Like many addicts, Sam S.’s story is riddled with personal tragedy, complicated familial relations, and escapism. Having been in the Israeli army, a drug dealer at Phish concerts, and the youngest member of a Philadelphia commune, it is safe to say that Sam has inhabited many different identities. He has wandered for many years, underwent extreme tragedy but still managed to hold strong as has searched for a place to call home.
As he reflects on his life, Sam describes himself as a “lost child”. He was born prematurely to a drug-addicted mother and was immediately put up for adoption. Through Jewish Family Services, he was fostered and then later adopted by a pair of loving Jewish parents. They already had kids of their own, who were fully grown at this point, and lived in a house on a commune in Philadelphia. Sam would end up having four parents, and they would frequently host Shabbat dinner for upwards of twenty people.
Growing up with four parents came with twice as many expectations to meet—and twice the stress. Sam loved the arts and despised his general education classes. Barely graduating high school, he constantly compared himself to his more successful brothers, which sent Sam searching for success wherever he could. And he’d eventually find it… in the drug game.
Sam was deep in the Philadelphia drug scene and needed a way out. To escape the life he was living, he ran away to Israel for a gap year. But before he completed the year, he was caught doing drugs and was “politely asked to leave the country.” After coming back to America for a month, he felt robbed of the “Israel Experience,” so he did what any aimless Jew would have done… he joined the Israeli army. Sam admits that the main reason he signed up was to find a brotherhood that would accept him for who he was. After nearly two years in the army, he injured his back, got medically discharged, and became dependent on opiates to ease the constant pain.
Back in the U.S. and seeking another fresh start, Sam reinvented himself as a “New-Age urban hippie.” He made jewelry, followed jam bands like The Grateful Dead, Disco Biscuits, and Phish around the country, slept in cars and under bridges, and sold drugs to subsidize the cost of his constant concert attendance. At some point along this long and strange trip, he even went to culinary school. Bouncing between Chicago and Colorado, he rarely returned home, because he had “burnt Philadelphia to the ground.”
After years of aimless debauchery, Sam came to California to rendezvous with his brothers and seek treatment. That was six rehabs ago. Over the last seven years, he has been sober more often than not, but when he was using, life was terrifying. Tragically, last year around the holidays, Sam’s fiancé took her own life. He was six months sober at the time—the next six would be spent shooting Fentanyl. He then spent four months trying to get into Beit T’Shuvah, where in his wild hippie days, he would donate clothes without ever really knowing what it was. He finally got a scholarship at a detox center and then got the call to join our community.
Beit T’Shuvah has given Sam a place where he can stabilize, challenge himself in sobriety, and search for his greater purpose. He is looking toward a new career and is about to attend school to become a welder. It is a two-year program, but he thinks with hard work and determination he can finish it within a year. Welding checks a lot of boxes for him: immediate gratification, union work, room to move up, and working with his hands. For his entire life, Sam has been searching for a community to call his own and he feels he has finally found that in Beit T’Shuvah.