Updated: Jul 17
Dave*, a 33 year old businessman from West Virginia, is sitting in my office at a treatment center miles from family and from the comfort of his daily routine, for one goal: to learn how to live without alcohol or substances. To learn how to move past the vicious cycles that have brought him to the verge of destruction time and time again.
This desire for change was something he shared with his wife in between sobs on their bedroom floor after being caught in another lie, one step closer to the brink of losing his family. This desire was something he shared with his boss, whose patience had worn thin after erratic attendance and several mistakes that risked his professional future. This desire continued to be shared with every staff member he encountered during his arduous detox.
And yet... as we sit here together now, he begins to tell a different story.
One where he shares that he is unsure he actually needs the help of a treatment program. One where he believes that things were not really as bad as he initially thought them to be. That, in truth, he has more control over drinking.
And what at first glance may appear to be two different Dave's, I have come to learn is but one and the same. One Dave, with lots of conflicting parts.
Locking eyes with him, I resist the urge to fight his words. I know that in this moment all I can hope to do- and all I need to do- is create a supportive space where he can freely explore these different voices that co-exist within him. In being able to freely explore the terrain of conflicting thoughts and feelings, he can and will choose who to hand over the reigns to. I know that he is fighting to reconcile acceptance of what he knows he needs to do, and what he feels ready to do in this moment.
Being able to identify, explore, and even embrace ambivalence has been found to be one of the most powerful tools for generating authentic growth.
Working with this ambivalence is often the key to opening the door to the motivations and values that lie beneath the surface of the issues that must first be worked through.
Those who work in the addiction field know all too well that arriving at genuine acceptance is often a multi-step process and is often just the beginning.
That lasting recovery requires the necessary groundwork be paved to more thoroughly internalize and ultimately actualize those principles that have, at various degrees, already been accepted.
This often involves a highly nuanced, and personalized weeding process of those barriers, impediments, and blocks that have kept the person trapped from living in accordance with his deeper will: Unprocessed wounds and traumas, limited ability to cope or self-regulate, unmanaged mental health symptoms, low sense of self or self-esteem, unchecked cognitive distortions… and the list goes on.
The problem is that often a person doesn’t realize there are barriers that exist to begin with.
They are buried beneath layers of pain or of denial. And in this garden of weeds it is often difficult to discern what is one's true will and desire, let alone how to live in line with them. But it starts with the willingness to take an honest look at whether there are remaining gaps between where he wants to be and where he is.
As I sit here, a few days from Shavuos, where I will take part in a collective and personal acceptance of a set of guiding principles, values, and behaviors of my own, I wonder whether I am all too different from Dave.
On the one hand, I commit myself every year at this time to full acceptance of Torah life. And yet, if I were to take an honest look, there are still gaps and discrepancies between how I would think, act, and behave if I were to have thoroughly and completely done so.
Does my own story match up?
Taking a step back, one might wonder what it means to "accept the Torah" again each year to begin with. As religious individuals, have we not already displayed through the fabric of our daily lives that Torah has already been accepted into our lives?
What, then, can it mean for us to engage in a process of re-commitment to Torah life during this period?
The answer seems to lie within the question of what might be inadvertently preventing Torah from penetrating to the deepest parts of ourselves to begin with.
If we are to fully connect ourselves to the Shavuos as a time of accepting the Torah as our ultimate guiding force, I perhaps first need to examine those aspects of myself or behavior which is not currently in line with an acceptance of the Torah that we at some point proclaimed.
What would a full acceptance of the Torah look like for me?
Are there any gaps between that picture and where I am now?
For some, there may be clear challenges in the way to this full acceptance. Perhaps there is some overt direction one is being pulled toward that is clearly opposing Torah life. For others, it could be a more subtle behavior, tendency, or even character trait that removes us from being “all in.”
Shavuos affords us the opportunity to to take an honest look at whether there are some inconsistencies in our own stories, and to learn from them. To sort through any conflicting messages inside, and examine possible barricades to this connection. To assess whether there are any ongoing barriers which may be inadvertently preventing us from completely experiencing (and perhaps truly receiving), the totality of Torah life. And in doing so, hopefully be able to experience a more deeply authentic Kabbalos Ha’Torah.
*Name and details changed. For more information on our program at Transformations Treatment Center, please see https://www.transformationstreatment.center/treatment/treatment-programs/php/faith-based/jewish/