Mitch Feld was, for all practical purposes, dead.
He was in a coma. And doctors told his parents that, even if he managed to survive, he’d never get out of a wheelchair.
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It was the rip-roaring, yuppie 80’s. And Mitch Feld had it all.
The corner office. The sleek car. The six-figure salary. Invitations from all the right people to all the right parties. And a reputation as an achiever, a person who could make things happen.
Everybody knew Mitch Feld. But there was one thing they didn’t know. Behind this go-getter personality was a burning cauldron of doubt, self-hatred, and addiction. Addiction to alcohol. Addiction to drugs. Addiction to food. Addiction to, in fact, just about anything a person could be addicted to.
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Mitch Feld was raised in a typical suburban family in the typical New York City suburb of East Meadow, on Long Island.
But everything was not as it seemed.
Mitch was sexually abused as a child.
Partially because of the pain, he began finding comfort in food. The more he ate, the more he wanted to eat. It was never enough.
“I was born with a hole in my soul,” Mitch Feld says. “And then I experienced abuse. I began eating food to get away from the memories. I used food to numb the pain. When all else failed, I could always knock off five or six cheeseburgers.”
Food, in fact, was Mitch Feld’s first addiction. But not the last.
He began drinking at eight. He was a heavy drinker by 16.
“I looked much older than I was,” he says today, “so it was easy to buy liquor. And I began drinking with older friends.”
He smoked his first joint at 17.
“But nothing happened,” Mitch Feld says. “So I had another. And another. And another. And on the fourth joint, I hit Never-Never Land. The Young Rascals were playing on the stereo. And I was soaring.”
He liked pot so much, in fact, that he gave up alcohol. With pot, there was no sickness. No hangover. And no throwing up.
Then came hashish. Then acid. Then Quaaludes. Then Seconals. By the time he was a student at the University of Baltimore in the late 60’s, he was taking 10-15 Seconals a day…trying to stay awake as long as he could, for fear he would die if he fell asleep. He wanted to stay awake so badly, in fact, that he once ran outside and rolled around on the snow…with no shoes and no shirt.
He ended up quitting school, and then enrolled at Hofstra University, near home. There, he made friends with professors, and when they eventually trusted him enough to leave him alone in their offices, he would steal their files and copy them for his papers. By this time, he was not only stealing papers, but also money, personal property…even food.
His parents had no idea he was an addict.
“They were totally in the dark,” Mitch says now.
Because he was still carrying the scars of sexual abuse, he found himself obsessing about sex…and he began having it with hookers. Eventually he began going to swingers clubs. Just as it had been with alcohol, drugs, and pills, his appetite for sex was voracious.
He eventually got his M.S.W. in Social Work, and moved up the corporate ladder. But even that wasn’t rewarding. His erratic, addiction-driven behavior continued in the workforce. Once, when passed over for a promotion, he simply quit the job.
“Whatever I had in terms of money or possessions – in my case, fancy cars and a house on the ocean – meant nothing to me,” Feld says. “Because of my sex issues, I was afraid of intimacy with women. And I ate all day long… because the heavier I got, the lower the chance for intimacy.”
By now, he was also snorting cocaine daily.
He moved to Boca Raton, FL in August of 1987, to take a job. And for the next two months, he was drug-free and alcohol-free. But then he crumbled.
Between October 1987 and October 1988, he spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars on drugs and alcohol – “I wasn’t sober five minutes that entire year.”
By this time, he had also ballooned to more than 300 pounds.
“I was totally out of control,” Mitch Feld says. “I was drinking and taking drugs in public. And I was doing it at my desk at work.”
Then, in one horrible instant, it all caught up with him.
On the night of October 5, 1988, he went out and got drunk.
The next day, while driving home from a meeting, he drove off the road and onto a golf course, and then crashed into a concrete wall. By the time an ambulance arrived he was nearly dead. By the time he arrived at Boca Raton Community Hospital, he was in a coma.
Mitch Feld had massive head injuries…so massive that surgeons had to operate to relieve the pressure on his brain. His lungs were crushed. His shoulders were crushed. And his stomach was ripped open.
He didn’t wake up until two weeks later.
“When I woke up,” he says, “I knew I’d be fired from my job. I knew I’d lose my house. I knew whatever I had was gone. I laid in my bed and cried. I had burned every bridge…I had no one left to scam.”
The doctors told him he’d be in a wheelchair the rest of his life. And that he’d have cognitive difficulties, as well. He was told he’d need months of intensive physical therapy, to learn how to walk, talk, and use simple utensils again.
Mitch Feld was a broken man; so broken, in fact, that he didn’t even have the desire to put the effort into rehab. He had a bad attitude…and no compunction about displaying it to staff and other patients. The rehab facility wanted him out.
But he had no place to go. Finally, his employer told him they would pay his expenses – if he committed to an intensive detox program. So he approached the rehab Administrator.
“I got down on my knees and cried,” he says. “I begged them to keep me. Finally, they consented. But they put me on what was called ’24-Hour Notice’…they reviewed my behavior every day.”
Mitch Feld had been given a second chance at life.
“In rehab,” he says, “for the first time in my life, I felt like part of a community. They became my family. And that enabled me to start developing a better self-image.”
As soon as he was able, he began the Twelve-Step program. Early on, a counselor said to him, “Are you willing to go to any lengths to get sober and drug-free?”
Mitch responded that he wasn’t sure about the meaning of the question.
Whereupon the counselor yelled, “Yes or no!!”
“I quickly realized this was not a conversation,” Mitch Feld says. “I needed to declare! And I said yes. I said yes even though I didn’t fully understand what he meant. And that was a seminal moment for me – it was a moment of faith. It was the first time I was willing to commit to something without fully understanding it…just on faith.”
Feld’s sponsor taught him patience…for example, to take one item in the grocery store and learn to wait behind people with full wagons. He taught him to sit in a chair quietly…for five minutes, then ten, then 15, then 30. He found work around his house for Mitch to do, giving him a sense of self-worth.
“It wasn’t easy,” Feld says today. “But I realized I had to heal my spirit. And I did a lot of meditation and prayer toward that end.”
His sponsor was spiritually-oriented, not clinically-oriented.
“”He used to tell me,” Feld says, ‘All you need to know about “why” is that it’s the 25th letter in the alphabet, and it’s crooked.’ And he taught me to stand in front of a mirror, make eye contact, and say, “I love you.’”
As the years passed, he became a changed man.
That pre-accident drink on October 5, 1988, was the last he’s ever taken. The pills and marijuana and hash he had taken that day were the last he’s ever done.
He learned healthy eating, and the value of exercise. And from a weight of nearly 350 when he had his accident, he now weights 155.
He married Alice Reiter Fled, a well-known South Florida Elder Law attorney.
And, seven years ago, he became an ordained rabbi. (Not your usual kind of rabbi, though. Mitch Feld presides at life-events for all religious and ethnic groups!)
And then he made the decision that has since guided his life. He decided to “pay it forward”…to dedicate his life to helping others escape the clutches of addiction, just the way others had helped him.
“I had gone into recovery with a closed mind,” Feld says. “Oh, sure, the other guy was an addict…but not me! But the first step in recovery is saying to yourself, ‘I am an addict.’ When I went to the meetings, I recognized that I was one of many. And that I could learn from anyone – even other addicts. It really opened my eyes…and my mind.
“I realized that here was a group of people who really cared about me. Through their love, I was able to shake off my addictions.”
Now, Feld spreads his own message. But he does it in a very non-traditional way.
“I have an M.S.W.,” he notes. “But I base my practice upon working with the addict’s spiritual self. We talk about faith in a higher power. Faith in yourself. And achieving the peace of mind, through spiritual practice, to realize that you’re a precious person, worthy of love – especially from yourself!”
As a result of his non-traditional methods, he often achieves positive results faster than traditional practitioners. And he’s won three prestigious industry awards the past three months.
Feld’s practice encompasses interventions and assessments, primary therapy, recovery coaching, spiritual counseling (for any religion or belief), and family therapy.
“I can relate to the self-destructive spiral of addiction and negative thinking – because I’ve experienced it,” Feld says. “I don’t use traditional approaches – I don’t judge; I don’t lecture; and I don’t hand out lists of self-help books. I use a spiritually-based approach. It can be prayer, reflection, meditation, visualization, support groups…or just-plain-talking. No one should have to live out their life in the clutches of addiction.”.
Mitch Feld’s been sober for 25 years. And he’s finally found his calling – helping other addicts.
“The message I’m trying to impart,” he adds, “is that there’s always hope. If you have faith, and people who care, you can recover from this self-destructive cycle – and take control of your life.
“Opening up to tell my story was a bit hard,” Mitch Feld says. “But if telling my story can help someone, I’ll tell it all day long!”
Mitch Feld is a busy man these days, writing his blog www.addictioncounselingwithrabbimitch.com; speaking at seminars and workshops; being written about in the media; winning industry awards (and also an award from LinkedIn, for having one of the most frequently-viewed profiles); and, of course, bringing his special brand of spiritual guidance to addicts.
Steve Winston (www.stevewinston.com) has written/contributed to 17 books, and his articles have appeared in major media all over the world.