Just who (and what) is Rabbi Mark?
Well that's kind of a loaded question. I guess I'm just an old punk rocker from San Francisco who was born into an Orthodox household. My dad was an Orthodox Rabbi, and I lived a double life coming up in the punk scene’s early days. Needless to say that made me a bit of an alcoholic and a drug addict. I got sober for the first time in the mid-’90s, which lasted about four years; for the second time in 2000, and I haven’t gone back since. I did go forward though -- went back to school, this time to UCLA, and earned degrees in Therapy and Counseling; then I became ordained through the rabbinical school at the Academy of Jewish Religion. Kind of a circuitous route to take only to get back to my dad’s job, but there you have it.
Do you see becoming ordained as some kind of calling?
The path to rabbinical study chose me, I didn’t choose it. In retrospect, it was the logical progression of my spiritual growth in recovery.
Where were you and what were you up to right before coming to Recovery Boot Camp?
I spent the nearly 17 years before coming to RBC working in the field of recovery drug and alcohol counseling. I started off in Los Angeles as a drug and alcohol counselor while continuing my education, after which I moved from counselor to therapist to Rabbi. The seven years prior to coming to Florida I was a program director of an inpatient treatment facility in Pennsylvania, and the four after that there in private practice.
My wife became ill about two years ago from virally induced congestive heart failure and we relocated here for her treatment and the short length of the transplant list.
Wasn’t there some military experience prior to that?
I did spend time in Israeli Army in the early ‘80s during the invasion in Lebanon and that experience kept me active in my addiction and alcoholism for quite some time. Back then the relationship between drug addiction and PTSD was not really talked about and those events made me feel that I really only had one skill in the world.
And didn’t you also do some tattooing?
Yes, before becoming a Rabbi I found tattooing and I owned and operated tattoo shops in Venice, Hollywood and Dallas for quite a few years. It was a way to express a lot of my stress and anger and, creatively, served as an excellent outlet. Being a tattoo artist was actually almost on-the-job training for being a therapist. You think you tell your bartender and your hairstylist all your intimate secrets; try sitting in the tattoo chair for hours and paying somebody to hurt you. You're vulnerable and you tell them everything.
Would you say this was all a natural progression of your formative years in San Francisco?
Really one of the most formative things in my life was alcoholism. It created a huge defiance and a sense of anarchy which naturally drew me to the punk rock movement in its early days. All the people I knew from back then are now either dead or sober. Combined that with my experiences abroad and it made me a very Angry Young Man.
How does all of the above translate into what you do at RBC?
Oddly enough the majority of my maladaptive behaviors as a youngster are the very things that allow me to connect to other addicts today. Addicts, no matter where they’re from or what their standing, have an amazing bullshit detector, and my story's allowed me to connect because I understand their trauma. I've lived it. It's one of the things that makes me effective as a clinician, and it’s what attracted me to RBC's approach. Heavy 12-step along with therapeutic interventions, personal identification, and a strong environment of men bonding together in the sort of intimate ways that most of us lacked as young adults.
How did what you’re doing at RBC lead into the Family Edition of Basic Training?
My schooling, my experience, my own drug addiction, my connection with the clients and my ability to teach is really what came together to help form the germ of this idea for the Family Edition of RBC’s Basic Training. In Pennsylvania I’d started to form a protocol and program for family education which I then used in my practice and with multiple treatment centers; here we’ve expanded upon what I developed there.
Care to share the program’s details?
One of the most resolute realities is that the recovery rate amongst addicts in new sobriety has a direct proportional correlation to the amount of treatment that the family members get for their own disease. A disease, I should add, that was given to them by osmosis, but given nonetheless. The proximity to and being enmeshed with someone so sick for so long will infect everyone involved.
Recovery Boot Camp’s Family Program covers all the information about the disease of addiction, its treatment, family enmeshment, enabling, helping and all the things necessary for a family to truly be supportive in their own mental health, which, by extension, increases the probability of their loved one’s long-term recovery.
How stoked are you to add this to the Recovery Boot Camp equation?
To be perfectly frank, I'm very excited and super-stoked about this opportunity. I think the effects are going to be long-lasting, positive and proactive for everyone who takes advantage of this curriculum. It's the culmination of the Continuum of Recovery for the patient and his family.