Raised in a strict Jewish household but then living for years as what he describes as a largely non-spiritual cynic, Mitch Feld continues on an intriguing journey that has returned to faith. Now an ordained rabbi in South Florida who offers spiritual counseling to addicts and non-addicts alike, Feld happily acknowledges that he still doesn’t have everything figured out when it comes to the spiritual.
“The victory is in the effort, not the result,” Feld is fond of telling his clients, and this rings true in his own life. In fact, he doesn’t even use precise language to describe the major turnaround moment he experienced, when he awoke in 1988 from a two-week coma after a high-speed car accident that was the culmination of years of alcohol and cocaine abuse.
Feld says that when he was in a coma, “God, whatever that means,” gave him what appeared to be a menu of options, and he chose willingness and acceptance.
Today, the 65-year-old counsels clients and maintains an active blog with a spiritual focus. He considers himself more of a facilitator in his client work. “I tell people that whatever success they have in counseling, it’s because of what they do, not what I do,” he says.
Feld can trace that perspective to his own work with his longtime 12-Step sponsor, who also happens to be an Irish-Catholic priest. “He told me he really didn’t care if I got sober—he cared if I cared,” Feld recalls of his initial work with his sponsor. “He didn’t want to talk every day; he simply wanted me involved in the fellowship. He respected my right to do nothing.”
Success and emptiness
Feld says he began using alcohol heavily at 15, moved into marijuana, and eventually transitioned to cocaine. But to those around him in his young-adult life, everything appeared to spell success: the nice clothes, the fancy car, the beautiful condominium in Boca Raton. They never saw the young executive (first in the nonprofit world, then in the funeral business) passed out drunk on the floor of said condo.
He did not drink on the October 1988 morning in which he sped down a South Florida oceanside highway and suffered the horrific accident (his lungs and shoulders were severely damaged and he would eventually have to relearn basic self-care tasks). But when he awoke from the coma, he knew he had left the façade behind. Blessed at the time with enough money not to have to work for two years, he was able gradually to build a recovery based on attending 12-Step meetings, which he still does 25 years later.
“If I go to meetings, I will continue to think well,” Feld says. “If I don’t go, I will make worse decisions.”
About five years into his sobriety, Feld accepted an offer to run a South Florida funeral home, and the business’s outperforming expectations would eventually allow him to repay nearly $300,000 in debts that he had incurred during his active addiction.
The accident and the recovery from addiction would not constitute Feld’s only challenges, however. At around the 10-year mark of his sobriety, he would find himself battling an addiction to pornography, which would lead to another job loss. “You’re as sick as your secrets,” Feld says. “The real you emerges at some point.”
Feld had gotten married a couple of years before that, and his wife stayed with him through counseling and the healing process. He established a fundraising company and also began to conduct motivational talks and trainings. “I’ve always been blessed with an ability to tell people who I am, what I am, and what happened to me,” he says.
It was his wife who convinced him to formalize his efforts to help others by becoming ordained. It has been just one part of a transformation of thinking for him. “All I ever had in the past was cynicism and doubt,” Feld says. “Now I don’t question as much.”
His website states, “Rabbi Mitch has traveled a crooked road to grow into the spiritual powerhouse he has become.”
Not conventional therapy
Feld emphasizes to his clients that what he offers is spiritual counseling, not classical therapy. He stresses that the client is largely responsible for the success of the relationship.
“I tell someone, ‘If you come to me and I make you depend on me, I’m just enabling,’” he says. “The one thing I will provide you is an unconditionally safe, nurturing and confidential environment.”
Like his own path, his work with clients tends to be of indeterminate length. The journey to self-fulfillment cannot be rushed. “Noah didn’t let the ark sail until the snails arrived,” Feld says.
He adds about his present work, “This beats being a CEO anytime—this helps heal people’s souls. … In some ways, I get more from them than they get from me—I get to watch them change.”