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Rabbi Shais Taub

Emotional Sobriety: Rabbi Taub Shares His teachings on Recovery from Addictions

by Rhonda Spivak, March 15, 2013


Rabbi Shais Taub delivered an inspiring and at times very humourous talk on Jewish spirituality and recovery from addictions  last month before at a well  attended dinner dedicated to the memory of Hart Peikoff  z”l. Taub's talk here was sponsered by the Jewish Child and Family Services, Chabad and JACS [Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others].


The New York Times has written about Taub, who has authored the best selling book "God of Our Understanding: Jewish Spirituality and Recovery from Addiction" in which he discusses how ancient Jewish principles relate to the Twelve-Step treatment programs. As the Times writes,
"Without any formal training in addiction treatment, Rabbi Taub entered the field experientially in 2006, leading a weekly group at a Chabad House in Milwaukee for Jewish men in recovery. Through the efforts he was struck by how many of the men had become observant in the course of getting clean and sober. He considered that turns of events no coincidence.
"In the next several years, as he began to conduct research into addiction treatment, Rabbi Taub made a surprising and affirming discovery. It was a 1961 letter from Carl Jung to Bill Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. In it, Jung, the legendary psychiatrist, directly recommended “union with God” as essential to recovery.
In his talk in Winnipeg, Rabbi Taub opened with the story of a man who would only fly if he had the aisle seat. He would call and confirm 3 months in advance, one month in advance, and then two weeks in advance. The day before the fight he’d drive to the ticket agent and check that he had the aisle seat. After the flight, his friend picks him up and asks him why he looks agitated. He explained to his friend that after all his efforts to insure he had the aisle seat, when he got on the flight he learned that his seat, 23C, was not in fact the aisle seat. His friend asked him why if it was so important to him, why he didn’t ask the person in the aisle seat to trade with him ? He replied, “Don’t you think I thought of that? There was no one sitting in the aisle seat.”
Rabbi Taub’s point was that people are faced with difficulties and challenges all the time, and the only thing that is in their power to control, is their own reaction. "My reaction is my emotional business,” Taub said.
“If you look at all the dysfunctional relationships in your life, the common denominator is that you were in all of these relationships.”
As Taub said, emotional sobriety is about “identifying the areas where we are wasting our energies trying to change the unchangeable versus doing what we have to do to change ourselves.”
The concept of emotional sobriety means “getting through reality” and “enduring pain in our lives” without “having to check out”, “self stimulate” or “self medicate.”
Taub explained that a person who has faith can understand that “we each have a unique mission or purpose or which God put us on earth.”
He defined the difference between Faith and Fantasy. “Fantasy is the idea I cling to in order to avoid reality. Faith is the idea I cling to in order to face reality.”
He also explained the difference between pain and suffering as follows:
“Pain is a response to real stimuli but suffering is after the fact, where I attribute to myself some sort of victimhood.”
Faith, according to Taub, enables a person to face life’s pain, and say that they were put on this earth for a unique purpose and say that “I don’t want some other life,  I want the life God gave me, and I can face reality without having to check out.”
According to Taub, people with addictions need to find inner faith, take charge of their lives, accept personal responsibility to make necessary changes in their lives, so that “they can face reality without having to check out.”
Faith enables a person to understand that “Every moment is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.”
One memorable part of Taub’s talk was when he spoke about the literary fairy tale of the Princess and the Pea, written by Hans Christian Anderson, about a young woman whose royal identity is established by a test of her physical sensitivity.   The young woman can’t sleep because she feels a small pea under the bottom of the pile of mattresses she is sleeping on. Taub said that the young woman, the princess-to be really just a “kvetch,” and “neurotic.”
“She made herself so sensitive that anything in the world can set her off,” he said.

According to Taub, she needed more emotional sobriety, the ability not to not to overreact to the physical stimuli around her, so that she could fall asleep even with the pea under her mattress.

As the  New York Times has  written of Rabbi Taub’s thesis, "Addiction, he argues, is less a chemical dependency or a mental illness than the consequence of an individual’s absence from God and of the psychic pain that absence inflicts.

“The substance isn’t the addict’s problem,” Rabbi Taub put it at one point in his talk. “The substance is the addict’s best attempt at a solution.” The only true solution, he went on, is “a personal God experience,” a spiritual breakthrough that supplies “the deep-seated need for union with God.”

In saying overtly what the recovery movement often leaves deliberately ambiguous — the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous refer to a “Higher Power” witho

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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