A Quick Guide to “Coming Home”
BY RABBI SHMUEL GLUCK
There are two common situations which cause teenagers to become aware that they have to redirect their approaches to life. The first is when they realize that they’ve lived the last few years of their lives in error. Many of us know teenagers who’ve spent their teenage years in destructive manners. The second is when they’re tired of living their lives without control. Many of us also know at least one person who’s been living under abusive treatment.
In many instance, that “living in error” has caused the teenagers to adopt many negative skills, to realize that they have no idea what the next steps should be, and to lose out on life’s experiences. Even if they did, they wouldn’t know how to take the next steps.
They also have so much “baggage” to get rid of. There’s years of lost opportunities and experiences, such as Yiddishkeit, Torah study, and a High School education. Their friends may be getting married and starting families. In addition, many of them find that they’re “weighed down” and still coping, or still compensating, for the past abuse of their bodies (through eating disorders, drugs, alcohol etc).
Some of them are now on medications and feel their side effects, or are frustrated by the lack of their bodies’ responses to those medications. A lack of motivation, a compromised ability to focus, and a general “lost” feeling, are other possible issues with which many of them are contending.
Any of these issues may leave them “stuck” in a terrible place. They believe that they can’t continue as they are now, can’t figure out what they should do, and don’t believe that they can ever really change enough to make it matter. Even if they could, they don’t believe that their lives would improve, because other people won’t notice their changes. All of these thoughts create feelings of urgency but ignore a reality. Years of mistakes may take weeks, or months, of change, before they see the light at the end of the tunnel and become comfortable with themselves.
Since they’ve finally admitted that many things matter, they’re now in touch with their minds, bodies and aspirations. Those next few weeks or months will be the most painful that they’ve ever faced. Every second will cause them pain. They’ll be haunted by negative thoughts. I find it terribly painful even to watch them, knowing that I only have a glimpse of what they’re actually going through. In order to help them, I’ve put together a step by step approach to get their lives together.
Once they get their lives together, these young adults are often more successful than the average person. The reason for this is because they‘ve been forced to think about life, the effect of their actions, sacrifices, relationships, and more. They’ve become enriched by their multiple experiences. This isn’t something that I say to make them feel good, but it’s something that I‘ve seen countless times.
However, teenagers shouldn’t be encouraged to “experience” life, but once they’ve experienced it, it’s something from which they can gain immeasurably.
However, teenagers shouldn’t be encouraged to “experience” life, but once they’ve experienced it, it’s something from which they can gain immeasurably. Although our Chachamim say “Baalei Teshuva are on a higher level than Tzaddikim”, people still don’t have the right to do Aveirohs in order to become Baalei Teshuva. However, once they’ve lived negatively, they can “grow” far above average people.
Many of these steps are points that I’ve made in the past, but are repeated here for their general importance, and as part of the order necessary for success.
1) Do something, despite a lack of desire or motivation. These teenagers may have to “force” themselves to do something even though they aren’t in the mood, or believe that they can’t, or won’t, succeed. This requires recognition, and an acknowledgment, that if they don’t take the next step and the next one, they’ll “be stuck” in their present rut forever. It also requires them to admit that whatever pain may come from the change, it will be better than the personal jail they’re presently experiencing due to their “lack of action”.
Part of this forcing includes being “typical”. This means they’ll have to make commitments to: e.g. wake up at normal times even if there’s nothing to do; sit at the Shabbos table even if they aren’t hungry; or call their grandparents even if they’ve nothing to say. They must also keep in mind that as much as their thoughts influence their actions, their actions also influence their thoughts. They should allow themselves to smile, laugh, and have fun, even if they aren’t in the mood.
They must also talk in a typical manner. They must stop speaking negatively of themselves, despite believing that they’re being truthful. Their repetitive self criticisms won’t allow them to “grow”. Instead, they should keep all their negative thoughts to themselves, thereby giving growth a chance.
2) Make a commitment to undertake all of the steps necessary to change. Although they may be committed to change, they’re frequently only willing to do part of what’s required to successfully change. They may be willing to take a job but aren’t willing to see a therapist. They may be willing to see a therapist but aren’t willing to take medication. This type of cycle may have already been going on for a long time. A serious commitment means a commitment to do everything to fully succeed, and not to change in only a few areas. Success requires doing everything that’s needed, not just part of what’s needed.
3) Reassess their circle of friends. This involves two areas:
a) Distancing themselves, as much as possible, from friends who’re trying to keep them “down”. It’s sad that friends don’t like “losing” anyone from their group, even when those individuals are trying to move forward. When a group realizes that they may lose any of their friends, they’ll frequently do whatever it takes to bring the friends “down” and make them give up hope of ever changing.
b) Begin to associate with new, good, people. To distinguish between good and bad people is usually simple, but for some teenagers it may be more difficult and may require advice from others. The nature of man is to be affected by loneliness. Some people feel it within; others feel it only on the outside.
4) There’s another reason why young adults will need to create a circle of good friends. When teenagers admit that their last few years have not been successful, they must also admit that their opinions of themselves, and what they considered acceptable risks were sometimes inaccurate. This means that, although they may be sure that they have a strong talent for making effective decisions, past experience has shown that they’re probably wrong, very wrong.
This is usually very difficult to do. Sometimes a girl is sure that she’s fat (for those recovering anorexics), or a boy is sure that he can’t succeed (for those with nonexistent self images), or that some business deal will make them millions and all they need to do is “max out” on their credit cards, friends and parents. (Since they’re sure that they’ll be rich they may as well lease the new car now).
In addition, many teenagers have placed themselves “into a box” in terms of what they like or don’t like, can or can’t do, believe or don’t believe. These specific behaviors have been a part of them for such a long time, that these behaviors are, “who they are”.
This isn’t true. I’ve seen countless teenagers, who’ve appeared to be useless and anti religion and years later they’re Rabbeim or Rebbetzins, successful, and great people. It’s difficult to describe how individuals can take all of their positive qualities and bury them so deeply that no one, certainly not, are even aware that they exist.
Placing themselves into a box limits their growth. They may believe that their appreciation of Neviim, which may have been a favorite subject of theirs, is a thing of the past. It’s impossible, even wrong, they may say to themselves, for them to begin, again, at the age of 14 – 15. After telling themselves countless times that they can’t work for anyone, they would consider taking a job, but they’ve convinced themselves that it’s not for them. After years of negative living, many of these young adults have their own personal “life rules” that aren’t true, and don’t serve them well on their road to recovery. Teenagers who’re “coming back” must be able and willing, to trust important areas of their lives to individuals they respect.
5) They need to allow others to make decisions for them until they learn how to make decisions and to be confident (not foolish) in life. Once they’ve learned decision making and confidence, they can trust themselves and their views of what’s good for them. Until this is accomplished they must be willing to live life with blind faith in the individuals they’ve chosen. They must be willing to do anything advised to them, even if they don’t understand how it’ll help them in their goal of improving their lives.
In addition to allowing others to make decisions for them, teenagers must be willing to allow the others the right to define who they are. Many young adults who’re trying to recreate themselves may believe that they can’t do things right or that they can’t do things wrong. They need to ask these people and must accept the fact that their opinions of themselves may not be accurate.
6) They need to believe that they can do things right. They can control their bad habits (at least as well as anyone can). They can do what everyone else can do. This leads me to a seemingly contradictory statement. Although they may believe that they can do things right, they must also accept, and be comfortable with the fact, that there are many things that they can’t do right.
Blending these two (can and can’t) together is the real goal. These teenagers are just like everyone else. They’ll succeed in some areas, fail in others, and learn to improve as they get older. They’ll learn not to be afraid to live life and everything that it brings. They should take chances, and do things despite the fact that it makes them uncomfortable. Most of all, they should allow themselves to have fun. I mention the concept of fun since many people who “find” themselves, become tense, stressed out, often believe that life is too serious and that there’s too much too accomplish, and don’t have the time to enjoy themselves.
For instance, teenagers that believe that they’re not motivated to do anything should nevertheless go through the motions of being motivated. They shouldn’t “say” that they’re not motivated or anything negative about themselves unless it’s in a constructive conversation with someone else. They should listen to these friends and advisors who offer them solutions, even though they may not understand how they’ll help them to become motivated.
They must also free the time necessary for change to take place within them. If they find that things are getting better, even if only a little better, they should be honest and acknowledge the fact. This will give them the motivation to continue working on their self improvement.
7) People who’re unhappy and disillusioned need a purpose to live that must be fulfilling and offers them a reason to feel good about themselves. Young adults looking to grow should undertake projects that’ll help others. They should live life for more than only for themselves.
Living this kind of life could be as simple as helping around the house, tutoring someone, or calling someone else who’s also unhappy and disillusioned. Although at this time they may not really be in a mood to do this, and may even be incredulous that this was even suggested, nevertheless, it’s an integral part of making them happy with themselves and their ability to grow.
8) Many young adults may not like this last step. They must begin to believe in many things: themselves, others and Hashem’s desire to help them. Hashem has been waiting for them to make this move and now they have Hashem. By saying Tehillim and doing Chesed, these young adults can succeed far beyond their imaginations.
Photo Credit: COLINBROUGH from rgbstock.com