Even in a room full of tweakers, in the throes of her addiction, Crystal M. buzzed with optimism. “I was that type that you would get high with and I’d be like, ‘Okay, are we all going to quit tomorrow?’ I’d be that annoying one. And they’d all be like, ‘okay, shut up Crystal’,” she tells me—optimism isn’t always a welcome trait in the drug world.
But even when it’s out of place, this is Crystal’s best quality: an unwavering sense of hope, one that stems from a genuine faith that there is beauty in even the ugliest of tribulations.
Crystal grew up in Southern California, and like most people, she wasn’t raised in an idyllic breeze of morning glories and roses. Despite her penchant for the positive, she describes carrying a weight of self-condemnation with her throughout life that never relented its grasp on her mind. Having been adopted, there was always an unsettling question in Crystal’s heart about her implicit worth. She was too young to reassure herself that she wasn’t broken in some way. And while she is hesitant to throw her adoptive mother under the bus, Crystal’s upbringing only drove home her fears about herself more deeply.
Pervasive discomfort about being adopted and a persistent feeling that she just “couldn’t get” life the way other people could are the major factors that led Crystal to start using meth at the age of 18. She describes her desperation to use as partly a way to regulate fears and emotions she could neither confront nor handle. “I never looked at my shadow self as something that I could understand or was able to work with, I was always just like ‘hide it, hide it, hide it’, but it came up no matter what,” she says, referring to a pattern of relating to herself and others that would continue most of her life. Afraid that others would perceive her inner-brokenness, Crystal became a perpetual people-pleaser. “I was always worried about how everybody else felt and not how I felt because I thought I deserved to feel bad,” Crystal says. If there was something unsavory lurking beneath the surface of her mind, she preferred to pretend it didn’t exist. And the last thing she wanted was for anybody else to see it.
When she moved to Oregon at 22, her meth use stopped, although she still smoked weed daily and often took Adderall. Crystal tells me she isn’t surprised that she relapsed at around 30, shortly after getting married. Two ectopic pregnancies in her early 20’s had rendered her fertility status unclear, but Crystal and her husband had tried in vitro fertilization in hopes that she might be able to bear a child. It didn’t work. Six months into the marriage, amid a deep depression, Crystal started using meth again.
Like most of her deeper issues, Crystal kept her drug use a secret for a long time. Although using was a necessity, she had a gift for keeping a semblance of normalcy, both eating and sleeping under the influence and facilitating the facade that nothing was wrong until two years into her marriage.
It wasn’t a cordial divorce. After being unceremoniously kicked out of her ex-husband’s house, Crystal no longer needed to hide her substance abuse, which over the next three years, only got worse. Her circle of friends became tweakers, and she began living with other addicts, whereas in the past she’d only dropped by to pick up her own supply.
Crystal believes that it is her faith that led her to Beit T’Shuvah. It’s that faith in something higher than herself, protecting and nurturing her, that reminded her she wanted to quit using every time she smoked meth. But it wasn’t easy for her to get into rehab. Broke, without insurance or a job, Crystal’s appeal to her ex-husband for help was met with angry dismissal. So she appealed to the state, but she describes her reaction to the first rehab she got into as “disgust”, and she checked herself out after three days, unable to foresee herself getting better there. Referring to Beit T’Shuvah, she says “the second I saw this place online, I fell in love”.
After staying here as a resident for about 8 months, Crystal is now a full-time program facilitator and lives in staff housing. Crystal feels that the biggest work she’s done in coming here was confronting who she really is, both the best and worst parts of herself. Her big “Aha” moment occurred when she heard another resident, Jarett, speak about how “hurt people hurt people.” The phrase prompted thoughts which gave her insight into how the people that hurt Crystal weren’t discovering some essential failing in her, but rather working through the pain of their own pasts. This allowed her to have a sense of compassion for her adoptive mother, and that compassion gave Crystal the ability to “forgive someone who’s not sorry.” Being capable of that forgiveness has been a huge piece in Crystal’s recovery. “Throughout my life, I always have this major war, this battle going on in my head: the good and the evil, and it has just fought throughout my whole life and made me question everything I do,” Crystal reflects. Today, the war has quieted down. She is able to speak to herself with respect and compassion, and to have confidence and faith in who she is.
Before the lockdown, Crystal worked at Vista Del Mar providing care and support to foster youth struggling with addiction, a job she hopes to get back to when the world starts opening its doors again. “It’s really hard for teens to stay sober in general, but especially for teens that have no family,” she explains, describing how the challenge of a young addict in the foster care system is unique. Eventually, she intends to get her drug and alcohol counseling license, hoping that by being more of a constant and less of a variable in those kid’s lives, they may have the foundation of support they need to try and get sober. Having been adopted herself, Crystal has unique insight and empathy into the struggles of foster children and identifies with their pain: “I understand how it feels to feel like there’s something wrong with you. And that’s similar to any addict, but in a sense it was almost proven for them because their parents gave them up.” She knows that coming from a place of very similar circumstances, she can reach them in a way others may not be able to. She describes being so fulfilled by her job at Vista that she can hardly call it work – it’s her life’s purpose.
Working as a program facilitator during the pandemic is something she also finds to be rewarding, albeit with different challenges. It’s difficult for her at times because she is working through many of the same emotions as the residents here in processing the lockdown and the major shift in daily life that has taken place nationwide. But she loves being able to be supportive to others in a way that she was supported when she was in her early stages of sobriety here. She tries to help by sharing the lessons she’s learned here, such as to have hope and to trust in a power greater than ourselves, and to see that even in our struggles a silver lining can emerge from the discomfort we experience. “It means a lot to me when I go in and I spend time with the girls in their rooms, and I listen. I want them to understand that I know where they’re coming from. If I can find light and beauty in this I hope that they can too.”