T he hardest part about treating an addict is getting him to admit he needs help.

Yisroel had just turned 32 when he breezed through Retorno’s front gate. He readily admitted to using soft drugs daily, or more than daily, but saw nothing wrong with the practice. Still, he had no objection when his father told him to go to Retorno. In fact, he was rather keen on having time off from his boring career as yet another computer programmer in a large firm.

He figured he could coast through rehab the same way he’d coasted through the Ivy League education his father had paid for. Besides, what Jew didn’t deserve a vacation in the Holy Land?

A few weeks after Yisroel joined the ranks of the men’s community, Mendy came along. Mendy’s primary addiction was gambling, though he liked to dabble in other Internet-related activities as well. Mendy didn’t consider playing the stock market or other investments to be gambling; nor was spending his parents’ money, with or without their consent, considered stealing. It was only when his father threatened to cut him off financially that Mendy agreed to go in for “a bit” of rehab.

Mendy had attached himself firmly to Yisroel’s side. He’d found the perfect role model: someone who simply “enjoyed” using, who could “stop whenever he wanted to,” and who was in treatment at someone else’s insistence. The two helped each other distance themselves from recovery. Whenever Yisroel started to weaken, allowing the honesty of the group members to reach him and make him look at himself, Mendy grabbed him by his peyos back into their circle of indifference. When Mendy felt the slightest sense of brotherhood and belonging, Yisroel poked fun, reinforcing the breaches in his wall of apathy.

Yisroel kept his nose clean. If he didn’t break any rules, he figured he’d sail through his six months by staying under the radar.

Two months into his treatment, Yisroel didn’t show up for horseback riding. Mendy told me that Yisroel had broken an important community rule, and as a result he was required to separate from the group for a few days. He had to eat his meals alone and could not participate in communal activities. Instead, he had to spend a lot of time just sitting and watching and thinking.

Yisroel’s absence wasn’t very noticeable to us on our trail ride or in the discussion we had on the mountaintop. He always participated minimally, never revealing too much about himself.

But the following week, instead of sticking close to Mendy at the end of the line, Yisroel rode right in the middle. Mendy sat slumped on his horse, plodding reluctantly. Alone.

When we sat down in a circle, Yisroel was the first to speak.

“Last week, I was accused of breaking an important rule. I didn’t do it. I’d never break a rule. All I’ve done since I got here is avoid the spotlight. But I didn’t mind the time alone. I sat under the huge acacia tree. When I grew chilly, I moved out of the shade and into the sun, and when I got too warm I moved back under the tree’s broad branches. I relaxed, just chilled. I was happy to be alone, away from the group, and with no responsibilities.

“After two days of doing nothing, I finally began to think. I guess there’s only so long a person can be with himself, only himself, and stay shut off from inside. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before, really taken stock of who I am and where I’m at.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 557)