There’s a common misconception that addiction is only the product of some sort of misfortunate circumstances such as bad upbringing, impoverishment, bad influences, abuse, or any one of a smorgasbord of negative backgrounds ascending in their severity. For some, this may be true, but this is not always the case. The truth of addiction is far more scary and sinister than the myths because the truth of addiction is that no one is beyond its reach. I take no pleasure in saying that it could happen to you, your spouses, your children, your friends, or your neighbors. No matter your social status, the quality of schools attended, or how loving a home life there is. Addiction doesn’t discriminate but often comes with trauma. Trauma is not what happens to someone, rather, it’s a way of reacting to what has happened to them. It can be caused by many things, some less obvious than others. Social pressures or expectations, toxic workplaces, stock market fluctuations, public exposure, ecoanxiety, and relocation can all cause trauma. Sometimes in life, we simply bite off more than we can chew, and the outcome of this can be disastrous, this appears to have been the case with Claire.

Claire grew up in a good neighborhood, and with her modesty, you could tell she was almost embarrassed to say that it was Calabasas. During elementary school, when she was only about nine years old, she already landed a deal with a vocal contractor who got her gigs singing in children’s choirs for movies, TV, and various albums. This lasted until she was about thirteen. 

Her freshman year of high school was spent at Louisville School for Girls which she “absolutely hated.” Claire’s time at Louisville wasn’t pretty. “I struggled a lot in that environment.” She also experienced quite a culture shock going to Catholic school. “I feel like a lot of all-girl schools in general, because of hitting puberty and being not fully developed yet, it can be catty, and a very toxic environment.” The worst thing about Louisville is that she became alienated from her higher power. “It also made me grow to hate the idea of God…It’s sad to think about. I don’t know what I believed before that experience, but I always believed there was some sort of higher entity that kept that hope alive for me, and that kind of just killed it for me, until I got to AA.”

After transferring to Calabasas High things took a turn for the better. “The rest of my high school experience was great. I was really involved with my school” Claire had many friends and socialized with various groups on campus. She got to be part of the advanced women’s choir, and she joined the acapella group with whom she got to travel all around the world. In her sophomore year, a Chinese skincare company somehow got a hold of the group’s music and offered to fly them out for an all-expenses-paid, two-month music tour of China. So, at only fifteen, Claire got the privilege of visiting six different cities in China along with her best friends. They performed in various concert halls and visited the company’s skincare factory where they received many gifts.

The following year, the group went to Boston for a choir competition. Later that year, Deke Sharon, who Claire describes as the “acapella god,” was holding a competition at Carnegie Hall in New York. After auditioning on a whim and sending in their video, the group was Picked. “I’ll never forget that moment where we’re about to walk on stage in Carnegie Hall and he announces us as the collegiate level of the Pitch Perfect girls, but we’re like, in High School, I think he forgot that. That was just a great core memory for me, my family was there, and it was just very special.” 

This was one busy acapella group, in Claire’s words, “It was like a whirlwind…We were just a bunch of girls in high school that liked to sing, and it was just fun for us, and all these opportunities just started to present themselves.” When Claire talks about her experiences performing you can tell there’s joy behind her words. It’s evident what a meaningful and integral role music has played in her life, “I have always identified myself as a musician…that’s just always what I am, in my identity”

Claire admits that the “whirlwind” of opportunities took a toll on her academia. At the time Claire didn’t worry because she believed her musical achievements would secure her admission into the college of her choice, comparing her situation to athletic favoritism that commonly occurs. It would seem that all her blessings came with a price, the catch-22 caught up to her when she was accepted into the USC School of Music, only to later be denied due to her SAT’s not being up to par. Her dream was to go to USC and she was devastated.

Not all was lost, Claire was accepted to the Berkeley School of Music but chose to attend ‘The New School’, a liberal arts college in the heart of Manhattan, where she’d study jazz vocals. So she was off to The Big Apple, the city that never sleeps, but as it turned out for Claire, life east of the Mississippi wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Claire began to feel disenchanted with The New School, “I had worked like my whole freaking life to get up to this moment and once I was there, the whole time I was there, I was just waiting for that moment where I was going to be happy, and it’s all going to feel worth it, and it never did.” This can be explained, in part. “I think I was just mainly struggling a lot with my mental health for the first time in my life. I was starting to do heavier drugs, staying out later, partying all the time” When I asked Claire what was missing from the picture, in New York in contrast to how fulfilled she felt when she was performing as a kid, she replied, “Honestly I really missed my family.” Moving across the country to a new city, working a job, going to school full-time, and being in a long-distance relationship had begun to take its toll. Her life had become a powder keg, and alcohol and drugs were the match. “Moving to New York City is crazy in of itself, adding on the excessive partying, the mental health, the 19 credits in school, it was just bound to happen…a severe mental breakdown.”

Claire says she’ll never forget the day she decided to go home. Just shy of completing the year, the Grammys brought Claire’s dad to New York, and after suffering a nervous breakdown, she came clean with him. He changed his flight to stay and help her clean out her apartment. Next thing she knew, she was on a plane, leaving the Empire City to return to the City of Angels with her dad—her saving grace. For the first time, Claire gained some clarity realizing her depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideations “very well could be caused by my drinking habits, and my drug use.” So, she began intensive therapy and tried to cut back on her intake of substances. 

Claire chose to attend a makeup school and got her license. She then applied to LMU and, to her surprise, was accepted. She attended LMU for four years and changed her major to women and gender studies. Ultimately, her addiction began to take hold again. “I was kind of deflating, if you will, in terms of my addiction, I just couldn’t hold my life together anymore.” Claire decided to go into rehab for the first time. She had a meeting with the dean of LMU and was allowed to leave with the possibility of retaking her classes.

The first rehab Claire went to was more like a plush adult day care, and to little surprise it didn’t help much. Like many in addiction, this started a game of musical chairs, “I was bopping around from sober living to rehab, to sober living to rehab.” Then she finally felt like she hit rock bottom. She then went through the revolving door of a sober living and treatment center in Pasadena. Sobriety just couldn’t quite stick, so she packed her bags, and despite a warning from her parents that they were prepared to cut her off, she left. 

With no place to go Claire was taken in by the parents of a friend. She was living in Topanga Canyon, free to drink, but with no direction or plan. Until one day she got a call from a family friend she’d known since childhood, Pat Gage, inviting her to to Shabbat. Claire reluctantly accompanied Pat to spend the afternoon together while she sobered up, and then to attend Shabbat services here at Beit T’Shuvah. Claire was unaware of the fact that BTS was a treatment center, and by the time she realized as much, the fear set in that she might be put into another institution. “Is she trying to send my ass away again?” she said to me laughingly. After services, Pat introduced Claire to members of the community and eventually asked Jesse and Thea to show her around. By the time they had finished a tour of the music studio, Claire began to think that this place wasn’t so bad.

Claire made a deal with a friend that she would do a trial run of one week in order to decide if she wanted to stay. The following Tuesday she was in, “The moment I stepped in as a resident my first day I knew this was a really fuckin’ special place, I just felt it. I could have left after a week, but I realized how lucky I was to be here, and I just felt this was going to be a life-changing experience for me, and I was right.” That was many months ago now and Claire is still here blossoming, and entertaining us with her beautiful singing. She’s starting to rediscover a future for herself and what God means to her. Claire has truly come a long way and loves Beit T’Shuvah. When I asked her what her favorite thing about BTS was she told me “I had one or two friends in sober living and AA in general, but I never had that sense of community before, and I know everyone says that, but it’s true.”

Spotlight on Claire M. by Jonathan M.

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