It’s common to hear stories of residents at Beit T’Shuvah and understand that they have lived many lives by the time they arrive at our front steps. Some have already experienced jails, hospitalizations, institutions, loss of parents, births of children, homelessness, and previous attempts at treatment. But rarely do we meet someone who has dealt with all of these before they were old enough to vote. Heath is one of these rare and inspiring individuals.

Born and raised in West LA, Heath’s first memories are of his father. “He was a Rico Suave Ex-Marine.” When Heath was two years old his father was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, but it didn’t stop him from taking his son on numerous adventures. “I remember going to Florida with my Dad, going to New York with my Dad, he was completely there, he took me everywhere.”  This included attending AA meetings with him.  His disease would not stop him from spending every moment he could with the son he adored and wanted. Truly wanted. After an unfortunate pregnancy that left his Mother unable to have future children of her own, Heath was adopted at birth. His father’s desire to adopt him was powerful, even threatening to leave Heath’s mother if she refused. Adoption was the first secret his parents kept from him until his mother revealed the truth when Heath was eleven. “I felt like my whole life was a lie.”

Sadly this father/son bond came to an end in one tragic night. Heath vividly recalls his father being rushed to Cedars Sinai Hospital with liver failure. A six-year-old boy was left without a Dad to look over him and with confusing emotions that no six-year-old could or should know how to come to terms with.

For the next few years, it was just Heath and his Mom. “My mom was single, running around, I spent a lot of time in camps and after-school programs. It was in one such program (D.A.R.E) where Heath initially received his drug education, and he was paying close attention. “At the age of 13 I would read about drugs, I would research drugs. When I heard about alcohol and opiates and how they would slow your body down I thought ‘Why in the world would anyone want to do that?’ I had a hatred towards alcohol because of what happened to my Dad.”

When Heath was eight-years-old his mom remarried. “It was a disaster from the beginning. I was mistreated and psychologically abused. My stepdad was a cocaine dealer, a lawyer, and an alcoholic. He acted like a cop and my room was like a jail cell.”

At 13 Heath started smoking weed. This was also the age that he discovered the LA Punk Scene and he was diagnosed with ADHD. Punk Rock and hyperactivity were a match made in heaven. “I think my first addiction was to partying and to people. My biggest fear was being alone.” It was his escape from the jail his home had become and a way to let out his excess energy. Unfortunately, the punk scene was also completely booze-fueled. “I didn’t like the way it felt, but I forced myself to drink. It was an excuse for me to act hyper. They’d say ‘Oh, this dude’s just drunk.’”

At 17 Heath started straying away from the Punk Scene. He had discovered cocaine and meth which was looked down upon by most of the hard-core Punk rockers, but he found friends with similar predilections. This was not because of peer pressure, let’s make that clear. Heath usually called the shots. “I talked the other kids into doing crazy shit, I don’t get pressured into doing things. I was the one who got the drugs.” He also found an additional benefit of using stimulants and having ADHD. He liked the calming effect it had on his brain. “It made me concentrate, it slowed my brain down a little bit. That’s why I fell in love with stimulants. It was a wrap after that. The stimulants, the parties, translated into cocaine, beer, and bars.”

School fell to the wayside but he did enroll in independent study in order to get his GED. Independent study didn’t cramp his lifestyle the way that high school tends to do. His parents also became cumbersome. Heath and his stepdad could not get along under the same roof, leading to Heath’s homelessness and spending the next year bouncing between jails, group homes, and an apartment that he would pay for with money left to him from his “real” dad’s military benefits (another secret his mother finally revealed to him when he was homeless and desperate). 

So to recap, here’s where we find Heath in 2004. He’s 18, in juvenile hall, he’s told by a girl he met at a Punk Show that she is pregnant with his child and he’s “dying inside for help.”

Enter Beit T’Shuvah (the first of three times he would turn to 8831 Venice Blvd for salvation).

At first, Beit T’Shuvah had reservations about taking in an 18-year-old. It had not been done up to this point (would someone that young get, and more importantly STAY sober?). But they took a chance on him and unfortunately at that time, he proved their doubts to be right on the money. After five months, he left Beit T’Shuvah and went back to coke and meth. He was 18, hopeless, and told by the mother of his child that he was not allowed to see his son.

This is when Heath started his “jail career,” in and out of jail on felony drug charges twelve times for the next year. The final jail sentence (of that run) was when Heath realized that he needed to kick Meth. Drinking, pot, and cocaine were another story. He felt that he could live a very productive life as long as he stayed “California Sober” (booze and some coke don’t count, right?) He went to Chabad, a Jewish rehab for men, and then to a sober living. He stayed off of meth for the next 18 months.

In 2007 he met a new woman who would make him a father for a second time, this time to a daughter that he was determined to know and to raise. They moved around. First to Tennessee, then to Texas, ultimately he found himself back in California for work. It was at this time he received a devastating text message in which his girlfriend callously told him she had cheated on him, would not be joining him in California, and he would not be raising his daughter.

This is when “[Heath] stopped caring.” Although he graduated from Le Cordon Bleu, life over the next few years became that of a line cook; 12-hour restaurant shifts and hanging out at bars doing coke. Almost as if on cue, in the spring of 2012 Heath was arrested for cocaine possession and returned to his home away from home…jail. While in jail and out of options, he realized his cocaine addiction was too much to handle on his own. He made his second call to Beit T’Shuvah and for a second time, they had reservations. Beit T’Shuvah had a month-long waiting list, but that did not deter Heath. He entered their outpatient program and attended every day until they had a bed for him. After staying for 10 months, he was Kadima’d but his apathy for life hadn’t fully retreated. “I did everything perfectly, I picked up surfing, picked up sober friends, but I still didn’t care. I still wanted to be able to drink. I grew a deep hatred for meth. I realized when I stopped doing meth I stopped going to jail. Maybe I just need to go to bars but be more careful. Maybe I should just drink at home.”

So here we are again, Heath is back to drinking and working and not much else. Until one fateful night when he’s out with his cousin and he thinks he’s going to a house to smoke weed and maybe do some coke. That coke ended up being crystal meth. Suddenly, he had a lightbulb moment that actually came in the form of a lightbulb. He was about to smoke meth out of a lightbulb they had made into a pookie (meth pipe). “I had a profound moment. If I hit this fucking thing I’m never gonna come back from this. But my life was so fuckin’ trashed anyways, I was feeling sorry for myself, I don’t have a girlfriend, I’m not getting paid…fuck it, I hit it.”

This led to another run of doing meth, living on and off the streets, and eventually getting arrested again. But this time it wouldn’t be the familiarity of a jail cell he’d be heading to. This time was one time too many and the judge decided it was time for this man to see what prison looks like.

During his prison term in 2017, Heath lost his beloved mother to cancer. This sent him on another tragic downward spiral into despair.

But it was his final prison stint in 2021 where everything changed. Strangely, it was in the hole (solitary confinement), high on meth that Heath had an epiphany. He was hallucinating, paranoia getting the best of him when he told himself this was it. No more. He was entering psychosis and if this were to happen to him on the streets he wouldn’t last long. 

For a third time he wrote to Beit T’Shuvah and this time they had no reservations, this would prove to be the final time. On December 30, 2023, Heath returned to Beit T’Shuvah. He came here with ten months sober and told himself  “I have to do this right.”

So what’s different this time? Heath says, “It’s a matter of caring, a matter of listening. Knowing my self-worth.” Heath’s endured more in 37 years than most people will ever experience. He identifies as many things. An alcoholic, a meth head, and a coke addict. But in the end, he told me he is “A Punk Rocker who fights for a cause; a cause to be sober.”

He says he’s come to terms with his parents’ deaths, with his tumultuous relationship with his stepdad, and had a new “lightbulb moment,” …he never wants to drink or use again.

Heath has plans for himself. He still has a passion for the culinary arts but also has interests in politics and becoming a therapist. He’s a tremendous addition to our community and a positive force of nature. We are all beyond lucky that his third time at Beit T’Shuvah was the charm. As a man who said his first addiction was people, I hope that’s the one he never kicks. 

Spotlight on Heath W.  by Lisa S.

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