“The last two years have been the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, but through it all, I’ve learned more about being the best version of an adult, a woman, an employee, a leader, and a change maker,” Nicole G. shares from her office at Beit T’Shuvah.
The journey to that deep and transformative insight and growth has been very much a delicate masquerade dance for the woman born the younger of two daughters to a Jewish family in Calabasas, California. A rebellious, mischievous, and bossy self-proclaimed tomboy, Nicole had a very close relationship with her father — a father that was suddenly and painfully taken away by a heart attack when she was only eight years old. “It was a devastating loss to my family. And even though I had so many family members surrounding me, at that time, I still felt like I was on an island with him gone,” she painfully recalls.
This trauma would greatly inform her behavior, as well as the person she presented to the world as a result. “Outwardly, I was an upbeat, positive, and energetic child. But inside I was dark, depressed, and tortured,” she explains. This duality led the bubbly teen to develop the negative coping mechanisms to drown out the grief and sorrow her mask of joy and effervescence sought to conceal from the world. To help her deal with her repressed mental health anguish, Nicole began seeing Doug Rosen (BTS) as a therapist when she was sixteen. This would be the beginning of a long, loving, and healing relationship for the struggling young woman.
“He was the first to see through my facade. Doug spoke to me in a real connected way and helped me dig deep into my pain,” she remembers. Despite that new connection, following her high school graduation, Nicole was somewhat lost when it came to her future and next steps. She enrolled in Cal State Northridge, but immediately retreated inward and began living a very hermit-like existence. “I couldn’t pretend anymore. I saw no reason or purpose for my life. I was broken,” she says. As a result, she rarely attended and ended up failing all her classes.
“I fell apart. I wasn’t able to maintain my life. I was truly at an existential crossroads,” she shares. Needing guidance and emotional support, she looked to Doug who immediately saw that she needed community. He suggested Beit T’Shuvah as a potential place to find that support and healing. “I decided to go to BTS for a day to test it out. I immediately felt like I was home,” she relates. The residents saw through her carefully crafted mask. For the longest time, she had felt like she didn’t belong anywhere. “But the people there almost forced me to belong. They saw the real Nicole and accepted me for who I was,” she recalls.
A pivotal thing then occurred that would contribute mightily to her emotional maturation and expansion: she met her counselor, Ellen. “Ellen taught me unconditional love. She and I walked hand in hand through some serious moments together,” Nicole reminisces.
As part of her continued recovery, Doug asked her to intern at Beit T’Shuvah working in the Partners in Prevention office, however, Nicole ended up assisting in care-giving for their young son, Teddy, allowing her to return the love that Doug had shown her throughout their therapeutic relationship. Following that experience, Nicole was ready to begin work outside Beit T’Shuvah, “but people at BTS realized I had a gift for asking for money… so in 2014 I was hired to work in the Development Department,” she shares. During this period Nicole worked as Grants Manager, Marathon Team, and Temple Coordinators among other critical positions.
As she continued to grow and evolve in her role now as a Beit T’Shuvah staff member, Nicole was afforded yet another exciting and challenging opportunity. “As my relationship with Harriet and Rabbi Mark grew closer, they approached me with the chance to help them create and grow the Elaine Breslow Institute,” she lovingly describes. The role showed her that BTS had a critical role not only to help addicts but to also be a change agent in the Jewish community by aiding front-line workers – Rabbis, Chaplains, and Educators – to fulfill their obligation to help save lives.
“It was one of the most impactful experiences of my life. I was able to be a part of helping to educate these community leaders on addiction and human connection,” she recollects. The next adventure and work opportunity Nicole undertook was going to New York City to assist Rabbi Iggy in replicating the BTS model for those souls suffering from the chains of addiction in the Big Apple. “I was so very proud to have been a part of the team that brought the model of Beit T’Shuvah to New York,” she explains.
After helping establish the T’Shuvah Center in New York, Nicole took on the position of Communications Director at Beit T’Shuvah. This new role enabled her to join the Executive Management Team providing her with a larger and more impactful voice in the community. “Telling the many inspiring stories of the BTS experience was easy because of their compelling and moving nature,” she says. She learned to integrate departments as well as bring BTS’ presence and message to the larger treatment community. “I had been repeating the mission of BTS for seven years but I didn’t grasp the magnitude of that message until I was face to face with other treatment facilities,” she recalls.
In 2019, Nicole decided to finally go back to school to finish her Bachelor of Arts at Antioch University, a non-profit school in Los Angeles rooted in social change. “Beit T’Shuvah gave me the tools, space, and resources for creating change. Antioch taught me the language and educational vernacular behind those implements,” she shares.
And then the Covid-19 pandemic hit and everything dramatically changed for Nicole. She lost her physical sanctuary at BTS and as a result, she fell into a deep depression. “I was in a tricky living situation and for the first time in my life since going through Beit T’Shuvah, I was truly scared for my mental health.” She came to the stark realization that despite all that Beit T’Shuvah had done for her, she needed further coping skills rooted outside the walls of 8831. “I was forced to learn how to combine all that I had learned at BTS with other and very much necessary outside resources,” she says.
These last two years have turned out to be Nicole’s secondary level of recovery and she attributes a significant portion of that second wave of recovery to Sergio F. “He supported and guided me until I could support and guide myself both emotionally and professionally. He also taught me that I was stronger than I imagined myself to be and showed me what it meant to be a true leader of an organization.” Now able to advocate for herself, and embrace the power of her presence and voice, Nicole says, “I’m finally learning to act with my true intentions and let others simply adjust.”
And as mentioned earlier, this pandemic period has enabled Nicole to truly embrace all facets of her being and life with love and appreciation for how far she’s come and how much farther she wants to go. She’s also super stoked about her most recent role of becoming an aunt to her precious little niece, Romi. “Being able to be there for my sister and to help her raise Romi is the most fulfilling role of my life. I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate all of the growth I’ve experienced at BTS in the last ten years than to be Auntie Coco to my precious little Romi,” she exuberantly exclaims.
As she embarks on the next chapter in her already extraordinary life and career, Nicole concludes by sharing, “My favorite part of my time here was the ability for me to go out on the patio, whenever work or life was getting to be a little too much, and bond with a new resident and experience authentic human connection. I was afforded the privilege to witness real change on a daily basis.” A true and irreplaceable pillar of the Beit T’Shuvah family and mission you will be missed in ways words fail to express. And as you know all too well, Nicole, this beloved “House of Return” will always be home to you no matter where your life may take you or where G-d needs your unique, authentic, and loving spirit.