Imagine you are homeless, roaming around Hollywood, and an old tweaker offers you a place to stay for the night. Imagine that after a night of feeding stray animals with over six hundred dollars of cat food, that tweaker leaves you at her “uncle’s house” with a mountain of dope and never comes back. Imagine you didn’t leave that house for two and a half weeks. Seems like an outlandish hypothetical scenario, right? But for Marissa P., this was all just part of a sad adventure heroin took her on.
Marissa was born in the small town of Agua Dulce, California and moved to Spokane, Washington when she was thirteen. The move was a rough adjustment for the tomboy who had finally made friends. It was time to say goodbye to them for what her teacher called, “The Meth Capital of the State.”
Most teenagers start with alcohol or pot, but not Marissa. When she was thirteen, Marissa skipped straight to ecstasy. “I was like, ‘Whoa! This is what serotonin is!’” she reflects ruefully. She was off to the races while her mom stayed at home and her dad worked as a film editor. Addiction ran in Marissa’s family. “I have a brother that is two years older and a brother from my dad’s first marriage that passed away three years ago. He was in and out of prison his whole life, had Hepatitis C from injecting heroin and was too sick for treatment. Eventually, he ended up drinking more and had liver failure,” she explains.
This, by no means, is Marissa’s first time trying to get clean. In fact, it’s her eleventh. “I’ve been to so many detoxes, IOPs, and sober livings. I’ve been kicked out of treatment five times for using and getting into relationships in treatment centers where men and women weren’t even supposed to be talking.” Marissa felt like a hopeless force of destruction. “I wasn’t in fear of dying. I was in fear of killing everybody I care about,” Marissa tells us solemnly. She had seen the damage she caused and wanted nothing more than to protect the people she loved. In 2018, on the day before Marissa’s birthday, she was getting high with her best friend. They were using the same batch of dope, but her best friend overdosed. “I gave her CPR for seven minutes. She was in a coma for a week, and they pulled the plug on June 9th,” she says.
Last September, Marissa came to California for even more treatment. “I woke up in a treatment center at 2 am and didn’t know where the heck I was. They were like, ‘You’re in Koreatown, in treatment’ and I was like, ‘damn.’ My mom had to use a wheelchair to get me off the plane because I had just done a huge shot of heroin and two two-milligram green Xanax bars. So, I was like… out,” she says shamefully. After many early attempts to get clean to appease her family, Marissa finally wanted to get clean for herself.
Marissa’s Beit T’Shuvah journey has been anything but smooth. “After two weeks of being [at Beit T’Shuvah], I was not doing the program at all. I was completely isolating and coming off of Suboxone. One day, I was just like ‘I’m out.’ I walked out the front door, was out for about 14 hours, immediately got high, and eventually called Beit T’Shuvah. I think it was eleven o’clock at night and I was under some random bridge in North Hollywood. They came and picked me up. After being here for almost another month, I relapsed with another girl in the house… on fentanyl,” she admits. “It was a full argument in my head. It was black and white my rational mind talking and my addiction screaming. I was like, wow. I’m hopeless. I’m going to die a gutter junkie,” she says.
Reluctantly, Marissa agreed to share part of her story during the holiday of Shavuot. “I ended up writing a poem about my best friend’s overdose, and I got super vulnerable in front of the whole community, and that was so hard considering I didn’t really talk to anybody here,” she explains. The community surrounded her with love. “It made me feel connected. I also felt like I was paying some respect to my best friend that I was never present enough to do in the past,” she adds.
When Rabbi Mark witnessed her courage, he told her she could stay, a tear-filled Marissa muttered a simple question to him: “Why? I am not worthy of this chance you are giving me.” Rabbi Mark looked at her and said, “I see the worth in you. What are we going to do to help you feel worthy of it?” Rabbi Mark even went as far as to give her an assignment to write a play-by-play plan of how she was going to feel worthy. Marissa used that assignment to write a page on how she had no idea. This small bit of honesty was the first step towards proving to herself that she deserved to be here just like everybody else. She explains, “It took over a month to start feeling a glimmer of hope. I would write every day about my little successes. It would start with things like, ‘I didn’t want to get out of bed and I did.’” Success.
A major shift in Marissa’s time here occurred when she started working the salad bar internship. “Taking the salad bar internship was huge for me. It made me get out of my room and talk to people. It was so uncomfortable.” With an inkling of hope she says, “there were a bunch of times that I would walk into the counseling office and be like, ‘Here’s my money. I want to get high, and I don’t know what to do.” Now, Marissa works in that very office as a Program Facilitator intern. Marissa is aiming to get her CADAC and become a drug and alcohol counselor. Her new hopeful nature is contagious when she says,“ I never thought I’d be able to say that I’m worthy of the chance that I have been given, that I have hope. I had no idea what that would ever look or feel like.”
Imagine you have been through all of this. Imagine you now have the ability to change and to spend your life helping others Imagine you are worthy.