Have you ever met a Baal teshuvah? Before becoming religious, many of us lived a life far from the Torah and religion. We surrounded ourselves with people who didn’t eat kosher, dressed inappropriately, and didn’t keep Shabbat. Now, have you ever met a recovering addict who is now clean and pushes every day to thrive? Well, recovering addicts and Baal teshuva have so much in common that we don't notice. Every addict who is now sober and clean does not wish to go back to the lifestyle they once lived. The same goes for a Baal teshuva. We ask ourselves, how did we ever let ourselves get this far? We constantly look back at our past and criticize ourselves, and how disgusting we were to people. We both recognize what we did was wrong, feeling genuine remorse for the damage we've done. Yet at some point in our lives, we decided to change for the better. Being a Baal teshuva myself, I have put in place that we have several phases of the process.
Anyone can get clean and sober and start doing Teshuvah, but we have to recognize our errors. It takes so much willpower and Emunah. We cannot begin to make teshuva or get sober by apologizing for our actions and continuing to repeat the same pattern. Such repentance without a sense of regret does not lead to true healing. This is where you have to feel guilty and it can be helpful. Guilt about our actions can lead us to regrets. Guilt can be good if it drives us on the path toward change. We have to be truthful to ourselves and it requires honesty. We have to look into our hearts and souls.
Recovering addicts and Baal Teshuvas both look for healing. We make amends to acknowledge the pain. So, we begin with financial compensation. We enroll ourselves in therapy and counseling. Recovering addicts enroll themselves in support groups and meetings for sobriety. Baal Teshuvah attends classes and lectures to reconnect to Torah and Hashem.
Phase one: The search
There are many reasons why a person chooses to pursue a different pathway in life. A desire for meaning, a search for truth. You feel something is missing and you need change. You realize there must be more to life than this. Sometimes the search is triggered by trauma. It can be as simple as a heartbreak, hurting your family, your kids, and your community. It can mean overdosing and watching your family and friends crying at the hospital bedside for you. During the first phase, we are curious to change. We think what if?What if I start somewhere small? What if I feel happier making this change? What if?
During this phase, both recovering addicts and Baal teshuva research and do their homework. We ask questions, attend classes, and seek help. The goal of this phase is to learn enough to confirm this is what we want and need. CHANGE!
Phase 2: Wow
In this phase, we have learned enough to be in awe. We start to feel better about the change we are making. We are invested in learning, invested on staying clean, and pushing forward. We make drastic life changes that can be very intense. We may start with observances of keeping kosher, dressing differently, keeping Shabbat, and several mitzvot. Addicts maintain a healthier diet, attend the gym and spend more time with their families. It takes a lot of courage to make a change, especially the disapproval of your friends and family. I have lost so many people to the change that I decided to make for myself. We don't look at life from the same perspective anymore. We want growth and change.
Phase 3: Absorbing
We are adding new practices almost as fast as we learn about them. Of course, we have to pace ourselves. If we take too much upon ourself so much we overwhelm ourselves and crash and relapse. The pace is different for each individual. Some may take years and for others, it may be so natural. Part of the human experience is the desire for change. Baal Teshuvah and recovering addicts, we both look for high approval from the community during this process. Some communities see you as a blooming flower, and some just point fingers and talk. “Look at them, made so many sins and now they want to return to Hashem to cover and repent for everything.”“Look at this drug addict, I wonder how long it will be before they relapse again.” Community members often never realize the damage they do to others. You might have the same religion and beliefs but your background is different. You have lived a life that they have not. This is the society we live in. Many Baal teshuvah are encouraged by other Baal teshuva and recovering addicts are encouraged by others who have stayed sober and recovered. Our experiences connects us.
Phase 4. Overload
This phase can come out of nowhere. It’s a rush of excitement. Some of that excitement can lead you to feeling overwhelmed and this can cause a relapse. Eating at a non-kosher place just this one time, hanging out with the wrong group of friends just this one time. While everyone must set their own pace, feeling overwhelmed is a sign that the pace is too fast. It doesn’t happen overnight. Everything we take upon ourselves we need to slowly introduce it. Pace ourselves so that we can learn to absorb it and put what we learned into the measure. If you are comfortable, you can probably push yourself a little harder. If you are overwhelmed, you need to slow down a little bit.
Final stage: Acceptance
At this final stage, we accept and use the experience to learn. We commit to working harder, to bring both perfections to ourselves and the world. Many of us make changes for our kids. We want our kids to have a better education, and not fall into the same pattern we once fell into. Once a Ball Teshuvah and a recovering addict invest their effort in Hashem, Hashem provides assistance.
All we need is Emunah!