By: Nathan R.

Cole R., a resident here at Beit T’Shuvah, recalls not taking religion seriously as a child. “My parents actually sent me Catholic school, even though both my parents are Jewish.” This gave Cole a sense that God and religion weren’t important. “They’re not even instilling it in my life.”

Cole was sent to a military school in third grade, after a series of behavioral issues in elementary school. He would spend the summers with his father in Los Angeles and started smoking pot the summer before seventh grade. “From the beginning, I smoked every single day, because it fulfilled something in me that was lacking. I definitely used it abusively from day one.” After getting expelled from military school for his drug use, he started ninth grade at public school in Texas, where he began smoking heroin.

Soon after, Cole further entrenched himself in an alcohol, drug and crime lifestyle. Eventually, at age 14, he was in an after-school outpatient program, where he was introduced to AA meetings. He robbed a fellow client of that program and ended up incarcerated for 28 months at an alternative-sentencing facility for minors in Mexico.

Returning home at age 17, Cole made it four months before he was arrested for selling marijuana to an undercover officer. Two weeks after his 18th birthday, he was arrested, and was soon a regular at the county jail. “Every thirty days I’d go back for another 90 days or six months.”

At age 19, Cole went to prison for the first time for possession of a firearm and for being pursued in a high-speed chase. After he was approaching the end of his 18-month term, his mother told him he couldn’t return to her house. She suggested that he call someone named Phil Hamburger at a Jewish rehab program called Beit T’Shuvah. “I just started laughing hysterically, like it was the funniest joke I’d ever heard.” He thought the name was a joke, too. “Whose name is Hamburger?”

Cole’s need for ever-higher stakes followed him when he was in prison. Recalling his time as a child visiting Las Vegas with his family, he was drawn to the high stakes of betting. “There wasn’t anyone in prison who could take a bet big enough for me to feel like I would interest in the game.” He instead became a bookmaker to be a part of the action. “I was just taking the bet just to bet.”

Cole arrived at Beit T’Shuvah the morning after he was released from prison. “I came in with the idea that I would leave the day after.” He stayed aloof at first, but soon realized that he had to open up to achieve any growth. “I felt accepted for my flaws and loved because of them.” He soon realized that he could channel his intelligence into service and Rabbi Mark paid for him to go back to school so he could find work in the treatment field. He went to work for a different treatment center because they offered him more money.

After leaving Beit T’Shuvah, Cole moved to Israel and returned to using heroin. It took only six months before he burnt out and was on a plane back to the United States. His first call on arrival was to Rabbi Mark. “I said I’m back, I’m a mess, and he took me right back.” Within seven months, he was working here on the prevention program, where he stayed for five years.

The allure of living on the edge called back to him eventually. “What I felt was the definition of success, all the nice things that I thought I needed, led me to craving money again.” He started coordinating drug deals while telling himself that it was not a problem if he stayed sober. “My justification was that I wasn’t using and wasn’t actually selling them, just connecting friends with friends.”

Cole was suspended for 90 days after Beit T’Shuvah found out he was taking a finder’s fee for setting up drug deals. Six months after he returned, he started to feel like he deserved a pay raise. “I was under the delusion that I was owed more money.” When he didn’t get a raise, he unilaterally reduced his work hours in protest and eventually got fired. “I put the whole prevention program at risk.”

Cole stayed sober for about six months, while going to school and drug dealing full-time. He eventually relapsed and found himself staying with an ex-fiancee when an ex-boyfriend of hers broke into her home. Cole went over to the man’s house with a gun, kicked in his door and hurt two people. “I ended up going to prison for eight years based on ego and financial insecurity.”

The first several years back in prison, Cole was shooting dope, amassing debt, and smuggling in drugs. He would often get caught and end up “in the hole,” only to repeat the script again shortly after. The last time he was in solitary confinement for selling drugs, he finally had a moment of clarity. “If something doesn’t change, I’m going to die like this. It took me seven years to realize that I wasn’t a victim in this situation.”

Beit T’Shuvah decided to readmit Cole for a third stay earlier this year. The biggest difference this time is that he’s not hiding his flaws. “I thought these things made me unloveable.” He sees now that true acceptance is through loving all of him. “It’s allowed me to be transparent and vulnerable, which allows my team to provide the help that I’ve needed.”

Cole also understands the difference now between intellectualizing what growth is and actually growing. He used to place a higher value on keeping up a “good” appearance, but that ultimately made him feel like a fraud. “This time I’m being transparent and completely honest, and that can be a mirror to expose my self-will when I don’t recognize it.”

Working with others in prevention is still a passion for Cole. “I love working with others, and the relief that being of service is the closest way for me to find God. The true definition of success is helping others and myself at the same time. Being selfishly selfless.”