Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and thought, “Oh damn, look at me,”? Depending on how you read that says a lot about you. We all go through waves in life. One day we are happy with what we feel, who we are, and what we are wearing. Then, just like that, we couldn’t hate any of it more. Just based on what only the mirror can see, we are judged by others. There are people like Cameron D., who have faced both judgment and praise for their looks. For them, the struggle for identity and security landed them face-to-face with the needle. Today, they couldn’t be farther from that staring match.
To understand Cameron, first, I’ll have to take you to a cold, quiet part of the world called Anchorage, Alaska. This is where Cameron was born and raised for the first few years of their life. Right before life could get comfortable, their step-father’s job took them pin-balling around America from sea to shining sea and from home to foreign home. Finally, around Cameron’s sophomore year of high school, they moved to Orange County. Their family had settled on the OC because Cameron and their mom both “caught the acting bug” and the compromise was to move there instead of the dingy disgusting city of Los Angeles. Yuck ew gross!
Even once landed in Southern California, Cameron still didn’t feel like they fit in. They got bullied constantly and kept hearing the same words thrown at them like daggers. “You’re gay.” They couldn’t escape them. “My whole life I was told I was gay…by bullies, by teachers, by adults.” Once, when they were younger, they brought a unicorn toy to their Christian preschool and “was separated from the kids, put in the priest’s office, and listened to [the priest] call my dad and say, ‘You need to pick up your son. He is going to be gay because of these toys and we don’t want him to infect the other children.’” While this hateful homophobic rhetoric was flying all around them, their mom always made sure that they knew that she loved them no matter what and would accept them in all forms.
In high school, they met their first love (which is basically a prerequisite to graduation), but for a young person coming to terms with their sexuality, it meant so much more. Cameron and their best friend were head over high heels in love with each other. They tried everything together, which included trying pot. This would be the first taste of Cameron’s nefarious life to come. Heartbreakingly, for reasons they still don’t know, their first love vanished. Stopped calling. Stopped texting—Vanished…but Cameron was set on not letting this sense of belonging vanish with him.
Enter AOL Chat Rooms. Every child of the internet’s favorite tool and every parent’s worst nightmare. Once Cameron discovered there were chat rooms that were filled with men who would give them attention and sex, they were off to the races. “One night I went to find that same validation and I found someone that said they had ecstasy for me. I went there. I took the pill and then they whipped out the meth and the other drugs. I had no defenses.”
Once out of High School, they went to a performing arts college in New York where they quickly returned after obtaining a couple of credits and a coke habit. After that, they knew they may have a problem with drugs but weren’t willing to do anything about it yet. One night, they went to a “random warehouse ecstasy party in DTLA” and their problem became clear. After a disgruntled drug dealer fired blindly into a crowd of people, Cameron got shot. “I got shot in the ass—the right butt-cheek. The bullet hit the stitching on my Zara jeans’ pocket and, instead of going straight through and hitting my pelvic bone or hitting my main artery, it sent it down through soft tissue.” Even then, fashion was saving Cameron’s life!
This situation served as a wake-up call and Cameron was set to Canada to go to rehab for 28 days. When they returned, they moved into the same apartment in the same city with the same people and, eventually, fell into the same habits…but this time it got worse.
Cameron would garner one month here, six months there, but never any real substantial time. They would build their life up, something would happen, and they would toss it all away and go to another rehab. 25 rehabs later and Cameron felt absolutely hopeless. Then, while at a detox, they realized that this merry-go-round of masochism wasn’t serving them. Years, earlier they dropped someone off from an AA meeting at a weird Jewish rehab that sounded pretty interesting. So, with a friend’s suggestion, Cameron gave them a call.
That phone call was nearly four and a half months ago—the longest amount of time Cameron has stayed at a treatment center. Something about BTS was different than anywhere else they had ever been. “My first six weeks of being here, I felt like every Shabbat Service was God talking specifically to me about what was happening that week.” Something had clicked for them. Cameron dove deep into their passions at Beit T’Shuvah—making the most of every creative program possible. They were loved and accepted for their drag act in this year’s talent show, they started working as a development intern, are directing films in the film department, and even joined The Sisterhood. On top of all of that, Cameron is in charge of designing and styling the looks for The Fashion Show. To be able to express themselves through their love of creative arts is amazing, but to be able to help put on a fashion show…at a rehab…that’s a whole other level!
Like a thread in a pair of fast-fashion jeans, Beit T’Shuvah helped save their life.
They have shed the fat of their past in order to make way for the fit of their future. The old thinking has disintegrated and, in their mind, Beit T’Shuvah had everything to do with it. “I wouldn’t change my life. I wouldn’t. What I have gone through has made me who I am, has made me the artist and creator I am, and has made me the heart and the soul and the mind that I am. I don’t know any other version of Cameron. I don’t know what I would be like if I never went through all this darkness. What I do know, is that this darkness has crafted, sharpened, and built this person I have come to love, and being at BTS is part of that self-discovery of love for me.” Cameron knows that even though everything they have gone through has made them who they are, those mistakes no longer need repeating…because it is 2023 and meth is definitely not in style.
Cameron’s is a story of change. A full redressing of the soul from one of fear of judgment to one of exuberant pride. A single conversation with this warm and loving individual will make you feel like you are the person—the person to make all of your dreams come true. It is in your power and they let you know it. Today, Cameron is getting ready to pursue that passion for fashion even deeper by enrolling in fashion design school. Their goals have shifted. They don’t just want to look good but want you to look good—no—FEEL good too. Their transformation is our transformation. So next time you look in the mirror, love the person you see, and remember everything you have gone through to be there, when you say, “Oh damn, look at me.”
How’d it sound that time?