In my thirty-five years of life, I have moved states, climbed mountains, worked in Hollywood, and have also been paralyzed emotionally, mentally, and…literally. It has been a full life, filled with spectacular highs, and horrendous lows. I have always been a seeker of knowledge and thrills, trying to find new ways to squeeze every last drop out of this unique existence. My curiosity and desire to explore new things have provided me with experience, understanding, and maybe even a degree of wisdom, but in exchange, it has also taken a heavy toll that I am still paying for.

Growing up, I had a tumultuous home life. Although my father was a highly intelligent man, he suffered from severe mental illness. My mother, understandably, did not know how to deal with it, and was unable to keep our family stable in its midst. There was a lot of love and support in our home. On one hand, my older sister and I were taught about art, culture, philosophy, science, the natural world, and to be socially and environmentally conscious. On the other hand, we experienced alienation, neglect, and physical and mental abuse. Despite being capable of success, my home life affected my school life, and my grades suffered. My parents separated when I was twelve, and, soon after that, my father left. My mother had to be involved with my sister’s acting career, so I was largely left to my own devices. Feeling abandoned, I rebelled. 

Looking back, I can remember when I was ten (or possibly even younger) I would sneak glasses of wine from my grandfather’s cabinet during holidays and family gatherings. Then, in eighth grade, I tried Marijuana and it made me feel more at ease than ever before. Later, in high school, I became a regular stoner. Weed slowly became a lifestyle. I earned enough frequent flyer miles smoking weed that I thought I could afford to skip classes or even whole days of school. I would hang out with fellow latch-key kids and get drunk or stoned whenever possible. Eventually, I was sent to live with my Dad in Prescott, Arizona. While there, I made friends, went to bonfire parties, and I discovered magic mushrooms. While I had been tripping, my father took a trip of his own…directly to a jail cell, after a manic episode. So, I was shipped back to live with my mom.

Rock climbing became a passion. It felt like a much healthier escape than drugs, albeit with its own risks. At seventeen, I left home to camp and climb in Joshua Tree National Park for three months. The trip was transformative. After Joshua Tree, I went to Idyllwild, and following that, Yosemite. At eighteen, I spent a whole summer in Yosemite where I climbed with legends of the sport, worked on a documentary, and even met Ozzie Osbourne. That’s a story for another time. While on a return trip, I met a girl named Heather (now Raven) who later became the mother of my son. We had a passionate relationship that sadly burned out fast, and my drinking and drug use caught up to me again.

Deep in my addiction, I met another girl, we moved in together, and she became pregnant. It moved fast. I raised the child for the first three months until a paternity test showed I was not the father. The roller coaster of events surrounding these two relationships broke me. I lost any sense of direction, purpose, or will to live. I began using heroin and cocaine with reckless abandon, which quickly brought me to my knees. After a cathartic mushroom trip, I checked into my first treatment center, Chabad RTC. I completed six months and moved into their sober living, feeling much better. Then, unfortunately, I relapsed. After that, followed years of club hopping and bar-crawling while working as an electrician and a plumber.

I tried making it as a painter, but at 24 I gave up the art studio I had in Topanga Canyon. I got a job in Hollywood, moved to Korea Town, and re-kindled my passion for photography. Things were going well and I was having a great time, until at 27 the recklessness of my past caught up to me when I was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. I stopped drinking immediately and adopted a healthy lifestyle, which sadly also came with stigmatization and isolation. Eventually, I qualified to receive a medication called Harvoni, and, after roughly $100,000 worth of treatment (at a cost of $1,140 per pill), I was cured. After that, the healthy lifestyle fell off and I began to drink again. I left my job and became a snowboarding instructor. One day, while trying to land a trick, I herniated a disk. This would be the first of many injuries to my back. When the recovery was complete, I began working as a freelance photographer. 

After a few years of attempts, when my son Sawyer was 11 years-old, I managed to reconnect with him and his mother. I drove to Sacramento to spend weekends with them and finally got to know him. I had always longed for him, and our time together was a blessing. My dad passed away from lung cancer in 2017, and sadly never got to see me become involved with my son—something he would have loved. I took a job as a staff photographer at an art gallery and things were going well again. I photographed thousands of paintings until the drinking inevitably took over and I ran away from my budding career to go snowboarding.

Then, right as Covid struck, my back went out again. The isolation and my immobility caused me to become very depressed. That, mixed with my back pain, led me to self-medicate with alcohol. I finally went on a trip to Lake Tahoe, when restrictions were loosened, and was awarded a DUI on my way back home. Then on April 3rd, 2021, my son was tragically killed in an off-roading accident, at fourteen years of age. Sawyer’s death broke me beyond my own repair. I began drinking myself to death. Again, I lost my will to live and even developed suicidal ideations. I prayed for God to smite me; instead, I was given the clarity to ask for help. I reached out to Beit T’Shuvah and quickly got in.

I had applied to BTS before, once even being granted a scholarship, but never showed up on my intake date. After multiple cold feet attempts, I made it here. I had been numb for months, having buried my emotions regarding my son’s passing, but, on the first day, I broke down while speaking with Cantor Nate, and again the next day during my first meeting with Vinny, (my counselor at the time). I felt a deep sense of relief shortly after my arrival. During my first stay here, I spent three months trying to get the most out of it, but the fact that I am calling it “my first stay” may tell you something. It became incredibly difficult to participate because my back pain was getting worse and worse every day. I didn’t know it yet, but I was on my way to becoming paralyzed. 

Two weeks later, my legs began to go out on me and I was diagnosed with Cauda Equina Syndrome. I underwent emergency spinal decompression surgery which was very successful. I did however develop a spinal infection that threatened my life. I took I.V. antibiotics through a PICC line for months and beat the infection. I had to slowly relearn how to walk, relying on a walker for months, then a cane, then finally on my own legs. My brush with death, and my physical challenges renewed my will to live.

Around the third anniversary of my son’s passing, I began to go off the deep end again. I decided to seek help and Beit T’Shuvah accepted me once more. Now, I’ve been here for nearly four months and my life is improving dramatically. I have been able to pick up where I left off. Now I have an internship with The Film Department, where I can continue to foster and develop my interest in film and photography. I have the support of a fantastic treatment team, most of whom I got to retain from my last stay. I have a great relationship with the community. I participate in as many groups as possible, go to yoga classes weekly, and am beginning to plan for my future. The man I was then is not the man I am today. Just this week, I was in a car accident. My Jeep was totaled by another SUV, and that could have easily stripped me of my ability to walk again. At any other time in my life, I would have healed myself with the bottle…but not today. Today, I am moving forward and am no longer paralyzed with fear or grief…and I owe it all to Beit T’Shuvah.

Spotlight on Jonathan M. by Jonathan M.

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