Not long ago, Michael Somekh was studying molecular and cellular biology at UC Berkeley.
The native Angeleno – who had come out to his parents before heading off to college – moved to Berkeley to begin his studies in one of the nation’s premier undergraduate biology programs, intending to become a doctor. “I thought when I moved, all my problems would be solved. Needless to say, they weren’t,” says Michael. “I still had demons in my closet that I had never dealt with.”
In Berkeley, Michael’s life was outwardly good. He had friends, lived in an inclusive, welcoming environment, liked his studies, was financially stable. Inwardly, though, he felt as though he had a hole in his soul. In his first semester of college, Michael smoked pot once or twice “and didn’t like it,” he recalls. In the second semester, he tried again, with different results. “This time, I liked it. I was soon smoking pot every day.”
“Pot and depression are not a good mix. I started neglecting things; I’d miss a class here, a class there, miss a club meeting; it turned into not leaving the house house for over a year. I’d go get groceries, but basically that was it,” Michael recounts. As marijuana stopped relieving his angst, Michael moved to painkillers. “I knew exactly what to say to the school clinic to get them. They should be more wary of biology majors, actually.”
“At first I had thought of medical school. Then I thought I might be a dentist. By the time I left Berkeley, I thought I couldn’t be anything,” Michael says, his voice becoming quiet. Fortunately, Michael learned of Beit T’Shuvah. “I had a big resentment against religion generally, and Judaism in particular, based on my strict upbringing and what I see as ingrained homophobia,” says Michael, “I know this is part of what left me with a malady of the spirit, or soul, and I thought that Beit T’Shuvah must be the best place of all to reconcile my feelings.”
Being here, Michael has regained some of the confidence he lost over the past few years. In addition to Torah study, regular groups and meetings with his treatment team, Michael credits his work over the last couple of months assisting Stylist & Creative Director Izabelle New in putting together Beit T’Shuvah’s Haute Couture High Tea & Fall Fashion Show, to take place this Sunday, November 11.
“Izzy is one of my first friends here – we clicked instantly. She knew of my interest in fashion not only as nice clothes but as an art form, and I happily became her assistant. I have helped her do all manner of things – from taking notes at meetings, to cataloguing clothes, to running around town, to arranging servers for the show – and too many other tasks to list. Izzy is the face of the show, and on show day, I will be behind the scenes, helping her give the guests the best possible afternoon,” says Michael, now with a great smile. “Helping to bring the fashion show together has been the first thing in a while that has made me feel competent again.”
Happily, Michael will take this new-found confidence with him next Fall, when he rejoins his fellow students at Cal and once again reaches for his dreams.
And “Somekh”? In Hebrew, “to make happy.” Having the pleasure of seeing Michael come back into himself certainly does make us happy.