Spotlight

Jesse S.

 

There was a stark change between Valentine’s Day 2007 and the ensuing 24 hours of my life. On that day of love, candy, and corporate greed, my father gifted my mother with a bouquet of red roses. The next day, when the cliches had been said and the chocolate was half off, the love had faded. After 24 years of marriage, my father sat my mother and me down and told us he was leaving. This moment changed me forever.

In the following weeks, my father went to New York, where my soon-to-be step-mom lived. My mother, who had been suffering from a lifetime of mental illness was checked into the psychiatric hospital at UCLA (a place where I would eventually become a resident as well) after the actions of my dad broke her to pieces. For the longest month of my life, both of my parents were gone.

After she checked out of UCLA, my mother then spent the next ten years in bed. She was depressed and couldn’t handle the stress that life had bestowed upon her. She would oftentimes talk about committing suicide to me. Later when I was contemplating the same fate, she made me agree to a murder/suicide pact: I agreed to not kill myself before I killed her first. As one might imagine, this weighed heavily on me.

For the next ten years of my life, I did all I could to not fall into the painful feeling of sobriety. I attended a very liberal arts high school in Van Nuys, where no one would notice if I was intoxicated. The longer I pushed back my feelings, the more panic attacks and anxiety I would face. Before long, I was being prescribed every anti-anxiety pill modern medicine had to offer. My daily routine was as follows: Wake up, run to the bathroom to anxiously vomit, pop as many Xanax that would fall out of the bottle, chase them down with a swig of Fireball, roll out of bed, roll five to six spliffs, smoke one as I rolled another, roll a “preparation” blunt for the walk to the bus, take the bus to school, and smoke a few bowls before class. I was always high.

Before long, I was taking mushrooms, acid, and cocaine on a weekly basis. It would have been more frequently, but I was raised in poverty and these drugs were pricier than I was accustomed to. I was always very manipulative, so lying about my drug use was second nature. I lied to my parents, my friends, my girlfriend, and to myself. My life had become a Hunter S. Thomson book and the bats were closing in.

Most students were not allowed on the roof, but because I had created a satirical news channel at my school (in the style of The Daily Show). All I needed was a camera around my neck, and I had a free pass to go anywhere I wanted to. When my suicidal ideations had reached their most volatile, I made my way to the roof of my high school’s eight-story building and stood on the edge. I watched my tears fall from my face and rain down onto the street. It was me remembering that I had to film a bit for the next episode of that show that guided me off the ledge. I couldn’t be funny if I was dead… well, at least not as funny.

At college, with very few rules to keep me in place, I went off the deep end. After discovering the Manhattan bar scene, I stopped attending classes. I had panic attacks all day and did drugs all night. I walked the streets of the Financial District asking Wall-Street men if they had any cocaine on them. Unfortunately, the 80s were over and these hedge funders were fueled by Adderall and daddy’s disappointment. This way of living had become unsustainable, and I was promptly back at my mother’s house in California. Then, my longtime girlfriend dumped me because I was too suicidal for her—as if there is an appropriate amount of suicidalness. All of this darkness fueled me to write my first rock album about my struggles with mental illness, drugs, and love. Ostensibly, I had written an hour-long musically complex suicide letter. It was my loudest cry for help to date.

Bouncing from community college to community college throughout Los Angeles, I fell into my old habits of panic attacks masked with drug use. I couldn’t take it anymore, walked into UCLA Psych ward, and told them I was planning on taking my own life. After a week or so of intense mental coddling, my insurance ran out and I was back to my old ways again. This lasted for years until I finally knew I had enough. At this point, my mom had remarried, moved to Florida, and left me staying with a friend. I knew I wouldn’t last long if I continued the way I was going. Every day was filled with nothing more than panic attacks and drug use. I couldn’t keep a job, stay in school, or maintain a relationship.

After being kicked out of my friend’s house, with nowhere to go, I called my well-off uncle and begged him for help. My uncle pointed me in the direction of my cousin Jake, who worked at a Jewish rehab facility. People were begged, strings were pulled, and after a dangerous detox from the drugs I was on, I moved into Beit T’Shuvah. At Beit T’Shuvah I have found sobriety, true friends, and a sense of happiness and self-esteem. I never felt like I belonged to anything. My home-life was rough and my social life was swarmed with nervousness and depression. Once at Beit T’Shuvah, I found something greater than myself to believe in—a community. I have started working as an intern at Creative Matters (an ad agency founded at Beit T’Shuvah) where I can groom myself for a career in writing by creating copy and working on the weekly spotlights. For the first time in my life, I feel accepted for who I am. After years of bouncing between parents, mental states, and drugs, I am finally home.