By Nathan Ruibal
When Annie G. returned to Beit T’Shuvah in January, she had the idea that her stay would be a “tune-up,” just a short refresher course to set her straight. Less than two months in, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and she surrendered to not being ready to leave as soon as she wanted. “COVID has presented me with an opportunity to be with myself, be comfortable with solitude, have the time to figure things out, and face the things I’ve been running away from. I remember lying in bed my first night back thinking, ‘this is safe, I feel embraced. I can cease fighting and just be here.’”
Annie grew up in Manhattan in the seventies, the only child of a renowned architect father—whose building models she would use as dollhouses—and a hippie-ish copywriter mother. Her parents divorced and lived on opposite sides of the island, mom on the west side, dad on the east. “I was a happy kid, a wild child. I had a white afro and wore long dresses to school.” Her father remarried, and Annie felt like a visitor in her father and stepmother’s home. She remembers feeling replaced by her stepsister, who was only two days older. To cope with the need to feel like she needed to “even out” her love for her divorced parents, every night before bed she would repeat to herself, in an admittedly OCD kind of way, “I love my mother 100%. I love my dad 100%.”
Annie had her first drink at age fourteen. “I didn’t understand until I had a drink that it made me feel like I could breathe. I wanted to drink every weekend, and I would find a way.” She started drinking heavily and going to iconic nightclubs like Studio 54 and Xenon. At eighteen, Annie and her best friend made a pact that they would not drink at the next party they attended, out of fear of getting out of control. Their commitment lasted just a few minutes after they arrived.
Her behavior became increasingly reckless. She didn’t even realize what she was taking the first time she snorted a line of white powder heroin at a nightclub. “The drinking and the drugs made me feel connected. Any fear was taken away; it even felt spiritual.” But even after repeated come-downs and bad hangovers, she found she didn’t want to stop. “The party was never over.”
Annie first attended Cornell University, then transferred to Sarah Lawrence College after two years, where she first realized there was a problem. “I was climbing into people’s windows to steal their pills.” When she returned home, she was confronted about her behavior, and her family took her to a long-term psychiatric hospital, where the psychiatrist there helped her realize the seriousness of her problems.
She stayed off of drinking and drugs for several years after that but admits she was just dry. “I wasn’t completely surrendered. I didn’t understand how I could accomplish things in other areas, but I couldn’t get over this.” Confronting repressed trauma from her childhood was one area where her deploying her sharp intellect and strong will proved futile. One of her stepbrothers died of cancer when he was eighteen, and her two-days-older stepsister died in a hit-and-run car crash, also at age eighteen. No one was able or willing to help her process those tragedies. “My stepmother would say, ‘Why is Annie alive? She’s the naughty one, the drug addict.’ ”
Soon after Annie returned to pills and drugs, she was found overdosing in front of a police station and taken to a hospital and intubated. This started many years cycling through relapse, rehab, a year or two clean, then relapse again. She knew a woman whose sister went through Beit T’Shuvah and called Lysa Harrison in admissions and got wait-listed. After several weeks, her potential entry hit a snag: she couldn’t take suboxone at Beit T’Shuvah. “I had been on thirty-two milligrams for five years.”
To be approved for admission, Annie completed a medical detox in Pasadena and checked into Beit T’Shuvah in 2015. She considers her first time here as a healing experience. In the year that she was here, she entered into a relationship: “It felt like a corrective experience. I loved him and he loved me, but I felt like he needed me and it was dragging me down.” She remembers his disappointment at her unwillingness to have him move into her apartment. “I realized that the odds are against rehab romances. That I shouldn’t have the mindset that my situation was unique.” They remained close until his death in 2017, and she is grateful that the community here supported here and helped her stay sober through that tragedy. “Rabbi Mark was amazing,” she says.
Two years ago, Annie returned to school at Loyola Marymount to become an art therapist. “I love psychology and I love art, but I didn’t love the museum scene. It’s all hype.” Working at the Museum of Contemporary Art and going to school was intense. “I was taking eight classes in my first semester, which is a heavy load for someone who is returning to school after several years.”
She had a prescription for Adderall, but her psychiatrist was worried. “He told me I needed to slow down, that maybe the Adderall was allowing me to take on too much. He told me I needed to eliminate something or I was going to lose it all.” Shortly after, during grueling finals, she had a manic episode/nervous breakdown. “I had papers all over my desk and I couldn’t make sense of anything.”
No longer with a legitimate prescription, Annie turned to pill dealers for her fix. “I told myself I needed it, that my psychiatrist had made an error in taking me off of it.” As is common for many addicts, she got trapped in the delusion that she could use in a normal way, that she was like any other person. Her addiction wasn’t immediately horrible, but it got out of control quickly. “I felt like I was circling the drain. It got to the point where I was so uncomfortable in my own skin.”
She attempted several times to get sober by going to meetings, but could barely sit still. She was restless, irritable, and discontent, and her life was falling apart. She finally told her therapist that she needed to return to treatment and came back to Beit T’Shuvah. At first, she was a little hesitant about returning to a place where she succeeded in the past. “It takes a lot of courage to come back to a place where you know people.”
Annie was able to transition to independent living slowly last time she was here, and process the stresses of rebuilding a life outside while maintaining a physical presence within the community. This time, however, the constraints on outside movement due to the pandemic have forced her to adapt her plans to reality. “As a resident living here, I have access to a community, a therapist, a counselor, a spiritual counselor, and a psychiatrist. All those resources would be much more difficult to access outside of here.”
Annie will soon return to school to finish up her degree in art therapy. When she had notified the school that she needed a year for medical leave, her professors told her that taking the time to heal would make her stronger and better. She had doubts about returning to school after her relapse but wants to complete the program before deciding whether it still works for her. “I would be disappointed in myself if I gave up on that now.”
Annie sees the many directions she can go with art therapy, including trauma therapy and expressive therapy. “With art, you can address things that just take too long with talking. I’m generous in my spirit. I feel like I’m kind, and I want to be of some service to humanity.”