I did not have a bad life growing up. Sure, my parents separated when I was in third grade. Sure, I was raised mostly by my sister and grandmother. Sure, I never felt like I could fit in…but I was privileged. I had everything I wanted. My problems never mattered in comparison to those of my peers, because they didn’t threaten my life. It didn’t matter that I grew up in a neighborhood where the biggest problems were pets running away and rising gas prices. I lived for others, because, for me, my problems were non-problems. They didn’t count. 

I went to public school growing up where I was labeled “the rich kid.” I didn’t have to eat cafeteria lunches, my parents picked me up after school, and I was a cub scout. I hated it. I wanted to fit in so badly that I started throwing away the lunches my parents packed me. When it came time to start the boy scouts, I threw that away too. 

The next year, I was transferred to the college prep school where my sister went—where my family wanted me to go. The culture shock was immense. Not only was the education way more strenuous, but the social environment was too. People around me all of a sudden started caring about things I had never even considered before. Where did you go to school? Who are your parents? How good are your grades? I had no idea how to answer. So, I started lying. I made up a persona for myself. This new me could fit in and could be alright no matter how I was actually doing. I stopped caring about things I liked. I’ve always read for pleasure, but eventually, I stopped even reading the books they assigned me. I switched from playing soccer to lacrosse—a rich man’s game.

Wanting to fit in so badly was starting to drive me crazy. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I couldn’t keep track of all the lies I was telling and the stories I was making up. At this point, I was introduced to weed—love at first puff. It was the cure to all my problems. I stopped stressing about anything and everything when I was high. It was something I had in common with some of my schoolmates. When I was high, I felt in tune with the world around me. I took to it immediately and before long I was smoking every day. Then, all of a sudden it stopped working. I’m not entirely sure when it happened. Maybe it was a gradual thing, maybe it was overnight, but no longer could weed cure my ailments.

In my sophomore year, I started drinking—love at first sip. From my first drink, I knew alcohol was the permanent answer to all my problems. The drink offered me everything I liked about weed and more. I gained the confidence that had been lacking my whole life and disconnected from all my deeper emotional problems. Things were great when I was drinking… until they were not. My relationship with alc had a meteoric rise and nearly as quick of a downfall. 

By my senior year of high school, I was drinking every weekend and most of the days in between. I knew I had a problem from personal observation and because my friends would tell me so, but I didn’t care. I never got hangovers, but always blacked out. I couldn’t remember the embarrassing stories I was rumored to be a part of. The bad things that happened when I was drunk were not my problem, but the good things were. Then one night, I was pregaming for a friend’s birthday as I waited for a friend to pick me up. The next morning, I woke up on my couch thinking I had slept through the whole event. I was embarrassed, but this was no uncommon experience. I opened my phone in order to text the friend whose birthday it had been an apology. He had left me a message kindly expressing his concern for my health and telling me to never come to his house again. Similar messages of concern, surprise, anger, shock, and humor from many of the other attendees filled my phone. I knew I had a problem. So, I quit drinking. 

After hitting that bottom I swore off alcohol. I promised myself I would only use weed again and occupied myself with depression instead. I became obsessed with my own death. I would fantasize about different ways of killing myself. I created a plan, and put it into action…but my problems didn’t matter. Other people have it worse. You’re being a bitch. Man up. 

Over the summer I saved up money so I could get out of the country. I would use my funds to travel Europe where eventually I would disappear. Along the way, my plans stalled out. I picked up a drink after three months of a sobriety drier than the LA River. This time it was different…or so I thought. For a while, I was able to control my urges. No more water bottles filled with vodka or late nights wandering around with a beer in hand. So, I continued to drink, to smoke weed, and I picked up a habit for psychedelics. It was a fun time, but not always a good time. 

While my second run was filled with memorable experiences, not all of them were positive. During that time, I lost A LOT of stuff. Rings, chains, clothing, my phone, (and then a week later) my new phone, (and through it all) my sanity. The spree of disappearing items culminated in my room being broken into and all of my remaining jewelry and electronics being stolen. After, that I stopped going out. I had been at the beach with some friends when the break in happened, and although it wasn’t their fault, I lost trust in those around me. 

A few weeks, later I started a Semester at Sea program. I was amazed I had even gotten that far. Less than a year before, I had no intentions of making it to a higher education. During the program, I had a great time. It was where I felt I needed to be. I was studying environmental education, my desired major, in an environment I was very comfortable in. I got along well with the people I met, whether they were my peers or teachers, and felt like I fit in. Still, something was wrong. I was smoking every day and drinking hard on the weekends. My depression had returned in full force and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The experience ended on March 9, 2023, when I failed to return to the ship in port one night. I was found frolicking in the waves, blackout drunk, unable to get myself out of the water. When I woke up, I was no longer a part of the program. That is the last time I drank or used any drugs. 

I knew I had a problem, so I agreed on a plan with my parents to find a rehab where I could get better at. They initially wanted me to go somewhere out of state, but I insisted on going to a rehab I had heard about from various friends, family, and congregation members (including our very own Chaplain Adam Siegel). This was Beit T’Shuvah. I knew next to nothing about this place, but for some reason, I was set on going there. Maybe it was dumb luck, or maybe the mention of a thrift store caught my eye. I prefer to believe it was God that brought me here. Since I’ve come to BTS, I’ve gotten in touch with my higher power, and my religious roots. Even if they are separate, I’m able to accept both of them and my place in between. 

Today, I have started a new internship with the Film Department, I am rock climbing every week, and I am able to get through a day without thinking about suicide. I have been able to go through proper therapy and counseling and I finally know my problems are real—my struggles are real. The first week I came, another resident handed me a bracelet that spoke to me. I wore it every day for months, trying to get the message to stick in. Nowadays, I don’t constantly need to wear it because I no longer need a reminder to tell myself: 

You Matter.

Spotlight on Jonah L. by Jonah L.

If you were moved by this story, please consider making a donation to Beit T’Shuvah today to help ensure the life-saving work we do continues.

Every dollar makes a difference.

You can make a donation by going to https://beittshuvah.org/support/donate/
or emailing our development department at development@beittshuvah.org

If you would like to reach out to the subject of this spotlight to show your love and support, please email: spotlight@beittshuvah.org