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“My life is awesome!” Jenni J. exclaims with her famous, infectious smile. She is sitting in her office getting used to her new position as the congregation coordinator and assistant to the new senior rabbi at Beit T’Shuvah, Rabbi Ben Goldstein. The person before me is charming, excited and vibrant–a far cry from the frightened, chronically relapsing heroin addict who came through the doors of BTS on June 5th of 2018.
Jenni grew up in Northbrook, IL, one of three siblings. She was a good kid but always felt out of place. When she was a freshman in high school, she struggled to fit in. “I started hanging out with the stoners. They were my people. They accepted me,” she recalls. Jenni knew she should stay away from drugs and had no intention of getting high—until she met a guy.
It’s been a running theme in her life—older men she has crushes on and drugs. The guy in high school was a senior and kept nudging her to try pot. Eventually, she relented. “I thought, ‘well, one hit won’t hurt.’ I didn’t even get high, but I told my friend who was also anti-drugs, like I was. He wanted nothing more to do with me. I fell into a deep depression and decided ‘f*** it,” she says. The next three years became a hazy blur.
While her grades suffered, Jenni was on track to graduate… from pot to heroin that is. Because of her dwindling grades, Jenni began taking night classes. It was easy and there was no homework, and sure enough, there was a guy. “He was 20. I was 16 and I just thought he was the most badass dude. Looking back, I have no idea why.” This “badass dude” eventually introduced her to heroin. She snorted it and was hooked.
Snorting eventually led to intravenous use. From there it was eight years of “the lifestyle.” There was one moment when she had tried to quit but was unaware of what the detox process from heroin entailed. “I felt so gross and so sick. My mom took me to the doctor but the line was so long to be seen, I said ‘forget it.’” And so she was off to the races, getting high, going to treatment, getting a few months clean, meeting a new guy, getting high, etc. The cycle became predictable and tired.
Fast forward to the day before she left Chicago to come to L.A. There she was, frozen in fear, having just been up all night shooting crack. She hadn’t packed a single thing. “I was stuck. I was so terrified,” she reflects. A friend came in at the last moment and got her stuff packed and she took a chance on BTS, thus beginning a new journey.
Beit T’Shuvah is Jenni’s tenth inpatient treatment facility. She believes the reason why BTS worked for her was the long-term component. “The long-term aspect here is so amazing. They give you the time you need to take for yourself. That was so important to me. I didn’t have that pressure I felt every other time I left treatment,” she explains.
Besides getting clean, Jenni rekindled her Jewish faith. As she explains it, “I fell off from my spirituality during my addiction and being able to ease back into Judaism at my pace was really special. I believe that if you take the 12 steps and Judaism and you put them side by side, it’s the same thing. It’s all about being the best person you can be every day. And that’s really important to me.”
Jenni also got involved with the Prevention program and became the famous cookie queen of the short-lived “Real Deal” cookies, which were sold out every time she baked them for services. “I love Prevention! It’s my favorite thing. When I was in high school I was told drugs were bad but no one ever explained how bad it can get and what the drugs actually do. I mean I don’t look like a heroin addict. We know that addiction doesn’t have a face, but the kids don’t know that. It can happen to anyone. I think it’s really important to educate kids nowadays on the reality of drugs. Maybe if I had known the truth about heroin… I don’t know, maybe things would have turned out different.”
Jenni’s life today is radically different and better than she could have ever imagined. “What makes my life amazing today is how I feel about myself. I’m happy and I love myself. I’m not willing to take shit anymore. I know who I am and know what I deserve. The way my family looks at me now is unbelievable.”
Jenni is what Beit T’Shuvah produces: From a broken and hopeless dope fiend who could only find validation from outside sources, to a strong-willed, determined, energetic woman of grace, laughter, and confidence. Jenni didn’t think she was qualified for her new position as the assistant to the senior rabbi, but the confidence that Beit T’Shuvah helped her find allowed her to advocate for herself and put herself out there for the opportunity. 20 minutes after her interview, she was hired.
Big congratulations, Jenni! And if you get a moment, maybe bake some more of those famous cookies…