“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” —Ansel Adams
By Chris Alvarez
Honestly, I didn’t have very high expectations for my trip to Israel. I thought that it would just be a lot of tourist sites and cheesy Jewish sing-alongs. I was expecting to be bombarded with propaganda on why I should move there and make little Israeli babies. But I wasn’t. I found it to be enlightening and spiritually fulfilling. There were two days in particular that awakened a sense of spirituality and history in me that I had never felt before.
It was day two and we spent the morning hiking the Oasis of Ein Gedi. We trekked through streams to reach a waterfall. In the middle of the desert. Here we were, in the desert, swimming beneath a waterfall! I couldn’t believe it—I felt like I was living in a dream. After that surreal hike we got onto our tour bus and headed to the Dead Sea. I had always wanted to swim in it, and I finally had my chance. As I walked into the water it was a lot hotter than I thought it would be and there wasn’t sand at the bottom. The bottom was coarse salt rock that would have cut my feet if I hadn’t been wearing shoes. The water felt a bit like chicken soup. After floating out of the Dead Sea, our group made its way to Masada. We took a cable car up to the top of the Mountain and toured the ruins of the fortress. Learning about what happened there was emotional. Most people think a mass suicide took place right before the Romans conquered it but that’s not entirely true. There was only one suicide. The rest of the death—the men, the woman and the children—were murders. After hearing about this tragedy and seeing the history and beauty of the area, I knew this trip to Israel would change my life. The next day we made our way to Jerusalem where my connection with Israel was solidified.
It was Friday right before sundown and I was standing in front of the Western Wall. Our Birthright group was there for Shabbat services and I made it a priority to have a private moment at the holiest site in all of Judaism. I was not religious growing up but standing there I couldn’t help but feel like the most religious person in the world. As I stood at the wall a wave of emotion came over me. The moment I touched the wall I began to cry. Millions of people have fought and died for the chance to do what I was doing. I wrote down my hopes, dreams and prayers for the world and put them on a small piece of paper. With all my might I shoved the note, folded to the size of a postage stamp, into the wall, jam packed with millions of others. At that moment I had a spiritual experience. For just a moment, all the pains, heartaches and sadness in my life was lifted. Since that moment at The Wall I have felt like a completely different person. I became a part of something bigger than myself; I became a part of Jewish history.
Before I took this picture, I was sulking around and thinking about all the things I do to hold myself back. I’m stubborn when other people try to tell me how to live my life, I over-analyze and allow my negative thinking to take over, and exacerbate the small stuff into mountainous problems.
I have to remember that my chains are still there, but I try to keep a fence between them and me.
Others have told me that this photo shows them something different. Art speaks to all of us in a very specific way. What do you see beyond the fence?
by Snacky Mild
Nine months of sobriety has put me a little out of touch with the scenes I used to know quite well. Six months into my stay at Beit T’Shuvah the great Bath Salt wave of 2012 seem to be taking shape, and my newfound naivety led me to believe that people were truly getting high on Bath Salts (you know, the kind sold in pretty boutiques with scents like Lavender & Mango). It wasn’t until the recent Miami face-eating incident that my interest was piqued enough to find out what Bath Salts really are. Needless to say, it’s been an interesting switch- ‘researching’ a new drug from the angle of Journalist, rather than potential loyalist. Turns out Bath Salts really are a true blue drug intended on creating a high similar to that of mixing LSD and Meth. With of course an added touch of psychosis, drizzled with cannibalistic urges. One thing I can tell you as a former avid drug user is that the last thing I would ever want is LSD and Meth ballroom dancing all over my brain. It would be like two mutant rats fighting each other for a piece of Cheddar in a small burlap sack.
It was hard for me to learn about this face-eating man and not pass judgment. When I read this story about the Miami face-eater, of course the first instinct of a self-centered, paranoia-riddled former addict was to find the differences between this face-eating gentleman and myself. I prided myself on the fact that I never ate faces, and in a twisted way, that I was a “real man” that did “real drugs” and stuck real needles in my arm. The more I wrote about all the differences between me and Face-eater, the more I found one major similarity glaring me in the face: I, too, have done just about anything to change the way I feel.
I was going to write this blog about how I couldn’t believe that Bath Salts were legal, and that the drug war was really a cover up for the government to manipulate communities and people to perpetuate the billion dollar prison industry. About how the government wants drugs in this country to keep people employed: lawyers, cops, judges, doctors—drugs keep the classes clearly defined, and when distributed correctly keep people where the government wants them. Then I looked at what I was writing and thought, “Geez, that sounds a little paranoid.” It’s not that I don’t believe those things, I do. But as I was walking over to work today figuring out how to structure all of this in blog form, how to list all my great viewpoints on political oppression, I noticed what old behavior I was exhibiting: How much I wanted to blame everyone for all these external things, and turn this blog into another gripe I have with society because I don’t feel like I fit in.
“Nothing that bad ever really happened to me in my using” is the lie I tell myself. I didn’t get arrested and I didn’t die, so I rationalize that it wasn’t that bad. So what if I wasted every dollar I ever earned, lied to everyone I knew, stole from my family, and used everyone around me for anything I could get out of them. It wasn’t that bad, right?
The hardest part of sobriety is leaving everything you know. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not easy to become a drug addict. Its more than a hobby, it’s more than a job; it’s a lifestyle you build. Eventually you become so delusional in this ether of manipulated living, the thought of changing seems so insurmountable, we use it to perpetuate our addictions. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to eat anyone’s face to decide I needed to change the way I was living. That’s not to say I didn’t have my moments when I was willing to do just about anything for my next fix, but that’s for a different day.
Welcome back to The Redemption Chronicles with me, Photoblogger E-Pad! I have returned, and will once again be posting every week. This week’s entry: A Moment’s Rest.
How One Designer Redefines Green as Love & Serenity
by Snacky Mild
For designer Georgette Westerman, The Charity Design Project at Beit T’Shuvah transcended her to a simpler time, when giving her Barbie Dolls a beautiful home was the pinnacle of a Saturday afternoon. It’s amazing to see what an artist can do when the confinements of a paying client and outside influence are removed, and the artist is allowed to return to that base emotion of her love to create.
Artistic inclinations and the need to create always seemed to emanate from Georgette as a child. “I was always drawing and doodling as a kid,” Georgette replied when asked about her first artistic expressions. “I was too busy decorating Barbie’s Dream house to worry about her flirting with Ken next door.” Not until after some unfulfilling attempts at 9-5 office work did she decide to go back to school at FIDM in Los Angeles to pursue her passion for design. After graduating FIDM in 2005, Georgette found clients in some of her parent’s friends; from there she was able to build her own design company and create a fulfilling career in the design industry.
Watching Georgette paint feverishly at the bare white walls in this hollowed out skeleton of a room, I could easily see that she was happy to be part of a campaign that was giving back so much to people in need. All Georgette knew of the clients she was designing the room for was that they would always be male and always in recovery. The idea of creating a space based purely on function and not the specific tastes of a client was a refreshing process for Georgette. After flipping through magazines and mulling over many ideas for inspiration, Georgette stumbled upon a picture of a bright green throne like chair, set atop lavish white fur carpets in a silver and black highlighted room and had her eureka moment. “I wanted to create a type of bachelor pad feeling,” she says, “somewhere the guys could come back and feel good.”
The most amazing part of this whole Design Project is how eager and willing these designers are to “give back,” generally speaking, to people they have never met and to a cause they might never be affected by. When the Beit T’Shuvah Charity Design Project–an idea that was conceived and executed in a matter of months–is over, the results will help to sustain people’s journeys through recovery life at Beit T’Shuvah for years to come.
It’s ironic to think that green is the color that inspired Georgette in her creative process for this new room. Green is the color of money, greed, and envy, none of which could be found in the motives that pushed Georgette Westerman’s wildly successful attempt at Tzedakah (charity). Her selfless act of love, caring, and creativity will remind future residents for years to come that they always have a place at the table.
To see more of Georgi’s creative work, check out her site: http://georgettewestermaninteriors.com/