He may have been called a criminal in his early years, but Mark Borovitz has a new name attached to him now: Rabbi.
Thanks to a life of drinking, drug use and crime, Borovitz eventually landed in prison. While behind bars, he found the Torah and got sober; that was nearly 30 years ago. Today, Borovitz is senior rabbi and CEO of Beit T’Shuvah, the premiere Jewish faith-based non-sectarian integrative residential recovery center in Los Angeles, and recently released his latest book Finding Recovery and Yourself in Torah: A Daily Spiritual Path to Wholeness. He’s also become a highly sought after public speaker for seminars across the country where he lectures on spirituality and recovery. Borovitz even received an invitation from President George W. Bush to participate in a presidential round table on the subjects.
Speaking exclusively with Recovery.org, Rabbi Mark Borovitz talks about combining Judaism with 12-Step principles, how he’s fighting for the “soul of recovery” and why he’ll never consider himself to be fully recovered.
When did your drinking and drug use first begin?
I started drinking as a kid and it became heavier when I was 16. It got out of hand a lot sooner than I realized it, which was around 1988. I wasn’t one of these brilliant guys who realized it right away because I was too busy trying to anesthetize myself from the pain that I was feeling in life. I got sober at 37.
You’ve said that the Torah connected with you while you were in prison. Why do you think it connected for you at that moment?
To a certain degree, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I had this spiritual awakening. I didn’t have any good answers on my own. I was blessed to remember my higher power and remember my faith. I knew there was something more for me in my life than just being a drunk and a criminal. The big difference for me was that I followed it through and didn’t do it half-assed. I went at recovery like I was being a criminal and a drunk: with everything that I’ve got.
There’s a difference between recovery and sobriety. Recovery is when I’m totally engaged in looking to try and do the next right thing. For me, just not drinking and using isn’t enough. I have to live as a decent human being.
The thing that’s really unique about your facility is that it combines Judaism with the principles of AA.
All of recovery has a language. For us, the way to help people find their language is through Judaism. Jews have had a hard time believing in the efficacy of the 12-Steps because it’s held in church basements and came out of the Oxford group. We’re not talking about anything that isn’t Jewish. We wanted people to understand. The important thing about recovery is that I speak to people in a way they can hear. As soon as somebody walks into an AA meeting, they’re ready to get well. Especially in a rehab, they’re ready. The question is whether we can speak to them in a way they can hear.
Recovery is not one-size-fits-all, so we treat each person as a unique entity. I don’t know exactly what’s going to work for a person or unlock their purpose and that belief. Anybody who tells you they do is lying.
Everyone here has a spiritual counselor, an addiction counselor and a therapist.
What are the ways your treatment center has evolved over the years and what are the ways you’d like it to continue growing?
We’ve gained more knowledge and credibility. People now understand that one size doesn’t fit all. I’d like to see us grow in our education. We’re fighting for the soul of recovery. Everybody is with Suboxone or thinks that methadone is a cure. This a chronic condition and we’re only sober based on our spiritual condition. No pill can give me that. Hell, that’s what we tried to use when we were loaded!
But just to clarify, I believe in the abstinence-only model, but I’m also not opposed to detox and I don’t think psychotropics are a bad idea. If they need the help, that’s fine, but let’s not pathologize human suffering.
What makes people’s recovery so strong is the suffering that we have to experience in order to realize what we’ve done in our lives.
You’ve been sober for 28 years now. Do you consider yourself to be fully recovered at this point?
In the Jewish tradition, the only thing that’s cured are hams…and hams aren’t kosher. I have to ask myself every day whether I’m living a fit and proper life, so anybody who thinks they’re cured is dangerous. We have to get out of this scientific model. I don’t even know what cured means!
I know that, as a human being, I have to be involved in my recovery from human brokenness. As a human, I feel separate and I feel lost. I need to be concerned with how I find myself and how I found God. God is looking for humans and we keep hiding from him. I can’t think I’ve ever “got it” because then I’ll start to think I’m God and that will make a terrible life. I continue to do my spiritual work every day.
Image Courtesy of Mark Borovitz