Are you sitting down? Is your leg bouncing? When you’re in public, does your heart race? Do you ever feel the fear of a looming threat that may never arrive? Well, do I have the story of redemption for you! You see, revenge may be a dish best served cold but anxiety is a dish best served boiling hot in a hand-held cauldron spilling and splashing all over the place. The slings and arrows of anxiety are a gateway that leads many of us to rely on substances for relief, but who do we become when we are stripped of them? Alex I. is the perfect example of someone who has, with shaky hands, and a nervous smile, made his way to freedom.

Alex grew up in Los Angeles in a happy home—a loving home. Even to this day, he remarks that his parents always supported and loved him to the fullest. Despite this, he was always a fidgety and anxious kid who always managed to find a way to get in trouble. “I had fun in timeout. That’s where all my friends were.” By 14, he was sent to a UCLA study where they put monitors all over him and discovered he had ADD. He was promptly prescribed Adderall, which is ostensible meth for kids. “I was off to the races the minute I took the first pill.” Alex started to lie to his doctors—telling them the dosage wasn’t enough or it wasn’t working. Before long, he was hopped up on an elephant’s dose of stimulants. 

After gifting a few friends a couple of his pills, Alex realized there was a market for this. At that point, he was an entrepreneur. At 15, he became the pubescent Pablo Escobar of over-prescribed study drugs. With the cash flowing in, he started to buy other drugs (coke, ecstasy, weed, etc.) With a whole medicine cabinet in his system, that sweaty-palmed anxiety he felt disappeared. Peace had been reached, but chaos was around the corner. He passed his classes, but when he actually tried, he would excel. Once he turned the tassel on his graduation cap, he went to Santa Monica Community College. This is where his addiction started to crescendo.

Classes were dropped when they weren’t being attended drunk or high. It seemed his college career was coming to an end fast. Throughout this all, he worked in the restaurant industry where drugs and alcohol were part of the culture. “I would start drinking at six am. It was my coffee” The breakfast of champions. His girlfriend at the time was worried about his drinking and using, but he refused to stop. “Throughout my life, I always felt like I was an outcast undeserving of love. To fall in love with someone and have them love you too, it was nice, but I wasn’t used to that. I didn’t fully accept that this person cared about me.” When they broke up, he broke as well. “I got really into Xanax to try and erase the memory of her.” 

There was little doubt that Alex was circling the drain. The pills, powder, and potent liquor were flowing like the Thames. After many moments that scared his family, he finally had a white light moment. The only thing is: he doesn’t remember his white light moment. That’s right. He blacked out for the white light. This stuff writes itself. Alex’s mom proved instrumental in finding him a detox to go to—only the best for her baby boy. Eventually, she found one, he went, and, there, they told him about a Jewish treatment center in Culver City. Alex, not being Jewish or knowing anything about Judaism, had no clue what to expect. Without the drugs he had used for years to numb him, he was back to feeling all his emotions, neurosis, and anxieties. The idea of being around so many people in a rehab of this size kicked off his social anxiety. Thank God he showed up on a relaxed normal day—PSYCH! He arrived at Beit T’Shuvah smack-dab in the middle of the High Holidays. For someone with such fear of large groups of people, being stuck in our sanctuary during holidays with rituals he knew nothing about that lasted over nine hours was akin to torture…but it was just the kind of torture he needed—thrown in the deep end—forged by fire. 

In Alex’s early days at BTS, he was nervous. He didn’t know what to make of this place. Quickly, he started to meet people who made him feel comfortable. “I’ve met people who I will stay in contact with for the rest of his life.” Without drugs, the fidgeting transformed into meditating, deep calm breaths, and a focused clear head. Of course, he still gets a bit socially anxious at times, but he is only human. When he does start to feel it creeping up, he now has the tools to deal with it. Just this week, he completed his internship with our career center, where he helped residents create résumés. A bright smile fills his face when he talks about how he got to be a part of the positive progression of his peers. Alex is back in school, something he never thought he would do. On top of that, he is applying himself…and, of course, excelling. 

Alex’s journey from shivering to warmth is nothing short of remarkable. His calm demeanor and inviting presence invite others to feel the same—he is safety and love personified. “I have never felt like this anywhere else. I feel comfortable. I’m not afraid to be vulnerable out of fear of judgment.” That large group of people who terrified him to his core have now become his community. Revenge might be a dish best served cold, but recovery is a dish best served family style. 

Spotlight on Alex I. by Jesse Solomon

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