Meth and love go together like Romeo and Juliet: it feels magical in the moment, but ultimately it’s a doomed partnership. This was the cold and harsh reality BTS resident Ethan J. would realize as he reached the apex of his meth use and toxic codependent relationship with his then girlfriend. At the time, it was the two of them against the world, victims of a cruel and uncaring society when in reality they were two lost souls, trying to find refuge from devastating emotions that they weren’t equipped to handle. They turned to drugs and to each other… and eventually to petty crime.
The tweaker and criminal version of Ethan was a far cry from how Ethan was in high school; he was a well behaved kid growing up. He was socially awkward, enjoyed playing Dungeons and Dragons, and loved theater. Yet, he struggled to fit in and keep friends. After high school, he was aimless. He was dipping in and out of community college and started bumming around with other drama nerds from his high school. He was working on a theatrical production with some former students when one of them offered him some weed. “I had never smoked before but I said ‘sure, why not?’ I was hanging out with these older kids and starting to get into this party world. I started smoking weed pretty regularly and started making friends, like real connections,” he says. The pull of social inclusion is strong for any of us, but for someone who felt like an outsider, it’s extremely powerful.
Around this time, his family moved to Los Angeles from Northern California. “That was a shock, I didn’t know anyone here, I didn’t know what to do. For about the first year in LA, it was getting stoned, being alone, and being bored as shit.” Ethan soon made friends on set where he got jobs as an extra in high school TV shows. He started to make friends. His work as an extra soon transitioned into becoming a tour guide at Warner Brothers Studios. He even started dating. He continued to smoke weed, but life was good.
It wasn’t meant to last. In December of 2015, he began working long hours as a P.A. on an independent film and around that same time his girlfriend of a year had a nervous breakdown due to untreated bipolar disorder. Ethan was distraught. The small world he was building for himself was beginning to unravel. “After some time apart from her, I had to tell her that I could barely take care of myself, let alone the two of us. Breaking up with her was the hardest thing I’ve done. It still makes me sad that we broke up,” he explains.
Unable to sit in his depression, he figured he would distract himself with more drugs. He had tried meth once before and figured that was a good place to start. “I got high… and I felt better. I thought this was the solution to my problems of feeling like shit and feeling depressed and so I thought I could just do this all the time.” He picked up a pipe and was off to the races. And when Ethan goes in, he goes all in. He was soon dating a tweaker, smoking meth all day and somehow still held down a job. One day, his new girlfriend started shooting up. Instead of shock or trepidation, “I said ‘that sounds fun! I’ll want to do that!’” The girlfriend ended up going crazy from the meth, entering a full psychosis but that didn’t stop Ethan. He believed he could handle his meth. “I told myself, ‘it won’t make me crazy.’” A common thought for any meth addict about to start their descent into a world of pain.
It’s never a good idea to steal, however on meth, it becomes a great idea. Ethan and his girlfriend at the time found a house in Studio City that was listed for sale and pillaged the nearly empty house. “We took what we could, which was a Dewalt drill and a leather jacket,” Ethan says. The garage was full of big items so with the help of a nearby homeless man, the three of them, emptied the garage into a Uhaul. They sold the small items but “at some point, some of the items were posted on Craigslist with my phone number attached,” Ethan recalls. The meth-induced ideas only got better and better. A month later, the police got in touch with Ethan and in an attempt to show some form of chivalrous love, “I decided I was going to turn myself in, because I didn’t want her to think I was going to flip on her. I would just take all the blame now and spare her,” he recalls. He explains, “I turned myself in because I wanted her to love me. I thought it would make her trust me more. I didn’t think it was going to be that serious because I was doing the right thing. The system doesn’t care that you are trying to do the right thing now. They only care that you did the wrong thing back then.” Ethan would end up spending ten months in prison.
Ten days before he turned himself in, Ethan had something of a spiritual awakening and put down the drugs, so he began his prison sentence with just over a week clean. He had friends who had been to jail so he was filled in on how to act and survive. He was crafty; he managed to game the system and avoid gang violence and politics. “The thing that messes with you the most in LA County jail is that there are no windows or clocks. The only way to tell what time it is, is when the sheriffs do rounds every 30 minutes,” he explains. He passed the time reading and writing and trying to keep a level head. He and another inmate even worked on a script about their experience in jail.
From prison, he was sentenced to Beit T’Shuvah. Here, he has discovered a newfound awareness of his own feelings and the chaos that continuously goes on in his head. After years of battling with himself, he is finally better equipped to deal with his complex emotions and rapidly moving mind. Beit T’Shuvah has also supplied Ethan with a loving community of friends. He says, “I finally have people to talk to when I am feeling crazy. There are people here that I don’t need to hide from or feel like I need to be liked by. Beit T’Shuvah has taught me how to love myself and have self worth that is not based on external validation.”
Ethan has also become a vital part of this community by taking on any and all the jobs that are asked of him. He says,“I’m very productive nowadays. I work part-time and have an internship baking bread. I want to follow my passion and be able to give back to the community.” Where those intersect, we shall find out.
Working on writing a new script with a few residents here, Ethan sees a bright future for himself. He dreams of being a television producer, while staying close to this community and the people in it that give him strength.