“I often hear people say that this rehab thing is ‘do or die’—for me, it really is. My heart is only functioning at 24% from an almost fatal overdose, if I use again I will die,” says 24-year-old Gavy S., a former fentanyl addict and current resident at Beit T’Shuvah. “I’ve literally overdosed 20 times now; I always say that if I were a cat, all 9 of my lives would be gone. Honestly, if it weren’t for Beit T Shuvah I wouldn’t be alive right now.”

A blue belt in Jiu-Jitsu and an avid lacrosse player with what looked to be a bright future, Gavy eventually had to quit sports because of a fractured spine. Oddly enough, this was not the beginning of his drug use; he had already begun using at a much younger age. Gavy’s father left when he was six years old, leaving his mother to raise him by herself. The only father figure he had was his older brother, who was battling his own addictions. “I started using drugs by the time I was 12, mostly Vicodin, Norcos, even some benzos, but so as to not fully follow in my brother’s footsteps, I avoided heroin,” Gavy explains.

As a result of developing symptoms of anxiety and depression, Gavy self-medicated. By the time he was eighteen, he began using fentanyl, and by the time he was 20, he experienced his first overdose, and his second, and his fifth. “I overdosed seven times in twelve days. I would wake up in the same bed, at the same hospital, looking up at the same nurses and doctors that had treated me in the days prior. The look on their faces said everything. When I wasn’t in the hospital, I was on the street, hustling for money to buy drugs. I did some things that I’m not very proud of,” he says, teary eyed. “I just couldn’t stop using fentanyl, no matter what I tried.”

Gavy found himself in and out of homeless shelters and treatment programs. Mostly, he lived on the street, at one point living out of a dumpster. When Gavy wasn’t high or overdosing, he was going through withdrawals. “There was one time I had been doing meth and fentanyl for such a long period of time that I was sure I was going to have a heart attack. Eventually, on the verge of going into withdrawal, I wanted to do a shot of fentanyl so badly just to calm my heart down, but the mere smell of the drug was making me sick to my stomach. I couldn’t get high and I couldn’t not get high. I was spiritually broken. I had nowhere to turn but to God,” he says. “I began to pray.” Luckily, someone witnessed his struggle and called the paramedics. They stabilized him, and he wound up at the hospital once again. Gavy saw this as a sign from God, and once again committed to getting sober.

Gavy was able to get seven months of sobriety under his belt when he relapsed again. This time, twelve hours had passed before he was found, unconscious and near death. “Because I had been lying in the same position for so long, my arm had developed rhabdomyolysis—the lack of oxygen to my arm caused the muscles to deteriorate, and the proteins and electrolytes released into my blood started to cause damage to my kidneys and heart. I also had cellulitis and compartment syndrome.”

With his organs failing, and his heart functioning at 2%, any attempt to save his arm would have been extremely risky. Nevertheless, with his mother’s permission, the doctor performed a fasciotomy, and the operation was a success. They saved his arm and managed to keep him alive. The doctors and staff were able to stabilize his organs, but his heart had been severely damaged, and the lack of oxygen had caused parts of his brain to die. When Gavy woke up, he could no longer speak or walk. It took 15 days before he regained speech. Feeling suicidal and desperate to leave the hospital but still wheelchair-bound, Gavy pleaded with his mother to take him home with her. She lovingly accepted, and with her help, he started down the road to his physical recovery. “I love my mother so much, she’s my best friend. She was so concerned for me—she wouldn’t take her eyes off of me. She even slept in the same bed as me to keep me from crawling on my own to the bathroom at night.” Eventually, Gavy regained the function of his legs and was able to walk again. She was there for every step.

With his physical healing complete it was time to attend to his spiritual health. Gavy always wanted to help others, but he knew he’d have to help himself first. Now, at five months clean and back at school, he’s thriving. “I would have never thought I’d be doing this well in school. I’ve been getting A’s on all my tests,” Gavy happily reports. He’s currently taking courses in substance abuse counseling, and his goal is to get a degree in family counseling.  “At this point, nothing would be more rewarding than helping as many people as I can, and with the help of Beit T’Shuvah, I’ll be able to do just that.”

Spotlight on Gavy S. by Daniel K.

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