“Justin is a guy who will help anyone with anything but can’t feel it in his own heart.” Rabbi Mark Borovitz spoke those words this past spring, and it’s an apt description of his first time at Beit T’Shuvah—and, according to Justin, his entire life. That assessment was not only spot on in the moment, but it was also an apt description of Justin’s entire life. Born in Santa Monica and raised in Hancock Park until he was eight years old, Justin recalls a childhood with many parties full of a wide array of personalities. But that partying had a dark side. Justin remembers when his father went to a party and tried cocaine for the first time. “Within a couple of months, my dad was freebasing,” he stoically recounts next to the fountain in the Zen Garden.
The next few years were tumultuous for young Justin and his family. “My mom became a de facto single mom while my father struggled with his addiction. She did the best she could for the family,” he recalls. However, after a couple of years, his father managed to get clean and became a productive and attentive parent again. And following the death of his grandfather, the family’s financial situation significantly improved, and as Justin puts it, “I went from Catholic School in the inner city to the land of blond-haired blue-eyed exceptional athletes.” And while his circumstances may have improved, Justin still struggled. “I was a chubby kid who liked drawing,” he remembers. And because of this, he endured a lot of teasing.
Adding further salt to his formative years’ wounds, his household turned topsy-turvy again as his father fell back into addiction. His parents divorced when he was age ten, and shortly after that, a stepfather entered his already chaotic life. The instability and uncertainty took a toll. He recalls, “I remember thinking during that time that I was never good enough.” Thus began a lifelong odyssey of ‘chameleonization’ in which he would don the appropriate mask to become whatever he felt the people in his life wanted him to be.
Following a growth spurt as he entered his high school years, things turned around for Justin. He transformed from that chubby kid into an athlete. He also discovered a powerful spiritual side to his existence that made him feel distinctive. He thought that “God made my road a little harder because I was special,” he recalls. But despite this metamorphosis, Justin still felt like he still wasn’t enough. As a result of this, he turned to alcohol and marijuana for the first time. He remembers, “The first time I drank, I felt completely in the moment.”
And as he continued to chase that feeling of being in the moment, he graduated to heroin as his drug of choice by the age of twenty-three. But like many heroin addicts, Justin explains, “The only problem with heroin is getting more heroin. All the other problems are still there; they just don’t matter anymore.” During this chase for that elusive connection to the “now,” Justin ended up serving a five-month stint in L.A. county jail when he was twenty-seven. Desperate to break this self-destructive cycle, Justin called the Alternative Sentencing Department at Beit T’Shuvah from the Van Nuys Jail and, shortly after that, he was accepted into Beit T’Shuvah.
He had no money, and he wasn’t Jewish, but as he immersed himself into the BTS community, he was powerfully moved by the experience. He attempted to do everything Beit T’Shuvah had to offer, and after a year, he left and as he describes, “I went to help build an impactful place for recovery so I could pass on to others the gift I received.” He managed to stay sober for six years and even got married. But as he reflectively recounts, “The only problem was I didn’t realize I had put on another mask.” That old companion of fear and low self-worth reared its destructive head again. “When I got all the things I thought would make me happy, I realized that I felt trapped and unfulfilled,” he painfully remembers.
And because of all this, he relapsed on a new drug—meth. And this latest deterioration finally stripped away all those masks. He could no longer work. He went through a divorce. And for the next six years, he fell in and out of sobriety, bouncing back and forth between fentanyl and meth. But it wasn’t all darkness and despair. As Justin reminisces, “After that relapse, I looked for the lynchpin that was the missing piece to my sobriety, when I should have seen the truth was within my soul.” With this epiphany in his heart and mind, Justin returned to Beit T’Shuvah in the spring of 2021.
Ready to approach this turn at BTS with more self-awareness and honesty, Justin explains,” I finally got to a point in my addiction where the fear of being loaded one more day finally outweighed my fear of being seen.” And over his first few months back, he, along with the aid of his treatment team and the community, was able to finally put aside his fear of never being enough. “The real truth I saw but was afraid to act upon, was the fact that no one had really known the true me,” he confesses. Justin now feels loved, embraced, and more than enough.
Active in boxing classes outside the confines of BTS and working the AA steps with new residents, Justin has become a rock to lean on and learn from for community members at Beit T’Shuvah. And as he lovingly reflects, “I finally see that I’m the sum total of the love from the brilliant souls who have touched my life.” With an eye towards returning to his mission of helping others finally experience freedom from addiction, we all look forward to witnessing Justin further blossom into the magical being he was always meant to be.
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