“My house got raided. Police found drugs in a common area. No one took responsibility for them and we all got charged,” John B. recounts leaning back on a couch in the women’s lounge. How did a kid from Phoenix, AZ, raised in a happy home by a loving mother, big sister, grandmother and grandfather, get to this point? It all started with a bad case of mono. Prior to that diagnosis, however, John B. experienced a really good childhood. Despite never knowing his birth father, a raging alcoholic and cokehead, who was a verbally and physically abusive husband and father to his mother and older sister, John had a mostly normal and positive early upbringing. He excelled in both grades and baseball, but in fifth grade, his grandfather and the only meaningful male figure in his life, passed away. “A lot of things changed in my life after his death,” John recalls.
His grades dropped, he grew distant from his mother and began a very rebellious stage in his life. Around this time, John’s mom, who was originally from Iowa, went back home for her high school reunion. There she became amorously reacquainted with a former classmate, Ted, from her high school days. Within two years of the reunion, his mom asked him and his sister if it would be okay for the family to move back to Iowa so she could be closer to Ted. John and his sister agreed and the family moved back east into a house just south of Des Moines.
The living arrangement was not exactly typical. As John explains, “Ted lived in the basement while we lived upstairs. It was very weird.” This weirdness grew and his mother and Ted eventually realized it wasn’t exactly working out. He left the house, and moved into his own place. Shortly after Ted’s departure, John recalls, as mentioned above, “I got mono at fourteen. The cough syrup they gave me contained codeine. I knew then that I loved opiates.” Not long after his illness, John entered high school. “When I got into high school, I drank alcohol for the first time and furthered my love affair with opiates, along with a veritable buffet of other drugs,” he says.
Once hooked, John started buying Vicodin, Percocet and all the other “smaller versions of heroin from my friends,” he explains. Upon entering college, John’s addiction to painkillers and alcohol ramped up considerably. Living in a house with three other roommates, John was able to buy drugs from one of those mates. “That’s when I found Oxycontin. And then things got really bad,” John painfully relates. And, as mentioned above, John and his fellow college mates were busted during a raid and all were charged.
Following the arrest, John began a recovery journey through various treatment centers. Despite this effort to achieve sobriety, his addiction worsened. During this drug-fueled haze of his early to mid twenties, John reconnected with his first love and high school sweetheart. At this point, John had graduated to heroin and his girlfriend expressed a fervent interest in trying it, along with various other opioids. John introduced her to them and, not surprisingly, she became addicted rather quickly.
The couple spent the next two years together as full blown addicts. One day, during their deadly immersion into heroin, John shot them both up. As they were driving to secure more drugs, she passed out and hit her head on the dashboard. John rushed her to the hospital. The doctors began to work on her and, since he had no power of attorney, he called her parents. Not surprisingly, John wasn’t exactly their favorite person, especially at this point. John gave her one last kiss to the forehead and left her with her mom and dad. A few days later a mutual friend called and informed John that his first girlfriend, and first love, had passed away.
Following this sudden and terrible tragedy, John spiraled and his drug abuse went nuclear. He began another futile attempt at sobriety by bouncing from and through eight different treatment centers, to no avail. Despite this implosion of his life, John did have a few lucid moments and managed to get a job as a software developer for a time. However, as he explains, “Nothing was good in my life. Even though I had a job I was still using.” He had managed to save up some money and decided to get out of Iowa and start anew in California. He had wanted to move to San Diego, but when he got to Cali Covid exploded. The stress of that cataclysmic event caused John to spiral again and he burned through all of his money quickly.
Frantic, distressed and broke, John attempted to seek refuge in yet another treatment center. “I called ten treatment centers. None of them would accept me because I had a car,” he explains. Finally, he was able to reach Beit T’Shuvah and they said he could park his car in their lot. Shortly thereafter, he was accepted into BTS. However, as he remembers, “It was hard for me the first few months. My anxiety was off the charts.” Slowly, however, John began to overcome his fears and become more comfortable around people in the community. He gives most of the credit to his treatment team. “I’ve never had a team of people who actually cared about my well being,” he says. Likewise, as he explains, “Doors began to open for me. I got an internship at the front desk working four days a week.”
As part of this blossoming metamorphosis, John gave a moving drash at Rosh Hashanah this year, joined the cast of “Freedom Song”, at the urging of his “best roommate ever”, Phil A., and began to learn how to surf with the aid of Alex M. “This is the longest period of sobriety I’ve ever had since I started using,” he recounts with that bright smile that, when he does share it, illuminates any space he inhabits. We’re lucky to have John as part of the BTS community. He’s now the first voice an addict, like himself, hears when they are desperately seeking refuge at BTS. He takes that responsibility seriously, because he knows exactly what they’re going through. And, as he expands his own horizons further, we all eagerly anticipate where his recovery path may take him.