Why did the wings of Icarus melt? Why are lottery winners often so miserable? Why do people climb to the tops of mountains just to jump?
What does it mean to be successful?
This week’s spotlight, Julia D., was (and she will blush when she reads this) a prodigy. Born and raised in a white picket fence town—safe, suburban, sheltered—she was recognized for having an unusually mature sounding voice at a very young age. So, she was put into classical voice training at age 7. She was in Juilliard pre-college, competing in vocal competitions, musical theater, and getting paid to do it. “I was in the public eye a lot,” Julia remarked with an uncomfortable grin. Despite all of these extracurriculars, Julia was excelling in school. Truly, a type A+.
Behind the curtain, things were not so pretty. “My dad was a gnarly alcoholic. He was not really around and when he was, it was hellish.” During her adolescence, her family discovered a very serious white collar crime her father had committed behind closed doors. He was then sentenced to federal prison for eight years. By the time she reached high school, Julia was a full blown rebel. She snuck out, hung out with upperclassmen, and drank like a sailor. “I drank more in high school than I did for the rest of my life. Hands down.” Then, at sixteen years-old her first and deepest addiction started to creep into her life—an eating disorder. This disorder propelled her towards the drugs she would very soon abuse.
The summer after high school, she went to an opera program at Northwestern. In a student’s dorm room, she discovered a bottle of Vyvanse. She discovered the solution. She quickly convinced her mom that a stimulant was the missing piece of her puzzle. Before long, she was prescribed them.
Cut to college: Julia was fully abusing her medication while on a full ride scholarship at NYU Tisch for Vocal Performance. After no time at all, she realized she wanted nothing to do with singing anymore. She dropped out of the program and transferred internally. With that came a massive loss of her identity.
Along with being a fantastic singer, Julia is a beautiful young lady. Her whole life, these were the two things she was praised for the most. Until, on a ski trip, she got into an awful car accent. Julia’s chin was pierced through and through, her jaw fractured; the mask she had used to hide behind literally torn apart. Who has she, if not the gorgeous faced, operatic vocalist? Well, Julia had one other talent. Theft.
Julia stole money left and right, up and down. She used this money to support the exorbitant cost of her stimulant pill addiction. Julia was red flagged at so many pharmacies in New York, so she decided to come out to LA for a fresh start and a new batch of naive pharmacists. She was abusing these pills to such an extent that she developed a rare autoimmune drug reaction called Steven Johnson’s Syndrome, the most major symptom of which is the skin burning from the inside out and then falling off completely. Not only had she completely lost her identity, but the skin she had worn her entire life had begun to shed itself. Instead of taking this as a sign to stop using, she just narrowed down the perfect cocktail of drugs she could take to make sure this didn’t happen again.
It happened three more times.
As you probably assumed, the fraud and thievery caught up with Julia. She went to jail multiple times for various charges. In jail, a rabbi came to visit her. He told her about a Jewish treatment Center in Culver City. Once out of jail, truly desperate, standing on an island of burnt bridges, she decided to check herself in to Beit T’Shuvah. Julia stayed here for approximately six months. While here, she started to rediscover her identity. She joined Freedom Song, reuniting with her love of singing and musical theater. She connected with her Jewish heritage. She started to feel comfortable in her skin again.
Although Julia did a lot of good work in those months, there were still some hurdles over which she could not seem to leap. She was on a pink cloud and a storm was brewing. That is when an old charge against her came to light…and back to jail she went. Six months later, she came back to Beit T’Shuvah to face a new kind of lock up—Covid. From her perspective, being locked in her room at Beit T’Shuvah was a massive upgrade to being locked in a jail cell.
Nowadays, the anxiety that used to drive her to the pill bottle has become one of her greatest strengths. “Anxiety is an emotional response meant to move you to action,” she says, “Instead of running from it, I reason with it, and find ways to make it work for me. She is currently working as Senior Staff at a wildly successful music based media startup and loving every second of it. She just got back from the most recent Freedom Song tour, a dream of hers from the moment she walked through our doors. Julia is also participating in Project Lech-Lecha, which is a cohort of alumni that Beit T’Shuvah and The I Center are assisting in pursuing their passions and following through on their individual spiritual journeys. “I am going to use that money to get my yoga training and to give back to the community that has given me so much. To work through my physical/mental/emotional hurdles when it comes to my body, my skin, being in the frame it was born in. The external Julia.”
So, what does it mean to be successful?
That’s really up to you to decide. To me, it is a person with a strong sense of who they are, who has overcome the toughest of obstacles, and has still come out of it with love in their heart.
What does success look like?