W e were sitting in a circle on the ground — Rabbi Eckstein and Yoram, seven workshop participants, myself included, plus David, a resident in Retorno’s men’s division. The workshop thus far had been a trail ride, on horseback, which succeeded in creating a feeling of powerlessness, or helplessness. The exercise worked well because we hadn’t realized it was an exercise. No theoretical conversation, no attempts at remembering situations in which we felt powerless; we were right in the thick of it.

Now, ten horses were tied to ten trees, and we were eagerly awaiting what promised to be an interesting discussion.

“Before we begin,” Rabbi Eckstein said, “let’s say the Serenity Prayer. David, if you please.”

“G-d, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

I’d heard those words in Hebrew many, many times in Retorno because they’re said at the beginning and end of every group. This was the first time I’d heard the whole thing in English.

“So,” Rabbi Eckstein said, “we just went through an experience that made us feel powerless.”

Every one of us nodded in agreement.

“This workshop is about experiencing the 12 steps in our daily lives. The first of the steps is about feeling powerless, or helpless. David, please say the first step.”

“We admitted we were powerless over our addiction,” David recited, “that our lives had become unmanageable.”

“For you, David, what does it mean that your life had become unmanageable?”

“I’m an alcoholic,” David said, “and I’ve been in Retorno for just over four months.”

I was startled. Of course to his fellow residents he would speak openly about his addiction. But to us? A group of women? Strangers?

Or maybe we weren’t even strangers. Maybe his sister or his mother or his wife was one of our best friends. Maybe our kids played together in nursery school. How could he be so relaxed about sharing his private life without knowing where the information would end up, what the repercussions would be?

“I’m married. Separated, actually. And I have two little kids.”

Dahlia gasped. I knew what she was thinking: How could he go four months without seeing his children?

“I started drinking when I was a teenager. It helped me deal, helped me stay calm. I have an anger problem. When things don’t go my way, I see red. Drinking helped me stay chilled and not get into fights or other trouble. But drinking just took over, became the only thing in my life. Everything else revolved around making sure I had the next drink. And my life just spun totally out of control.”

“So when you didn’t get what you wanted, you got angry, and drinking helped you with your anger?” Dahlia said.

“I thought it did.”

“So your basic problem is anger?” Ilana asked.

We were all trying to get a handle on what he was saying.

“I wish I only had one problem,” David joked.

My eyes widened. He could joke about this?

“It’s a little more complicated than that,” he continued. “But about the anger. Anger’s not really my problem, feeling helpless is. I can’t stand feeling that way, it makes me crazy. Getting angry makes me feel strong and powerful again.”

After a pause, Rabbi Eckstein asked, “And what price did you pay for that anger?”

“Oh, I paid a price. My kids are terrified of me, my wife got a restraining order, and I got fired.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 541)