Dear Rabbi Twerski,
I was contacted yesterday by someone who has nearly three years of sobriety after attending the SA groups in New York. He’s a chassidish guy, and today he’s a sponsor for others in the groups as well. He pointed out that we are too quick on the website to send people to SA, and that this can sometimes cause more damage than good if the person is not fully ready for it. (By “being ready for it,” he explains that the person’s life has become unmanageable and he’d rather die than continue, but he can’t stop.) I wanted to ask the Rav’s advice on this, since it is a serious issue. He claims it’s a very big achrayus to send someone who is not ready to the groups and that it can cause untold destruction and suffering to that person or to the others in the group. Here is his letter:
It is vital to understand that many, if not most, people on your website are not true addicts yet. They may have addictive behaviors that will surely progress to the point where their lives will become totally unmanageable, to the point that they would rather die than live such a life. However, at the present, they re- alize that they have a problem and want help. No one becomes an addict overnight! The help and chizzuk received from your site, the phone meetings, and the forum may be exactly what they need to stop. The fact that they are not alone and there is a loving and caring community that they belong to may be just what they are looking for. Sending someone like this to SA could do more harm than good. I say this from my own experience.
Being in SA for nearly three years, I have seen so many peo- ple come in and leave, and I can say almost all of them did not come by themselves (rather, they were told by others to try the groups). Upon leaving, it only got worse, far worse than you can ever imagine. The first step says “We admitted that we were powerless” and “that our lives had become unmanageable.” This means one has to admit it, not be told, “Well, you have a problem, try this, it may work.” It also means that a person must realize and cry out: “My life is unmanageable and I can no longer go on like this.”
Honestly speaking, most people on your site, baruch Hashem, are not there yet. They still have jobs, have not been caught by their spouse or boss, have not accumulated so much debt that bankruptcy is the only option, are not having sleepless nights because they are so miserable with themselves, nor have they become suicidal. Sending some like this to SA will endanger them and the welfare of the others who already are in SA. Who can take the achrayus for the risk of those dealing with such a devastating addiction being exposed to the public by some insincere individual? What about the welfare of their family, job, community status, shidduchim, etc.? Also, if a person is not ready for the groups and comes to them anyway, he will only learn new things and go out and try them.
Rabbi Twerski Responds
He has a point. I think your suggestion had been to try the phone conferences and other tools on the site and hold off attending groups, unless that doesn’t work. That will weed out those who are not yet far gone.