At 13 years old, when most of his middle school peers were stressing about homework, popularity, and parents, Brandon H. was having a full-blown existential crisis and trying to figure out where he would find his next high. For a majority of Brandon’s life, he felt different. He isolated himself from his family and sunk into a deep depression. He’d spend hours alone in his room, questioning the nature of his own reality. You know… kid stuff.
Growing up in a religious community in Milwaukee came with a handful of challenges for Brandon. His community would constantly fill his head with ideas that, even at a young age, he knew were wrong. “[Bible literalists] were telling me that humans and dinosaurs walked the Earth at the same time and that is why we have pictures of dragons and I’m sitting there like, ‘…no,’” he recalls. Lost and alienated, Brandon – like many teenagers – turned to the internet in search of meaning. What he found instead were drugs. “I was reading that people were seeing the universe and meeting God on this stuff, and I was interested. I was very spiritually cut off at that time. I was raised Catholic and the Santa thing really effed me up. Santa was a hoax. I was being fed lies. I was a smart kid and to find out all this stuff everybody had been telling me wasn’t true… I was like, ‘If Santa isn’t real, who the fuck is this Jesus guy?’”
Brandon mostly got high alone. He’d rummage through his parents’ medicine cabinets, popping any pill with a label that read “do not abuse.” Eventually, he told someone at school about his drug use. Before he knew it, he was operating an OTC drug ring out of his middle school. For the first time in his life, people wanted to hang out with him, and the newfound popularity went to his head. Kids would invite him over when their parents weren’t home, show him their medicine cabinet, and he would instruct them on how to properly get high. “I finally had a purpose, and that purpose was spreading drugs around the world,” he says.
By 15, Brandon was smoking weed every day. Because he was eating food normally and not falling asleep at the dinner table, his mom thought he was on a health kick. After a while, he was caught smoking weed and had to switch back to taking pills because it was easier to hide. His parents didn’t pay much attention to this situation, because Brandon was taking AP classes, running track, and had an after school job. This amount of pressure eventually burnt him out—until he discovered Adderall. He recalls, “I took Vyvanse for the first time the morning of my ACTs. The bell rang to signify to put your pencils down, and I remember thinking, ‘Damn… I wish there was more test to take.” By the time he went to college, Brandon was doing any drug he could get his hands on. “I was living on the north side of Milwaukee… which is not family-oriented. I loved it. I thought the fact that I could walk across the street to the gas station and get served crack was pretty cool.”
Before long, Brandon was skipping school to get high and raise money for drugs. “I was a full-time thief,” he says. While tripping on acid, he had an epiphany that he had a serious addiction and that he needed help. His parents told him he could stay with them for the night, but he told them he was sick from heroin withdrawal and would steal their possessions so they should bring him to a hospital. Even this did not stop Brandon’s urge to get loaded. He says, “My parents gave me an ultimatum that I would either be homeless on the street or go to inpatient rehab… I picked homelessness at first. I eventually came to my senses and went to treatment. Since I was 20, I’ve been dealing with homelessness, overdoses, criminality, and being in and out of treatment.”
That was 4 years and 16 treatment centers ago. Brandon has found that most 30-day treatment facilities did not work for him. “Last time I was in treatment, I told my therapist that I wanted a longer-term program and I was really hoping to find somewhere that wasn’t profit-based. I have been to a lot of for-profit treatment centers that are more interested in milking my insurance than rehabilitation. Beit T’Shuvah didn’t rush me. They were not concerned with using my insurance and actually wanted to help me.”
Beit T’Shuvah helped Brandon realize his purpose in life and helped guide him to a path of success. He is currently working as a PF intern, going to school for addiction studies, and hopes to be a counselor one day. He is running the marathon and because he already runs 5-6 days a week, he feels like he is a bit of a mentor figure to residents on the team who aren’t avid runners. “I want to prove that I can do something. I want to put in the work to do the best I can. There are people who haven’t run that far that are crossing the finish line… that’s powerful to me… that’s recovery.”
You may have seen Brandon rapping during Friday night services and had no idea how harrowing his story truly is. His long road of self-doubt and clinical isolation has come to an end while at Beit T’Shuvah. “I am proving myself wrong every day. I am proving I can accomplish things I never thought were possible and I’m seeing other people do the same. It really gives me hope for the future,” he says with an optimistic grin.
If you would like to support brandon or anyone else on the marathon team go to https://www.firstgiving.com/event/beittshuvah/R4R20