What did I gain from Retorno? In a real sense, I gained the reins to my life. Just as a horse rider’s reins allow him to more maneuver through an obstacle-laden course, so too, by using the reins I received at Retorno, I am avoiding major pitfalls that used to ensnare me.
Stable owners keep a variety of reins for different situations. At Retorno, I developed an array of tools and tactics to keep my life on track in the face of a myriad of circumstances. Some of the most treasured implements in my kit are: a tight organizational framework, strict adherence to a code of ethics, an affinity for drawing birds and plants, an acute awareness of my emotional state, and a genuine passion for life.
The proof is in the pudding. While in the sober living house I achieved a higher level in my career path than I had before at any point in my life. Striving for balance, I carve time out to study Torah every day. On top of that, I engage in hobbies that give my life a unique flavor, maintain relationships with friends and family, and go to therapy and NA groups.
What helped me be successful at Retorno? The first step was to take to heart that my disease will kill me if left untreated. Every day became (and still is) a literal fight for my life. I accustomed myself to waking up an hour before everyone else to do yoga, meditation, and hitbodedut (a form of Jewish prayer). During cigarette breaks I would memorize Hebrew words from lists that I kept handy in my pocket. When given time to rest or nap I would work-out or volunteer to do something for the community.
I took a leap forward in my treatment when I built up the courage to start asking people for help. Especially with translation. The eagerness my friends exhibited in helping me both surprised and delighted me. Noticing I didn’t have this enthusiasm, I resolved to build this trait within myself. I began by doing at least one act of kindness each day and writing about it at night. I believe that small incremental progress each day can do great things. As a result, I cultivated a variety of positive character traits and disposed of a slew of negative ones.
Another powerful mantra I adopted was getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. No matter the activity, I forced myself to be an active participant. Especially if it was difficult or embarrassing. Whether we were rebuking others for making us angry, confessing to the rules we broke, or just opening up about our feelings, I thrust myself into these uncomfortable situations with a religious zeal. It didn’t make me the most popular person in the group, but it did build me up.
And after being out of the program almost 6 months, how do I feel about Retorno? I feel the way one feels about his parents who didn’t spoil him when he was a child. And now, upon realizing for the first time that he did not turn out to be a brat, is eternally grateful. Every day I see the lessons learned in Retorno come into play. Far from being perfect, I don’t always win the battles. Still, more often than not, I am fighting on familiar territory.
I have noticed a fundamental shift in the way I think, the kind of change in basic nature that people don’t believe can occur, especially in an addict. In a real sense, I owe the fact that I can wake up and face the difficult days that I face to my experience at Retorno. Words cannot express the gratitude I have for the place and the love I have for the people who saved my life and save the lives of others there day in and day out. I just hope that I can do justice to the gift they have given me and give some of it back to those in need of help.
J., in his mid-twenties, is the founder of a high-tech startup in Jerusalem. He recently made Aliyah and attends shiurim in one of Jerusalem’s better-known yeshivot.