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A Woman Writes to Rabbi Twerski about a Serious SA Addiction


Dear Rav. Dr. Twerski.  I received your email contact information from the tzaddik at Guard your eyes.  I have a tremendous amount of respect and awe of you and your knowledge in both the Torah and secular world.  I have read several of your books, and am enamored by your all encompassing knowledge and daat torah.  I feel that after seeing and speaking to several therapist and not having had a successful diagnosis or treatment, I would very much like both your professional opinion on my case, as well as a psak halacha (even if you need to consult with a posek).  I am reading through your book "getting up when you are down" for the 4th or 5th time, and would like you to get a feel for my situation so you may give me some insight. My frum therapist told me that after their initial diagnosis of MDD, they believe it has turned into bipolar, with some ADD and body dysmorphic disorder thrown in. Please help me Rav Twerski. I stand just a few days before Rosh hashana and while I have greatly improved since this letter below was written a couple of months back to GYE website, I NEED your guidance. Thank you and best wishes for a cahsiva v'chatima tova, ulalter chaim tovim ulshalom.

"Dear GYE, I am writing to you in hopes that you may consult with a rav who can give me daat torah on how to proceed. After reading this you will understand that while I have a posek, and a morah daasra, this is NOT something I can bring into the open. I am not asking for a therapy related answer, I have am seeing both a frum psychologist and psychiatrist. I think my life is over, and sometimes, I feel that if I were to die the people around me would be better off.  I am 28 and am married for 8 years, with 3 very small children. I have always had a history of depression/dysthymia, but never had anything close to this.  I grew up in a lonely broken divorced MO home, went to a coed yeshiva, was in NCSY, and was pretty frum for the most part. I spend a year in Israel learning, got my BA, got married to a boy I was in love with (I was shidduch dating, but met him through a friend), and got my MS in psych. Life was pretty good, though I was still struggling a bit with dysthymia. At 24 I had my first  child, and 26 my second, and when I was pregnant with my third at 28 is when this all started.  My husband and I consider ourselves yeshivish, we don't watch TV, sending our kids to non coed school, keep all laws of tzniut, don't go out with other couples for fun, as we deem it inappropriate. Though I am very comfortable around males, as I have grown up in a coed environment, since I have been married, I would never think to put the word friend and a guys name in the same sentence. I was friendly, but knew it was not correct to be mixing with the opposite sex. So, while I was pregnant with my 3rd a frum yeshivish type neighbor with a wife and small kids my kids age, took a liking to me, so he would find excuses to get the kids together, and call the house when he knew my husband was in shul.  Then he started calling my cell phone, and I would tell my husband how weird it was that he was calling me.  This man, lets call him Moshe, said he always wanted someone he could talk to, and felt comfortable talking to me, so I kind of just let him talk, then my husband and I thought it was inappropriate so I kept telling him that I don't talk to other men and I think it's assur.  He kept calling and kept calling.  I enjoyed talking to him, but felt too guilty, so I told him to stop, so thats when he said he will miss talking to me, and he admitted his feelings for me, and I have to say I had feelings for him. Sooo, he kept calling and calling, and opening up more and more, and telling me how his wife doesn't sleep with him enough, so I told him that I cant help him there. Then I started to really have feelings for him, and after a few months of us sharing how we feel about each other, and he admitting that he loved me, I got a call from him saying that while we could still speak, we can't talk about out feelings for each other b/c it'll lead bad places and well end up sleeping with e/o. I was aghast. I said I don't see how one would lead to the other, and begged him to keep the feelings channel open. So he agreed, on one condition. he said he would continue to talk about how much we love each other (btw this was going on for a while, and we didn't touch once), but he wants to put up a bet. He said if we continue, then I will eventually give in to sleeping with him. I told him that I accept the challenge, b/c I would never even let him touch me. So went by a few days, where he would come over ad try to hug and kiss me, and I would absolutely resist and pull away, then he calls me telling me that he cant continue this it is wrong and we have to stop talking about our feelings and he will stop trying to get him to sleep with me, and that I have to choose w/n him and my husband, I broke down. I realized how much I was in love with him, but couldn't leave my husband b/c I would feel too guilty and my husband is a tzaddik. He said that if I want to continue this we both have to get a divorce, so I said it wasn't an option.  Then my life came crashing down on me. Once he stopped telling me how much he loved me, and I realized I lost my chance to kiss him, I broke down, in addition I was working 2 part time jobs, and one of them was giving me a hard time about putting in more hours for next year.  I lost my appetite, withdrew from everything, couldn't exercise (which I loved), and cried all day, it eventually became so bad that I would throw up stomach acid b/c I had no food in me. I couldn't get out of bed or take care of my kids.  I went to a psychologist and was diagnosed with MDD. I became obsessed with this man, and not ever having the chance to touch him again. just to give you an idea of how physically sick this made me, I was admitted to the hospital for IV after a urinalysis showed I was spilling ketones. I am about 5"3, and I was 8 months pregnant weighing in at only 111 pounds. I could barely walk. NO ONE WAS CAPABLE OF COMFORTING ME BUT Moshe.  Not my kids, not my husband, no one in my family.  I came home from the hospital weak and depressed, and wasting away with no hope of getting better. I wanted to die. Then, Moshe walked into my house took a look at how sick I was and grabbed me, and kissed me. If I tell you, I've never felt such comfort in my life. it wasn't the excitement b/c I never looked for that in my life. ever since I was in jr high, I never wanted a boyfriend, I just wanted to stability of a husband.  I always liked guys, and had guy friends, but NEVER gave into my yezter hara to even kiss a guy until my husband. I would never even go out with any boy that asked me in HS b/c I didn't think it would lead to marriage.  After he kissed me, all was right with the world I gained all the weight I had lost, started eating, cooking and taking care of my kids, I even managed to go on an interview and get a job. then, I came to him and told him that after months of thinking about it, I choose him, and am ready to divorce my husband to be with him, and realize that I truly love and want to be with him in the right way and not touch out of  marriage.  he buried his head and said he can't live his kids and his wife, but we can still hug and kiss. I was upset but took what I could get. then a few weeks later he came over to me and told me that we can't do anything wrong anymore until/if we get married. no more touching. I broke down again, lost weight couldn't eat, cried all day, and was suicidal b/c my whole life  I had a whole in my heart, that I felt even on my wedding day and night, and even though my husband loves me and I loved him and treated me so nicely and we never fought and tells me how much he loves me.  Moshe was the only person in the WHOLE world that filled that hole. When I was in his arms it was like sunshine, completeness. I finally knew what it felt like to feel complete. Yet it wasn't 100%, b/c  I wasn't married to him. I even felt this overwhelming desire to give to him. I used to buy his favorite snacks and  baked food for his parents tikkun kiddush and even gave him money. it hurt me when I told me that I couldn't give to him anymore as his wife would find out.  so a few weeks later, I had the baby. I was grateful to Hashem for a healthy, precious baby, but by no means was I happy. I still couldn't eat, and would sit in my bed crying.  A frum social worker saw me in the hospital and her and two psychiatrists involuntarily committed me to the psychiatric ward, but I refused to go and we left the hospital. Months went by and I felt like a zombie with a newborn.  I couldn't take care of things, and felt that I needed Moshe. I had the baby in the summer, and in the fall, Moshe suddenly kissed me, and AGAIN, I got better gained weight, looked good, was function. as long as we were able to touch I was ok. We made boundaries and agreed nothing more than hugging and kissing. One night I came over to drop something off, and his wife was out. ***Parts were removed here*** .... I didn't realize until it was too late. I was devastated. I didn't want to be a sotah, and knew that I couldn't go back to my husband. But I was stuck, I couldn't tell my husband the truth and have 3 kids with him.  That next week I tried to overdose, and Moshe told me that we cant touch anymore b/c it'll lead to sex again.  He pushed me away, and I feel apart. all of the sudden, I couldn't function again, I lost my job and didn't want to leave my house. I couldn't look at Moshe without falling apart, my stomach would churn, I've never felt love so deep (it wasn't a crush it lasted too long, and the desire too give even when it couldn't be reciprocated was too strong) Then s/t snapped, I could no longer live in the deep, emotional, suicidal pain (btw, I was on Rmeron and Paxil), so turned to some guy friends to talk to (which I hadn't done wince I was engaged).  I started not caring about halacha as much (as opposed to b/f when I felt morbidly guilty about my indiscretions). Then, I did the unthinkable, I tried to replace Moshe with other guys just to ease the pain while time would try to heal my severely broken heart. I no longer had the slightest desire for my husband. In fact we were separated for about 3 months due to niddah issues and I didn't care AT ALL. even now almost a year later, I don't feel comforted by his touch and in fact makes me nauseous at times. I started finding frum guys online to talk to and then I met up with some of them. I went through a few (no sex, that was a firm NO with all of them on my part). It was like someone stole my brain and replaced it with an immoral, uncaring, non Jewish one. My soul became corrupted and I fell deeper into it. The psychiatrist reevaluated what was going on and diagnosed ADD and Bipolar and put me on Depakot.  I was out of control, I would meet up with yeshivish guys 3 time s week for a quick fix anything to take away the pain. But I was super picky who I would  fool around with. They had to remind me of this guy Moshe.  Then - and this is where my question comes in, 2 guys who I said NO SEX to several times, took advantage. I didn't know what hit me. So the problem is, its not exactly rape b/c it wasn't forceful, it was just an unwelcome surprise. Needless to say I didn't let them do that again and made them swear. I again wanted to kill myself b/c I m such a state of limbo, this disease is controlling me, I want to be free from pain and I don't want to trade my soul for that.. I want my husband to be happy b/c I love him as a person but I don't want to be married to him anymore, but  cant divorce him its not an option, he will not hear of it, and would prob not give me a get, b/c he doesn't want to get remarried an only wants me. But halachically I want to be able to go back to my husband for my kids sake, and b/c I believe my husband is  one of the 36 hidden tzaddikim, I don't want to deny more children to him. So what is my status. I wish a Rav could find some leniency (like pleading insanity). even the guys I am with tell me I'M crazy b/c over the span of 6 months, I have met with and fooled around with TWENTY GUYS. With each one I say this is the last, and each one I want them to be like Moshe so I can forget him. but there is NO replacement for him, and this not helping, BUT it is keeping me from being suicidal and un-functional and that is why I am continuing. I cannot even listen to reason. I KNOW logically I am wrong, and I don't even for a second deny the truth to every word of the Torah, but my thinking is so clouded my pain and emotion, that like a drug addict Ill take what I can get to prevent from feeling sad again  I know aveira goreret aveira but this is ridiculous, I cant even look or talk to a guy now without thinking about hooking up with them. I am obsessed with guys. I used to be one that wanted stability and to always do the right thing, b/c I grew up in an immoral and unstable family life, but now I am a loose cannon, agreeing to meet at night and in cars with guys I don't know, wanted to go clubbing and even entertaining the thought  of sleeping over these guys houses. I am seeing 3 guys  at a time, what is my status? HEEELPP ME!!
A true bas Torah with a blackened heart

Rabbi Twerski Replies:

Dear Sarah (name changed),

What began as a rather straight-forward diagnosis has become a complex problem. Moshe was your cocaine or heroin, very much an addiction problem. Had it been addressed as an addiction, you could have avoided the complications.

Every reaction you describe of being separated from Moshe is that of a drug-addict who is deprived of his drug, and the great delight when Moshe was in contact with you is the “high” that the addict gets from a fix.

There is a “pleasure-center” in the brain, and it can be activated by alcohol, food, drugs, gambling, sex or even a non-physical relationship. If this center is repeatedly stimulated, the desire for the stimulus increases and control becomes very difficult. A variety of psychiatric symptoms may develop, but treatment may be ineffective unless the addiction is addressed.

Will-power is notoriously ineffective. The best way to overcome an addiction is the 12-step program. Although there is a 12-step Sex Addiction program, I don’t think it is appropriate for you because you may be too vulnerable to the men that are there. Instead, you may go to the 12-step Overeaters Anonymous program, even though you do not have an eating problem. Whenever you hear the word “food,” you substitute, in your mind, the word “guy.” Unless the addiction is overcome, nothing can give you pleasure or relief from misery other than the drug “guy.”

The strength of the 12-step program is that if one works the 12 steps sincerely, it gradually brings about a change in one’s character and personality. When the addiction is brought under control, your feelings for your husband may return. Now you are under the domination of the cocaine-heroin-men addiction, which can completely distort your feelings.

You may benefit from reading
"Self-Improvement? I’m Jewish", in which I show that the 12-step program is essentially a mussar-type program for recovery. But reading a book is not enough. One must have the support of the group in the meetings. Again, I think you can benefit from OA, even though you don’t have a food addiction.

The question of the permissibility of being with your husband must be addressed by a competent posek.

She Replied:

I do feel very fortunate to get a response from Rabbi Twerski, but left alone at the same time. He's throwing me into the hands of goyim at these meetings. I know I deserve it, because I am acting like an am haaeretz, but I was hoping to deal with a Rav. I did however do research today and found out that there exists SEPARATE men and women SA  meetings in my area. 

Thanks to you, I was able to resist guys this whole week, and I stand before Hashem this Rosh Hashana, with at least a tiny bit of improvement. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by this goy that keeps calling and threatening me, I email "Ben-olam-haba" ("Mevakesh"), and it is helping. Thank you again.

We Replied:

Dear Sarah, I am so happy that you found separate SA meetings for men and women. That is truly G-d sent for you! You need to realize that you don't need a Rav to heal from this illness. Do we need a Rav for diabetes? You need to use the "medicine" that works.
We have a guy on our site (Dov) who is sober from a raging sexual addiction for over 11 years in SA. He just wrote to someone the following:
The 12-Step program way of looking at the whole business is actually different than what we are used to.
It is even different from what normal people
without these problems are used to.
The program is not about answering questions to beat the desire.
It is not an answer to the problem, at all. It does not make one "stronger", at all. 
It is about changing myself and the way I think so that I do not have the problem in the first place. 
This is done by the steps and by being part of a group of other people with the same problem getting better the same way.
It would not work at all if it was done under the instruction of a teacher or Rav, or shrink, because it is about being together with folks who know you because they are the same as you are in this respect. 

Looking at it as a "struggle", I find useless and poisonous for me. To struggle, for me, implies that I can beat it if I only try hard enough and that is how I got so messed up  in the first place.

I got this messed up my way.
Now it is time to do things a different  way.
Because I finally became
ready for things to be different.
And yes, the solution is not "long term", but neither is your kabolas ohl malchus shomayim. You can only be mekabel it for today, right? Can you eat for tomorrow? Can you go to the bathroom extra today, so you will not need to go tomorrow? No. In the same way a person can "commit" himself to keeping the Torah/mekabel the ohl forever, but his commitment is actually hevel. You cannot guarantee that you will keep it tomorrow. It says "hayom" in the Kriyas sh'ma, no? It's really really new, each day.

This is how the program's solution works, for me. This is all it means when we say, "One day at a time."

When we get honest about our limitations, like "we are sober only for today," it's not because it is too hard to do a week or a year. It is not about willpower at all! It's because it is just the truth: we are only sober one day at a time, and that is our only business.  Not tomorrow. Focus on tomorrow's sobriety is more shtuyot.
We get honest with ourselves and with others like us, to make it all more real to us. And that is the first step.
If you want to know a lot about the 12 steps I suggest reading the books called "the SA white book", and the book called "Alcoholics Anonymous". But what worked for me was not reading or studying. It was attending SA meetings, spending time with other people  with my type of problem who were getting better, and actually following the directions of the steps to the letter.
Thank-you for your patience with me. It takes me a long time to say things, sorry.
Hatzlocha and if we do not communicate again before RH, Have a kesiva vechasima tova you and all your family!
- Dov