Addiction comes in varied forms, not just the typical alcohol and drug addiction we typically know about. This episode explores the life of love, sugar addiction, bullying, and fantasy of Rabbi Ilan Glazer. He is the author of the #1 bestselling book And God Created Recovery: Jewish Wisdom to Help You Break Free From Your Addiction, Heal Your Wounds, and Unleash Your Inner Freedom. He is also the Founder of Our Jewish Recovery and teaches about healing, recovery, happiness, spirituality, and success in all areas of life. Being a rabbi in recovery from a life of dismay and emotional trauma, Rabbi Ilan proves to us the importance of an outlet and a community. He talks about recovering from addictions and a movement he is building to help others going through the same path.
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Recovering From Addictions You Didn’t Know Were Addictions With Rabbi Ilan Glazer
My guest is Rabbi Ilan Glazer. Rabbi Ilan is passionate about ending the stigma of addiction in the Jewish world and helping Jews in recovery and their loved ones find recovery and serenity one day at a time. He believes that life is a beautiful journey of learning and growth. Suffering can be transformed into joy and everyone is a miracle. Rabbi Ilan is the author of the number one bestselling book, And God Created Recovery: Jewish Wisdom to Help You Break Free From Your Addiction, Heal Your Wounds, and Unleash Your Inner Freedom. He’s the Founder of Our Jewish Recovery and a Shatterproof Ambassador and Family Program Instructor, a member and Director-At-Large of the National Speakers Association’s DC chapter. Rabbi Ilan teaches widely about healing, recovery, grief and mourning, happiness, spirituality and success in all areas of life. Rabbi Ilan is a freelance recovery and transformation coach, an accomplished storyteller and musician and the host of the Torah of Life podcast. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland with his wife, Sherri, and their cat, Taylor. Rabbi Ilan, welcome to the show.
Thanks so much for having me.
This is such an important topic to have, such an important discussion. I’d like to start out if you’re open to it, hearing a little bit about your story because I know that you have your own journey of recovery. Are you willing to share a little bit about your story?
My story is a little bit different than many other stories that are in the news now. We hear a lot about alcohol and we hear a lot about drugs. Those are, I don’t want to say the typical, addiction recovery stories we’re hearing and that’s not my story. There are many different ways that people can become addicted to things. My story is a little unique. When I was young, my father was also a rabbi and he was a congregational rabbi, so we moved every couple of years to different synagogues for him to work. My mother was a Jewish day school teacher and principal. I would say their marriage was not always the happiest. She had a lot of medical challenges, was in and out of hospitals since even before I was born and struggled with five different rounds of cancer and a couple of liver transplants. It was not an easy life for her or for either of them.
I was the second of four. I fell into the stereotypical middle child role of caretaking and being in charge of helping out even from a young age with the laundry, the cleaning, the cooking and helping with my younger siblings. Later on, teaching my mother’s classes when she would go into the hospital and I’m filling in at the synagogue and being responsible. On the outside and on the inside, there were lots of problems. One of the things I learned, my mother was a professional baker on the side and she was good. She was talented. When I, for example, had my Bar Mitzvah and for my siblings as well because we were the rabbi’s kids, we had to invite the whole congregation. There were 750 people came Saturday morning and a big dinner on Friday night, a party Saturday night and a brunch on Sunday morning. She did the desserts for the entire weekend.
She would bake for months at a time and fill up everybody’s freezer. She was good. Unfortunately, one of the things that I’ve learned there wasn’t space for me to share my own thoughts and feelings and my own struggles with what was happening with mom’s health, with dad’s career, with growing up as a young child. We all need outlets to be able to share things. I didn’t have that. One of the things I learned from her was that there was no emotion that couldn’t be solved with the right amount of sugar. You’re familiar with this thought process. There’s no emotion that can be solved with the right amount of sugar. If you’re sad, have a cookie. If you’re mad, have a brownie. If you’re ticked off, bake something and share it. There were almost always desserts in the house. I became good at baking them myself and eating them.
The truth is, when I eat them, I felt better for a time. The sugar high would wear off and I would feel worse. I’d have to eat more of them to feel better again. The other problem was that I gained weight because I was eating all of these desserts and I was the one who would finish everybody’s meal at the table because there were starving children in Africa so we shouldn’t waste food. How my eating more would help them, I never quite understood but it doesn’t matter. I started gaining weight and I’d get yelled at for gaining weight, “You don’t want to get fat like your father, do you?” My only solution to feeling sad was to eat more, so the cycle compounded. For many years, this started probably when I was five and continued for decades.
Later on, it came time for dating, romance and hormones. I didn’t know anything about that. My parents certainly taught me about that in a healthy way and their marriage was not the happiest. I was aware of their struggles and young boys who are in classes with all the other boys who are talking about girls will want to talk about girls too. I was afraid. Nobody was ever going to like me. Why would they? I felt because I got yelled at so often at home for doing things or not doing things, I felt most of the problems at home were my fault. That wasn’t true. I wasn’t responsible for my mother’s illness. I wasn’t responsible for their anger at each other and in the community and their sadness around having to move. I was along for the ride. I was a young kid. That wasn’t my fault. At the time, what I thought was that since I was yelled at so often and I lived in fear of being yelled at, I thought that if only I could possibly contort myself into the right place and person and be better, they wouldn’t have a reason to yell at me or go, “It was my fault and I needed to do better.”
That resonates with many of us, whether it’s eating or not, that we’re addicted to that contorting our self into what we think other people want us to be.
I was a total people-pleaser. I was looking for validation all the time because I was incredibly insecure about my own self. I had many struggles and I got yelled at so much that I never developed a sense of being okay in my own skin as it were. One of the things I also did is I would pick at my skin and I would pull up my eyebrows. I would join my cheek and do damage to myself physically. I was not comfortable in my own skin and that too is an addiction. I’ve had to work on that one as well. When it came time to dating, what I learned from my mother is that my job in life was to find a nice Jewish woman, put her on a pedestal and give her everything that she possibly wants because men are jerks.
I am not sure that’s in the Jewish community. I’m sure that’s universal.
That’s what I thought. From a young age, I can remember even when I was 12 and 13 and later on, looking for this woman to put on a pedestal as if I knew anything about what the healthy relationship could be. I didn’t learn that from my parents. Their marriage was not happy much of the time. Someone would say something nice to me and I would light up and I’d say, “Are you the one that I’m supposed to put on a pedestal because you’re a nice person?” at the age of twelve. It’s crazy looking back on it, but I didn’t know any better. At the same time, I was afraid of the actual encounters. What do you say to someone? How do you go from, “You’re cute,” to, “Can we go out?” until, “Will you marry me?”
I certainly wasn’t going to bring anyone home to the house because the home wasn’t safe either. I wet the bed as a kid. I was overweight. I had asthma. I felt again awkward in my own skin. When it came time to dating, I was watching my classmates have some attempts at that. They were having girlfriends and what was wrong with me that I couldn’t. In eighth grade, we moved to London, Ontario, Canada for a couple of years and I was in a school there. I still remember the day where I and the other guys from my class were out in the schoolyard. I don’t know if it was recess or after school and somebody went to go throw something out in the trashcan.
As they looked into the trashcan, they glanced over and they saw that there was a pornographic magazine in the trashcan. They took it out and brought it over. As young pubescent boys will do everybody oohed and ahhed. At some point, it went tossed back into the trashcan and everybody went home except I went back to the trashcan, took it out and took the magazine home with me because I enjoyed what I was seeing. Also, it was easier to think that perhaps the women in the magazine somehow cared for me in some fantasy way than to have to think about talking to women I knew, figuring out how to date and how to struggle with that. Pornography became a teacher of mine as well. That continued for many years as well.
You are not alone in that. I’ve dated men who have learned about relationships through pornography.
As it turns out, the things you see in pornography are not entirely healthy or realistic. Why doesn’t everybody look like the women who look like in those films? Why doesn’t every sexual encounter look like what happens in the movies? It’s all film. It’s Hollywood. It’s not real. Somehow, I felt like at least I wasn’t hurting anyone and at least it gave me some connection to my own physical self. It wasn’t healthy but it was something. When I was in high school, I remember there was a bookstore across the street from the high school and I stole some magazines from the bookstore because I was too embarrassed to walk up to the cash register and pay for them.
Because I was the rabbi’s kid, I was worried that if somebody saw me buying this, that would spread, dad could get fired and we’d have to move again. It was easier to steal and live with the consequences. I did start paying for it once I moved to college in New York and I could be a little more anonymous there. I didn’t care what the people on the newsstands had to think. That was the world I grew up in. Many people are what they called cross-addicted and I certainly am. We are addicted to multiple things. It was food. It was skin picking. It was bullying. It was pornography. It was love addiction and fantasy. It was gaming and checking my email 26 times a day because maybe somebody needs me to do something and I could do something for somebody else. Amazingly enough, when I did for other people, I felt better about myself. I was alone with myself. I felt totally miserable and useless.
That was my high school and my upbringing. I made it into college somehow and went to school in New York City. I had some challenges. I had some learning challenges that got me in trouble and I was kicked out of college twice for lying to people. I would be the best student in the class and I couldn’t write papers. I struggled and I put so much pressure on myself. I procrastinated and I couldn’t ask for help. I lied about it because in my house that I grew up in, you couldn’t speak the truth because you get yelled at for speaking the truth. It was easier if I lie to try and get out of it. As it turns out, there are consequences for lying I had to learn. I’m glad that I did.
I took some time off in the middle. I had a bit of a challenging time but did finish college. I did start dating someone in college and we worked together for about 4.5 years. We were engaged too. She was the first person I was ever with. I was like, “I finally found the person except I was a mess.” I was a total dysfunctional mess on the inside. On the outside, I was this kind, considerate and compassionate student. Everybody thought I was helping my mother all the time and I was a plan to become a rabbi. On the outside, everything was great. Nobody would know. On the inside, there was a lot to struggle with.
My fiancé called it off and I’m glad she did because I certainly had no business getting married at that time. I’m grateful to her. Fast-forwarding a little bit, I finished college. What started me on this healing journey was when I was twenty, I was in college and I got an email advertising, a cross-country Jewish environmental bike ride from Seattle to Washington DC. I was not a bike rider. I didn’t know anything about the outdoors. I’d probably never slept in a tent. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I decided to do it and it totally changed my life. I found a deeper connection to God in the outdoors than I do in buildings. I found a community of people who could handle me, where I could be myself and where I felt cherished and valued.
That night after college to becoming an environmental educator at a number of Jewish retreat centers and I loved it. I thrived in that environment and being connected to the outdoors and a wonderful community of people. That lasted for a couple of years and I had a few relationships, but I was still eating, using a lot of pornography and doing all these things. Fast forward again, I decided after I finished my time there as an environmental educator, I became my mother’s caregiver for a couple of years. I took care of her. I helped her through her second liver transplant and that was not easy by any stretch of the imagination. I learned more about hospitals, healing and healthcare than I ever wanted to know. It was touch and go for a while. I was committed to being with her and I stayed with her for a couple of years.
She did eventually pass away. Afterward, I had to pick myself up and say, “What now?” The answer was a rabbinical school. I did go to rabbinical school. When I was in rabbinical school, I was meeting great people. I was taking amazing classes. I was still backing out in all of these ways. In 2010, the school I was in required each of us to do a unit of what’s called clinical pastoral education in a hospital or a health care setting. I did this unit. I was living in New Jersey working as a congregational rabbi still in school but already working. I did this training program and we had a month-long healing unit on addiction. They played videos for us and they invited us to pay attention to the kinds of questions that the people in the movie were asking and to see the consequences of what life of addiction is or could be.
I’m watching these videos and I hear the questions they’re asking. I see the negative consequences of addictive behavior. I’m thinking to myself, “Some of the questions they’re asking are the same questions that I ask. What does that mean?” It was the first time that I understood that I myself could possibly be an addict. I didn’t know anything about addiction. My mother taught me that I was not allowed to drink alcohol and drugs were not allowed in our house. That’s all I knew. I’m sure from her perspective, it was probably all she knew too. I had no idea that all of these other issues could be a thing.
I was dating someone at the time and she had some wisdom around recovery issues. All I could hold at that point was I’m addicted to food. I’m addicted to sugar. Clearly, I am eating all the time and that’s not good. I saw a functional medicine doctor who did some blood work and testing and told me that I was addicted and I’m also allergic to gluten, flour, dairy and sugar. I had to go off all of those things, which if you’re addicted to all of those things, it’s a fun process, but I did. I started exercising a little bit. I started going to some recovery meetings here and there, but it didn’t quite tick.The more adverse childhood experiences you have, the more likely you are to have picked up some unhealthy coping mechanisms. Click To Tweet
Fast forward a little bit, I finished rabbinical school and got married. We moved together to Memphis to co-rabbi at a synagogue and things didn’t go so well there. That’s when things shifted and we didn’t work well together. The synagogue was not an easy place to work when we started. I was getting worse by the day and the marriage was not what I thought because what I thought was, I found a nice Jewish woman, a rabbi no less. I thought if I put her on a bed, I’ll give her everything she wants, I’ll be happy. That’s what I thought would happen. That’s not exactly what happened. I was in some ways, but I was still miserable in other ways.
It makes sense because when you’re trying to give somebody else everything they want, that’s a huge amount of pressure that you’re putting on yourself because you’re putting their happiness on your shoulders.
To say nothing of 250 families, have a synagogue that I was also trying to keep happy.
How many of us out in the world do that? We’re constantly trying to keep somebody else in our life or many other people in our life happy. It’s exhausting. It sucks the life out of us.
It is absolutely exhausting. To be fair, I helped create that dynamic. I’m not blaming her for that. I came into the relationship doing that. I thought that was what you were supposed to do. It turns out that it was not the healthiest advice as I learned. I started going to a therapist. The therapist sent me to a week-long retreat at a place called Onsite, outside Nashville. They have a healing trauma program. I didn’t tell anyone from the synagogue because rabbis aren’t supposed to have issues or even talk about them publicly. I went and that’s when I understood what was happening here because at that week of healing, first of all, they took away my cell phone so that I could have no outside contact. They couldn’t distract me with Solitaire, Minesweeper, email, Facebook or anything else.
There were nine of us and a therapist that week. I learned all about adverse childhood experiences. I learned about emotions and what happens when those are not healthy. I learned that the more adverse childhood experiences you have, the more likely you are to have picked up some unhealthy coping mechanisms that may have served you well then, but probably are not serving you well now. My mind was totally blown open because I went there thinking, “I’ve got this issue with food,” and I left there thinking, “It’s not food, it’s all of them.”
I understood though that there was a way forward. I’m a little slow sometimes but once I knew that there was work for me to do, I want to do it because I don’t want to keep suffering. What the therapist said was, “You’ve got to do the work of recovery, go to meetings, find a sponsor and start taking ownership for your own life instead of letting other people direct it for you.” That was incredibly valuable advice. I went home. A few weeks later, I was at the Memphis Public Library and they have a used bookstore within the library there. I was looking at the addiction section and there was a book called Facing Love Addiction by Pia Mellody that basically fell off the shelf into my hands.
It had that, “Pick me, you need to read me.” I took it home and I read the whole thing in two days. I did not understand how she was inside my head without ever having met me. Shortly thereafter, I found a sponsor. I started doing a lot of phone meetings. I wouldn’t go to in-person meetings for a good while because I was worried that somebody would see me and I’d be out in the community and lose my job. The marriage was not well and ended. My ex decided to leave town and she did. I stayed there on my own. I did eventually start going to meetings. I was seen. I said, “God, if you want this to work, the person who saw me needs to keep their mouth shut.” As far as I know, they did.
I started going to the gym three times a week. I stayed in therapy. I worked with a spiritual director and an emotional healer and started doing the hard work of the steps of recovery with a sponsor. I ate better and organized my life a lot better. We’re still working too many hours at the synagogue, but I was doing good work. I was feeling better about myself and things got a little better there. Amazingly enough, as I got better, the synagogue did too. I’m going to own this life that is mine because some of the things I learned as a kid don’t serve me well anymore. I can outgrow them. I can make better decisions for me now as a responsible adult.
Thank God it’s been a few years since that day in the public library. I consider that day one of my sobriety where it all started to come together. I don’t use pornography anymore. I don’t eat gluten, dairy and sugar. I still go to the gym. I go to recovery meetings. I’ve worked the steps and I’ll probably do that again soon. I’m doing the work of recovery. It has been such an incredible gift to find other people who are struggling with the same things, who can say, “We know where you are. We’ve been there. We’ll be there with you. You are valid, cherished and valued. We don’t care about all the terrible things you think you’ve done. We care that you heal.” That’s been amazing for me to have the gift of recovery. That’s what it has given me.
I love your story and how you’re able to, in hindsight, pick it apart and see because I am a trauma specialist and I help people through their emotional healing. I call myself an empowerment strategist. That’s what I do is help empower people by helping them learn to manage their emotions in a very different way and to accept their emotions when they come up instead of trying to stuff them or push them aside or drown them in sugar or behaviors. Behavior addictions come up a lot in the work I do with my clients. I loved your story too. I’ve shared this about myself in the past. You talk about how you were kind and considerate. From the outside, that’s how people viewed me was kind and considerate.
It’s not that I’m not kind and considerate now. I’m not on the addictive side of it anymore. I have the ability to say no when something doesn’t feel right to me. When I’m like, “No, I’m not going to do this.” In the past, my kindness and consideration came from fear of getting yelled at or fear of not pleasing somebody. I would come across as being, “I’m being kind and being considerate.” Here I was still stuck in that childhood pattern, wasn’t able to step up and be an adult in certain situations in life, even situations as simple as somebody asking me, “Where would you like to go for lunch?” I had a fear of choosing where somebody else would eat. As a kid, if I or anybody in our family chose a restaurant and my dad’s food wasn’t good, it was our fault and we would hear about it for the whole ride home or sometimes spilling over into the next day.
You learn so it came across as, “Let me turn this around. Where would you like to eat? Or I’m not hungry for anything in particular. What sounds good to you?” Little things like that. It would come across like that, “Let me be considerate of what do you want so I don’t have to make that decision.” That got me in trouble a few times in my adulthood. When I say in trouble into situations that didn’t turn out well, not that I was getting yelled at, but in situations that didn’t turn out well. I’m finishing a year-long course with Dr. Gabor Maté who is an addictions expert out of Canada. He talks about relationships. You are going to attract people into your life who energetically might be the word to use are where you are. Their level of trauma is going to be an absolute mirror of your level of trauma. That makes sense why your relationships and mine over the years have not lasted. Eventually, you do meet somebody who’s at that same level of healing that you are and things can move forward in a positive way.
It is amazing to see that. I have done a lot of work around codependency, love addiction and relationships. I did move a few years ago. I decided to leave the synagogue and I moved to Silver Spring, Maryland and I had started dating someone long distance. We got married a few years ago. It’s much happier and healthier than I could ever have imagined. Not without struggles, marriage isn’t perfect but it’s nice when it works.
To have somebody connect with you that has a similar level of healthy coping mechanisms rather than our childhood coping mechanisms and defense mechanisms. Somebody who can handle things from their adult self and not their child self.
To also be someone who could handle some things as an adult instead of as a child.People can decide what choices they want to make for themselves and that they can choose healthier things. Click To Tweet
I understand that you’re building a movement to help people. It’s my understanding that you’re targeting the Jewish community. Can you tell us a little about the movement that you’re building?
When I was going through recovery myself, when I was still in Memphis, I was looking around to see what does the Jewish world has to say about this? I can’t be the only member of the Jewish community in the history of the last 6,000 years has ever struggled with this. I can’t be that crazy. What I found was not a whole lot. There’s a wonderful Jewish recovery center in Los Angeles that does inpatient and outpatient treatments. They have an educator program that I went to. I was there for a week and I learned great things that they’re doing there. If you’re not in need of in-person treatment in LA, they’re not helpful. They’re not a national movement. There was a national movement that was started in the ‘80s that has not ever taken off.
Now they’re very small and they do a couple of programs in New York and one retreat a year. That’s it. I started teaching about this when I would go to retreats. People would come up to me and they say, “We’ve never heard anybody talking about this and this is our story. We need more of this.” That struck a chord in me. When I moved to Silver Spring a couple of years ago, I joined the National Speakers Association here. My speaker friends said, “If you want to be a speaker, a coach and a thought leader, you have to write a book.” I said, “What book do I write?” They said, “What do you want to solve? What do you want to work on? What are you known for?” What came to me was this.
This is an area where as a coach, as a rabbi, as someone who was in recovery myself, there’s clearly a need for the Jewish world, for all faith traditions to address this. I have a role within the Jewish world of making this happen. I wrote a book, And God Created Recovery, available on Amazon. It’s gotten some nice reviews and people who have read it are appreciating it. I’m not stopping there because a book is one thing. There are a few other Jewish recovery books, not many. Why is there no Jewish recovery Facebook group? Why is there no Jewish recovery podcast? Why aren’t there regular Jewish recovery retreats in every major Jewish city in the country once or twice a year? Why is there no national Jewish sober Sabbath? We do breast cancer Sabbath, domestic violence Sabbath, hunger and AIDS and poverty. Why is there no recovery Sabbath?
I don’t know because nobody has done that. Why isn’t there a sober Jewish cruise every summer? I would go on one of those, but nobody has done it. I don’t know why. Nobody has ever said, “I’m going to do this.” To be fair, there are people working and doing good work on the issues of Judaism and recovery. The national movement hasn’t taken shape yet. Some of the people doing good work are not talking to each other. They’re not networking with each other. That’s a shame. I started the Facebook group a few months ago. We’ve got 75 to 80 members at this point. I’ve done very little marketing and people are starting to find it.
We’re having interesting conversations. It’s becoming a space where people can come in and say, “I learned that this teaching that’s been interesting to me or I relapsed. I’m feeling miserable. What do I do? People have been responding to and supporting each other, sharing their own experience, strength and hope. It’s incredible to see. That’s going to keep growing. I am starting to do some marketing for all this. I’m putting together a coaching program and training for rabbis, Jewish educators, teen professionals and summer camps because we need everybody to be talking about this. We need the young students to know that these are the realities because smoking, vaping, alcohol and drugs are easy to access.
Our high schools are saturated. Am I going to tell people that they should never ever drink anything, any drop of alcohol? No, I’m not going to say that, but I want people to know that there are real consequences. I want people to know that it’s up to them to decide what choices they want to make for themselves and that they can choose healthier things. That’s what I’ve been working on. It’s been a little daunting to go from a congregational rabbi where I had an office and a structure. I knew my role. Now building this movement is a whole different role. I’m learning along the way and it’s been a gift. It feels like the kind of rabbi that I want to be. It’s been lovely to take my rabbi side, my coaching side and my recovery side. Put them all together and say, “This is who I am and the work that I’m going on.” Thank God, work is growing and it’s becoming what I want it to be. That’s great. I’m certainly not going to stop anytime soon because there’s a lot of work to do.
Thank you so much for sharing all of that. As a trauma specialist, this resonates with me because when it comes to addictive behaviors, whether we’re addicted to a behavior, a substance, sugar, flour, gluten, alcohol, some illegal substance or whether it’s a behavior. We’re always the nice person or always the Helpy Helperton or always the one who likes to go into the rage or addicted to exercise, whatever it is, addicted to pornography. It’s important if we’re going to come through this to have help and to feel safe and attuned with the person that we’re working with. By bringing this out into a national movement, it opens up this whole area for the Jewish community to find that safety and attunement with somebody where they might not necessarily have that relatability to somebody in a traditional treatment facility. Like me, I’ll admit I don’t fully understand the Jewish religion. I don’t fully understand the Christian religion. I don’t identify as religious at all. Somebody who can relate, feel safe and attuned with you, that is important to be relatable to the person that’s helping guide you through your experience.
It’s been a blessing so far to do this work. I’m trying to build the resources that I wish had been there when I was going through this a few years ago. If it’s not there, perhaps it’s my calling to take this on. I’m blessed to do the work. It’s been an interesting journey so far and I’m sure that will continue.
I believe it’s our calling to put out into the world what we know and that’s exactly what you’re doing. Tell us a little bit about your book, And God Created Recovery. Have you already talked about it with your story? Is there something in there that we’ve missed so far?
What I do in the book is I do share my story. I work through the twelve steps from a Jewish lens. I give extra commentaries. I give coaching exercises, tips and things that have worked for me and others that I’m aware of so that people can have some extra support as they’re working in the program. I also share Jewish teachings about addiction and about healing because as it turns out, this is not a new Jewish problem. If you study the Torah from the very beginning of time, people have been doing some disobedient things and eating things they weren’t supposed to eat. Noah, after he comes off the ark, gets drunk. There is inappropriate sexual behavior in the Torah. I’m not advocating any of that, but I think that this is not new.
It’s new that we don’t talk about it. I’m not sure we’ve ever talked about it, but we do have sources going back thousands of years. I bring some of those because I want people to know that this is not foreign to Jewish life. There was an old expression in the Jewish world that says in Yiddish, “A Schicker is a goy,” which means an alcoholic is a non-Jewish, which is to say we don’t have these problems. This doesn’t affect the Jewish world. What I’m trying to say is this has been affecting the Jewish world for thousands of years. When we ignore this issue, the people who have this issue feel unsupported by the community that should be helping them. I do that in the book. I talked about why the Jewish world generally doesn’t talk about it and why we need to. I do my best to give as much practical coaching and recovery guidance and also some inspiration for when it gets hard because it’s going to get hard. The twelve-step journey is not easy. People need support and strength. I certainly did. That’s what I do in the book. Thank God, it’s been wonderful. I can hold up a book and say, “I wrote a book.” It’s a real thing. That’s very nice.
Thank you so much for sharing that. Where do you see this movement going? I know you said you have a Facebook page. Your website is under construction.
The website God willing will be live soon, both RabbiIlan.com and AndGodCreatedRecovery.com and OurJewishRecovery.com will connect to each other. I want there to be more resources around every Jewish holiday because holidays are often very triggering for people in any faith tradition. We don’t have those resources in the Jewish world. I want there to be phone meetings or Zoom meetings or Skype meetings, whatever they are, that people can go to a couple of times a week, probably eventually within the different fellowships. I’ll start with anyone, but I certainly have a meeting for Jews and recovery from food, alcohol, drug use and all the different ones. I want training programs and I’ve done some training of rabbis already and Jewish educators, but I want a lot more of that.
I want it not to be okay that any rabbinical school doesn’t teach rabbis about addiction, ditto and other Jewish educators and professionals. I want it also not to be okay for any Jewish conference to take place without having recovery meetings. That is probably the case that the vast majority of them, some of them do. Some of them have gotten it, but many of them still “This is foreign and we don’t know how to do this so we’re not doing it.” I want the Jewish world. I want synagogues to host more recovery meetings themselves. The vast majority of recovery meetings happen in churches, which makes a lot of Jews uncomfortable.
I myself am certainly willing to go to a church for recovery meetings and almost all rabbis would say that it’s allowed. It does make a number of people uncomfortable. My response to that is to say great, but the Jewish world should host meetings too. The Christian role doesn’t have a monopoly on this. We need to be willing to open our space and figure out how to make it happen. I want there to be a network so that they’re all talking to each other, figuring out best practices and learning together. An annual sober or recovery Sabbath. I want there to be training and online webinars that people can access and coaching programs that I’m starting to build out, the cruises, podcasts and everything else. I want to give people an opportunity to understand that this is totally okay. This is permissible. This is necessary for healing. I’m not advocating any one particular healing path. Some people need medications, some people don’t. Some people need rehab, some people don’t. Some people work twelve steps, some people don’t. It doesn’t bother me. I want as many paths open to people as possible so that they can choose for themselves what works for them.Recovery cannot be done alone because we are hardwired for the community or other people to be on this journey with us. Click To Tweet
That is important. In order to figure out what works for you personally, we have to divert our attention inward instead of outward. Many of us in the world are outwardly focused, worried about what other people are going to say, what are other people going to think? For recovery to work, whatever the addiction is, the focus has to turn inward on, “What can I do? How can I help myself? How can I find somebody who can help me help myself rather than how can you do something that will fix me?” It’s a subtle difference and yet major difference. I’m excited about your movements. I see as a trauma specialist all the trauma, the early childhood trauma that goes into the behavior and the addiction. There isn’t a cohesive movement in the Jewish community or otherwise about what you’re talking about. How open are you to accepting people from other religions, denominations or even secular?
I’m absolutely open to anyone who wants to be a part of this movement. I welcome anyone who wants to join the Facebook group and learn what we have to say is totally welcome to do so. We don’t proselytize from any other religious tradition. Anyone who wants to be a part of this movement is absolutely welcome to do so. I’m happy to speak about this. I do speak about this from a secular perspective as well. I’m happy to bring this wisdom to churches, to mosques, to community centers anywhere that will help me. I’m happy to be connected with anyone. There are a lot of people doing good work out there. I’m happy to connect with others who are doing so. We need as many resources as we can possibly get these days. I’m happy to bring what I’ve created anywhere.
Thank you so much. I’m wondering if you can give any action steps to somebody reading if they can relate and they recognize themselves in anything that they’ve heard. Are there any steps that somebody can start to take immediately to start to work on themselves? The interim between discovering I might have this issue and getting into a program that can be helpful.
The best thing is to start reading about it. Start listening to the recovery podcast. Start connecting with other people in recovery. Maybe it’s a conversation with your clergy person if you have one. Maybe it’s a conversation with a therapist if you have one, or maybe it’s the best friend and saying, “I’m learning about this. I think that there might be some work for me to do.” To be able to speak out now to the things that we keep hidden is a real challenge but also a real blessing. The more we share, the more we find people who are willing to listen to us and support us, the better things will get. Now, we have to choose those people wisely because not everyone wants to hear what we have to say and some people will be triggered. That’s their stuff.
Finding people who are willing to listen and to help support you are incredibly valuable. First of all, anyone is welcome to reach out to me. I’m happy to give out my email address and I’d be more than happy to connect with any of your audience. I would also say that the question is if I am doing behaviors that don’t serve me, why am I doing them? Why is this a habit in my life? There are ways to break habits. It’s not easy, but there are ways to do so. I share some of those in my book. The big question is, “What am I trying to get? How is my addiction serving me?” That’s a crazy question to ask because people will say, “It’s not,” and yet if we look more closely, our addictions serve us. What did I learn? There was no emotion that they couldn’t be solved with the right amount of sugar i.e. I’m sad. I want to feel better. I eat something. I feel better until I don’t.
Until the sugar wears off and it starts hitting those little dopamine receptors in the brain.
I’m getting something from the sugar. The real $64,000 question as it were is how I can identify what my addiction is giving me? If it’s something that I want, how can I get it in a healthier way? For that, start going to the gym, exercising, meditating or praying. Go for a walk, spend time in nature, find a group of friends, go to recovery meetings, find a sponsor, read my book, find a coach, all of that. I will say that it takes a team of people to keep me going straight and some days are better than others. I’m not going to pretend that my life is perfect. I’m far from it. There was a whole crew of people that I can reach out to when things aren’t going as I want them to do.
I can make better choices now. The reason that I know recovery works is that when my mother died, I was a total mess. I was eating my way through my emotions. I was watching pornography, picking at my skin, playing Solitaire until the wee hours of the morning because at least I could feel good about something for a second. When my father died, I didn’t do any of those things. I went to meetings. I called my sponsor. I checked in with my wife. I went to therapy. I went to the gym. I listened to a lot of music. I was able to sit and be and process my emotions in a much healthier way. That’s how I know this works.
You are so spot on about everything you’ve said. We turn to our addictions. Most people will discover if they haven’t already, that we turn to our addictive behaviors or substances or whatever the addiction is because it’s too difficult to be present with ourselves and with whatever emotion is coming up in the present moment. We have to avoid it. I’m saying all the time on my show with my clients, you have to understand, go within and understand your own motivations. There’s nothing wrong with taking a nice hot essential oil, Epsom salt, baking soda bath before you go to bed. Know why you’re doing it. Are you doing it because you’re so frustrated and that’s the avoidance of your frustration? Are you doing it because it is a resource that helps you sleep better?
Are you going out to exercise because it’s the avoidance of the discomfort that you feel and you’re addicted to those runners high or that workout high or the zone that you get into whenever you’re exercising? Are you doing it because you’re avoiding and addicted to that or are you doing it because it truly is mood management, emotional management, something that you get pleasure from? Only you can answer that, I can’t say from the outside looking in what your motivations are. It is important. It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life isn’t worth living.” What he meant from that, being a trauma specialist, if we don’t examine our lives, this hidden control panel controls our life. Those things, that avoidance, it controls our life because you’re always in the pursuit of sugar to avoid what you were feeling.
Like me, I had this tendency to hijack conversations. If you call somebody and you have a problem or you need to talk about something or you need to vent, it’s a way to hijack a conversation and hold somebody hostage. Somebody will listen to you because I had this perception my whole life that nobody listens to me, nobody cares. Nobody gives a crap about what I have to say. It was addictive to find a way to get into a conversation. I have to check myself. I’m constantly asking myself now, even when I’m talking to friends. Why am I talking to my friend? Is this because I have something I want to share? Is it because I need some external validation in order to feel better about myself? Every now and then, I still catch myself going back into that needy little girl who needs that validation. I have to interrupt myself and I’m like, “Jen, shut up.” It’s a lifelong work. We never fully ever get there.
Often, people will ask me and they’ll say, “Have you recovered now?” I’m like, “I’ve done a lot of good work. I’m a lot better than I am. You don’t get recovered. You get better.”
Even my instructor in my class, Dr. Maté, he’s in his mid-70s and he even talks about how on a regular basis he’s constantly working on himself. Even a couple of years ago, he was talking about the conflict he had with his wife and how that was a childhood trauma that was feeding into his behavior at that moment. They got through it. At the same time, recognizing it and if we don’t look at ourselves, we’ll never see it. We’ll never recognize it and that will control us.
The most important thing I would tell people is that we can’t do this work on our own. We are hardwired for the community. We need a community. We need other people to be on this journey with us. It’s too hard. You can’t do this work on your own. The gift of recovery is finding other people that will help us through. There’s a wonderful story from the Jewish law from several thousand years ago about a student of a teacher who is ill in a bed. The teacher goes in to see the student and the teacher says, “Do you want to be sick? Do you value your suffering?” The student says, “No, I value neither the suffering nor the reward. I don’t want to be sick.”
The teacher says, “Give me your hand.” He picks him up and he heals him. How he does that, the story doesn’t say, but he heals the student. Later on, the teacher himself becomes sick and he is lying in a bed and somebody else goes to visit him. Somebody else asks him the same question, “Do you value your suffering?” He said, “No, I don’t value the suffering or its reward. I want to be better.” He says, “Give me your hand.” He picks him up and he heals him. The rabbis asked, “Why is it that if the teacher could heal the student? Why did he need somebody else to heal him when he was sick? Couldn’t he have healed himself?” The rabbi’s answer, “A prisoner cannot free themselves from prison but depend on other people to release them from their shackles.” It’s totally true. We need other people. My wish for all of us is that we become the people who help free other people and ourselves from our shackles.
If we’re not willing to accept help from other people in our own struggles, there’s no way we can be effective in giving it. There’s no way. There’s a lesson in that as well. I love that story. Thank you for sharing. Do you mind sharing your email or the best way that you would prefer for the audience to reach out to you?
I’m happy to do that. The best way to get a hold of me, RabbiIlan@TorahOfLife.com. Torah of Life is the name of my podcast. I use that email for a number of things and people are welcome to send me an email. People can also find me on Facebook, Ilan Glazer. There are only two Ilan Glazers in the world. The other one is in South Africa. I’m not that one. People are welcome to go to Facebook.com/groups/ourjewishrecovery to find the group that I have there and you do have to apply and agree to the rules to join. There are three questions. It takes 30 seconds, but if people do want to hear more about that work and how Jewish wisdom can help people in recovery from whatever addiction and faith background or anyone is a part of, I do welcome people joining. I’ll be happy to connect with anyone who wants to talk to me in email or Facebook in the group. However, I can be a resource, I’m happy to do so.
When is your podcast? Is there a day of the week or what day does it go up?
The Torah of Life podcast is coming back soon. It’s been on a little bit of hiatus since I started writing the book because I couldn’t do them all at the same time. My goal is to release a couple of episodes a week. We’ll see how that goes. There are about 50 or 60 episodes available on iTunes already. People are welcome to subscribe and tell me what they think. I love hearing about it.
Rabbi Ilan, do you have any final tips or bits of wisdom to leave with our audience?
The final piece of wisdom I would say is one of the teachings that has gotten me through some days is that there’s a teaching that says the day you were born is the day God decided that the world couldn’t go on without you any longer. This is difficult teaching for some people because, for those of us who are used to putting ourselves down, we also need to know that we’re here for a reason. Some people like to say, “God doesn’t create no mistakes,” which is one way of putting it. My therapist said to me, “My soul is a gift from God to the world.” I want people to know that each of us, no matter what we’ve done, no matter what our struggles, no matter what addiction we have, if we’re still here, if we’re still breathing, there is work for us to do. It’s because we’re meant to be here.
It’s because there’s something valuable inside of us. The best thing we can do is to start figuring out that question, “Why am I here? What’s the work that I’m here to do? How can I help serve other people?” In a world that is so filled with violence and addiction and craziness, we all have opportunities to be the people who are helping other people heal. That for me is when I best come alive when I can do this work that other people be the best people they can be. That is such a gift to help other people become free from their past, to help them find peace and joy for the future, is the greatest gift that anyone could give anyone else. I would bless all of us, everyone reading and hopefully myself as well. We’ve become those people who become guideposts for others because we can. It’s important and we are more powerful than we think. Our struggles don’t have to define us. Tomorrow can certainly be better than now if we’re willing to make that happen. I hope that for all of us, we can find the strength to keep going until we go.
Thank you so much, Rabbi Ilan. For all of our readers, if you want to find out more about me or what I do, go to JenniferWhitacre.com. I will see you again next time.
- Rabbi Ilan Glazer
- And God Created Recovery: Jewish Wisdom to Help You Break Free From Your Addiction, Heal Your Wounds, and Unleash Your Inner Freedom
- Our Jewish Recovery
- Torah of Life – podcast
- National Speakers Association
- Facing Love Addiction
- Torah Of Life on iTunes
About Rabbi Ilan Glazer
Rabbi Ilan Glazer is passionate about ending the stigma of addiction in the Jewish world and helping Jews in recovery, and their loved ones, find recovery and serenity one day at a time. He believes that life is a beautiful journey of learning and growth; suffering can be transformed into joy, and everyone is a miracle.
Rabbi Ilan is the author of the #1 bestselling book And God Created Recovery: Jewish Wisdom to Help You Break Free From Your Addiction, Heal Your Wounds, and Unleash Your Inner Freedom. He is the founder of Our Jewish Recovery, and a Shatterproof Ambassador and Family Program Instructor. A member and Director-at-Large of the National Speakers Association’s DC chapter, Rabbi Ilan teaches widely about healing, recovery, grief and mourning, happiness, spirituality, and success in all areas of life.
Rabbi Ilan is a freelance recovery and transformation coach, an accomplished storyteller and musician, and host of the Torah of Life podcast. He lives in Silver Spring Maryland with his wife Sherri and their cat Taylor.