By Justin Rosenberg
I moved from Florida to Los Angeles in January. I was broken. I checked into rehab. My life changed. I got sober. I got better. This is NOT that story! This is the story of what has happened and what I’ve been through since I got sober.
First, let’s flashback a decade. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a debilitating gastrointestinal autoimmune disorder in Spring 2001. Since that initial diagnosis, I have been hospitalized, poked, prodded, probed, put under the knife, and doped up on every thing from corticosteroids to rather potent narcotics to experimental biologic-agents with names straight out of Star Trek. I used to joke with the hospital staff, calling the hospital my vacation home . . . not quite the Hamptons.
Now, back to the present. In April, having already been clean and sober (and working a great recovery program) since January, I began to have the worst Crohn’s flare-up since I first got sick a decade earlier. I tried to be my own superhero and “tough it out.” I thought I was fooling everyone I had come to love out on this coast, but they knew better. Each day I would hear “Justin, please go to the hospital, we don’t want to lose you!” I still opted to feel like I was born on planet Krypton. On the first Monday in June, I was speaking with my sister on the phone and she was begging me to let her take me to the hospital. I told her I’d “think about it”. I hung up the phone and meditated on one single concept–for the past 30 years of my life, I had been doing things my own way, assuming that I knew better than the world. I thought long and hard for about 30 seconds (any longer and I would’ve intellectualized and convinced myself not to do what I did next). I called my sister back and told her to come pick me up to head to Cedars-Sinai emergency room.
The next few weeks were an existential haze. I met with a plethora of GI doctors, Colorectal Surgeons, Med Students, and some rather cute and amazingly endearing nurses. I had cameras shoved in every hole in my body. I felt awkward, violated, embarrassed, ashamed–and, of course, physically worse than I’ve ever felt in my life!! But regardless of all the negative aspects, I felt something I had not felt for as long as I could remember–CONNECTED! I did something different with this hospital stay; I decided to let people in (literally, as in let them into my room, and metaphorically, as in let them into my heart). The outpouring of love and support from the Beit T’Shuvah community, the doctors and nurses at Cedars, and my friends and family back east, just utterly blew me away. I had not asked a single person to care about me. Hell, in the past, I had actually rejected the love thrown my way! I didn’t realize that something had changed in me; 5 months of “Beit T’Shuvah time” under my belt had obviously been a catalyst for an internal perceptual shift.
I should probably mention that on June 16th, the surgeons at the hospital removed my ENTIRE large intestines, and left an ileostomy bag in its place! Although this was a major, life-altering surgery, I have tried to treat it as the opposite of that. In the past, I’d turn the most minor of life-issues into mega-apocalyptic excuse to not give back to life. This time, I made the conscious decision to turn a major event into a springboard to rebuild my life beyond just not using drugs.
While I was in the hospital recovering, I began doing research on what would be possible with my specific surgery. To my surprise, nearly every article, blog-post, interview, etc that I came across all had to do with the surgical-recipient not looking back and instead continually challenging themselves in ways not before possible while sick in the throes of Crohn’s Disease. So . . . I decided that I would set a goal of running 26.2 miles in March, in the form of the LA Marathon. Adding to my own internal hype about this decision, is the fact that I get to not only run to save and change my own life, I get to run to save and change the lives of the countless souls who will be my predecessors as future residents of Beit T’Shuvah. Raising money to help the community that embraced me and saved my life is both an honor and a privilege.
As I write this, I am mentally preparing for this upcoming Sunday’s 8-mile training run. Just as with the 5K a few weeks ago, and the 6-mile run last week, I know that this Sunday’s run is going to sting a bit. But more so than sting, it is going to foster growth–both my own growth, and the growth of many to follow in my footsteps. And just as I take my recovery “one day at a time”, I’m also taking my running “one step at a time”. I know that by running 26.2 miles this upcoming March, I will not only be completing a tremendous physical accomplishment, I will also be completing a momentous spiritual accomplishment.