From nursing an addiction to a degree in nursing

Jorge Before Beacon HouseJorge had a difficult start to life. He spent most of his childhood being shuffled between both parents’ and his grandparents’ homes, where he also was exposed to the struggles of alcoholism and addiction.

He began drinking and smoking as a teenager, and then he started down the path of pain meds, which led to experimenting with anything he could get his hands on. It wasn’t all negative though. Jorge said he was told quite often: “You have so much potential… why don’t you do anything with it!?”

“I wouldn’t do homework and I wouldn’t apply myself, but when the test came, I would ace it,” Jorge shared. He also said he had a few teachers along the way who saw something in him and urged him to apply himself. One teacher encouraged him to write poetry, and when that led to a school contest, he won an award at the county level. Another teacher who always believed in him said, “I know you are going to be successful… you’re just so lost right now.”

Heading Downhill Fast

For a period of time in high school, he was living in a homeless shelter with his mother in Tennessee, and he said he hated it. He also changed high schools, because he and his mom kept relocating. Then Jorge began working at various restaurants and was on his own by age 15. He lived with friends or by himself, and he said it was all downhill from there.

“I dropped out of high school, but somehow I managed to get my GED before I would’ve even graduated… that was something I held onto like it was some success I had achieved.” At that point, in addition to working at restaurants, Jorge started bartending, which he said probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do as an alcoholic.

“I dropped out of high school, but somehow I managed to get my GED before I would’ve even graduated… that was something I held onto like it was some success I had achieved.”

He quit those jobs and began working for a friend’s dad, but he said he took advantage of that situation as much as he could to feed his habit. He ended up completely alone, having pushed everyone away, and survived multiple suicide attempts. That’s when he had a breakdown… he couldn’t do it anymore.

“My dad and I had started communicating again. I wanted to prove to him that I was going to be successful – that I wasn’t the loser he thought I was going to be – but it was all lies. One night, in a drunken stupor, I told him everything. At that point, my dad was sober, having gone through the Beacon House himself in the late 90s. He said, ‘If you want to do something different, you can go to the Beacon House.'”

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Jorge said yes. He had no other options and he knew he needed to try to change. He called the Beacon House and began making plans to come back to California to enter treatment, all while under the influence. Once he bought a plane ticket, he started detoxing. He said he thought he could do it on his own – kick his habit for good – but the day before he was supposed to leave, he and his friends had one last hurrah anyway. That’s when the universe intervened.

“We got pulled over and I almost got arrested for having a stolen firearm on me. They separated me from my friend, and the cops talked to us individually. That’s when my friend told the cops everything… one of the cops came over and told me he was going to give me a misdemeanor, but I better make sure I get on that plane the next day. Coming from that lifestyle, I know they don’t just let you go for having a stolen firearm…” That was the point when he knew he had to go to California. Something was telling him he had to do something different with his life.

Jorge at Beacon HouseJorge said that the Beacon House was a rude awakening. “I had to face my own demons, and it terrified me. There were a lot of times that I didn’t want to do it and I tried to leave. My plan was to stay for six-to-nine months and then return to Tennessee, but through the recovery process and the steps, I started to learn more and more about myself. Why I did what I did and why my responses were what they were. I started to let go of the hate in my heart, and about seven or eight months in, I realized this was for real.”

“I started to learn more and more about myself. Why I did what I did and why my responses were what they were. I started to let go of the hate in my heart, and about seven or eight months in, I realized this was for real.”

Initially, Jorge wanted to be an alcohol and drug counselor, and he served as a Beacon House program intern while earning his credential at Cal State Dominguez Hills. Some things started to shift and he was offered a role on the administrative side of the organization. He also began pursuing a degree in business at Marymount University. Then, he realized he hated business and business school, and the idea of nursing came to him.

A Path Forward

“There is a heavy medical influence on my dad’s side of the family, and the idea that I would pursue nursing wasn’t a new one. When I lived with my dad in middle school, I learned a lot about the body and how it applies to the medical field. A nurse practitioner himself, my dad once told me I already had the thinking for it.”

The other thing that inspired Jorge to pursue nursing was his desire to do something where he could help people. “That was probably the biggest attraction. I wanted to do something where I could be on the front lines helping others. You don’t get much closer to that than nursing!”

“I wanted to do something where I could be on the front lines helping others. You don’t get much closer to that than nursing!”

With so many college credits already under his belt, Jorge only had to take the science requirements. He began looking at Los Angeles Harbor College (LAHC), which has one of the highest-ranked nursing programs in the state. It’s also highly competitive and the required classes are extremely impacted. “I made the decision and classes were already full, but I was very determined and I kept showing up… and I got them.”

The classes came naturally to Jorge and he loved them. When it came time to apply to the nursing program, he had his mind set on Harbor College. Everyone else applied to multiple schools, but Jorge only applied to LAHC. “Everyone thought I was crazy, but it just felt right. It felt like the natural course – the place to go. This is what I need to be doing… and I got accepted.”

Putting His Training into Practice

Jorge said that nursing school is one of the hardest things he’s ever done. While equally hard, he said it can’t quite compare to his journey through Beacon House… they were both difficult in their own right. He also credits the training he got at the Beacon House with his success in the nursing program. “There are a lot of similarities – being able to adapt quickly, dealing with the unknown – my training as a resident, a program intern, everything else I did at the Beacon House made it possible for me to do well in nursing school.”

“My training as a resident, a program intern, everything else I did at the Beacon House made it possible for me to do well in nursing school.”

As Jorge’s class was preparing to do their psych rotation, there were issues finding facilities, since so many were unavailable due to COVID. Jorge thought, “Why don’t we have students intern at the Beacon House?!” He talked to both the Beacon House and LAHC teams, everyone was excited about the idea, and they worked together to set it up. It was so successful, in fact, that even though Jorge’s class was the first, there is interest in continuing the opportunity in the future.

Jorge's nursing graduation photo

Now that he has graduated from LAHC’s nursing program, Jorge is looking to the future. He is currently serving in the Pandemic Unit at a local hospital while waiting to take the NCLEX-RN licensure exam. “It’s been pretty hectic, since the hospital is short-staffed, but it has also been a great opportunity for me to be on the front lines of the pandemic as a helper.” Next, he wants to pursue the role of ER trauma nurse while earning his master’s degree in nursing, eventually becoming a nurse practitioner, but he hasn’t decided exactly which specialty he wants to pursue yet.

“I never would’ve guessed my life would be how it is now, especially when I reflect back at those times that were very dark. I always tell people never give up on what you’re trying to pursue… never give up on what dreams you have… never give up on what life has to offer. Even though sometimes it seems like things are very hopeless and dark, it’s only for that moment. I had to learn that, and I use it to help others too.”

Click here to read more about the LAHC Nursing Program Internship at the Beacon House.


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