I was back in Retorno’s lecture hall. But instead of being a fly on the wall in yet another prevention seminar, I was now officially registered in a course. For 22 weeks, I and 19 other women would learn all about the 12 steps and the many other therapeutic tools used by Retorno.

The opening lecture, given by Shimon, describes the first of the 12 steps: “We admitted we are powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

He explained, “We all use something — either substances or behaviors — in some way. Let’s take an example. Your married daughter is coming to you for Pesach. Three days before, she calls and cancels, says they’re going to her husband’s family. You can’t argue without playing with her shalom bayis, so you swallow your hurt and hang up. But you are hurt. And angry and bewildered. Maybe you feel betrayed.”

Heads nodded all around. It wasn’t hard even for the unmarrieds to relate.

“The younger kids will be home from school in 15 minutes, you need to be there for them.” Shimon opened his arms wide. “What do you do?”

I looked around, waiting for hands to go up. But no one moved.

I, too, kept silent. While I was prepared to be a model student so others would learn from my open participation, my honesty, my desire to grow, I didn’t want to spoil the lesson for them.

In other words, I felt smug and superior.

Shimon pointed to someone. “You hang up with your daughter, what do you do?”

“Call my husband.”

“He doesn’t answer. What do you do?”

“Um, call my sister.”

“Your phone’s out of service.”

Hudis smiled. “I think I’m suddenly hungry.”

We all laughed.

“So you want to share your pain, but if there’s no one to share with, you find another way not to feel it.”

“Sometimes.”

“And will that be the end of the problem, or will you go back and actually tackle the subject later?”

“I’ll go back to it,” Hudis said.

Shimon said, “Sharing is a positive way to deal with emotions, not just repress them.”

“I try,” Hudis said.

“And if not,” Leah called out, “there’s always chocolate.” We laughed again.

Shimon turned to Leah. “Is that your go-to?”

Leah hesitated.

“You don’t have to answer,” he said gently.

She shook her head slightly.

“Is anyone willing to share how they deal with difficult emotions? Or maybe I should say, to not deal with difficult emotions?”

The silence grew loud.

I found myself shrinking back into my seat. I saw my hands fall to my lap, felt my back push up against the chair, watched my feet draw under me.

My reaction surprised me. I knew the day’s topic was Step 1. I knew Shimon would ask what we use to handle uncomfortable emotions. I had a list! (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 549)