The Day My Therapist Disappeared

For eight years he was there for me.  For eight years, we spoke almost every week, whether it was in Arizona, or over Skype while I moved onto Israel, Chicago, Israel again, New York.  He was always there, always available.

The first hint that something was wrong was when he told me he could no longer charge me, that if I gave him money for being my therapist that it would now be illegal.  This was about six years in.

He had been caught for drunk driving, he told me, and he had lost his license.  I remembered Arizona as being really harsh when it came to that stuff, so I figured it was just an anomaly, that he had made a mistake.

I never connected his vague comments about his father being an alcoholic or his checkered past of painful difficulties.

He always was just so calm, he was always so wise.  So thoughtful.  No matter how chaotic my life got, he always had this cheerful voice that broke through everything and reminded me that as long as I kept at it, as long as I kept working on myself, as long as we kept talking, everything would be okay.

And it was true.  During those eight years I had gone through so much, and somehow things kept getting better, getting more balanced.  I went through relapses back into old addictions, from pot to gambling to video games.  He was the only one who knew just how damaging these things were for me, the only one that could calmly push me to get out of them without trying to break me or scare me.  Just one step at a time, one thought, one exercise, one bit of “homework,” and soon I would find my life had noticeably improved.

He transformed from a therapist to a mentor to my wise older friend, more like an uncle than anything.

And then he was gone.

 

It happened with no warning.  I called him on Skype for our weekly call, and nothing.  I tried calling him, and I didn’t get a response.  I figured he was busy.

I emailed him, asked him if he wanted to reschedule.  Nothing.

I called him again later in the week.  Nothing.

I emailed again.  Called again.  Called again.  Called again.  Called again.

Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.

I waited a few weeks, trying to pretend it was all okay, trying to pretend he’d get back to me, something came up, that it’d be fine.

And when I tried calling him one more time, the phone didn’t ring.  A robotic voice told me the phone had been disconnected because the person discontinued service.

Thoughts crept into my mind.  Was he okay?  He was old, was it possible… no… he was so healthy.  He worked out every day.  And why would he disconnect his phone?

I spend the next few weeks Googling his name, researching and researching, trying to get an address, something to work with.  Soon, I considered hiring a private eye.

And then, randomly, I found the answer.  Arizona publicly lists people it arrests for drunk driving.  He had been arrested.  There, right in front of my face, was his mug shot.  The details of his arrest.  Third offense.  In Arizona, you get a minimum of six months in prison on the third drunk driving arrest.  Might even be a few years.

It all hit me.  Alcoholic father.  Drunk driving in the past.  And it wasn’t his first offense, that’s why he lost his counseling license.

My therapist was an alcoholic.

 

I wait six months.  Try calling him again.  Nothing.

Another six months, it’s now a year later, New Year’s, when he was arrested.  Call.  Still disconnected.

Wait a year.  Disconnected.

Through all this, all the biggest pains I’ve had since I had my manic episode are flooding into my life.  My work, run by orthodox Jews, has ripped me off, refusing to pay me the rest of what they owe me.  I’m beginning to grow beyond my initial beliefs in how I practice Judaism, and am unsure where to go from here.  My blog has stagnated, and I feel creatively dried up.

He’ll be back, I keep thinking.

Usually, these were the moments I would go into a discussion with him, my life a mess, and he would talk it through with me, remind me with that cheerful smile that everything would be okay, to examine what’s happening and to learn from it but not to expect it to be perfect immediately.  I’d come out feeling calm, focused, thoughtful.

Instead, I have no one.  I’ve ditched my rabbi mentor because he’s related to the people who have ripped me off (out of personal pain, not because I blamed him).  I have put off finding a new therapist because I am convinced my therapist will be back.

I am in denial.

And in the meantime, I develop an intense anxiety disorder, one that worsens as my issues with work, with Judaism, with life, deepen.  I start to have random panic attacks.  I start to get anxious at random moments, for seemingly no reason at all.

I am alone.

 

For the first time in my life, I don’t have the escape hatch, the steady support, the trusty acceptance, of this man who had become a fixture of my life since I had left the hospital after my manic episode.

In an ironic twist, I had lost him much in the same way I had gotten in touch with him.  Through fate.  When I was released by the hospital, they gave me his name.  I didn’t know where else to go, so to him I went.

When I walked into his office, I didn’t know what to think of him.  He was older, sixties, with a seashell necklace.  He had the tan that a lot of Arizonans do, the kind that seems to come with a glow, turning them almost as red as the rocks in Sedona.

I didn’t trust him, mostly because of all the therapists beforehand.  But he met with me week after week, slowly gaining my trust, listening quietly when he needed to, guiding me when he needed to, easing me out of the most traumatic moment in my life without a word of judgment.

He dug into my skin, became a part of me.  I noticed myself beginning to respond to difficult moments in the way he had trained me to, sometimes hearing his voice inside my own.  Guiding myself through the tools he had given me, much as he had guided me.

And so, when he disappeared, I had lost part of myself.  I had lost a man that God had brought into my life through absolutely no research or thought on my part.  A man who, if he had not come, I do not know where I would have been.

 

The other character in this story, then, is God.  God who had spoken to me when I had my near death experience during my manic episode. Who had saved my life when I dehydrated and starved myself in the middle of the summer in Arizona, telling me it wasn’t time yet as I floated up into his column of light, who gave me a kick in a stomach I didn’t have, causing me to wake up with a start in my bed, only wrapped in a towel, and breathing heavily.

God who had happened to send me to the right hospital,  with the right nurses, with the right people.  God who had connected me with the man who heard voices but who was also a teddy bear, who loved me with all his heart.  Who had caused me to be roommates with the meth addict who became like a father to me, who was the first person to tell me that a pot addiction can be as serious as anything else, who stayed up with me late at night to tell me about all the mistakes he had made in his life so I wouldn’t do the same.  Who had sat me next to the woman who had been raped by her father as a young girl as all I could think to myself was that I would never grow up, that I was destined to be a child my whole life.  Who had caused her to then look me in the eye and randomly tell me, “You are an adult.  You are an adult,” and then rise up and leave, leaving me flabbergasted.  Who had given me a doctor who prescribed exactly the same medication I would need for another eight years.

Every moment after that trauma, in other words, was like living with God next to me.  Every moment was so clearly designed by something higher than me.  Every thing that happened was like it was carefully calculated to allow me to recover in the healthiest way possible.

And now it was a decade later.  And God was gone.  Everything seemed, if anything, calculated to make my life worse.  The work.  The Jewish connection.  The anxiety.  The blog.

And my therapist.  Gone in the exact way he came.  No warning, no guidance, no choice.

 

It became clear after the second anniversary of my therapist’s arrest that God was not going to help.  That my therapist was not coming back into my life, and if he did it would be after multiple years in jail.  He would be just as different as I was.

I was alone.  No one was saving me.

My wife was the one who really forced me to face it.  She said, “Elad, you need help. You can’t do this on your own.  The therapist is gone.  You need a new one.”

I didn’t want to face it, but she was right.  He was gone.  It was as if I had to finally accept that a family member had died after they’d been lost or something.

I did research.  I found a new therapist.  I started to dig myself out of my Jewish rut, finding a new answer to my beliefs and realizing how much better it was for me, how much more true to me it was.  I started a new blog called Hevria that was a group endeavor, one aimed to bring other Jewish writers together, one that quickly became my new mission, one that extended beyond me and into a community.  I started taking medication for anxiety.

God was still gone, and so was my therapist.  But it was in that loneliness, in that being unsaved, that I learned to start to slowly stand up on my own.  Everything I did after that second anniversary was a choice.  The therapist was my choice.  The new Jewish point of view.  The new blog.  The medication.

All things that had sort of fallen into my lap in a previous stage in my life.  All things that had saved me in the past.

Suddenly, it was me doing the saving.  It was me doing the work.

And as the anniversary slowly disappeared into the rear-view mirror and this new life started to come into view, one I was building myself, something became very clear to me.

God had chosen this too.  God had taken it all away from me.  So that I would stop being a passenger in his car.  So that I could be the driver, with Him now focused on making sure there was a road ahead of me, wherever I chose to go.

We were partners, married now instead of dating.

I wasn’t alone.  I had simply learned to stand on my own.

 

It’s now been three and a half years or so since my therapist disappeared.

 

I miss him.  But I think he would be proud of me.  It was what he always wanted, for me to choose my own life, to stand on my own.

And maybe he helped make it happen, in a way even he didn’t know he could.

  • Elisheva Zucker

    There is so much I want to say here, but I wont. I’ll just say thank you so much for sharing this. I adore Hevria, but there is something special about this blog, and I’m glad you’ve revived it.

    • Ugh thank you. Can I frame this comment and put it on my wall?

      • Elisheva Zucker

        If it will help keep this blog active, then please do 🙂 This blog has been my therapy at times. Don’t go disappearing on me 😉

        • Shoshana Siegelman

          no, we don’t want him disappearing!

        • Damn, well played lol.

    • rebecca.odessa

      Yeah, I love this blog too…it’s like a reading room in a library…quiet and deeply comforting.

  • Jared Friedman

    Thank you so much for all of your posts. I’m actually a religious Jew who works in the Drug Rehab/MH field (in admin) and your posts always ring so true. Our community has not done a great job on educating people about the true nature of Mental Health and Substance Abuse and how to properly deal with it. Your openness and frankness about your circumstances provides much needed support to people who are stuck otherwise. Keep it up!

  • Chanale

    Thank you so much for sharing this!! I can relate to your blog so much and I always enjoy your writing

  • Rebecca K.

    I love a lot about this post, but I’m finding this most interesting from a different angle than you take:

    We can help others even when we are falling apart ourselves.

    The implications of this – that we need to help “helpers,” that we need to see how complicated others’ lives are, that role models may have faults, that we can help others even if we aren’t perfect – are pretty astounding.

    And I completely agree with what you said at the end. If he knows you found other help, and that you are still learning and growing, he must be really, really proud.

    • Yes, I think I totally learned that from him in retrospect. He had his issues, but he was always there for me, always wise, always giving. To be able to live such a life I think is incredibly admirable, a reminder that we can give at any moment in our lives, no matter what.

      I hope to bring it into my own life.

  • Nechama

    I don’t know why but every time I say to myself, “Nechama, read this one. Elad wrote it. You’ll probably relate.” I don’t just relate. I feel like you shine light on my shadows. I feel like you express so perfectly the exact growth I am working through at this exact moment. Maybe it’s the month of Nissan. Maybe our souls stem from the same branch. Maybe growth looks similar for the people reading popchassid because we bother to read your writing . . .I read it because it’s so good, so real, so (what’s that word you always use?) Raw.
    This piece gives me the strength I need now. Thanks man, I appreciate it. And thanks G-d. You rock too.

    • Wow wow wow. Beautiful. Thank you so much, Nechama, it’s amazing to know that my writing has that effect on someone.

  • Jude

    Thank you for sharing things that others shy away from. I can relate and I know so many other people out there can too. You are doing amazing work.

  • Chana S

    thank you for your insightful article, as always you write honestly, and you are very forth coming with your challenges. I think this abandonment you felt re the therapist, is what alot of us felt after gimmel Tammuz. in fact one bocher, wanted to commit suicide, GD forbid, after the Rebbe’s passing. his mashpia, screamed at him, you idiot, is this what the Rebbe wants?, did anything he say/wrote/stood for penetrate your mind/emotions into your emotional livushim?, was it all words, empty words, are you such an emotional basket case, that you can’t draw from all the Rebbe’s teachings and put them to use especially now? shame on you..soon thereafter, the bocher realized that it would be an insult to the Rebbe had he kept on with his heavy woe is me head space and got his act together, and became a true soldier in the Rebbe’s army so to speak..

    so it is with any influential person in our lives, therapists, rebbes, family members, friends, teachers, etc.. my dear aunt who was such an inspiration to me, as well as her sister, my mom, is now in ICU, basically dying. she was such a dugma for me, and I know that she wants me to celebrate her life and carry on with a zest for living, not mourn her passing – in other words, take her actions/message to heart…may it be so with your therapist and all your mentors that seemingly abandoned you..it ain’t necessarily so. hatzlacha

  • Luftmentsch

    I had something similar happen years ago: the therapist I was seeing just stopped seeing me and I never found out why. The NHS can be like that. I also wondered if he was arrested or ill.

    Not exactly the same thing, but I’m struggling with OCD based around Pesach preparations and I have some questions I really want to ask my rabbi mentor, but he’s been ill all week and I can’t get hold of him. I asked some to the rabbi of my community (not the same man), but there are some questions I don’t feel comfortable asking him. So now I’m left worrying if I’m going to get answers in time before Pesach and what sort of state I’m going to be in by seder night. I have to trust HaShem that just as the previous questions were easily solved, so I’ll hear about these ones and resolve them in time. But it’s really hard to trust anyone, even G-d, when I feel I’ve been let down, neglected and abandoned all your life.

  • BigMike Gondelman

    As an addictions counselor in the religious community, I see this article and I’ve realized the impact I had on many lives. I’m grateful for having trudged this road with many a client. My clients at times have taught me even more than I’ve taught them. It’s an honor and a privilege to work in this field. The disease of addiction kill indiscriminately and I thank God everyday for my almost 14 years of recovery.

    • You’ve made such an impact, and I hear about it quite a bit when I visit Jerusalem. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Please keep up your incredible work!

  • Richard Goetz

    Awesome story-you’ve been through alot. Often, I find these “healing” stories highly annoying. But your story doesn’t annoy me. It’s cool.