It’s a rough road to happiness and freedom. For Amanda S., that dark and winding gravel paved alley was certainly nothing close to easy. Today, she is working hard to defy all odds and become the woman that she knows she can be—to be the type of person that a six-year-old version of herself would look up to. 

Desert. Cacti. Purple skies. This was the Arizona playground for Amanda and her siblings, whom she grew up very close with. As the middle child of triplets, Amanda always felt like she had a built-in social circle. This didn’t stop her from being a naturally anxious kid. “I was the type of kid that would call my mom at sleepovers and pretend to be sick.” Her grandfather owned a summer camp in Massachusetts, which, before she was even old enough to formally attend, she would go to. “Those are some of my first memories of feeling really free.” These would prove to be the best memories of her childhood. That carefree spirit did not extend to her normal everyday school life. That’s when the anxiety would kick in. Up until fifth grade, school was a breeze, but that is when she was transferred from her Jewish private school to a public school—removing her sister from her class. Without that safety net, Amanda started to act out, fight with teachers, and watch as her grades steadily dropped. 

By middle school, Amanda started making friends with a seedier crowd who were experimenting with drugs and alcohol. So, naturally, she followed suit. “Around that age, I felt so betrayed by my body. I felt so awkward.” In response to this, she started to drink more and more. “When I would drink I wouldn’t have to try so hard to fit in.” With every sip, she felt her anxiety slip away. In her freshman year of high school, she discovered the magical and destructive world of prescription pills. When her older sister had a graduation party at her house, a group of Amanda’s friends had weed. So, she traded weed for a couple of valium pills she stole from her mom. Of course, like any soon-to-be drug addict would, she eventually took the pills too. She instantly loved the feeling it gave her and how she could hide it so well. “Smoke weed: smells. Drink alcohol: breath stinks. Take a pill like a Xanax or a Valium and you get fucked up with little to no consequence…or so I thought.” She would go as far as going down to Mexico to get drugs they wouldn’t prescribe her in the states. One day, she took some of the pills with her friend before a geometry class and drank some alcohol out of a water bottle…without knowing what happens when you mix the two. An ambulance showed up for her friend, Amanda was put in handcuffs, and she got expelled from the school district. Everyone who she thought was her friend abandoned her because it brought attention to what they were all doing. Did this stop her? No. Not even in the slightest. 

Amanda smoked and drank her way through college, surprised to this day that she even made it in to begin with. Within just her freshman year, she got arrested three times. The third time she got arrested was at court while paying a ticket. She showed up drunk from the night before, which was only made worse by the fact that she was a minor. This was the first time it crossed her mind that she might have a problem. “I called my dad to bail me out. I remember I got back to my dorm and I cut my fake ID in half and I was like ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I think by later that night I had duct taped it back together and slipped it into a wallet where you didn’t have to pull it out and was back at the liquor store.” A truly heartbreaking reminder of how our addictions can take hold of us. “My life is a series of stories like that…only they get progressively worse.”

A short time after that, Amanda’s dealer was out of pot. So, she bought what he did have—heroin. This life changing moment felt like nothing to her. We smoked it like we smoked anything else. Like a cigarette. It didn’t seem noteworthy at the time.” This went on every day for the next six months. She stopped going to class and let most of her life slip by. “When I started shooting up, my boyfriend thought it was gross, but I saw it as a financial decision.” Eventually, like most runs do, the road came to an end and she reached out to her parents for help. Amanda’s family decided to send her to a holistic rehab that ended up being a pipeline for The Church of Scientology. This was the first stop on a back and forth in and out of rehab country wide tour. Amanda’s longest stint was in Minnesota, where she attended cosmology school. Unfortunately, she relapsed and moved in with her sister in Austin. This is where she discovered meth. 

Also in Austin, she met Emily, another Beit T’Shuvah resident, who told her about our program. When she was ready, Amanda made the call to admissions. On her way to detox, she was pulled over and hit with five felonies for possession. Thank God we have an alternative sentencing department because after eleven days in jail, her dad flew her out to LA to come to BTS. 

“When I first got here, my drug test lit up like a Christmas tree.” The first time she was here, she checked all the boxes she felt like she had to to excel at rehab…but something was missing. Some deeper connection with herself. She relapsed and, like many of us, thought there was no hope left—she was wrong. Amanda picked herself up, came to Beit T’Shuvah for a second time and has never been better. 

Finally, for the first time in Amanda’s life, she is following her heart and leaning into what she is passionate about. She’s set out on  a mission to foster her inner child by giving herself a chance to build a life once thought to be purely a delusion, one where she could do something that she loves, and that is creative, as a career. Joking that like most great artists, she will allow herself to be a little delusional in regards to what is possible. She has enrolled in school for screenwriting, creative writing, and film. She has become deeply invested in our alternative sentencing department, believing a program like ours should exist all over the world. Most importantly of all, she has reconnected with her family. “I love that there is a possibility that my niece and nephew will never even know me as a junkie. They may even look up to me.” The gifts of recovery have given her a life bigger than she could imagine and friends that will last a lifetime. Just this week she was in a car with her friends coming back from a meeting, with music playing on the stereo, Emily with her head on her shoulder, the heater warming them from the cold, and she thought to herself “I love all these people so much. How cool is that?” She says, “I think that is what I have been missing for so long.” She is no longer alone. “There are people in my life that love me and not just what I can do for them.” 

You see, being part of a (healthy) community is what’s missing in so many of our lives, and especially in the lives of people that struggle with addiction. That’s what makes Beit T’Shuvah so special. It’s more than just a rehab, it’s a family, a congregation, and a community that welcomes people (often disenfranchised) with open arms. One of the tricks to staying clean and sober is to engage with this community, and to stay close to it in some way. Not as a crutch, but as a wellspring of spirit and strength to draw from and to replenish. Amanda is definitely close to this community. She loves BTS and wants to figure out any way she can to give back to this program. Although she may not know it yet, she already does. 

Spotlight on Michael ‘Ginger’ D. by Jesse Solomon

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