“I had to learn how to walk and talk again. I had to learn different ways to express myself. It was very traumatizing,” Josh S. recollects with the morning sun hitting his face in the Zen Garden. This was just one of many challenges and trials ahead for the little boy from Winston-Salem, NC. Raised by a single mother, Brenda, Josh struggled to find the love and attention he so craved, as the only child to an addict mother and invisible father. As he explains, “My first addiction was attention. I would act out in many different ways to get it.” He saw his mother struggle a lot, not only with her addiction, but also in providing for him, all the while going from one bad relationship to another.
“Watching my mom drink and choose bad men had a profound effect on me growing up,” he says. The impact of this traumatic exposure, at such an early age, drove young Josh to experiment with alcohol and marijuana, all before the age of thirteen. Around this time as well, his mother met a man named John, who would also invade Josh’s formative years, causing fear and loathing in his young heart and mind, as he was also a violent abuser of his mother. A couple years later the family moved to Richmond, VA. And as Josh began his high school years, as alluded to earlier, more pain and suffering entered his life. He was diagnosed with a tumor in the motor cortex on the left side of his brain. This condition resulted in Josh becoming epileptic and suffering numerous seizures. The tumor also caused Josh to experience aphasia, which is the loss of the ability to understand or express speech. And, as mentioned above, the seizures, along with the aphasia, forced Josh to have to learn how to walk and talk again.
However, there was a silver lining to the two surgeries, rehabilitation and months spent in the hospital, as a result of his condition. Josh found fashion. By being unable to speak he relates, “I discovered fashion as a means of self-expression and it bolstered my self-esteem.” Once he left the hospital and began to re-assimilate back into society, Josh, now sixteen added LSD, Ecstasy and Xanax to his addiction repertoire. He also met his first love, Jennifer during this period. Coming from her own dark and damaged upbringing, “She loved and accepted me for me. I’d never experienced that before in my life,” Josh fondly recounts. With Josh’s mother still struggling with her addiction and going in and out of jail, Josh and Jennifer lit out on their own. Having both dropped out of high school, by this time, the love struck duo began living out of motel rooms and shooting heroin. “I thought it was a rock star love story,” Josh remembers. But it was anything but that. “It was sad. We weren’t getting love from our families so we sought it in each other. It was a dark and warped fantasy,” Josh remembers, while taking a long and contemplative drag on his cigarette.
It got so bad that the two began committing crimes, of all shapes and sizes; to help feed their heroin addiction. Not surprisingly, their sins eventually caught up to them and they were confronted with prison time. However, Josh was lucky. His Aunt Marion, from California, came east and rescued her nephew from this dire fate and, as Josh retells it, “She told the judge you’ll never see him again.” So Josh, who got detoxed in a Holiday Inn, left Richmond behind and headed west for a fresh start in the City of Angels.
At first it seemed like just what the doctor ordered, except this doctor was more like a “Dr. Feel-good”. Josh fell into the fashion, modeling and club promotion scene. “This was my dream. I was finally going to be somebody; to be seen,” Josh explains with a smile. And though he had overcome his heroin addiction, he began taking everything else under the constant sunshine of the L.A. skyline. From cocaine to ketamine to ecstasy to D.M.T. to LSD, Josh became the life of every party he attended. “I wasn’t in the projects of Richmond anymore. I had graduated to mansions in the Hollywood hills,” he says reclining in his chair. This constant life of photo-shoots, club promotions and hedonistic revelry continued for seven years. However, the bill, for this non-stop life of decadence, finally came due, following a music video shoot, when Josh OD’d on heroin, for the first time, at an acquaintance’s home. He was back on the “horse” once again and this renewed dependence led to horrifying consequences, culminating in a botched injection that almost ended in Josh losing an arm.
To avoid that tortuous result again, Josh graduated to the much more dangerous and deadly drug Fentanyl. His family had finally seen enough and, two years into his Fentanyl odyssey, they staged an intervention. This resulted in a carousel of rehab, relapse, rinse and repeat over the next few years. And outside of a two-month stretch of sobriety during that time, the longest since he was twelve, Josh kept snorting Fentanyl and introducing it to friends. But eventually, as he recalls, “I continued to use and watch friends die from the drug I had introduced to them.” The guilt and shame was overwhelming. He was ready to finally and honestly face down his demons and save his own life. “At this point I hit an emotional bottom. I felt isolated from the world. I saw so much pain and heartache when I looked in the mirror. I didn’t like the person looking back at me,” he sorrowfully details. And following a couple more short-lived detoxes and rehabs, he finally got to 8831 Venice Blvd.
“I came in here with the gift of desperation,” he recounts. And while in quarantine he discovered A.A. He finally felt like he wasn’t alone. He had found his community. “A.A. gave me a spiritual toolkit. It helped move me from a self-centered outlook to a God-centered one,” he explains. And as his time at Beit T’Shuvah has progressed, Josh has become “Mr. A.A.” for several members of the BTS family. The gratitude he feels for what he has been given, through his sponsor, meetings and communing with his Higher Power, has lit a fire within his soul. “I can take all my tragedies and missteps and use them as a tool to help others,” he cheerfully declares.
As a result of this spiritual renewal, Josh now has a healthier relationship with his mother. He also now has a job he loves. “Somebody gave me keys to a church. I’m trusted. People rely on me for things,” he explains with that wry smile that endears him to his BTS friends and recovery mates. “My future is still ahead of me and I now let God guide my path as opposed to myself,” Josh concludes with a fist bump. A truly original and authentic character, Josh’s impact on the Beit T’Shuvah community will most assuredly have a magical rippling effect well outside the walls of this house of transformation. And if you’re seeking the next hip look in the world of fashion, you need search no farther than that tough but loving kid from the Tar Heel state. He’ll set you straight.