I struggled alone for so many years. I’d been in and out of too many yeshivos and gone to rehab to kick my drug habit three times.
But it was only once I made the decision to lead a productive life, to make wise choices and serve as an inspiration to others, that I was able to find happiness and stability. –Chaim
Speaking to Chaim, a newly married young man just weeks after his wedding, one gets the impression of having a conversation with a wise adult. Chaim is barely 24 years old, but his life experiences and turbulent adolescence have granted him the maturity of a man much older than he is. Chaim bravely agreed to share his honest, gut-wrenching story, hoping to give chizzuk to others who may be on similar journeys.
I was born in New York, the eldest child in a prominent Chabad family. When I was about four years old, shortly after 9/11, my parents made the decision to leave Crown Heights. We settled in Los Angeles, near my grandparents. My father opened his own business, and my mother trained and worked as a nurse.
For various reasons, my parents enrolled me in a Modern Orthodox school. I flourished there as a child but always felt like an outsider. For example, I was the only boy who ate chalav Yisrael, so when a classmate bought a Baskin-Robbins birthday cake, the rebbe asked him not to open it because I wouldn’t be able to eat it. Naturally, this did little to endear me to my classmates.
In addition, my parents were very careful about whose homes I could visit and which friendships I could cultivate. They wanted to protect me, to enable me to make wise choices and stay on our derech. But, I felt torn between two worlds—the value system of my school and the stricter standards at home.
In addition to all this confusion during the most critical years of my childhood, I was exposed to serious trauma, including inappropriate information on an unfiltered computer at the home of someone my parents trusted. I was very young when this first began, and it continued to escalate for many years, going from bad to worse. Somehow, I succeeded in masking my pain and confusion, numbing the pain and disgust and helplessness I felt on a daily basis. My inability to extricate myself from this harmful situation created deep trauma that took many years of hard work to overcome.
On the outside, I looked like any other frum kid, with a big kippah, tzitzis out, and doing well in school, but inside I was a wreck. The guilt and shame were eating me up, and I had nowhere to express it.
I kept up this façade until my bar mitzvah, during which I said the maamar as my parents beamed with nachas. Sadly, that was the last time they would be beaming with nachas for many, many turbulent years.
It started with desecrating the Shabbos. At first it felt like sacrilege, but after a few weeks, unfortunately, it became second nature. It gave me a thrill to do as I pleased. It made me feel empowered.
But despite my bravado, the truth is that inside I was a hurting, confused young boy. While I had a momentary thrill, it didn’t make me feel good.