SEPTEMBER 7, 2017 – Ariele Goldman and Justin Clancy never expected that they would become heroin addicts. They had come from loving families, and as children the two seemed to have bright futures. Justin went to Camp Simcha and started singing and rapping when he was eight. Goldman went to a private Jewish day school, joined Young Judea, and traveled to Israel several times.
But internally, the two realized early in life that all was not right with their lives. At six, Justin was prescribed Adderall, and didn’t find the group of friends he hoped for as he moved through elementary school. “I wanted to fit in, but I wasn’t really athletic when I was growing up so I didn’t fit in with the jocks, and I was too edgy for the preppy kids, so I fell in with the kids who were doing the bad stuff,” said Justin, who grew up in Peabody. He is now 22, and has been off heroin and sober for almost four years. These days, Justin works for Banyan Treatment Center and is the co-founder of New England Addiction Outreach.
“I was high on some type of drug every single day from aged 12 to 19. But the drugs I got hooked on and got dependent on was opiates, and heroin,” said Justin, who is now a professional vocalist, and works as a community outreach coordinator and treatment adviser for recovering addicts.
When he was 15, he had kidney stone surgery and left the hospital with a prescription for Percocet. After his prescription ran out he started shooting heroin. “Nobody wakes up and says ‘today is a good day to do heroin.’ It’s a progression. Sometimes it’s slow and sometimes it’s fast but it’s a disease, and it’s something that you’re born with,” he said.
For his mother, Alyssa Rice, the discovery of her son’s addiction was terrifying. “It was horrific,” said Rice, who remembers finding a syringe, spoon, and a belt in her son’s room and realizing that he was on heroin. “I was ashamed. I was embarrassed, I tried to keep a lid on it, I didn’t want anybody to know,” said Rice, who witnessed her son go through over a dozen detox attempts before he was able to stay sober.
Across the North Shore, and the state, the opioid epidemic continues to rage. Last year, 2,107 Massachusetts residents died of overdoses, and during the first six months of 2017, the state’s Department of Public Health reported 978 overdose deaths.
The Jewish community has hardly been exempt to the opioid crisis, and in every city and town, there are families that have experienced heartbreak.
“Culturally, we are extremely private about issues of addiction. There’s a sense of shame and there’s a real, almost irrational, clinging to the notion that we can deal with this or that we can figure it out. I think local Jews who come to me need to be prodded to get professional help,” said Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, who directs Chabad of the North Shore in Swampscott. In recent years, Lipsker has met with an increasing amount of people addicted to opiates.
Lipsker advises that parents seek professional help immediately for their children. “The most difficult thing I find for parents is that they feel rachmonis, or sympathy, and they feel like their child is going to hurt themselves G-d forbid, and so they are inclined to overprotect in the name of fear and pity, when the right thing to do by the child often almost never feels good. But it’s right and it could change a kid’s life. There needs to be tough love and zero tolerance,” he said.
Ariele Goldman is now 28 and hopes to become a psychotherapist who specializes in drug counseling. Even as a child, Ariele realized that something didn’t feel right. “I had a really good childhood, all the cards were in line for me to be very successful. Everything was good externally, but things weren’t good internally. I was uncomfortable in my own skin, I didn’t feel like I belonged or fit in anywhere. I had low self-esteem. And when you’re uncomfortable you look for outside things that make you feel whole,” she said.
When she was 14, she tried alcohol and marijuana and at the time she believed she felt like she fit in with her classmates at Swampscott High School. She also tried psych medications, but eventually realized that no drug worked. “Nothing fixed the void in my soul. I was still depressed, still uncomfortable in my own skin, and I still didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere. I felt like a lost soul,” she said.
At 19, she took a Percocet and thought it made her feel better. “I took them every day for the next four years and my life slowly got worse and worse. When it got too expensive I switched over to heroin,” said Ariele.
“I didn’t know I had a problem until I knew I had a problem. One day my mom found my syringes and that was my spiritual awakening. I told her the truth, I told her I had been using heroin and that I needed help.”
In 2013, after detoxing several times in different treatment centers, she kicked heroin. But a new boyfriend brought different drugs, and soon she found herself addicted again – this time to Adderall and Xanax. It took her another three years to summon the strength to kick those drugs and last September she was able to detox at home, with the help of her parents.
“This is a family disease, it’s not just the addicted person” explained Lauren Goldman, who was stunned when she learned about her daughter’s addiction. “As parents you have to learn about tough love and learn how to say to your child who you still love that ‘you can’t live in my house anymore.’ We had a deadbolt on our bedroom door. That’s not living. You have to learn to recognize that they’re going to do whatever they’re going to do when they’re in active addiction, and it’s frightening as hell.
“Baruch Hashem, she’s doing well,” said Lauren, who has taught Hebrew for decades and lives in Salem with her husband Larry and Ariele. “I think the vision that many people still have today is the derelict under a bridge shooting up to get high. It’s not the case. It’s nice kids; it’s Jewish kids. Heroin does not discriminate and the thing to understand is that most people who are suffering have a dual diagnosis. It can be depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, in conjunction with the disease of addiction.”
Lauren went to Learn 2 Cope meetings for years, and now believes it is time for the Jewish community to create more supportive programing to combat the epidemic. “Meetings are mostly in churches. That’s fine. But I want to know why there isn’t a synagogue in this area that hosts meetings for people with addictions?”
For Ariele, getting clean was one of the first steps to sobriety. Acceptance is another step. “The solution is from within,” she said. “You have to learn to love and value yourself.”
Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.