By: Nathan R.

Marshall S., a resident at Beit T’Shuvah, remembers that even when he first got drunk at age 11, he was drinking differently than his friends. “I remember my friends didn’t want to keep drinking the way I was. They almost didn’t understand why I kept wanting to get more and more drunk.” He ended up vomiting and having a “horrible first reaction,” but also recalls, “I loved it, I even looked at it as ‘I’m puking now so I can have a stronger tolerance later.’”

Around that time, his father had checked into rehab, although he never talked to Marshall about what drugs he did. His parents later divorced, which led to another rehab stint for his father when Marshall was around 15 or 16. These events, along with his older sister going through a troubled phase, took a lot of focus off of Marshall. This lack of family connection led him to start smoking weed and to drink more frequently, with liquor he pilfered from his and his friends’ parents.

In high school, Marshall started experimenting with pills and muscle relaxants. He was using his addiction as “a platform to get into a lot of trouble,” admitting he was hanging out with kids he knew were worse than him. On his way into school in the morning, he would shoplift liquor from a grocery store and trade it for acid or ecstasy on campus, and by age 16 he was tripping on acid nearly weekly.

Marshall’s behavior led to so many truancies that the cops were calling his mom, who responded by sending him to a teen “wilderness camp” for troubled youth in Utah. He actually enjoyed the camp but was subsequently sent to a “therapeutic boarding school” for a year in Montana, which was later shut down for its cultish practices. He recalls that they would read outgoing letters to his family, which prevented him from disclosing to them how bad it really was. “I remember when you get there they shave your head and give you a wardrobe of button-ups and khakis – that’s all you were allowed to wear.” The most important lesson he learned there was that it was safer not to open up at all.

When Marshall’s mom finally pulled him out of that program, he returned to Los Angeles and finished his high school diploma in a homeschooling program. He immediately returned to substances, mainly ketamine, cocaine, ecstasy, and acid. “My mom just kind of assumed I was doing everything I needed to.” After graduating from the homeschooling program, he told his parents that he was enrolling in community college, but that was just a cover to better conceal his drug abuse.

Nineteen years old and feeling like his life was going nowhere, Marshall enlisted in the Army. “I figured it would be a new start for me. I wanted to take it really seriously, too.” When he showed up for evaluation, he still had multiple drugs in his system, but his recruiter advised him to run to a nearby store and chug water to pass the screening. “I should have known at that point that I needed to fix my problems first,” he laughs. He completed basic training despite never having fired a gun in his life, and was the only member of his platoon to get promoted before graduation. Based on his assessment scores, he was eligible to become a combat medic, and he immediately went to San Antonio for EMT training.

Taking advantage of his first taste of freedom since enlistment, Marshall started experimenting with DXM, “robotripping” with some fellow soldiers. “We were in the barracks, almost overdosing.” This led to a lot of trouble, but the DXM didn’t show up on any drug tests, and he still managed to complete his EMT training. He realized that he then needed an even stricter environment and signed up for airborne training, stayed clean throughout that training, and passed.

When Marshall transferred to Fort Campbell, on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, he was introduced to OxyContin. Although he wasn’t experienced with opiates at that time, he was soon taking at least 100 milligrams daily. He advanced to shooting up, and to avoid track marks, he would start an IV line in his own arm after work: “Being a medic in the military, I had no fear of needles, either.” He quickly learned about withdrawals, noticing that when he didn’t take the Oxys, he’d feel “like shit.” Realizing that stopping wasn’t a comfortable option, he added Adderall to his morning routine to be able to continue to perform his duties.

Marshall was able to get away with his drug abuse for a long time as he was one of the soldiers running the UA system. He was also dealing drugs to a number of other soldiers, including some of a much higher rank. Eventually, because of the opioid crisis, the higher-ups came to the base and drug-tested everyone in charge of the UA system.

After he tested positive for a cornucopia of drugs, Marshall was subjected to many multi-hour interrogations. “They made it really hell for me.” He was also getting threats from some of the soldiers he’d dealt drugs to. He also figured it was too risky to lawyer up—if his case went to trial and he lost, he would have to serve time in a military prison. Instead, at age 24 and with only a few months left on his term, Marshall chose to be discharged and lost all of his military benefits.

He moved to Nashville, and after a nasty oxy overdose, he decided to move back home. “I took a whole bunch of speed and drove home to Los Angeles in 24 hours flat.” He showed up at his mom’s house and “convinced everybody ‘hey, my contract’s done.” Even though he perceived they were probably skeptical, he told himself that he’d stay sober. That only lasted one day.

Marshall returned to taking hard drugs in earnest, using meth constantly, and hanging out with heroin addicts. He was hesitant at the prospect of heroin at first, but after binging on meth and being awake for six days at a time while living in his car, he decided he needed something to calm him down and started doing heroin.

He eventually checked into a hospital for detox, but “really just because I had no more money anymore, and I had no more drugs, and I was just tired of being paranoid in my car for so long and using everybody up.” After he got some rest, he realized how bad it had gotten, which prompted him to “ride it out” and let other people take the lead for once.

Marshall was first exposed to Beit T’Shuvah through his grandparents, who are active in the community here. His first stay here lasted six months and he immediately relapsed. He used during his second stay here and left again. His most recent relapse was the worst overdose of his life, and he says it killed any enjoyment of fentanyl, his drug of choice. He was admitted to his third, current stay at the house three months ago, and he’s making this time count. He emphasizes, “It’s definitely my choice to be here.”

Marshall credits therapy as a cornerstone of his recovery this time. His experience with therapeutic environments as a teen left a bad impression and underscores having a good rapport with his therapist to be crucial to doing the work. He has also decided to set aside his instinctive distrust of opening up and to be completely honest from the start about topics he’d avoided in the past. He used to feel that he needed to wait to deal with certain things “until he was ready,” but this time he has started dealing with them from the get-go. This time he feels like there’s more urgency to work on his issues and more patience with building his life back up.

During Marshall’s previous stays, he was approached with the prospect of a position at Beit T’Shuvah, but he felt like he was above it all at the time. He didn’t envision himself immersed in the world of treatment and recovery and assumed his experience here was only transitory. This time he sees himself as more of a native to the world of addiction and sees his Program Facilitator internship as an opportunity to help addicts like himself. “Working in treatment and recovery is definitely on the table this time.”