally), he was given a second chance at living an honest, fulfilling, clean life, which began on October 9, 2009, his 26th birthday. You see, my son is an addict.
As we bury another young Jewish man in Chicago today, my heart aches for his family and friends, as well as his young children who will never know their father. It was his decision alone to shoot heroin just one more time; however, this tragedy might have been avoided. So long as we choose to judge those addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, pills - whatever their poison of choice - and assume that these are signs of poor character, such tragedies will continue. The stigma of addiction must be lifted if we are to give our children a future. Until we realize and accept that addiction is a psychiatric illness, not a moral choice, and that Jews ARE susceptible, we will endure the pain of senseless loss. We may avert our eyes and pretend that "Jews don't do that", but we are only fooling ourselves, at a tremendous cost.
I am proud of my son, a non-substance abusing compulsive gambler. After years of living lies, stealing from friends, family and his employer, I am grateful he chose recovery, rehabilitation and life. He once asked me "Why do they tell kids not to drink or do drugs, but they never tell you what internet gambling can do to your life?” With the help of a supportive community and qualified, straightforward professionals at Beit T'Shuvah in L.A., he is working on reconnecting with his soul. He is determined to be of service to others, right the wrongs he has committed, and help others out of their deep dark holes. Is this not a basic tenet of Judaism?
The work is not easy, the burden tremendous, and is accomplished one day at a time; but he keeps his eye on the end result. The losses have been great. He lost his wife, his friends, his job, and his home almost instantly. Despite being a first time, non-violent offender, he is spending 8 months in state prison, where he "celebrated" not only the high holidays, but his 1st clean birthday and his 27th biological birthday. He continues to be an inspiration to others, though he lives in humility and is grateful for the people that continue to play an integral role in his life. His future is bright, with a job and home awaiting him and a clear conscience.
I urge each of you to recognize the signs of addiction and take action now. Tomorrow may be too late.
For more information about addiction and how you can take action or get help, contact the Jewish Healing Network of Chicago at http://www.jcfs.org/p_program.cfm?cat=jhn&id=41