Asher told his story to students in Magen David Yeshivah and Yeshivah of Flatbush in the spring of 2012. In this article, Asher shares his story more in depth. We are sure you will find it fascinating!
I grew up in a religious, Jewish family. I was one of ten kids, who were all talented high achievers. I remember wanting to stand out, but did not know how to; I didn’t see anything special about myself.
My mentally-ill grandmother lived with us. Whenever we’d protest my mom’s bad moods, she’d point to the end of the table, where Grandma sat, indicating that our discomforts were nothing compared to what she grew up with. My father’s family was in the Holocaust. This naturally defined our pains as insignificant; our sadness or anger did not have much validity.
One day when I was 5, a crack addict hijacked our car with me and my siblings inside. He took us for a wild ride. It was a terribly traumatic experience. Once we were back home and things settled, my parents sent us all to therapy; they thought I was fine.
But since then, I’ve never felt safe. Living in a dangerous neighborhood, I learned that even with elders beside me, I was not protected.
In 5th grade, I started to act out and I kept getting suspended from school.
The first time I got drunk was when my parents were away. My brother, 2 years my senior, and his friends brought some Jack Daniels into the house. He told me I couldn’t drink, but his words were a tempting invitation; I snuck a few sips. At first, I felt nothing, so I kept on drinking. A bit later, I started horsing around and began to feel great. Everything negative that people told me about drinking did not feel true; when I was drunk, I felt at peace and protected.
As time went by, I began experimenting with other substances, seeking that same high. Some of the drugs did not make me feel that great, but I kept at it, hoping it would feel better the next time. Often when I did find that high, I said to myself, “This is what I’ve been missing.”
I began living a life that included doing whatever I had to do to get my drugs. I carried weapons and was violent. If anyone was in my way, I took care of it. As a result, normal kids wouldn’t hang out with me. Other people may have stopped using because of all of the negative consequences, but none of it mattered to me, as long as I could feel good. What was going on outside of me, no matter how chaotic it was, was never as important as how I felt on the inside.
When my parents finally told me to either stop using drugs or leave the house. All I heard was that there was a way to keep on using. So, I left.
I moved into a place with other users. When I was unable to pay the rent, I got kicked out; this happened repeatedly. I tried dealing drugs for income, but would use up my inventory before I was able to sell it.
Everywhere I went, people told me to get help.
In January 2006, I had nowhere to live, so I took up residence in a storage container a block away from my parents’ home. I had a tattered blanket, sores on my feet, and smelled really bad. People were always calling the cops on me. Whenever I tried to get into my house, my parents would kick me out. If they could not handle me themselves, they’d call others to help remove me from the house. Once, they sent me out in the pouring rain at five in the morning. I spent that winter freezing. I remember lying on the ground one night thinking, “Why can’t I just go home?” And then I realized that I could not go home because I could not stop using. I wanted to have the ability to stop and improve my life, but I could not.
Toward the end of that winter, a friend and I found an apartment for $300 a month. It had fungus in the shower and was disgusting, but to us, it was a palace! It had heat, hot water, and a bed! So, that night, we celebrated. “Celebration” meant getting in a parked car in a parking lot and getting high.
In the midst of our “party” a cop came by. When we opened the window, opium smoke billowed into the cop’s face. I always imagined this as a funny scene in a movie, but in real life, it was not. My father picked me up from the police station at four in the morning, but because he would not bring me into my family’s home, he dropped me at a gas station. There, I did what I always did; I sought out drugs.
I was free from jail that day, but I was still facing a seven-year sentence and a fine of $70,000. That is when I got a call from Mr. D. Mr. D. is a very wealthy man who also took care of people in my community who were in trouble, kind of like what Ike Dweck at The SAFE Foundation does for the Brooklyn and Deal communities. He said he’d get me a lawyer if I’d go to rehab. A friend of mine, Yehuda Mond, had gone to rehab and convinced me to go. (Sadly, a few months later, Yehuda passed away from a drug overdose.)
I spent eight months in rehab, working hard and uncovering a lot of pain, sadness and anger that I never knew was there. Roy V. Tellis, who now works at The SAFE Foundation, was my counselor. I learned about relapse prevention. I also realized that I was missing spirituality. That is when I decided to go to study at a yeshiva for a year.
I got to a healthy point where I wanted to work on my relationship with my parents, so I went home and enrolled in college. I had a 4.0 GPA and was doing really well. One day, about a year in, I was with my brother and he had some liquor. I thought to myself, “I can handle one shot. I’ve been I’ve been clean for 2 ½ years, am religious now, and have a solid job as a furniture sales manager.” But within two weeks, I was back to using hard drugs and hiding it from everyone.
I knew I had to do something, so I decided to go to Israel. There, I told myself, I’d be sophisticated and only drink wine. But one glass a day turned into one bottle a day; I always ended up plastered.
The turning point was when my rabbi turned to me and said, “Asher, is this G-d’s will for you?” I was always one to manufacture excuses, but I could not answer his question. I did some real soul searching and decided that I wanted to be sober again. I knew what had worked for me in the past: It was the 12 Steps, so I walked into an AA meeting and raised my hand and stated, “I am Asher, and I am an alcoholic.” It was a very humbling experience. At that point, I opened myself up the way I never did before.
Being honest, being dedicated, having the support of sponsors, and being under the care of Roy of The SAFE Foundation, who with his methodology and great abilities to heal, has brought me to where I am today: I am a sober and high functioning counselor, son, husband, father of a new born, and inspiration to others who wish to climb out of their dark holes of addiction. I am so thankful of where I am today. I thank you for reading my story.