“This is the first time in my life I’ve been able to face my fears and actually ‘play the tape forward’ and know if I use drugs again I will lose my life. BTS has given me the resources and coping mechanisms to overcome my desire to use and instead replaced it with a community and safe haven to help me face my anxiety healthily,” Tristan D. shares from the Beit T’Shuvah Teen Lounge.

Those overwhelming emotions of fear and anxiety have been with Tristan since he was a young boy. Born in Santa Cruz, California in 1996 the older of two brothers Tristan recalls, “My parents got divorced when I was eight. It was very sudden. I didn’t witness any conflict in the relationship and it took me completely by surprise.” Because of the abrupt nature of the split, Tristan retreated literally behind his bedroom door to protect his young psyche from the trauma. That “closed-door policy” subsequently colored the balance of his emotional responses to future conflicts and setbacks.

At the age of ten, Tristan was dealt another difficult blow with a diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease. Along with the physical pain and suffering the disease further isolated him from his schoolmates and peers. Before the divorce and Crohn’s diagnosis, Tristan was in G.A.T.E. (Gifted and Talented Education). Following the breakup and Crohn’s he relates, “I sort of fell off a little and floated my way through school because it was still relatively easy for me.” Following high school, Tristan enrolled in Santa Barbara City College initially to pursue an automotive studies degree. But near the end of high school, he had begun to smoke weed and drink alcohol and he carried those substances along with him to college.

With no one to monitor or supervise him, his recreational use of THC and alcohol ballooned into full-on abuse and in 2016 he found himself in the I.C.U. battling for his life as a result. “It was an incredibly traumatic experience. I lost a lot of blood. I thought I was going to die,” he painfully remembers. Yet despite that existential crisis, Tristan found himself right back in that same I.C.U. one year later from the same root cause of drug and alcohol abuse. This time he almost had to have an extremely serious and invasive bowel resection but was able to avoid that potentially deadly surgery. At this point as he recollects, “My parents intervened and I moved back in with my dad.”

He was able to stay clean for several months but just before the COVID-19 pandemic, he was introduced to Meth. And the combination of losing his job, due to the shutdown, and the subsequent receipt of funds from unemployment manifested into a perfect storm of Meth abuse and out-of-control addiction. As he viscerally recalls, “I ended up setting my bed on fire and totaling my car. And yet, after all of that, I still never questioned my using as the root cause of all of this self-destruction.” It was now January 2021 and his father intervened once again asking his troubled son if he wanted help. More to appease his family than to seek true healing, Tristan agreed to move to Los Angeles and enter rehab for the first time. He started at Chabad in April 2021 yet, as he describes it, “I still didn’t want to get sober. I left after thirty days with no money in my pockets.”

Thus began a familiar cycle for addicts like Tristan. He ended up relapsing and ultimately going back to Chabad three more times. “Each time I left the urge to use was so overpowering, physically and mentally, that I was unable to resist and would inevitably use again,” he shares. However, after the final time he left, Tristan wound up on the streets and suffered a complete and total mental breakdown. He eventually called a suicide hotline and they were able to get him to Cedars-Sinai. “I told them I was an addict and didn’t want to use anymore. It was the first time I admitted I was completely powerless and needed help,” he relates.

He spent the next few weeks in a homeless shelter but the staff at Chabad had already helped him start the process of getting into Beit T’Shuvah by putting him in touch with Lysa H. However, as he was about to begin his intake process the December 2021 outbreak hit BTS, and Tristan, unfortunately, went on a week-long run as a result. He ended up back at his mom’s house “white-knuckling it” for thirty days to self-detox and was finally granted entry into the program at BTS on January 24, 2022.

And this time it would be different for the “closed-off” kid from Santa Cruz. “I purposefully chose not to bring a phone to rehab to force myself to organically connect for the first time in my life,” he explains. And that strategy almost immediately began to pay emotional and physical dividends. Along with experiencing a real sense of a close-knit community, Tristan also describes, “My team has been amazing for me. Vinnie L., in particular, has provided me with a safe space to honestly explore my trauma, addiction, as well as my recovery experiences.” As part of those experiences, Tristan has taken full advantage of all the tools, programs, and activities at his disposal at Beit T’Shuvah. And as he puts it, “They have enabled me to truly connect with not only my fellow residents but myself as well.”

And as mentioned earlier, this set of activities and coping mechanisms has massively aided him in facing down the fears and anxiety that would normally lead to a relapse. In particular, his participation in the BTS Marathon Team has been extraordinary. This past March he completed his first half-marathon at the L.A. Marathon Event and just one month following that monumental accomplishment he completed his first full marathon at Big Sur. He is also now a P.F. (Program Facilitator) Intern at BTS and as he explains, “It has continued to deepen and layer my bond to my Beit T’Shuvah family. I now feel a responsibility to serve and help my fellow residents and staff.” As far as what the future holds, Tristan concludes by saying, “Right now I’m enjoying my sobriety and time of healing. But I am mulling over future opportunities such as a potential C.D.A.C. (Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor) Certification among other possible pursuits.”

No matter the challenges that may present themselves to Tristan as he continues down his path of healing, one beautiful change has manifested in his response to those potential opportunities. There will be no more “closed doors”. Here’s to running to your destiny, Tristan. It’s one marathon we will all be watching with anticipation and love.

Spotlight on Tristan D. by Randall S.

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