By: Nathan R.
Mason I., a resident since January 2020, recalls a recent, uniquely Beit T’Shuvah experience during a Sukkot group led by Rabbi Kerry Chaplin. Group participants chose a random Hebrew word and his was asher, or, in this context, “that”. “So, at first, I laughed about that. It’s just such a common, meaningless word.” But Rabbi Kerry said it’s actually pretty important. He remembers, “what that means in this context is that you’re forming bridges, within yourself and to other people and connecting all of these parts of yourself that have always existed, but that you’ve never really known about or nurtured.”
Mason describes his childhood as a “mixture of loving and chaotic; traumatic in a lot of ways.” His mother was very supportive and caring, and his father was an alcoholic, which would often bring out the worst in him. He had heard his father described as an alcoholic, first realizing that his drinking was problematic when he was about 16 years old.
Mason’s first memory of getting drunk was from a dessert his father made when he was very young: cherries jubilee with the brandy not cooked off. He remembers that “it tasted terrible, but I liked the way it made me feel.” His first time intentionally getting drunk was around age twelve, on a ski trip with two friends, his father, and a bunch of my dad’s friends. “They were all having a great time, and one of my friends and I started drinking Jägermeister with all of them—a lot of it, and it was really fun.”
By age fourteen, Mason was experimenting with marijuana, and after a couple of months was smoking daily. By this time, he was “already kind of a bad student,” but not until he started using drugs did he become apathetic and careless about school. He became defensive about his drug use; if his drug use was pointed out as problematic, he became defiant: “I can do whatever I want. You’re not going to tell me any differently.” Mason added prescription pills to the mix by age fifteen. “My friends and I would take them from our parents or other people’s parents, or we would buy them from older kids.”
At age 21, Mason was serving a probation sentence for his second DUI and was unable to adhere to the abstinence requirements. The original sentence was two years, and he could have been released after one year with “good behavior and compliance.” But he couldn’t consistently test clean on his UAs. He remembers telling his probation officer that he needed treatment: “I’m just going to keep fucking up, I really need something else.” He quickly found out that once he was in the system, “you’re playing by their rules.”
He tried out AA and had brief stints of sobriety, but that never lasted long, or he would attend meetings while he was still using. His only motivation was to comply with the terms of his probation. “It wasn’t because I knew I had a problem and needed to change that; it was because I knew I had a problem and couldn’t change it.” And because he couldn’t change it, he kept getting in trouble with his probation. He realized that “when you’re not trying to get sober for the right reasons, that’s when you fail at it.”
Five years into his original two-year probation, Mason was taking Xanax occasionally, and using cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, and acid daily. He finally hit rock bottom and told his family, who tricked him onto a flight to Los Angeles by getting him drunk. He woke up in a detox, and once he was settled in a prearranged sober living house, that facility wrote a letter to the court detailing Mason’s compliance and negative drug test results. The court released him from probation.
After six months in that sober living, Mason began working there as a driver, then as a live-in house manager. Looking back at that time, he realizes now that he wasn’t addressing all the components of his recovery necessary to maintain sobriety long-term. “I didn’t know what self-care meant, and I didn’t know who I was, what I liked, what I didn’t like. I really wasn’t helping myself.” He was just staying clean, working constantly, and in denial that he needed therapy or counseling. “I thought everything could be fixed with prescriptions. Anytime anything was going badly, I would just go to a psychiatrist and they kept giving antidepressants.”
Eventually, Mason relapsed but continued to work in the treatment field. “I still had the understanding that I had a big problem, and sobriety was always on my mind.” He knew that using wasn’t what he wanted, and he managed brief stints of sobriety. He would get the will to enter treatment, but would always find a way to justify why he couldn’t at that time, or drugs and alcohol would take over and he wouldn’t care. “I would just be comfortable where I was at, just numbing myself.”
Then, in early 2019, Mason was facing a felony assault charge, and his attorney worked out a deal where he would enter a treatment center instead of serving prison time. Through his history of employment in treatment, he was well aware of Beit T’Shuvah’s reputation. Many people he respects and with whom he is close have echoed that. “Beit T’Shuvah runs a very solid program, and as far as I can tell, the people who give it their all and immerse themselves in everything offered benefit in countless ways.”
In the eight-and-a-half months since he was admitted to BTS, Mason has addressed many of the components missing from his first recovery. One major part of that is getting back in touch with himself and being confident with who that person is. “It’s difficult when you don’t know who you are to understand how you should be living or how you want to live.” Communication is key to his recovery this time, too. “I’m learning how to have healthy relationships, how to communicate properly, and how to not just react.”
Another major aspect of recovery that Mason isn’t overlooking this time is spirituality. “I’ve always kind of had a fear and a judgment around it, and I had no idea what that even meant.” He even thought the people who claimed to have spirituality were “stupid.” But the work he’s doing now has changed his attitude. “Now that I’m actually experiencing things that I consider spiritual—I’m going to say awakening—it’s yet another thing that I was in complete denial about and overlooked.” Up until he arrived here, this was a part of his life he had ignored. “This is all stuff I wouldn’t have known about, or worked on, or achieved without this place.”
Mason has also changed his views on the classic Beit T’Shuvah phrase both/and. “When I first got here, I heard people say that and I laughed and blew it off. I thought, ‘I don’t want to hear people saying it. I’m never going to say it, unless I say it ironically.’” He says now that he has come to like it. “I understand what that means, and believe in that philosophy.” He understands this from a personal perspective now. “Something that I’ve learned in therapy, spiritual counseling, and counseling is that everybody has this dark side. And I’m learning about it, acknowledging it, and befriending it.” Mason sees that it’s a part of himself. “It’s not going anywhere, it’s always been there. My dark side doesn’t have to control me. I can’t pretend it’s not there. It needs to be connected to the rest of me.”