“It’s been a long and difficult journey to get where I am today. But it’s all been worth it,” Amina B. shares with that hugely infectious smile.
Practically from birth Amina had to persevere through trying times and long odds. Born in Culver City, California in 1995, Amina was small, unhealthy and addicted to crack. She was immediately placed into the foster care system and lived in four different homes before being adopted, at the age of five, by her mother, Anne Berkowitz. A Jewish single mother, Anne was greatly aided in raising young Amina by “my grandmother who played the ‘dad’ role in my life,” Amina explains.
A highly energetic and verbal child, Amina struggled in school due to that talkative manner as well as a diagnosis of A.D.H.D. (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). “When I wasn’t talking I was always in my own little world in my head,” she remembers. This dissociative behavior could be traced back to the trauma young Amina experienced during her time in foster care. Her struggle came to a head during the first semester of her senior year. “I didn’t go to classes. I just stayed in bed all day long,” she recalls. And it was also around this time that she began to hang out with a different group of kids who began to have a negative impact on her life. Eventually diagnosed with severe depression, Amina was prescribed medication to help her get back to school and on with life.
After high school Amina enrolled in West L.A. College but her new social group had already pressured her into smoking weed for the first time. To add more stress and heartache to this unhealthy behavior, Amina’s aunt was diagnosed with stage three-colon cancer. “I spent every day with her during the first semester of my freshman year,” Amina says. By age twenty she had transferred to Santa Monica College but her weed smoking had gotten so bad that she dropped out before the end of her sophomore year. This led to a deepening of her depression, which subsequently led to a further increase in her dependence on THC.
To try and make a fresh start, “I moved to Lake Elsinore. But I didn’t know anyone there and to deal with my loneliness and depression I began drinking,” she recalls. Adding more fuel to her addiction inferno, Amina was given her grandmother’s car, which led to an alarming escalation in her newfound partying ways. It got so bad at one point that Amina was homeless and living out of her car for a few weeks. She eventually moved back in with her mother. And then, just a couple days after she had returned home, she received an unexpected call from her social worker informing her that she had found Amina’s birth mother and family.
“I was so excited about the chance to meet my birth family but it ended up turning out horribly. My expectations had been so high and they were crushed,” she painfully shares. This heartbreaking letdown led to more drinking and more drugging. A couple months later things got so bad at home that her mother was forced to call the police. “I almost ended up being ‘5150-ed’ but the doctor saw me and let me go home provided I could get a ride,” she describes. Over the next several months, Amina bounced back and forth from living out of her car and trying to live at home again, all the while smoking more weed and drinking more alcohol. Her mother had a strict no drug policy in the house and when Amina tested positive for weed she was forced to leave home once again. A guy she knew from her partying days picked her up and the duo moved in together. “My depression got to the worst point it had ever been and so did my addiction demons. And then he started physically abusing me,” she details.
It got so bad that she suffered a busted kneecap and couldn’t walk. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. “It sort of snapped me out of it and that’s when I began to realize I needed help,” she remembers. An always loving and forgiving mother, Anne allowed Amina to move back home and for a while things calmed down. She even began studying to become a phlebotomist. But, just a week after she graduated from school, the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Not unlike millions of other Americans, Amina rejoined her familiar dark passenger of depression and began drinking again.
On a whim she decided to jump on a plane and visit New York City. But practically right after she had touched down in the Big Apple, Amina received crushing news. Her beloved grandmother had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and so she immediately returned home to be with her. But despite her desire to be close to her grandmother, as she battled her illness, familiar clashes with her mother forced Amina to couch surf with friends. Then in 2021 she decided to move to San Diego to stay in a friend’s apartment. However, on Father’s Day of that year Amina, depressed and despondent, got severely drunk, blacked out and woke up on the ledge of a building. She called her aunt after this unsettling experience and she told Amina, “You need help.”
Her aunt knew about Beit T’Shuvah and told her niece she would start the process to help her get into BTS and truly address her addiction. And after a few weeks of calls and pandemic related delays, Amina was admitted into the program on June 30th, 2021. However things did not exactly start out positively for her upon arrival. “I had a lot of anger and grief when I first got here,” she explains. However, the week she arrived a good friend of hers was murdered. “The shock and horror of that event abruptly turned my attitude around and I decided to stay,” she recalls. As for many residents who experienced quarantine during the pandemic months, the time alone gave Amina a lot of time to think and reflect. When she emerged from her solitude, she found herself a member of a new community of fellow addicts, who knew exactly what she was going through.
And, as mentioned earlier, despite the ups and downs she has experienced on her journey to healing and recovery, the difficult and confronting work has all been worth it. “I’ve gotten my first real job while I’ve been here. And the best part has been that I’ve made amends with my family and friends,” she says with that ebullient smile that illuminates universes. As she prepares for her departure from BTS on April 6th, she feels confident that she will be able to face anything that comes her way. She concludes by saying, “I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing after I leave, but Beit T’Shuvah has helped me develop the skills to face whatever challenges come my way.” We will miss your energy, your voice, your smile and your light, Amina. But we know, no matter where you go, those same gifts will provide just as much joy and love to those new souls you encounter on your fresh and exciting journey.