“College begins at two.” No pressure, right!? These were the words that were emblazoned on the front entrance of the private school that Casey attended from Pre-K through 8th Grade (uniforms and all), followed by an even more demanding High School. They were not kidding around! And this was the norm that Casey knew, growing up in the Hollywood Hills, she thought all kids attended schools like hers.

When Casey recalls her childhood she remembers growing up in a somewhat strict household. “We had rules that we thought the rest of the world also had, we thought they were normal.” Casey and her brother, who is seven years older, were not treated the same. “We both played piano, when he wanted to quit, he could. When I wanted to quit, it was not allowed.” She was also not permitted to have a Bat Mitzvah because her mother never had one. “I thought that was a ‘Jewish thing’, and it’s definitely not!” She rolls her eyes remembering the absurdity of this, and that the whole family would go to her father’s Church, but when they would attend Synagogue her father would wait outside of the Temple while the rest of the family would attend services (didn’t all dad’s do that?). These were just “their rules”.

Her mother, an Actress turned top Hollywood Producer, and her father an Actor, were not typical parents around the house either. Casey thought that it was normal for her Mom to be at work before she left for school and not return until after Casey went to bed. When report cards came home every semester, it wasn’t the test scores they cared about, (both she and her brother were honor roll students from the age of four) what mattered to her parents were her grades in ‘Citizenship’. Meaning, were you a leader? Were you someone the other children looked up to, wanted to emulate, and were you helpful and engaged? When Casey came home with less-than-perfect citizenship grades, she said, “There was a meltdown in the house. I don’t know if it was that they were just demanding or I felt the need to be a perfectionist but it started a chain reaction in my life.” 

Because of her mother’s long hours, Casey and her brother were primarily watched over by their Grandmother. But it was her brother who had the biggest influence on Casey. “I WORSHIPED my older brother growing up. Everything he did, the kind of music he listened to…when he was into punk, I was into punk, when he was into new wave, I thought new wave was cool. I just thought he was the coolest thing in the whole world and that dictated everything I did. He was a good role model to have.”

Casey’s brother would be the first man in her life to influence her decisions, but far from the last. Throughout school, Casey was a straight-A student. She was a perfectionist and excelled at everything she did. She took the school motto to heart! Casey graduated and left the palm trees of LA for the Ivy at Harvard. But not before falling for a bad boy here and there in high school, smoking pot on weekends “because they did” but never really falling into “that other crowd”

While at Harvard studying for the degree she would receive in British Literature, and then at Cambridge (for her first of three Master’s Degrees, she also attended Pepperdine and AFI), Casey, “painfully introverted” would find her social life and “her crowd” based on the men she would choose to date. “If I was into writing, I’d date writers, if I was into music, I’d date musicians, if I was into film I’d date Directors.” Her choices in men would dictate a lot of her choices in life, much as her brother did when she was young. But they weren’t all bad. She recalls one of her relationships as “such a great guy, I’d still be with him today if he could just shvitz (Yiddish for sweat) the Hollywood out of him!”

Throughout College and Grad school Casey suffered debilitating migraine headaches. Pain that, according to her doctors, could best be managed by strong pills, medical grade opioids to be exact. And they worked so well that Casey quickly began taking far more than prescribed and unbeknownst to her, becoming a grade-A opioid addict. Along with migraines, Casey also suffered from severe stomach ulcers. It was because of these ulcers that her boyfriend at the time suggested she slow down on swallowing pills by the fist-full, give her stomach a break, and try relieving her pain in a more ulcer-friendly fashion, heroin. Shocked and appalled, “Do you know who my mother is?” she joked with me, recalling the thoughts that ran through her head at the mere idea of using heroin and what her mother would think. That is, until she tried it. “This was IT.” It was everything she had been looking for and more. Casey went from helping clients at a Methadone clinic (a job she took as part of her Psychology Master’s at Pepperdine) to becoming one of their clients, buying heroin and crack on the streets of Skid Row. She lost her job at the clinic, lost her apartment, and eventually found herself homeless. Casey was becoming yet another casualty of the opioid/fentanyl-addled streets of LA. 

Things were spiraling downward and it was getting frightening. Casey suffered a drug-induced seizure that could have easily taken her life in an instant. She woke up in a hospital, unable to speak. She had been in a coma for 14 days. The boyfriend who was on this drug-fueled journey with her was gone. “He had left me for dead… and was on his way back to the east coast.” This is where Casey’s mom (a true-life Hollywood heroine) stepped in and stepped up. She told Casey about a Jewish Rehab in Culver City and ‘asked’ her to go. “She told me if I did not go I would be cut off.” No more help from the family she loved and needed in her life. It was the tough love that was necessary in such a desperate time.

Casey spent her first two months at Beit T’Shuvah unable to talk or raise her head high enough to look people in the eye because of the damage that was done from the tracheostomy tube that had been in her neck during the coma. It was hard for Casey to recover while in recovery, but she stayed sober during her time here. She continued to stay sober, return to work, and live a productive life. That is until one fateful day when she was cleaning her house and found a piece of meth left over from her past life. “I could have flushed it, called a sponsor, gone to a meeting, but I wasn’t working a program at that time so I didn’t do any of those things.” And just like that Casey was hooked again. Now it was back to Beit T’Shuvah where she would meet the one man aside from her brother that will always be in her life, Kevin. She and Kevin still share a special bond, a very cute dog named Louise, and he and his family are a huge support system for Casey to this day. But at that time she was still not able to stay on the straight and narrow. After countless other rehabs throughout LA and the San Fernando Valley, Casey was eventually back at home to live with her now older and ailing Mother.

In December of 2023 Casey found her mom in their house after a bad fall (she had been on the ground for hours, unable to call for help). Casey was in pretty bad shape herself from the drug use and watched desperately as her mom was taken away by ambulance to the hospital. Over the next two weeks, Casey would stumble into the Hospital (once with a black eye she got from falling down on her way there), hazily ask the receptionist for the thousandth time which room her mom was in and visit the woman she glowingly refers to as “my best friend.” 

Usually unresponsive, but on good days her mom would be able to open her eyes, look at Casey, and smile. Seeing the daughter she loved by her bedside, thin as a rail, black eyes and all, it didn’t matter, their bond was deep. mother and daughter, best of friends. They experienced each other’s successes and darkest days, always there for each other no matter what. After Casey’s mom died, Kevin’s father helped Casey return to Beit T’Shuvah in February of 2024. This time dealing with grief as the sidekick to substance abuse. Casey, the straight-A student from the Hollywood Hills walked in these doors meek-mannered, disheveled, “I think some of the residents thought I was homeless,” and unsure how she’d get through to the other side without being able to pick up the phone and ask her mom for help or advise.

That is not the woman who sits before me today. Today, she is excited about her career as a coordinator at an intensive outpatient program and working a very strong program with her sponsor. Her hair is done up, her smile is bright, she has a sparkle in her knowing eyes, and just the right amount of tasteful but still Casey-esque funky jewelry dangling off of her. She radiates warmth and when she speaks, the years of Ivy League education don’t go unnoticed. She’s smart as a whip and an incredible writer. If you’re lucky you’ll be the honored recipient of one of Casey’s notorious notes. She’ll slyly pass you a beautifully written note on whatever scrap of paper she can find after you’ve sung at Shabbat or told your story in a group. It will be full of heartfelt gratitude for the way she feels about you with her signature heart drawn somewhere on the page. She has a way of making you feel special.

When I asked Casey to describe herself when we first began this interview she told me “I’m a sober woman who is learning how to live a good life.” Always learning. I don’t know if college needs to begin at two, but Casey is a remarkable woman today. She’s a scholar and a poet and I’m lucky to call her my friend.

Spotlight on Casey T. by Lisa S.

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