Resource Category: Substance Use Disorder and Addiction

Substance use disorders, colloquially called addiction, is a complex disease that affects the functioning of the brain and body. It involves craving something intensely, losing control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences. Recovery from addiction is very challenging, but it is possible.

The High Holidays are the holiest days of the Jewish calendar and consist of the Days of Awe, a ten-day period of reflection and repentance that begins on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and ends on Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement.” Yet what is intended to be a period of transformation can be easily corrupted by uncontrolled self criticism, leading to destructive consequences on the practitioner's mental health. Thankfully, Judaism creates a foundation we can use as a springboard to take care of our mental well-being while undergoing this reflection. We invite you to explore these steps, executing them in any order you think best matches your personal needs and aspirations for the holiday season.
Among the myriad of traditions and prayers experienced on Yom Kippur, two stand out: fasting and repentance. For most adults, these are uncomfortable but benign practices whose pain is quickly forgotten when the fast is over. Unfortunately, the experience of fasting can be much more challenging for someone struggling with disordered eating. The rhythm of the holiday, with its large meals before and after the period of fasting, can be at best extremely stressful to someone in treatment for an eating disorder. At worst, it can be dangerous — both physically and emotionally. A person in recovery will often be assigned a structured meal plan of set portions at set times in an effort to establish a pattern of healthy eating. This schedule is crucial to their recovery, and disrupting this pattern at sensitive stages of recovery can be extremely harmful to the recovery process. Putting the brain and body into a state of deprivation can also be detrimental to the biology and chemistry of the brain.
An excerpt from Lucie Waldman’s book, The Jots of Becoming: A journey of hope and recovery. Available on Amazon in Kindle and print editions. This was written in anticipation of Chanukah, but its themes can apply more universally in recovery. The holidays, no matter what religion, are an extraordinarily difficult time for me and for most people with Eating Disorders because it often comes with changes in scheduling in treatment, different foods, and seeing different family members. All in all, it’s a lot of change.
As the Jewish people commemorate the miraculous victory of the poorly armed Maccabee army, we as therapists are acutely aware of a different uphill battle being fought daily – recovery from addiction – and the modern-day miracles being uncovered throughout the process. Here are three lessons we have gleaned from work with those in recovery from addiction that have helped inspire a deeper Hanukkah experience.