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Tracey's Jerusalem Post Articles and Related Links   —   The Sobar: Tracey's Youth Music Center Project

Better late than never

This month, a center will open that will give young artists and individuals the chance to grow
without the dangers of the streets. (Photo credit: TNS)

A year and a half ago I was looking for a way to bring in more kids to my Sobar alcohol-free music bar venture when I happened upon Tomer and the Gypsy Lady, playing their hearts out in Jerusalem's Zion Square. Dozens of young adults, as well as people of all ages, were gathered to marvel at their musical skill and their ability to play everything from Eyal Golan to Metallica.

Tomer – or Harav Tomer as he is known by the kids – and his beautiful counterpart on the violin set up a microphone three or four times a week and encourage kid after kid to go up to the mic and display what talent they’ve got. With Tomer’s support, the young people overcome their stage fright and become part of the magic of music.

When I met Tomer, I told him about my dream to have a safe place for kids in Jerusalem to hang out, and he said to me, “If you want to draw in the ‘Kikar Kids,’ get that boy over there.”

That was the beginning of my relationship with an extremely talented boy who was drowning in his addiction.

I began working with this 20-year-old young man, who had begun his drinking career at the age of 13 when he was performing in the US as a child-prodigy Jewish singer. Before his first performance, he downed a bottle of vodka, and his drinking never stopped. I was not aware of his issues until a mutual friend who had known him for years shared with me what had been going on. He had been singing and playing guitar for years in bars, where he could party without paying.

He attracted beautiful girl after girl who fell for his good looks, talent and charm until they could no longer stand supporting him in his life of drug and alcohol abuse and lack of contribution to the relationship and household. It generally took them a long time to finally sever the relationship, after a lot of money and tears had been spent trying to change a very sick boy who seemed so promising.

I managed to find his family, and we all met together. From that day on we met a few times a week, either alone or with his family, and he stopped drinking. After a couple of months his family felt he was well enough to continue on his own and stopped his treatment. A few months later, after realizing on his own that he had simply transferred his addiction to alcohol over to marijuana use, he was able to get accepted into Returno, a well-respected rehabilitation center in Beit Shemesh.

With a lot of support from the staff and his family, he seemed to be on the right track. However, once he completed the program he believed he was “cured” and didn’t follow up with any type of treatment or support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous. He reverted back to his old behaviors, and he remained a “dry drunk.”

Addiction generally occurs in individuals who turn to alcohol, drugs or other negative stimulations for comfort because they find it too difficult to manage through daily life without it. This often happens in people who have poor coping skills and feel unable to deal with life on life’s terms. They use their chemical or behavior of choice as a way to ignore their difficulties.

This means that instead of learning from the challenges they face in life, they just ignore them. If such people manage to later overcome their addictive behaviors but haven’t developed healthy coping skills while recovering, they will just be returning to the same conditions that drove them to alcoholism/drug or other addictions in the first place. These individuals are called dry drunks/dry addicts.

A dry drunk or addict is someone who has dropped the actual reality-avoiding behavior/addiction but has yet to develop the coping skills to live in a healthy way. They can be even less bearable than they were when they were using. They no longer have the mood-altering chemicals or behaviors to feel like they are coping in order to calm them down or to help them pass out in avoidance. They often become stormy or withdrawn and, for the most part, stop functioning.

We are surrounded by “functioning addicts” in our society. I met a man who used to work on Wall Street. Deep into his addiction to heavy drugs that a week later took his life, he shared with me that almost everyone he knew on Wall Street used cocaine to help them cope with the insanity of that scene.

How many movies have we seen where big business in America lures businessman into the drinking and drugging scene? Try going to a staff party or a business outing where alcohol is not served.

Returning to our young boy, he is back on the streets after the last sweet girl released herself from him. One of the kids I work with saw him passed out from drug use, probably in the arms of the latest young lady to be taken in by his irresistible looks, talent and charm. He is a loving boy – but he is dying.

Another case of a lost boy is one whose whole life was skateboarding until his board was stolen a few months ago. He has been addicted to Mr. Nice Guy, marijuana, hash and Hagigat for close to 10 years. Synthetic marijuana drugs such as Hagigat and Mr. Nice Guy – called “spice” in the US and around the world – have until recently been sold openly in stores and are easily available on the streets. Use of these drugs can have damaging and often irreversible effects on the brain, kidneys and other organs, strokes and even death.

This boy is a singer, songwriter, dancer, skateboarder and who knows what else. He is visibly psychotic from the illicit drugs he is taking. His mother and the therapeutic community have done everything to try to save him, except for the tough love that he seems so desperately to need. Seeing him deteriorate from drug use is too much for most of us to bear.

Trying to convince a mother that “less is actually more” is one of the hardest things I have had to do in my practice. As mothers, we want to rescue and assist our kids in all their life challenges. The problem is that the more we rescue, the less our kids have to learn how to rescue themselves or, even better, to learn that they need to make better choices so as not to fall into a pit they cannot get out of.

This month, with the support we are getting from the community and two wonderful young partners, Barak Kabilio and Guy Chugi, a center will open that will give kids like the two mentioned above a creative home where they can be safe to blossom as young artists and individuals without the dangers of the streets. We welcome everyone interested in being a part of the Sobar to join us in making it happen.

We have just kicked off our Headstart campaign. Spread the word and be a part of the solution!

The writer counsels families and their troubled youth; she is an addiction counselor and the founder of the Sobar alcohol-free live music bar project for teens and young adults. Jerusalem Teen Counseling, www.jerusalemteencounseling.net.