For those who don’t know, which is probably 90 percent of you, I’m actually part-time in grad school at USC in its Master of Social Work program. Before the music and writing thing took over, I wanted to be a therapist. Not because I felt I could fix people, but mostly because I’ve been through it myself. They always say the best therapists are the ones with experience, and I didn’t want to let that opportunity go to waste.
How many of us have seen a therapist that we’ve felt was a complete waste of time because he or she couldn’t relate? On top of that, I was shown and showered with so much love when I was in treatment that all I ever wanted to do was give back. If you’re an addict or suffering from depression, I’m not going to sit here and say I know exactly what you’re going through, but I do know how much you’re suffering. Mental illness is fucking awful. And I know that firsthand.
I’m also not going to sit here and give my life story. Instead, I will showcase a recent field trip to Beit T’Shuvah in Culver City. The initial email from my professor read:
“Just received confirmation that the proposed 617 field trip to Beit T’Shuvah Drug. Alcohol and Gambling Treatment Facility has been given the green light. Additionally, we will have a panel that day with Harriet Rossetto, an exceptional social worker (!) who founded the program.”
It’s crazy, because I had heard of this treatment center during my time at UCLA Extension. I went through a yearlong program and got certified in alcohol and drug abuse counseling — a pretty rigorous program. But during my time there, I did meet many great colleagues, many of whom worked at this Jewish-rooted facility. They had nothing but positive feedback to share. The thing is, I wasn’t aware it was open to all individuals. You didn’t have to be Jewish, you just had to surrender.
Upon entering this enormous building on the very busy Venice Boulevard, I realized I had been here before! It was for a group interview to be placed here for my fieldwork and internship. It was the most competitive interview I’d ever been to. That speaks for the quality of their services. Everyone wanted to be placed here. This wasn’t just any old rehab center — this was Beit T’Shuvah, the Hebrew phrase for “coming home.”
This field trip allowed me to see the facility and hear firsthand experiences on why it is successful. I was instructed to enter the boardroom, which proved to be the most chic conference room I’ve ever seen. This was a rehab?
The rehabs I’ve worked at did not compare in the slightest. I immediately thought, this didn’t look like a bad place to work. Inside was a long wooden table surrounded by fancy royal-blue chairs occupied by my classmates. Everyone’s gaze was toward the front of the room, fixed on a Harriet Rossetto, the founder and clinical director.
Harriet spoke on starting the facility with a very small team before watching it grow into a thriving organization earning millions of dollars in revenue each year. She dressed extremely well and had a sense of ease and calm about her as she spoke. I soon realized how much this nurturing woman genuinely cares about each individual as if all were her own.
And that’s what sets this place apart from other rehabs. Many places get accused of just stealing money without a care for the person’s well-being. Beit T’Shuvah is a nonprofit with a philosophy and mission statement to help individuals gain back their lives in the most healthful and conducive approach possible. Each client’s treatment plan is individualized. There’s no cookie-cutter approach to recovery.
And I was listening intently. Everything she was saying resonated with me. I wanted to take notes so bad but no one else was. I started to anyway, but stopped because I felt awkward. It’s about connecting and surrendering to a higher power.
I know each treatment center’s website has its mission statement and core values listed, but what she relayed to us in person was so compelling. She said the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety; it’s connection. And not a social media connection, but a real-life connection in the community. It’s about healthy relationships and a sense of belonging in the community, something that can’t be taught in textbooks.
This really spoke to me. The facility has everything you can imagine, from art therapy, surf therapy, a personal trainer, a nutritionist, MUSIC THERAPY — with a built-in studio upstairs. Hell, there are 140 beds here. And there’s a wait list. That’s unheard of! Most inpatient treatment centers have like six residents at a time. There’s definitely something happening here that isn’t happening elsewhere.
Harriet described how Beit T’Shuvah is also a long-term treatment center, with no ridiculous 30-day or 60-day rule. In reality, clients are most vulnerable when they’re sober. They’re the most vulnerable after they’ve completed the program, found a significant other, found a job, etc. Relapses can happen at any time, whether you’re one day sober or 15 years sober. Clients are encouraged to stay here as long as they need until they have stability in their life and their addiction.
The whole time I’m sitting there, I remember the guilt and shame I received when a previous professor of mine found out I was smoking marijuana while attending Alcoholics Anonymous. She didn’t believe in it. She didn’t believe I could be sober and still smoke weed. For me, alcohol was one of my vices. And not having a sip of alcohol since August 2012 is something I will never downplay. But in the same light, it gives me a conflicting feeling as I know some people would take that to heart. And as much as the AA community strives to be a judgement-free zone, personally I feel like a phony.
I truly don’t believe marijuana should be scolded in addiction. In fact, I attribute medicinal marijuana with helping me to manage my current struggles with anxiety and depression. Who isn’t happy when they’re high? I turn into Superman after a few hits. Sometimes I worry I just went from one vice to another. Am I now filling that void I once filled with Captain Morgan, with bud?
I’m hopeful for the answer to be no, but who knows anymore? And then I remember how much clients get drug-tested and how the most popular chemical to show up is THC. I remember back when I was still working in treatment. I had just wrapped up a fire interview with the program director at Cliffside in Malibu. My extensive work experience and personal experience had impressed him. At the end of our meeting, as I’m about to leave, he goes, “Oh wait, hold on a sec. One more thing. We need a urine sample from you.”
I thought, “Fuck.” “Like, ‘You guys wouldn’t believe…’ .” I had just smoked a blunt the night before. I gave them a sample anyway, hoping for the best. There was honestly no way out at that point. I couldn’t even Google ‘fake urine sample’ if I wanted to. I wanted this job, too. I mean, I had this job.
Two days later, I get a call. “Is there a reason you test positive for THC?” I explained that I had my medical marijuana card and I take edibles from time to time to help with my insomnia. Half of my mood was panic, while the other half was a sense I knew it was over. His response: “Sorry, you can’t work here.” Then, click, he hung up.
From that day on, I knew I had a decision to make: marijuana or my career?
Questions were highly encouraged during our hour and a half here, and that’s when I asked, “What happens if a client relapses?”
While Harriet answered that it was a case-by-case scenario, they never will just kick someone out after a relapse. In fact, that’s the worst thing a facility can do. In my time working as a technician in rehab, that was always the case. I would come into work the next day to find the client discharged or kicked out. Most of the time, it’s because they used. So crazy.
Another speaker who specializes in gambling addiction told us a recent story of a client who relapsed over the LA Marathon weekend in March 2018. First off, they had 52 people from the facility run the marathon. That’s incredible — 26.2 miles is never easy. In fact, it’s hell LMAO. But they had a client who had been at the treatment center for 200 days and relapsed while on the course. That broke my heart to hear. I’m always a non-believer when it comes to addiction and being fully recovered. Stories like this help my case.
The client had just landed a job at thrift store. Especially, after almost six months of adhering to the program, who were they to take that away from him? I, myself, to this day, don’t feel stable. Yes, far more stable than when I was in my darkest moments of my addiction, but there’s always that question of what if.
What if I relapsed today? What if I relapsed tomorrow? What if I relapsed three years down the line? Is marijuana okay to use?
And then Harriet had a woman by the name of Shannon speak to us. She was a heroin addict, who during her addiction, gave birth to drug-addicted babies. She said thank goodness for Child Protective Services, because they took her kids away. Here was a mother who was thankful her children were taken from her. Shannon represented someone who was not predisposed for addiction. She came from a wealthy family and parents who loved her dearly. There was no childhood trauma to tie in to her addiction.
She went to UCLA, where I graduated, and was living a double life. She was showing up to class, but driving to Palm Springs every weekend to buy drugs. It was her boyfriend at the time who was really caught up with heroin, and she couldn’t help but fall into the trap. This made me realize that in my own personal life, a lot of my time using was directly dependent on the people I chose to surround myself with.
Beit T’Shuvah was the only place that worked for Shannon. There’s no gimmick to recovery. You have to want it. You have to fight for it. You have to earn it. You have to dedicate your life to it. But also, be kind to yourself. No one is perfect. Take advantage of the resources you do have and don’t for a second ever think you’re alone. We’re in this together.