When we hear about issues that arise in our community, it is human nature to dismiss them as inapplicable to us. We naturally find some rationalization as to why the issue cannot possibly be relevant to our lives or our families. We lull ourselves into a false sense of security and convince ourselves that we are not in danger, that we are somehow immune to the problems and struggles of general society. So, while we are regularly confronted with data clearly demonstrating that issues like alcohol disorders, substance misuse and addiction occur in our community at rates almost identical to the public at large, we find a way to explain away the data.
When we were first facing our daughter’s substance misuse challenges several years ago, we fell into this trap. Children from “good families” did not fall prey to addiction. Our honors student daughter was too smart to allow herself to fall into the clutches of addictive substances. Surely if we just find her the right medical and psychological help, she can be “cured.” The stigma of addiction was firmly embedded in our brains and we erroneously thought this was something that could easily be reversed. Those refrains were incredibly hard for us to shake. It took many months and many conversations (and lots of tears) for us to finally comprehend that addiction is a disease that does not discriminate on the basis of intelligence, religion, race, age, socioeconomic standing or any other demographic factor. It took even longer to understand that this disease, like many others, is a medical condition that needs to be addressed, fought and constantly monitored.
It was these realizations that led us, with the support of all of our children, to publicly discuss our daughter’s (and our family’s) journey for the first time in April 2018. As we looked around the room at the more than 700 people who came to hear our story, it became clear to us that one personal story could accomplish so much more than reams of data. Many members of our community shared that our experience resonated with them because they realized, after hearing our story, that “it could happen to us” and had to come to grips with that reality. Several others shared (some for the first time) their own personal stories that this had happened to them—to their children, siblings, spouses, even parents—demonstrating that this is, in fact, a significant issue that impacts us all, whether we realize it or not. Rather than a statistic, we were a family people went to shul with, saw at school events, shared Shabbat meals with, and who they could identify with. Only through personalizing the struggle were we able to begin the long and arduous process of destigmatizing substance misuse and addiction.
On Sunday morning, October 18, from 9-11 a.m., Communities Confronting Substance Abuse (CCSA) (a participant in the OU Impact Accelerator program) and Refa’enu are co-hosting a unique and impactful online event. After a keynote address by Sarge, a black Jewish comedian and motivational speaker who is himself in recovery from addiction, the event will feature six workshops on mental health and addiction on the following topics: behavioral addictions, alcohol and Jewish ritual, ADHD medications and the link to SUDs (substance use disorders), mood disorders, substance addiction and recovery, and self-harm/suicide. Each workshop will feature a panel including someone with personal experience with the issue, a clinician and other community leaders who will share their unique perspectives. Everyone will be able to choose two workshops to attend, and there will be an opportunity for Q&A as well.
If you or a family member have been impacted by substance misuse, addiction or mental health illnesses, we are sure you will find comfort in hearing others’ personal experiences and knowing that you are not alone. If you have been fortunate enough not to have been impacted by these diseases, you will learn, through the power of these personal stories, how our community can be there for our brethren who need us. Chances are you do know someone struggling, even if that person has not come forward yet. If we are successful in destigmatizing mental health and addiction diseases, we will be better able to support families dealing with these challenges and, ultimately, ensure better outcomes for those directly impacted. Please join us on October 18 for this unique program. Preregistration and login details are available at www.time2talkaddiction.org/events.
The more we are able to talk honestly and openly about these issues, the more we eliminate stigma and save lives.
Etiel Forman, a 25+ year Teaneck resident and his wife, Lianne, are proud parents of five children (and grandparents of two), including their daughter who is currently in recovery from addiction. Through their family’s struggles they have channeled their efforts toward creating community awareness about substance abuse and addiction, and founded Communities Confronting Substance Abuse (www.Time2TalkAddiction.org), a charitable organization committed to education, awareness and prevention of substance misuse and addiction.