There are cows and buffaloes—and lessons to be learned. When a storm is coming, cows run away, spending longer than they have to in the downpour. Buffaloes, on the other hand, run straight into the storm, passing through it and leaving the chaos behind them. David N. used to be a cow, running away from his problems, never actually addressing any of them. Today, he’s channeling the buffalo, diving headfirst into his problems in order to get through the pain.
David was born just outside Atlantic City. For most of his life he would ping pong between New Jersey, where his dad lived, and Pennsylvania, where his mom lived. Whenever his dad felt a fleeting whim to be a father, he would pick David up and take him to one of his girlfriend’s houses. David says, “I fit into my Dad’s schedule, not vice versa.” His mother’s house was loving, but chaotic. Around the time that David was 11, his mom moved out west to Washington to get into the casino business. He remembers at a young age his father offering him sips of alcohol and grandma giving him the olives out of her martinis—your average Irish Catholic family.
While his mom would work, he was left as a latchkey child. During this time, he found weed and eventually pills. His best friends were named Vicodin and Percocet. When he would get shipped back to New Jersey periodically to see his dad, he would desperately miss his friends. Despite his drug use at a young age, his grandmother was a well known drug and alcohol counselor/therapist at the Caron foundation. David says they would sit together every morning, drink coffee, and she would use her therapy skills to walk him through finding the answers to who he was. Despite his grandma’s intervention, David was getting arrested and diving deeper and deeper into the world of drugs.
While using pills and heroin constantly, David completed college and got a bachelor’s, got a good job at the Washington State Department of Health, and was living a seemingly productive life. This all came to a screeching halt when his grandmother got sick and his family asked him to move back to Pennsylvania and help take care of her. David’s addiction had already been problematic, but the 10 months he spent taking care of her before she passed away pushed him to new extremes. They kept the morphine drip next to his dying grandma’s bed and, like any drug addicted caretaker, he would stay by her side, getting loaded and nodding out. One for her and one for him.
After his grandma’s passing, David moved back to Washington, reclaimed his old job, and lost it within a few months. “At that point I’d gone so far downhill that I was finally able to see how drugs and alcohol had affected my life,” David says. Until this point, he was unwilling to accept his true underlying issue. At 25, he moved to California for a new start. With the connections his grandma had made, his family helped him get into Betty Ford in Palm Springs which started a long string of David going in and out of treatment, getting time and losing time, and never finding the proper help he deserved.
Finally, David made it to Beit T’Shuvah. Although he found a home here, his struggles were not quite over. For the first 7 months of David’s treatment he pretty much phoned it in. He did exactly what he thought was expected of him, taking on any job he could to give back to the community and get out of his head, and never dove any deeper into himself.
One day, while helping out on the moving truck, he saw a box of junk that had bottles of pills in it. David did not take the bottles, but it put the idea in his constantly racing brain. “I wasn’t consciously aware of what was going on in the moment until I look back and now I can tell you that’s where it started,” he says. While in the truck on his way back to Beit T’Shuvah, he took his phone out, went on to Craigslist, and typed in some of his old drug-related search terms “just to see.”
“It used to be really easy to find drugs on there, but they cracked down on it,” David says. “When I couldn’t find what I was looking for with the normal codewords, it turned into a game.” He claims he had no intention of calling the number, but just wanted to see if he could find one. After 20 minutes, and while still on the Beit T’Shuvah thrift truck, he found a number and quickly texted it to prove its authenticity. Of course, the number was real and the dealer told him where to meet him. David says with sadness in his eyes, “I didn’t tell anyone at Beit T’Shuvah—I didn’t open up. So, I feel like the decision was already made at that point.”
David was sure he wouldn’t get caught because he was involved in the community and was a trusted resident. He knew he couldn’t get heroin because it would show up in a urinalysis… so he got fentanyl. While on the bus to get the drugs he thought to himself: “I wonder if that is the last tree I’m going to see,” as well as remembering the church in Bill’s Story (the first chapter of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous). David got off the bus, walked a few blocks, passed a group of four guys talking, met up with the guy from Craigslist, bought the drugs, lit a cigarette, and snorted the Fentynal.
That’s the last thing he remembers.
From what he can piece together, David was stumbling down the street before he passed out in front of those same four guys, overdosing in the middle of the street. While lying in the gutter, the four men called 911, took the money from David’s wallet, and left. This was a small price to pay for David’s life. The next and most vivid image David has from this experience was seeing the faces of the EMTs as they celebrated David coming back to life. They had nasal Narcanned David 6 times, but not until they intravenously Narcanned him did he take his next breath. A few hours later, David had another resident pick him up from the hospital. He lied to all the staff that asked him questions about what had happened and made his way back to his room.
The next morning, David woke up and knew he had a lot to face. He remembered that he still had the drugs in his pack of cigarettes, so he took some more and flushed the rest. He flushed the toilet twice so that he would be sure it was gone. Staff members came into his room later that day and David let them search it with no worries. Suddenly, he heard Justin Delgado say “Bingo! ”David says, “I was like, ‘what do you mean bingo?’ There is no bingo! There is nothing in there!” That is when Justin came walking out with David’s drugs. Because he was so high when he did it, David had missed the toilet and threw the drugs on the floor next to it. He knew he had committed a horrible offense and did not fight it when they asked him to leave for 30 days. He moved to a sober living in the area and went to every meeting and Shabbat service that Beit T’Shuvah had. David says, “No matter what happened in the future, I knew I wanted to stay a part of this community.” After having the prerequisite sober time, he returned home to Beit T’Shuvah. When he came back, he decided it was time to stop running from the pain and to embrace the person who he has always been. He is currently on the marathon team and trying to tap back into his creative side. David says, “If I don’t know how to do something, I want to try it.” Currently he is working as a production assistant, has joined Freedom Song and is a founding member of Beit T’Shuvah’s up-and-coming Film Department. David is now working the steps, looking deeper into himself, and moving towards the goals he wanted to achieve before drugs got in the way. If David has taught us anything it is to love yourself, to do the work, and to be the buffalo.
If you would like to donate to help David run the marathon, please go to: https://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/david-noltjr/R4R20