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Return Trip

Zivia Reischer

I wanted to create the perfect image, but inside there was just a black void. I tried filling that hole with approval, and I tried filling it with fun, but none of those things were the right shape for the empty space inside me. Until I hit rock bottom

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

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Ever since I was a kid, I was different. I had a unique nature, all my own, and I fought myself and the whole world. And I was winning — or losing, depending how you look at it. But I turned it around. I’m not just a straightened-out version of the old Avi. I’m a new person — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I made it, and I’m still climbing. This is my journey.

 

It All Started When…

Avi It sounds crazy, but it started when I was really young. Much younger than my parents realized. I was a model child, always on my best behavior. I was a real people pleaser, because the most important thing in my life was to make sure that everyone thought I was perfect. And I was smart and helpful and did everything anyone asked of me without complaint, so I earned that recognition I craved. I hated learning, but I always performed well, because I loved the attention I got for it. I would lie about how much I chazered in order to earn prizes. I was technically frum, but was totally disconnected from Hashem. I went through the motions, but I was angry at G-d.

I was only in third grade when I started stealing money from my parents to buy stuff I wanted. At first it was nosh, but as I got older it was other stuff. I rationalized that it was okay to steal because my parents never gave me spending money. Of course, I never asked them for any, because that would ruin the picture-perfect image I was trying to portray.

I wanted excitement, first exciting stuff, then exciting experiences. I always wanted the next thing, something new. I had no spiritual connection, and davening, Shabbos, learning, mitzvos, Yamim Tovim were meaningless to me. I hated the lifestyle my parents lived. Sure, they explained things to me if I asked, but I didn’t care about answers, I just wanted to have fun. Besides, asking questions would have changed their picture-perfect perception of me — that image I worked so hard to create and maintain.

There was something missing in my life: a true spiritual connection. I tried filling that hole with approval, and I tried filling it with fun, but none of those things were the right shape for the empty space inside me.

When you compare what my parents thought about my childhood to what I thought, the contrast is unbelievable — but I put all my energy into creating that façade. Yet as I got older, the gap between who I pretended to be and who I really was had widened too much; by the time I started eighth grade, I was no longer willing to do what it took to keep pretending.

Malka Looking back, I search for foreshadowing, for the red flags I may have missed. Avi was a model child, a parent’s dream, always eager to please and happy to help out, well-behaved and adored by his parents and nine siblings. He had blond hair, a charming smile, and shining eyes. He was bright and well-adjusted, a little gentleman. Of all our sons, my husband had the closest relationship with Avi, and he got a lot of attention from everyone in the family. We didn’t expect perfection from him, and we always explained anything he wanted to know and gave him choices. We noticed what we thought was a certain strength of character: If there was ever something Avi wanted that we didn’t allow, or even just disapproved of, he would always acquiesce to our wishes. Even when we gave him the choice, he always took the high road — with a smile. Some of our children struggled in different ways, but Avi was a delight. I remember once watching a friend of mine walking with her struggling teen son, and thinking, “I’m done with that. All the older boys are grown — and Avi, never.

The Downward Spiral

Malka Not only did we refuse to throw Avi out of the house, we actively did everything possible to keep him actually physically inside the house. We let him — even encouraged him — to bring any sort of friends home, tried to make them feel welcome; although we ourselves didn’t own a TV or have Internet access at home, we got him his own TV and laptop with full Internet access. Our belief was that any moment he spent in the house was a moment he was not on the street, and for that moment at least, he was safe.

Avi Maybe my parents were in denial at first, or maybe it just didn’t make sense to them; I do know that I tried to hide it, making up excuses, lying, stealing, covering up. They did all the right things — found me outlets, gave me leeway, tested me for learning disabilities… But I spiraled downward, going in and out of yeshivahs, getting into worse and worse trouble.

 

My parents gave me whatever I wanted. They thought they were keeping me safe, but in reality they were enabling me to stay comfortable where I was, so I didn’t have to change. I rode the merry-go-round from therapist to professional to doctor to rabbi, around and around. I told them all why I went off the derech, how hard my life was, and they all felt bad for me and validated my feelings. I took that and ran with it. When they validated my feelings, it gave me no reason to change. And so I didn’t.

There were some who didn’t validate my feelings. I cut ties with them. No one had a solution for me.

The Turning Point

Malka Once, on our way home from the psych ward, I blurted out, “If you could live your life again, would you do drugs?” Without even pausing to think he replied, “Of course. Show me how to fix my life and I’ll stop using. Until then, what else is there?”

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