S ruli needed to get honest with those closest to him, but especially with himself. He was addicted to painkillers and it was time to stop hiding.

His wife had found the pills in his desk but he denied it. “That? Oh, those are just an old prescription after I hurt my back a few years ago.”

He had missed a day of work because he was trying to withdraw on his own and couldn’t stop vomiting. “Yeah, I just got this stomach virus.”

His credit card company was asking about the charges made to a strange pharmaceutical company in China that had been known to sell prescription drugs. “Don’t know. It must be a mistake.”

And then things started getting serious. More missed days at the office, more erratic behaviors with his colleagues, more irritable moments at home. When a dealer offered him heroin, it was a critical moment for sure.

“You’ll be fine,” the creep had told him. “It’s cheap and you don’t even need to inject it. Just snort it.”

Sruli was scared — is that really where he was heading, to become a heroin addict? — and decided to come clean with his wife. Well, sort of. When she gave him an ultimatum over his erratic behavior, he agreed to go to a psychiatrist “to talk about something,” and so they found their way to my office.

The two of them sat with me together (Sruli insisted he wasn’t hiding anything from his wife and to prove it he had her accompany him) and he told me about “stress at work” and “edginess.” Neither of us were buying it. Sruli was a high-functioning businessman and a big-time Type-A personality. His story wasn’t making any sense and I knew that he was hiding something. From me? Maybe. From his wife? Definitely. But she was smart enough to stay calm and attentive, quietly rolling her eyes throughout his story, knowing there was a lot more going on.

Before Sruli ran off back to work, I told him I wanted another session with him privately. Then, his wife stuck around to speak with me.

“Sruli thinks he can hide his problems from me,” she said. “I wish it was just something simple but I’m sure he’s addicted to some kind of drugs. And I need you to take care of it because otherwise he’s out of the house. It was only after I told him I’d kick him out that he was willing to come to you in the first place. Believe me, all I want is that he gets the help he needs.”

Sruli didn’t really want to hide anything from me, and a few minutes after his wife left, he called to schedule another appointment. “But just you this time, Dr. Freedman.”

I was happy about that — I’d been in this business for long enough to know that he was ready to tell me the real story. We scheduled a time for the following day.

“Dr. Freedman, you know… I have a problem.”

I nodded and prepared myself for his confession.

“I’m pretty sure that I’m addicted to painkillers. I was ready to admit it before, during our first meeting, but then I got embarrassed and chickened out. So now my dealer tried to sell me heroin…. Dr. Freedman, me, a heroin addict?”

“What do you want to do about it, Sruli?” I asked.

“Can I take a pill or something like that? I’ve heard about some amazing pills that can really help a person get his life back together.”

We discussed a medication called Suboxone that would help to prevent cravings and would decrease his risk of relapsing. But that in itself wasn’t going to be enough. Sruli had been using enough drugs that he was going to require a detoxification program and would greatly benefit from a rehabilitation stay to help him through the initial stages of getting sober.

“No way,” said Sruli as I recommended the standard treatment plan. “No way… how can I do that? I just need to get the medication and get through this. I’m a stubborn guy. I can stay sober once I put my mind to it. Just give me some of that Suboxone medication and I’ll be fine. My wife doesn’t even need to know.”

“Sruli, give your wife more credit than that. She’s not clueless. She knows you’re battling an addiction. Just own up to it and let her help you get treatment.”

“No way. It’s too embarrassing. No way.”

“Let me tell you a story I heard about Rav Noah Weinberg ztz”l. A young college student who was in the beginnings of his teshuvah once asked the Rav, ‘How can Hashem forgive me for everything I’ve done? Can I just show up and expect forgiveness?’ Rav Noach told him simply, ‘Hashem is the most wonderful and loving parent. Just like a father loves his son even when he comes back home from playing in the mud outside, Hashem loves you too no matter where you’ve been or how dirty your clothes are.’ What a beautiful mashal — don’t you think so, too, Sruli?”

“Are you saying my wife is like Hashem?”

“Sruli, she knows you have an addiction and that you need help. Why try to hide it from her? She wants to help you out. Don’t fight it.”

“So what then, I just go to a detox and accept that everyone will know I’m an addict? I can’t do it!”

“Sruli,” I said. “What could be more embarrassing than missing meetings at work because you’re vomiting at home on the couch in front of your wife and kids. You’re not fooling anyone.”

Sruli thought for some time. “Fine, Dr. Freedman. You win. When do I sign up?”

“Call your wife,” I said handing him the office phone and putting it on speakerphone. “You’ve gotta start by being honest and asking for help. I can’t drive you to the detox, but she’ll do anything to help you. All you’ve got to do is ask.”

I let Sruli wait in my office until his wife came to pick him up. He remained quite ambivalent until the moment I walked him out to the street to meet her. To tell the truth, I had no idea whether he’d be successful. What I knew was that he would be infinitely more likely to avoid relapse now that he had been honest with his wife and that she’d be there to help him.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 698. Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Israel. When he’s not busy with his patients, Dr. Freedman can be found learning Torah in The Old City or hiking the hills outside of Jerusalem. Dr. Freedman can be reached most easily through his website www.drjacoblfreedman.com.