“Then one Friday night, in my room (at Beit T’Shuvah), I had an epiphany that I had to work the program to become the father I wanted to be,” Mendel C. shares.
Born into a “poor but loving household” in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Mendel experienced a disruptive and traumatic early childhood. After his father suffered a broken neck, when he was just four years of age, the son of his grandmother’s maid sexually assaulted young Mendel, while his mother was off tending to her husband. It was at this same time that he also took his first sip of alcohol – an event that would color the balance of Mendel’s life to come.
At age ten he got drunk for the first time and by his teens he had added Adderall and Oxycontin to his narcotic routine. “I took any pill I could get my hands on; anything that helped me stop feeling,” he recounts. But none of it held a candle to his “first love” of alcohol. Consequently, “by age seventeen I had been kicked out of four high schools and was on probation,” he painfully recalls. To satisfy the terms of his probation Mendel experienced his first time in rehab. Although as he puts it, “after five days I got kicked out and spent the next two months in ‘juvey’.”
The next several years saw Mendel move to Los Angeles, briefly attempt Orthodox Judaism, to help him come to terms with his childhood sexual abuse, and then, at age twenty-four, move to Desert Hot Springs, California to begin work as a hotel manager. But, through it all, his constant companion of alcohol was never too far away. And then an event occurred, when he was twenty-six, that would take him further down the darkened path of his dangerous journey with his drinking demons.
“I took a weekend off to visit with friends in L.A. I took some mushrooms with a female friend, we made love and I knew in that instant she was pregnant,” he explains. Sure enough, a couple weeks later she informed him that she was, in fact, with child. “Then she told me she didn’t want the baby, against my wishes, and that’s when I graduated to vodka,” he relates. Following this dramatic escalation in his addiction, Mendel moved back to Los Angeles and began working in the food industry as a chef. It was at this job that he met his soon-to-be wife.
The pair immediately connected and began dating. And, over the next two years, the couple’s bond deepened, but there was always a persistent and insatiable third party of “spirits” in the way of the relationship. Their love was strong but his addiction was stronger and at the end of that two-year period, at her prompting, they decided to take a year off from each other. During that year, Mendel continued his work as a chef and he also continued to take his drinking to even higher levels of abuse, waking up to vodka shots and drinking on the job.
Despite his worsening condition, the pair reunited after that year and “a few months later she got pregnant with our son,” he remembers with a smile. But the smiles didn’t last for long. Following a brief flirtation with sobriety, Mendel relapsed and the couple, once again, split up.
Distraught and at an emotional breaking point, following this latest breakup, Mendel decided to get clean in December of 2020. “I detoxed, got sober and eventually got back with my ex,” he shares. And to finally add some joy and hope to his life, Mendel’s son was born in February of 2021. However, his familiar pattern of two steps forward and three shots of vodka back persisted and he “fell off the wagon” a couple months later.
Over the next several months he continued his life and death-wrestling match with his addiction demons, as well as his on again, off again relationship with his ex. At one point, while visiting his family in Pennsylvania, his drinking got so bad that he was physically unable to board his flight back to California and began experiencing alcoholic auditory hallucinations. “My whole family thought I was going to die,” he recalls. To save her son’s life, his mother got him into a detox facility, which also included a residential program. To appease his family he stayed for twenty-one days, but then left to get back to Los Angeles. And, not surprisingly, he relapsed almost immediately after touching down at LAX.
It was now August of 2020 and his ex had finally had enough and kicked him out for good. Exhausted and defeated, Mendel desperately and honestly sought help and reached out to Beit T’shuvah. And, following a two-week detox, he was admitted into BTS on September 21, 2021. However, it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns in the beginning. “The first month I was here I was bitter,” he describes. But then, as alluded to earlier, the powerful draw of being a part of his son’s life changed everything. “My treatment team of Rabbi Joseph and Leah and I started to see progress in my recovery,” he says. The trio also began to develop a concrete plan for his life after Beit T’Shuvah.
“My sexual abuse made me think I had no value or future,” Mendel shares. But by working the program and digging deep within he was able to experience a breakthrough regarding his own self-worth. “And with the help of Rabbi Joseph, as my mentor, I’m being guided on the path to becoming a rabbi – my true passion and purpose,” he explains with a gleam in his eyes. And to that end, Rabbi Joseph has created a special intern position in the Spiritual Department for Mendel to further his ascent towards his sacred calling. Following a literal lifetime chained to the shackles of alcohol addiction, Mendel has become yet another shining example of the power of G-d’s love in guiding a lost soul from darkness into the light. And, as you continue down that road towards redemption and healing, Mendel, know you have an entire community behind you as you begin your new chapter of becoming a committed spiritual agent and, most of all, a loving and dedicated father to your son.