by Aaron Guldenschuh-Gatten, Recovery Café Lexington’s Assistant Executive Director
Chanukah is the Jewish winter (in the northern hemisphere) Festival of Lights, celebrated over eight days. The word Chanukah means dedication. Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the ancient sanctuary in Jerusalem.
After an oppressive regime desecrated and vandalized the Temple, a group of committed Jews retook the city, restored the Temple, and reinstituted worship. When the time came to light the candelabra (menorah) in the sanctuary, they found they only had enough oil for one day. Making more oil would have taken eight days. Yet, despite the seeming reality that the oil and light would run out, our ancestors went ahead with the rededication of the Temple and lit the menorah.
The ancient Jews had every expectation that the light would not last. Why did they light the menorah? Why couldn’t they have waited eight more days to rededicate the Temple?
In my recovery, I’ve been given the advice, “Just do the next right thing.” When I was just beginning to make changes in my life in order to live without drugs and alcohol, I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the journey ahead. I felt like I couldn’t imagine my life without the habits and substances I relied on to get through life. I was told to “keep it simple” and to practice a “just for today” approach. When I feared the consequences I had to face as a result of my substance use disorder, I was encouraged to embrace faith.
The next right thing was often not easy. But when I did the right thing, and practiced faith instead of fear, I found that I could exceed my own limited expectations of what I thought was possible. I found I was able to overcome far more than I could imagine, without drugs. Looking back, I sometimes I feel like I’ve lived through miracles.
In life, and in our recovery journeys, we just have to choose that next right thing in order to welcome a miracle. Perhaps my ancestors had fears that the light wouldn’t last. Perhaps they were unsure if it was even a good idea to light the menorah. Maybe some of them wanted to put it off a couple of days. Maybe they thought, “what’s the point, the light will go out after one day!”
The story of Chanukah tells us that they did not wait. The ancient Jews took action and overcame their fear by practicing faith. They knew that lighting the menorah was the next right thing to do.
Recovery has been a light in my life. As the light increases each day of Chanukah, so too the light in my life increased every day I avoided drugs and alcohol and tried to be a better version of myself. I didn’t do this alone; I’m not here because of willpower. The “miracles” I’ve experienced came about as communities of love supported and guided me on my journey. I’m grateful to those who showed (and continually show) me how to do the next right thing and how to connect to the best in me.
May we all increase the light in ourselves. May we begin what seems impossible and find that we exceed our own expectations. May miracles innumerable glow in us each day.
Aaron’s Chanukah reflection originally appeared in “Phoenix Rising,” Recovery Café Lexington’s quarterly. Thank you Aaron and RC Lexington! The photograph at the top of this piece features two menorahs in Aaron’s home.
Aaron Guldenschuh-Gatten, Recovery Café Lexington’s Assistant Executive Director, has been in recovery for six years. Raised in North Carolina, Aaron moved to Louisville to study theology and worked for 15 years in HIV prevention, case management, and care. An active member of Tifereth Israel and The Temple Congregations in Columbus, Ohio, and Louisville, Kentucky, Aaron lives in Columbus with his partner Phil. Aaron identifies as queer and has lived experience with justice involvement, substance use disorder, and mental health challenges. Aaron is astonished by the ways Recovery Café’s Guiding Principles have transformed pain and trauma into healing and hope.