Beit T’Shuvah is full of addicts who have been pummeled by trauma, gasped for air in a sea of isolation, and watched grains of hope fall through their fingers. No one’s road here is paved with tulips and rainbows, but everyone who is here deserves to be. We all deserve a second chance. When someone tells me anything in the realm of, “Even in my darkest hours, I was a good guy,” I tend not to believe them, but something about the trembling tone in his voice dissuaded my pessimism. He clearly knew that not all of his actions were just, but through it all, he was always honest to what he believed was right. He was always Jake.

Growing up in Simi Valley in a very dysfunctional home molded Jake from before he could even remember. His father was bipolar, long before anyone even knew how to diagnose a disorder like that. The burden this put on his family was unmeasurable. 

When Jake was around thirteen years old, he had a harmless experience with other middle school boys at a sleepover that, after being blown out of proportion by his and their parents, turned into a situation that would shape the rest of his life. The simple boyhood joking quickly turned into a police investigation and a court case (which was quickly thrown out because of his clear innocence). Once the other kids at his middle school caught wind of all this, he was ostracized, ridiculed, and violently bullied. On a daily basis, he was pushed around and called homophobic slurs…despite the fact that he was straight. “I was made to feel different. People didn’t want me around because I was told I was defective in some way.” He thought that once the court case ended the bullying would stop, but kids are cruel and, sadly, the tormenting continued. Through it all, he kept a smile on his face. “I remember saying to myself, ‘If I just smile and act like this doesn’t bother me, it will go away.’ but it didn’t.”

As that smile continued, Jake was introduced to weed and alcohol by the rougher crowd at his school…the only kids who would accept him. Jake was introduced to relief. One day, when Jake was fifteen, his brother told him to stick out his arm and proceeded to stick a needle in Jake’s arm that was full of ten units of ether-based cocaine. “Two things happened. I ran to the bathroom and threw up and the second thing was I said, ‘Wow. I love this.’” After his brother burnt his bridges with all his dealers, he would turn to Jake to buy drugs for the two of them. “I didn’t know it then, but I know it now. My brother was basically pimping me out for drugs. He’d bring me up there and then half an hour later I couldn’t find him, and then these drug dealers would pass me around.” The dark cloud of shame started to rain down upon him. At all costs, he would avoid facing the truth of his situation. Even at such a young age, Jake learned that he could use his body to get drugs. The weight of the trauma he was enduring felt more bearable to him than the idea of hurting anyone else with his using. “I thought, ‘This sort of behavior is better than robbing old ladies at an ATM.’” 

A few years later, when Jake was seventeen, his brother died of a drug overdose. This was a wake-up call for his parents. So, they sent him to an adolescent treatment center. Like many seventeen-year-olds, he wasn’t ready. He saw every old-timer as a liar full of smoke and deception. Not until his mid-twenties did he come to terms with the fact that he had a problem. Rehab after rehab he entered and exited, putting little effort in every time. “I would fool myself by saying things like, ‘I’ll just drive by Skid Row and see if they cleaned it up at all…’” Obviously, that ended with a needle in his arm. This piece of Jake’s life is only marked by a tragic pinball game of treatment centers and prisons. Thirty-three rehabs and six years in prison to be exact.

Growing up, Jake always had an issue with God. It is no coincidence that Jake derives from Jacob—the God wrestler. “I would hear people at meetings talk about this God in their lives and I would believe them. So many people were talking about the same experiences. It is not like they grouped up after the meeting and got all their stories together. Eventually, Jake found Chabad. At Chabad, Jake became incredibly religious—wrapped tefillin, kept kosher, had his head covered—the whole five books. Still, Jake could not connect with God. He found peace in the community, but not in the idea of a higher power. Finally, after finishing an assignment for his sponsor and reading it out loud to him, there was a moment of clarity. His pride in his work vanished when his sponsor told him that, in fact, he was not the one that made any of that miracle happen…it was all God speaking through him. “Before that, I knew God like I knew the president. I knew his name, but other than that, I didn’t know him.” Once he found a god of his understanding, the words from the big book that he had shunned for decades, the entire program opened up for him. Words that were novel and make-believe began to become reality. 

Jake would go on to work in treatment at Chabad and a few other private pay locations in LA. One of these was dangerously close to Skid Row, his old stomping ground, and the temptation proved to be too much. After going out again, he found himself at the doors of Beit T’Shuvah—a new experience. Here, Jake has immersed himself in a community like he never has before, made friends with people he thought he would never even meet, and felt more gratitude than he ever thought possible. Something he says meant a lot to him was, “sitting in my seat [at the gala] and seeing that there are so many people that are putting forth the effort to make this thing happen.” Another element that he says moved him is that BTS does not toss our residents aside. From the long-term program to the involved alumni to the astounding number of staff that went through the house—every piece helped calm Jake’s nerves and told him one simple thing: “You are safe and you are home.” Today, Jake is giving back every single day by working as a program facilitator intern for the clinical department—boots on the ground, there for his fellow residents, the man who calms the storm.

“Even in my darkest hours, I was a good guy.” 

After hearing his story, I believe him more than ever. The only correction I would make is this. He may have been a good guy during those dark hours, but now, in the light of his recovery, his future brighter than ever, and that smile that once was nothing more than a facade hiding the pain a young boy who thought he shouldn’t feel, he is a great guy. He is an upstanding man that each and every one of us here, regardless of sobriety time, class, or status, can look up to as a pillar of what it means to be a person in recovery. He is always honest, kind, and loving. He is always there for you, in your time of need. He is always Jake.

Spotlight on Jake S. by Jesse Solomon

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