Jews can’t be alcoholics or addicts? Don’t tell this Jewish alcoholic

An alcoholic can b a lawyer, a businesswoman, a congressperson, of MK< a rabbi, a housewife -- anyone.

illustration (photo credit: TNS)
(photo credit: TNS)
She was tall and blond – the perfect “shiksa goddess” ex-girlfriend – and all I wanted to do the night before leaving Los Angeles, where we had dated steadily before I’d dumped her, was to sleep with her one last time.
My strategy was simple. Invite myself over for dinner, bring a couple of bottles of wine, and drink enough so that she would drink enough to keep up with me, and thus I could get her back into bed – something she wouldn’t have considered if she were sober.
She had a strategy, too. Make me a beautiful dinner and get me to stay in L.A., take the prefix “ex-” off the title “ex-girlfriend” and resume our relationship.

Neither of us got what we wanted.
I drank plenty, but she didn’t keep up. Not even close. Not long after dinner ended, both of our strategies having failed, I sat in my car outside her condo, experiencing the first true moment of clarity in 20 years of drinking.
She loves me and she just wants to get back together with me, I realized. And all I want to do is use her and throw her away. I’ve turned into an animal.
That moment of honesty eventually led me recognize that alcohol had something to do with my entire thinking process, and that relying on booze for “liquid courage” was destroying everything I was trying to do with my life.
I ended up in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, deeply embarrassed by my drinking that night at my ex-girlfriend’s place. I was also troubled by my willingness to use someone who loved me, with no regard for her feelings. Upon examination, this turned out to be not an isolated incident but essentially how I lived my life.
That dinner with my ex, and those recriminations, took place 27 years ago tonight. I have not had a drink, a drug or a substitute since.
Few alcoholics or addicts easily admit to their compulsions. Indeed, as the old-timers in Alcoholics Anonymous say, “The denial is bigger than the disease.” But for Jewish addicts and alcoholics, denial runs even deeper. That’s because we have been conditioned to believe that “shicker is a goy” – meaning only gentiles, not Jews, can have drinking problems.
It’s not true. Jews have the same propensity for alcoholism and addiction as everyone else. Hiding behind that unfortunate shicker-is-a-goy formulation just makes it harder to get into recovery.
Most people who are alcoholics and addicts don’t want to believe it, because alcohol or other addictive behaviors are their saving grace, the thing that allows them to get through the day without having to face their deep emotional pain. Misunderstandings about what alcoholism and addiction really are only compound the unwillingness to confront one’s problems.
Yes, an alcoholic can be a skid-row bum or a babbling idiot in a mental institution. But one can also be a lawyer, a businesswoman, a congressperson or MK, a rabbi, a general, a housewife, anyone. In A.A. we say that alcoholism and addiction don’t care whether you went to Yale or jail. The disease is the disease is the disease.
ACCORDING TO A.A., alcoholism (and all addictions by extension) is a threefold illness. The first part is the physical compulsion – the inability to stop drinking or using once one gets started. Maybe not every time, but often enough, and with increasing frequency, the first drink or drug leads to the next, which leads to the next, which leads to the next, until the alcoholic or addict runs out of money or friends, passes out, is arrested or dies.
The second part of the disease is the mental obsession with whatever substance one imbibes, snorts or otherwise ingests, to the point where thinking about alcohol and drugs – where to get them, how to afford them, where to hide them, when to use them – crowds out all other thoughts regarding loved ones, work, school and the rest of one’s responsibilities, hopes and dreams.
These first two aspects of the disease – the physical compulsion and the mental obsession – lead to the third phase, the spiritual loss of values. We all received a sense of values growing up, whether in yeshiva or secular school, from our teachers, parents, older siblings, coaches or other authority figures. We all knew right from wrong. But at some point for the addict or alcoholic, only one value becomes paramount – killing pain through drinking or drug-taking. This compulsion crowds out everything else. The downward spiritual progression eventually reaches the point where the alcoholic or addict, as the basic text or “Big Book” of A.A. teaches, can no longer “differentiate the true from the false.”
I was one of those people. I like to say that I overcame every advantage on my way to the bottom. I grew up in a beautiful home in a well-to-do American suburb and had the best education money could buy. But none of that could keep me from following in the footsteps of at least three prior generations of alcoholics in my family and succumbing to the disease myself. I reached the point where I was hopeless, unemployable and broke. I was a user of people and someone who threw away everything valuable that life had to offer.
Sometimes Jews wonder if they can find a place in A.A., because it can feel so Christian. In the Diaspora, many meetings take place in church basements or side rooms. My experience indicates that the answer is yes – I have so many Jewish friends in 12-step recovery that I couldn’t begin to count them all. Yes, recovery can have a Christian feel at first, but the core ideas – reconnecting with one’s concept of a Higher Power, regret for the past and resolving to do better, making restitution to those we have harmed, and service – are, at heart, all authentically Jewish concepts.
So here I am, 27 years after my last drink to date. Today I’m a responsible and loving husband, the best father I can be, gainfully employed, a contributing member of society, and a much better-behaved member of the Jewish community. As part of my recovery process, I made my amends to my ex, and we remain on good terms – a far cry from where we were 27 years ago.
So if you think you have a drinking or drug problem, don’t let the idea that you’re Jewish keep you from finding the relief, recovery and freedom you so richly deserve. The disease doesn’t care what religion you belong to. And neither does 12-step recovery.

New York Times bestselling author Michael Graubart is the author of Morning Coffee, just published by Redwood Digital Publishing, and the CD SoberSongs Vol. 1, available on Spotify.