Menachem Poznanski
Menachem Poznanski

Into the Abyss – Part I

A Long Short Way

In the first segment of this series titled “Understanding Dependency and Addiction”, we reviewed the key concepts behind unwanted and or dysfunctional habit patterns. With those basics in mind we are more ready to explore a concrete method for overcoming these sorts of  challenges.

To review the main themes; we first explored the separation between control and influence, putting forward a perspective that focuses our effort simultaneously on taking control in areas where we can, and exerting influence in those we can’t. Finally in the areas where we have no control or influence, we can reach out and ask for help, practicing acceptance of ourselves and our situation. This reduces the tension that fuels further distress, and draws in serenity, allowing us to do the best we can in any situation.

Next, we explored the separation between dependency and addiction. This gave us context for  what is going on inside as we begin the process of addressing these challenges. Having this knowledge fuels a self awareness which helps us to cope but also informs the action we might take in addressing what we’re feeling. As we better understand what we are experiencing; withdrawal to be tolerated or distress we had only previously ignored, we can adjust our approach to meet our needs.

The next component we explored was the role of shame as a destructive cycle that perpetuates dysfunction. We differentiated between this destructive from of guilt, and the meaningful and constructive use of guilt when it manifests in a healthy regret. This distinction will play a considerable role as we put into play a practical method of growth and change.

We then explored the importance of not getting too lost in the label addict right away. Understanding whether an individual is actually fully addicted, and or if they are “an addict”, is key to a long term approach, but it is not critical to make a beginning. We described how coming to terms with these distinctions is a personal process, that occurs over time with trial and error, guidance and collaborative reflection.

Finally, we looked at a framework for understanding the different parts of ourselves. We highlighted how important it is to be able to differentiate between the parts of ourselves that think, feel, desire and experience. The importance of this perspectives lies in how we can apply and practice mindfulness and awareness of what we think, feel and desire, as we move into a process of streamlining our behavior.

With these perspectives in we have the context we need to begin the practice of a spiritual approach to our struggles with behavior. As mentioned, it is critical to keep in mind that this process is a long short road. It is a path that takes time, and requires the patience that allows for growth and development. The term “long short road” is a term used in the Talmud in Eruvin 53b. Rav Shnuer Zalman of Liadi uses this term in the opening page of his magnum opus Tanya to describe the program of development he lasy out there. The descendants of the Bal Hatanya (the author of Tanya) subsequently explained the implication of this term and the lesson it imparts. This lesson stands as the root of the spiritual approach we will discuss in the articles to come.

The Talmud tells the story of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah who told; ”Once a child got the better of me … I was traveling, and I met the child at a crossroads. I asked him, ‘which way to the city?’ and he answered: [Pointing to one side] ‘This is a short and long way, and [pointing to the other,] this is a long and short way. I chose the ‘short and long’ way. I soon reached the city but found my approach obstructed by gardens and orchards. I went back [to the crossroads] and said to the child: ‘My son, did you not tell me that this is the short way?’ Answered the child: ‘Did I not tell you that it is also long?’”

The descendants of the Bal HaTanya explain that the implication of the story teaches that in life there are fundamentally two viable paths; the short long way and the long short way. The short long way are the paths in life that seem quick and easy. In the story, the city seemed to Rabbi Yehosheua Ben Chananiah to be just ‘around the bend’, but then when he arrived, it becomes clear that the path he has chosen has taken him close to the city but not to an entrance. His destination seems so close yet in actuality it is so far. Such is always the outcome of a quick fix solution.

The alternative is the long short way. This path seems like it will take much longer, and at times it seems like its path is round about, taking us further from the destination then we were in the first place, but, when we finally arrive we find ourselves at the entrance. Arriving at our destination is as easy as walking right in. This is the sort of method and solution we will discuss. A long and short way focused on evolving ourselves, our perspectives and our attitudes. A path which requires patience and resilience. One that entails setbacks and disappointments and when those occur, standing ourselves up, brushing off and starting again. Nevertheless in the end the goal is come to the entrance, to walk right in, like a child coming home.

The message of hope here is that with patience, diligence and faith we can grow and develop ourselves into a person capable of mastery over, and freedom from, the prison of unwanted dependencies. A person of self mastery with an intimate relationship with their creator forged in the crucible of great difficulty.

About the Author
Menachem Poznanski, LCSW is director of The Living Room, a clubhouse for Jewish young adults in recovery from Alcoholism and Addiction. Menachem is co-author of Stepping out of the Abyss: A Jewish guide to the 12 steps (Mosaica, 2017) and the editor of both Consciously and The Light Revealed, two social media initiatives focused on the messages of Jewish recovery and spirituality. Menachem resides in Cedarhurst, NY with his wife Naomi and their children, Zoe and Tani.
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