Rabbi James Stone Goodman: The Stories

Rabbi James Stone Goodman

BY RABBI JAMES STONE GOODMAN

Rabbi James Goodman organizes a recovery support group called Shalvah (Shalvah means serenity in Hebrew) that emerged out of an earlier effort started by Rose Mass and Rabbi G in 1981. Shalvah presently meets twice a week. It is bundled with two other programs, Positive Jewish Attention to Mental Illness-Mental Health and Jewish Prison Outreach because the borders are elusive.

He thinks it’s time to tell the stories. Confidentiality does not mean secrecy. Secrecy is part of the problem. Thus this series: These are the Stories. 


 

I am a survivor. I have attempted suicide several times in serious ways and I believe I am alive to share a few things I’ve learned. I hope this helps someone.

People could listen more with their eyes as well as their ears. When you are contemplating suicide, you don’t conceptualize it. You may not express it.

Be observant. Don’t ignore anything. Take everything seriously. I wanted someone to hold my hand — I’m not going to leave you, God will not leave you, I’m with you, I will never leave you. 

And most importantly: This feeling is going to pass. You don’t think it’s going to pass. You think it’s never going away. It feels permanent.

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I wanted someone to say to me: I wish I could be there with you. Call me. Don’t be alone.


So Hard It’s Easy

Big Tent – #53a

A room full of difficult stories almost none polite most of them protected in their freedom to disclose by the principle of confidentiality. Confidentiality does not mean secrecy. Secrecy is now part of the problem. What to do. It’s the same principle that applies to the discourse at the meetings: tell your truth but be discreet. It’s a civilized discourse about unsavory pasts and alterable experiences. 

Breathe, share, be economical with language, above all — listen. Don’t be scared, this is the safest room in town. Everyone says that. 

In this room are stories of degradation and pain, descent and most often the hidden movement of ascent present in every story in some hidden or expressed way. We stay with our experience, strength, and hope. It sounds hard but it’s not hard. It’s life saving and healing and revealing and a release from the confines of what has become too narrow for us: our former selves, too small for us now. We do not cure, we transcend.

Our response to the challenges of our lives: We grow.


Big Tent – Story #53b

There is a spiritual basis to our discourse, it’s not so much about God as it is about the ascendance of something over Self-full-ness. It’s more of a not-god concept. There is a God, it is not-me. That’s as close as we get to a God concept. It’s not theology, it’s story telling for adults. This is my story, it has features of descent, it has features of ascent. It leaves the residue of hope.

We tell stories. A lot of the stories are gruesome. Most of them are funny. If we haven’t had one when we came in, we all acquire a sense of humor. We learn to laugh. This may one of the most important lessons of the group: Tell the truth but find the funny in it. I suppose funny is a form of detachment, some sort of Buddhistic disengagement with the heaviness of our tales. 

What we talk about is heavy and true and brutal and we carried around a lot of weight for probably a long time, how good it feels to free it up with laughter. The first release is the release from isolation and uniqueness. The principle is accept and release. How is it that what might have killed us now makes us laugh? Exactly. 

The strange algebra of what we do with talk and experience and breath and communication and truth-telling and real life responses to real life challenges. 

We grow. We laugh. We tell some cautious truth. We disengage. We are serious and happy. We glimpse the possibility of a better life and we work toward it. Toward: Another good description of our process. A lot of Toward and How, less What. People do not generally give advice.

We have lost people, we have found people. We have found more people than we have lost but we do not forget that we lose people too. Beneath the laugher is serious business. We are dealing with substance abuse, many expressions of dis-ease, mental illness, excessive dis-function. 

We meet twice a week. Drama erupts, lives change, the eclipsing of former ways of being present in every meeting. Every meeting is like a chapter in a drama of ascent and descent, the systole and diastole of hyper-awareness. It’s a wonder to witness.

The hard part is outside the room: How to take what we learn in our safe place and make it real in the expanded circles of our lives. How to live in community, we talk about that. The goal is not talk, the goal is to live.