Purim Lessons from Addiction Recovery

Working in substance use treatment has unmasked new insight into Purim’s key themes.  Here are two lessons I have gleaned from those in recovery from addiction that have helped to inspire my personal Purim experience:

Lesson 1: What it looks like to turn to a Higher Power in times of despair and threat

On Purim we recant a story of evil plots and ultimate redemption. And all the twists and turns along the way. Yet, in contrast to those living through the tale, on Purim we watch the precarious scenes unfold while already knowing of the victorious end.  As we read chapter by chapter in order and at once,  each piece of the narrative becomes meaningfully interwoven together and forms a meaningful whole.  And through this bird’s eye view of the various Purim scenes, the purpose and plan behind become revealed, despite the struggles experienced along the way.

As we read the Purim story, and all its unpredictable, uncertain, and looming moments, in context of the full picture- we are reminded  that even in times of chaos and threat, God is orchestrating each piece of the puzzle from behind the scenes. And that it begins by turning toward Him in moments of despair. 

This is a message that those in recovery from addiction are living and breathing on a daily basis. 

As expressed by one recovering alcoholic in Alcoholics Anonymous Daily Reflections, “My act of Providence came as I experienced the total bankruptcy of active alcoholism – everything meaningful in my life was gone. I telephoned AA and, from that instant, my life has never been the same. When I reflect on that very special moment, I know that God was working in my life long before I was able to acknowledge and accept spiritual concepts. My life continues to unfold with divine care and direction.”

Anyone in the clutches of addiction will tell you of the threat of destruction being confronted daily. As said in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, “With [the alcoholic illness] there goes annihilation of all the things worthwhile in life.” 

Many have described addiction as quite literally being under the reign of a “dictator.” Yet despite this insidious threat, those who maintain hope, too, have uncovered hidden miracles through finding and turning to “a power greater than themselves: “To watch the eyes of men and women open with wonder as they move from darkness into light, to see their lives quickly fill with new purpose and meaning, to see whole families reassembled, to see the alcoholic outcast received back into his community in full citizenship, and above all to watch these people awaken to the 9presence of a loving God in their lives – these things are the substance of what we receive as we carry A.A.’s message.” 

How does this ‘miracle’ happen? The process has been found by many in recovery through these three core principles:

(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.

(b) That no human power could have relieved our alcoholism

(c) That God could and would if He were sought

As relayed in Twelve Step literature, “When we developed still more, we discovered the best possible source of emotional stability to be God Himself. We found that dependence upon His perfect justice, forgiveness, and love was healthy, and that it would work where nothing else would. If we really depended upon God, we couldn’t very well play God to our fellows nor would we feel the urge wholly to rely on human protection and care.”

On Purim, let us draw inspiration from those in recovery who continue to demonstrate the transformative power of turning to God in moments of hopelessness and threat.

Lesson 2: Not to underestimate the transformative power of alcohol

On Purim, many of us experience the potency of alcohol. We are encouraged to utilize the day of Purim (for those for whom it is appropriate to do so) as “yemei mishteh v’simchah,” a day of drinking and rejoicing. 

As Taught in the Talmud, “it is one’s duty to make oneself fragrant [with wine] on Purim until one cannot tell the difference between blessed be Mordechai and cursed be Haman.” In fulfillment of the deeper theme of Purim and wanting us to reach a mental state of “Ad D’lo Yada,” our sages clearly recognized that alcohol was an effective means of altering our consciousness and to this end, encouraged intoxication:

A discussion of what this means in practice and policies surrounding alcohol consumption on Purim is well beyond the scope of this post, but one thing is clear: on Purim, we see that drinking has the capacity to help transcend a person from their current reality and enter into another.  To tap into the deeper dimensions of ourselves.  To shift into a more joyful state.

Individuals in recovery or treatment for substance use disorders, too, have experienced the potency of alcohol or substances.

They believed alcohol would be an effective means of entering into a new positive reality, a much desired “Venahafoch Hu,” as theirs was no longer inhabitable. 

As one physician so powerfully shared through his story in AA, “I never in my life took a tranquilizer, sedative, or pep pill because I was a pillhead. I took it because I had the symptom that [I thought] only that pill would relieve.”

Those in active addiction have become overtaken by their own “Ad D’lo Yada” experience, and   often do so to feel a much desired sense of belonging, peace, and connection. And it worked, as it does on Purim….until it took over and became a force of destruction. 

As we experience a day of “Ad D’lo Yada,” let us be inspired by those who fight for recovery, and be reminded that individuals seeking treatment are in need of support, compassion, and admiration, rather than judgment.

About the Author
Devora Shabtai, MSW, MSc is a therapist at Transformations Treatment Center in Delray Beach, Florida which offers evidence-based substance use and/or mental health treatment including detox, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient programs. As Program Manager of the Jewish Track, Devora collaborates with the clinical team in providing opportunities for our Jewish clients to draw upon their individual spiritual, cultural, and religious identities throughout the course of treatment. In addition to clinical work, Devora has an interest in empirical research and has co-authored several peer reviewed articles and book chapters on relationships between Jewish spirituality and psychological well-being. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in the psychology of religion in the University of Warwick's Center for Education Studies. Devora lives in Boca Raton with her husband and daughters
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