Tom is many things; a Professor of psychology with a PhD from UCLA, a self-proclaimed “hyper achiever,” and a theater geek. These are just some of the parts that make up a well-rounded and polished man who is part of the Beit T’Shuvah community. He is not a therapist here, although he’s qualified and educated enough to be a great one. Hands down. But Tom is a resident.

Born and raised in North Orange County in the city of Los Alamitos, Tom’s mother was a professor of psychology at Long Beach State, and his father was a math professor at Cal State, Los Angeles. His parents divorced when Tom was five, and his only sibling, a big brother, was 14. He says “The divorce didn’t affect me much except that I always wanted to please my parents.” He was a straight-A student, always…except for one ‘B’ that haunts him to this day. “I got a B in 8th-grade woodshop. I would harass that teacher all year. I’d call him a ‘4.0’ breaker until he eventually had enough and sent me to the principal’s office”. That one GPA tarnishing debacle aside, Tom was a relatively happy, somewhat goofy, and very attention-loving child. He reveled in being onstage and the accolades that came with it. From winning over crowds portraying the Declaration of Independence for his school’s Bi-Centenial speech contest in 1976, “I was 10 years old, I was so confident, I played a 200-year-old man.” (in the form of the declaration) he remembers with pride, to running for student body Vice-President “because I’m always safe, Vice-President, I knew I could win”, Tom loved being the center of attention.

Throughout junior high and high school Tom was the class clown, but still hung with the “brainiacs.” Although, his true passion was always acting. He loved the attention, we’ve established that, but maybe more than being the star, he liked being anyone but himself. “If you give me a script and tell me how to act and tell me what to say and who to be, I’m very comfortable with that. I would get uncomfortable being spontaneous. But acting, sure, I’ve been acting since I was born, trying to please my parents, so it felt natural.”

In every school production from tenth through twelfth grade, Tom was cast as the leading man. Unfortunately, when the spotlight dimmed, the curtains closed, and there was no script to tell him what character to play and which lines to recite, Tom was at a loss for words, with women in particular. “I was terrified of talking to girls. I had total confidence in every area, but when a cute girl was in front of me I just turned into an idiot.” So the summer before his senior year, Tom was watching with envy as his friends were going through the many rights of passage that teenage boys and girls inevitably experience (they were all getting laid, if I have to spell it out for you), and young Tom was watching from the wings. But of course, true to form, he wanted to be center stage. Enter his new leading lady and the answer to his problems—marijuana.

“I convinced one of my friends to get me high, his brother had this Indian peace pipe. I remember hitting it, looking up at the street lamp and I had found God. I said, ‘Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. This is the way normal people feel, they’re not scared all of the time, they’re not anxious, they can just be chill.’” Now armed with a newfound messiah in the form of a fully packed pipe, Tom had the courage, the bravado, and the “chill” to woo the unsuspecting ladies of the twelfth grade. Watch out girls, he was stoned and on a mission.

Luckily for Tom, being a little late to the party game didn’t damage the aforementioned GPA that he had so proudly guarded. He was still the highest-ranking student of his graduating class although he did decline giving a valedictorian speech because he was too high to want to write it. Tom graduated with honors and moved on to UC Berkeley. “It was a great school, with great drugs, and was 400 miles from home. It was the magic trio.”

Tom spent his days in class, albeit very stoned, living in a student-run co-op with psychedelic posters in lieu of wallpaper as their decor of choice, and supplemented his income by selling drugs to the co-eds who needed a pick me up before finals. “I spent two years at Berkeley, remember very little of it. It was my own personal 60’s.” It was not the 60’s, it was, in fact, the 80’s and he was happy to try anything that passed through the co-op; acid, quaaludes, mushrooms, crack cocaine… he was an equal opportunity drug connoisseur. But it was always marijuana that remained his tried and true drug of choice.

After two years at Berkeley Tom started feeling the pangs of homesickness. So when he saw an opportunity to abscond with an $800 pay advance and skip town back to Southern California, naturally he took it. He moved home, lived with his dad, and given the choice between school or work, Tom made another natural decision, to work at a place that was sure to impress the ladies. Yes, you guessed it, he worked the log ride at Knott’s Berry Farm.

Coming to the harsh realization that “I was basically going nowhere”, Tom decided to clean up his act. He entered a rehab in Costa Mesa and remained sober for the next ten years. He enrolled in UCLA to finish his BA, was accepted into their extremely competitive psychology department’s graduates program, received a masters degree and a PhD. He was happy, healthy, and wealthy! He had begun teaching, investing in the lucrative bubble (pre-burst), and was attending regular AA meetings (as well as taking on multiple sponsees).

All was well. He was so spiritually invested in AA and all of the benefits of sobriety that were manifesting that he describes it as “walking on water for eight years.” Notice he didn’t say ten. He goes on to say, “I knew you could be 100% sober and happy. I didn’t need alcohol. In fact, I felt like it would have ruined it. It was such a pure God-consciousness. I know that sounds new agey and touchy-feely but it’s what happened, [being sober] totally changed my life.”

What happened next is what commonly occurs after long-term sobriety. “I rested on my laurels. They warned me in the book and I didn’t believe it. There’s no way, I’m enlightened like the Buddha, you can’t possibly take this away. But I didn’t do what they said to do. I didn’t get that daily reprieve. I worshiped money and I lived large. I started burning out on sponsoring people. I got tired of reading “Bill’s Story” for the 5,000th time. And so I decided to take a break.”

It was in 2002 when Tom’s eyes were focusing on money but in reality, starting to blur. He decided to try a new optical surgery at the time called Lasik. After the surgery, he woke up for the first time in years to clear his vision. Along with this newfound, clear-as-day eyesight came an ungodly pain in the back of his head that felt like his skull was being struck with an ax. He visited numerous doctors to no avail. The only relief he could find was in copious amounts of painkillers like Oxycontin and other prescribed opiates. He progressed into a very dark time. He lost his job because he was getting high on pain meds and he gradually added pot back into the mix and then eventually alcohol. To add insult to eye injury, he lost his rent-controlled apartment in a lawsuit and found himself back where he began after dropping out of Berkeley—in his dad’s spare bedroom. Hopeless.

This went on for seven and a half years. Addicted to opiates, draining his savings on medical trials while also draining bottles of Schnapps. “Nothing worked to fix the physical pain and now hope became painful. It hurt me to hope.” Everything changed when he met one final doctor, who he adoringly describes as “The Black Fonz”. This cool Fonzie-esque MD asked Tom if he had heard of a treatment for his pain called Radiowave Rhizotomy. It was a minimally invasive surgical procedure to kill nerve fibers responsible for sending pain signals to the brain…and it worked!

With the pain gone, he knew he needed to kick the Oxy’s and then get back to work, but like so many addicts before him Tom needed help. He started looking at different facilities and couldn’t believe his luck when he heard, in his words, “The best rehab in LA now takes Medi-cal.” He is of course referring to Beit T’Shuvah! Tom had visited a friend here years before and was familiar with the success rate and the level of care he’d soon be receiving.

Four months ago Tom said he had nothing. No money, no car, no job, no home, no hope and he thought he had no options. That is until he got to Beit T’Shuvah. “The gratitude has not subsided. I can’t believe I get to be here.” The team he works with and the new freedom from addiction are just a few of the things he is grateful for. “At any other place, they would have kicked me out after three months. You want to talk about why I’m grateful for Beit T’Shuvah?…I wouldn’t have made it. I’d almost certainly be dead. The time they give you to recover, that time is huge, to recover enough, this place is amazing.” Tom told me that he’s regaining so much after losing everything, quoting Janis Joplin he says, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. That song gives me chills because that’s the way I feel.”

Tom is excited to continue his stay here, enjoy his sobriety, and his freedom. Now, he helps others in our community on a daily basis with his knowledge of the Big Book and the 12 Steps. Also, don’t be surprised when you see him center stage in most BTS performances, and don’t be afraid to give him a standing ovation, he still loves that and he definitely deserves it!

Spotlight on Tom D. by Lisa S.

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