Substance abuse is a growing epidemic that doesn’t discriminate based on religion, economic class, gender, or ethnicity.
Experts will all tell you that drug and alcohol addiction are not about the substance, but rather about what pain the users are trying to escape, what hole in their hearts they are trying to fill, or what aspect of their lives they desperately want to be numb to.
A young man I know recently wrote me a letter describing his experience with drugs and how he was using them to deny and escape his actual problem, the depression that was suffocating him. “For months during that year I would go to sleep every night hoping and praying I simply wouldn’t wake up the next morning, and every morning I would open my eyes and feel the crushing disappointment of having to endure another day. Modeh Ani [the prayer said upon waking up] seemed to be mocking me.”
In the five years between 2010 and 2015, the number of teens in America struggling with depression surged to a shocking 33 percent. Teen suicide attempts increased by 23 percent. While these numbers are dramatically lower in the Jewish community, they are still way too high and only growing.
A recent paper published in Clinical Psychological Science correlates the increased mental health issues among young people with the rise of smart phones and use of social media. It turns out that being hyper-connected generates feelings of loneliness and insignificance.
They all shared feeling invisible, inconsequential, that they don’t know why they are here and that the world would be no different if they were gone. In recent, separate conversations with several young people struggling with depression, similar themes and language emerged. They all shared feeling invisible, inconsequential, that they don’t know why they are here and that the world would be no different if they were gone.
While such thoughts are obviously unhealthy and demand attention, intense therapy, and often medication, they also provide an insight into both what we can do to identify the population most at risk, to show support for those currently suffering, and to help those who have struggled from relapsing.
Last year, on a tour of the Library of Congress, I commented to our guide that a book we were looking at was rare. She stopped me and said, “That book is not rare; it is unique, one of a kind.” That comment immediately got me thinking, not so much about the book, but about all of us.
So many people are struggling to find their place in the world, their value or worth. Too many people feel irrelevant or insignificant. We all need to know, believe and most importantly feel, that not only are we not just rare, we are one of a kind, and irreplaceable.
We each have a unique mission and distinctive purpose in this world that cannot be accomplished or achieved by anyone else. We are each a tzelem Elokim, a distinct and special expression of God. We need to know and truly believe it about ourselves, and we need to instill that message in those around us.
Not only is Modeh Ani not mocking us, it is the formula to start each and every day with a jolt of inspiration. We end Modeh Ani with the words, rabba emunasecha, God, your faith in us is great. This phrase appears strange: we are the ones who are supposed to have faith in God, why are we referencing His faith in us?
We begin each day with the recognition that if we woke up this morning, if our “contract” has been renewed another day, that means God continues to have faith in us, that we have a role to play in His world and that we have a personal mission to achieve.