A new book offering insight into the famed 12-step program is the first volume to focus on providing an in-depth Jewish perspective on this method of recovery, which, since 1939, has become a lifeline to those suffering from all kinds of addiction.
The idea for the book first came after the authors attended a community meeting addressing the suitability of referring Jewish people who struggled with addiction to 12-step programs. Despite its record of success, many in attendance expressed concern about the spiritual content of the 12-step method, fearing it posed a religious risk to Jews.
“There were therapists, rabbis, and community leaders at that meeting, and it was clear that a lot of their opinions and concerns were primarily based on misconceptions,” recalled Menachem Poznanski, a licensed clinical social worker and clinical director of The Living Room. “I stood up and asked how many people in the room had actually read The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, the original text that presented the 12 steps. Not one of the people who opposed the idea of sending Jewish young people to 12-step meetings had ever read the book. This made it clear we had a duty to provide comprehensive education.”
While there are several books targeting Jewish readers that address the 12-step program, most discuss the general spirituality of the regimen while only touching on the philosophy behind it, fueling misconceptions about the method.
“It’s not that those books weren’t helpful–they are wonderful–but people who relied on them to understand the 12 steps were a lot like someone reading the recipe on the back of a box of Duncan Hines cake mix and then calling themselves a master baker,” explained Poznanski. “The idea here was to help people understand the 12 steps and the philosophy behind them in a comprehensive way, to better realize what they were composed to combat and treat, why you would use them, and even what they don’t do.”
Working at TLR, a program of Our Place which provides a Jewish recovery clubhouse for young adults ages 18 to 35, where members can establish strong baselines of recovery after treatment through biweekly gatherings, retreats, and recreational activities, Poznanski saw the success of the 12-step program firsthand. He teamed up with TLR’s director of men’s services, Aryeh Buchsbayew, a licensed clinical social worker who also works as a clinical supervisor at Ohel, utilizing their combined 27 years of experience to collaborate on a written work that would accurately address the issue. It took them five and a half years to create a book that would eliminate misconceptions about the 12-step method and clarify its usefulness, helping not only TLR members and their families, but also the Jewish community at large.
The result was Stepping out of the Abyss, a Mosaica Press title distributed by Feldheim whose 216 pages frame the 12-step program through the prism of Jewish communal needs and concerns. Intended to be a primer on the method, both for those who struggle with addiction as well as their friends, family, members, health providers, and clergymen, the book offers an authentic presentation of the methodology behind the 12 steps and real-life stories of Jewish people in recovery. While the book was written with Jewish communal needs in mind, it can be useful and informative to anyone who wants to better understand the 12-step method and its programs.
Also included in Stepping out of the Abyss are reflections on Judaism and recovery from Rabbi Yoni Fisher, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Matisyahu, a full Q&A section dealing with practical issues that can arise for those engaging in the 12 steps and their loved ones, and a full chapter by noted expert Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski.
“People have often asked me about the twelve steps, and I wish I could invite them to observe a TLR retreat to help them actually understand the program and the power it wields to transform lives, from an inside view,” said Poznanski. “This book is essentially a retreat in print; it provides the uninitiated a fly-on-the-wall experience and understanding of the program.”
“With the current epidemic of deaths related to substance abuse, the identification of rampant process addictions, and the overflow of people attending rehab programs for treatment, a detailed explanation of the 12 steps is critical,” added Buchsbayew. “Stepping out of the Abyss seems to have arrived just in time.”
Stepping out of the Abyss is available at Judaic bookstores everywhere as well as on Amazon. Institutions seeking to use the book for educational purposes are encouraged to contact the authors directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about TLR and its services, visit TLRny.org.