“There is nothing in this world that comes close to losing a child.”
That’s how the meeting began with a grieving Jewish mother and her trusted therapist who has helped her get through the past three difficult years since she lost her daughter.
“She was the light of our lives. She was everything,” the mother said about her only child, who was a few days short of her 21st birthday when she died of an overdose after using heroin just twice.
She was creative, funny and talented – a gifted artist with a beautiful voice she used to record songs from prayers to pop music. After learning the basics from her mom in their
home chef’s kitchen, she honed her skills by watching the Food Network for hours until she could whip up gourmet meals with ease. Passover was her favorite holiday.
There are parallels and disparities between this story and the AJT’s previous reports about young people lost to Jewish Atlanta’s Heroin Triangle. This mother, too, is uncomfortable exposing her or her child’s identity for fear of judgment from the community.
Her daughter grew up in an Orthodox Atlanta home and attended private Jewish schools. She had all the visits with therapists and psychiatrists she desired. She loved being surrounded by family, was the apple of her father’s eye and had an extraordinarily close relationship with her mother.
Her wrong turn began with “meeting a very bad guy, a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” the mother said. “But he got her confidence and her love, and he got her smoking weed. … He saw her insecurities and learned how to manipulate her, and he used her.”
They met online when the daughter was 16. The smoking and drinking progressed to pills — everything except heroin. Good grades her junior slid to bad the next. She passed on a full college scholarship and chose to live with her boyfriend.
Next came treatment at Ridgeview Institute and six months of sobriety, broken by her first use of heroin. The following night, the second use, was a higher dose, leading to her death.
She is buried in the Chabad section at Crest Lawn Memorial Park.
She kept a detailed diary throughout, which is why her mother can provide specifics. The police even found a note under her pillow stating the exact amount of heroin she used the night she died.
The drugs were purchased with Bitcoin on the Silk Road, an online, illicit marketplace known for the sale of illegal drugs. Now called “the first modern darknet market,” the Silk Road launched in 2011 and was shut down by the FBI in October 2013, tragically, just a few months after the purchase of this deadly dose of heroin.
Like the other mothers of young adults killed by drug overdoses, this Atlantan mom is changed forever, but she has no regrets. “I know in my heart and soul I did everything humanly possible for my child.”
Her daughter had constant attention from two loving parents, frequent therapy and drug treatment at a certified facility.
As an observant Jew, this mother’s faith in G-d is absolute and serves as a source of strength. “This is how I cope,” she said. “I’m managing due to my utmost belief in G-d.”
With her faith and with the support of Alyza Berman, the trusted therapist who “literally saved my life,” she has achieved the understanding that her daughter made her own choices.
She has learned and integrated the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and understands the wisdom they impart. She and Berman want to join in bringing more resources to fight addiction to Atlanta’s Jewish community.
With heightened reader awareness and interest, the new year, and a fresh start in mind, Berman said: “I think that we need to contact rabbis and get this into some of the synagogues and start having meetings there, because there are so many meetings in churches. So many. And I have to tell you, for a Jewish person to go into a church with crosses … and to say the Lord’s Prayer at the end,” it’s difficult.
They both agreed with the suggestions outlined in the AJT’s Sept. 2 issue, including offering more Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous sessions, as well as clinical-based meetings in Jewish locales within the community, and adding a Jewish voice in recovery.
“Let’s put tachlis in there,” the mom said. “Let’s put names of shuls who are volunteering rooms and services, and let’s get AA and NA involved. Let’s get their people involved” to help run the meetings.
Berman, who specializes in working with people with addictions and eating disorders, as well as their families, said: “There are Christian organizations that have treatment centers out there built around Christianity. There is nothing Jewish. Now there’s HAMSA, yes, for sure, but we need treatment centers. We need intensive outpatient programs because with Judaism, our Judaism is the way we live, breathe and eat. And it’s about our sense of community, and you cannot go through recovery if you are lacking that. I think that’s what we’re lacking in our Atlanta community.”
Heroin is killing everyone everywhere, Berman said, stressing the need for awareness and education. She said parents must stop saying to their kids: “Sure, you can drink. Just drink at my house, as long as you give me the keys.”
“Stop condoning it!” Berman said. She questioned why we are so permissive of alcohol consumption, which can lead to other substance use.
Berman, who is also clinical director of a treatment program, said she works with a lot of families who have lost loved ones. There are many stories to be told and there is great insight to be gained.
On the question of what causes addiction, she said, “There is no answer, but everyone is a recipe.”
She explained that you have a person’s genetic, social, educational, athletic, spiritual and family issues, as well as insecurities. “We mix it together, and we have a person,” and there is no one issue or person to blame for addiction.
“It takes a village to create issues, and it’s going to take a village to recover,” she said.
“I feel like we could do something big here,” Berman said.
“Yes, from the ground up,” the mother said. “We Jews need to get together. … I would love to help to do this in memory of my child.”
“We can start something. We can do something,” Berman said, offering a list of components she thinks our Jewish community needs:
- 12-step meetings that are open to all but are held in synagogues or other Jewish institutions.
- Sober living houses and environments to foster a sense of Jewish community.
- Jewish treatment centers.
- The involvement of religious leaders from all streams of Judaism, from Reform to Orthodox.
On the importance of faith in recovery, Berman said: “Judaism again is a way of life. So that’s what I think can help the Jewish population. And once you stop believing in your religion, you’re going to lose your sense of recovery, and you lose. And we are going to be survivors, not victims to this anymore.”
For counseling help with addictions, eating disorders or anxiety, contact Alyza Berman at 404-694-0204, www.alyzaberman.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. To join the Jewish community’s fight against heroin and other substance abuse, contact Eric Miller, the program coordinator for Jewish Family & Career Services’ HAMSA (Helping Atlantans Manage Substance Abuse), at 770-677-9318 or email@example.com.