Chameleons, octopi, addicts: things that camouflage into their environment.  Most of us wear masks throughout our lives to blend in. Whether it be at school, work, or home, fitting in feels like a better option than standing out. Being yourself is risky. “What if people don’t like the real me?” We’ve all thought that to ourselves at some point in our lives. For Amy Abrams, embracing her eccentricities, and self-proclaimed weirdness, has been a lifelong struggle that led to addiction, sorrow, and, eventually, her long-lasting recovery. 

Amy grew up right here in Los Angeles, to a deeply loving family. For reasons that she still cannot name, there was something inside of her that felt like she was not good enough. “I had this little spot in my soul that told me, ‘People won’t like you. You’ll never succeed at anything.’” 

She was devoted to theater as a kid. “There was a lot of escapism in the play-acting.” On stage, she was someone else. The characters she played shielded her true identity, and that brought a certain level of comfort. When she was young, these fanciful characters would even extend off of the stage. “I went through a Wizard of Oz phase. I would only answer to ‘Dorothy’ and my parents were ‘Aunt Em’ and ‘Uncle Henry.’” The same thing happened with Little House on the Prairie. “It was a way to not be me.” Another means of escape she would dive into was sweets. There was a candy store a block from her house, and she would, as a young child, sneak out of her house, buy candy, and hide it in her closet. This may have been the first indicator of an addictive personality, but the real trouble would come later. 

In her adolescence, Amy had a very hard time making friends. Her parents encouraged her to be herself, but her inability to form long-lasting bonds with her classmates taught her a different lesson.  Once in high school, she thought to herself, “How do I become cool?” The clear answer, in her mind, was going to parties and drinking. This social lubricant opened up many doors for Amy—some revealing friendships, and others littered with consequences. “When I was fourteen, I went over to a friend’s house, and some boys came over. They brought Hawaiian Punch and vodka. That was my first time drinking, and I woke up in a pool of bright pink vomit.” For many, this would be a deterrent to continued drinking, but this only encouraged Amy to drink more and try harder drugs. “I discovered that by putting substances in my body—alcohol, weed, pills, whatever I could find really—I didn’t have to work so hard at being who I thought people would like. I could just be crazy, and everyone else was crazy because we were all partying. That got me out of myself.” The relief she had been looking for her entire life was finally here. She was free to be her crazy self…as much as any of us can be ourselves when we are plastered. 

From then on, that’s how Amy drank. “It was a weekend thing through high school, but we eventually added mushrooms, acid, cocaine, and ecstasy. On the weekends, when I did party, it was not to get a buzz or get tipsy, it was to get wasted. You’re either blacking out or vomiting—that’s how the night ends.” 

Once Amy went away to college at UC Santa Cruz, just far enough from her parents to feel the freedom of adulthood, everything went off the rails. She loved nothing more than to drink a bottle of wine to herself, take mushrooms, a couple valium, and wander aimlessly around the forests of Santa Cruz with friends. While her peers were finding themselves, she was both mentally and literally lost in the vast and dangerous woods of her addiction. 

At this point in her life, she had decided that she wanted to be a writer. Her dream was to write the next great American novel. The only issue being that she had no drive to actually put pen to paper. In the back of her head, Amy believed that one day a publisher would just knock on her door and offer her a book deal out of nowhere. “[They would say] I hear you’re a writer. I can see from your bathrobe and bottle of wine that you’re tortured.” So, to support her party lifestyle, she got a job as a waitress. “That’s when things really got out of control. I was stealing pills from people, money from people…I had a lot of amends that needed to be made.” By day, she would wait tables, but by night, she would get blindly intoxicated. She would often make up excuses to leave work early so she could go party. “My grandmother definitely had a heart attack three or four times.” Amy’s acting background (both on and off stage) came in handy when it came to lying in her addiction. Nothing quite sells a lie like crying on command. At one point, she had to cut down on hours at her actual job because she had an internship at a publishing company called New Moon Publishing. This was an amazing step towards her career as a writer. Her parents were thrilled, and more than willing to supplement her income. The only problem was, there was no such thing as New Moon Publishing. It was all a lie Amy made up to enable her daily using. 

Superbowl Sunday, 2004. Amy had stolen pills from her roommate’s boyfriend and was promptly confronted about it and told to move out. At first, Amy denied the allegations…but eventually something overcame her. She was tired of the constant lies. So, she told the truth—for the first time in longer than she could remember. Amy went to her therapist, who she had been lying to for the past five years. Her therapist suggested she bring her parents into the session and, when Amy came clean, her parents felt a sense of relief. They knew something was going on with her, but never knew what it was. Now they did, and she was going to get help. 

After this confession, she was sent to detox. “It was then, through meetings and groups and the hospital, that I started to listen to other people’s stories. I understood that no matter what the outside circumstances were, when you get right down to it, that pit in your soul is something everyone in these rooms can relate to.” Once released from detox, she went to a sober living. Her intention was to stay there for thirty days. She ended up being there for nine months…by choice. The structure of the program, having someone to tell her when to get up, go to meetings, and get a job, helped build her back up to a functional human being. 

However, even sober, Amy was lost when it came to her career. “At one point I wanted to be an actress, and then a dolphin trainer, and then a writer…and then I found Beit T’Shuvah.” Amy reached out to a family friend who had been recently hired, and asked if there were any openings, because she thought she might like to work in recovery. A couple months later, she was sitting in an interview with Harriet. Harriet said, “ What do you want to do here?” Amy replied, “I don’t know…I just want to work in recovery.” And just like that, she was hired. Even though she was hired, Beit T’Shuvah didn’t really know what to do with her. She would stuff envelopes, and provide assistance to anyone that may have needed it, but didn’t have a real purpose. One day, the Database Administrator put in his two weeks. “I truly believe it was simply because I happened to be in the room, that the Rabbi looked at me and said, ‘Oh great. You’ll be the new database administrator.” Unfortunately, Amy didn’t know the first thing about data, bases, or administering anything. So, Beit T’Shuvah paid for her to go to class to learn exactly what to do. Eventually, the job of Grants Manager opened up and she was promoted to the role. This gave Amy a chance to use her incredible skills as a writer in a professional setting, something she always sought. She has held this position for the last ten years. “When I see someone come in, and they are talking about how they came in from prison, I’m like, ‘Oh, I wrote the grant that got you in here!’ and that is an amazing feeling.” 

Let’s be honest with ourselves, Beit T’Shuvah is full of weirdos. It is pretty much a prerequisite to get in here that you had to have been an outcast or have worn a mask of some kind. So, for someone like Amy, there is no better place to be. “I have honest relationships with my colleagues. I tell them what is going on. They know every detail of my life, and it is all honest, and that is huge. In other jobs, there has always been an element of putting on a show. Here, I can be myself. This is my community. These are my people. This is my family. I can’t imagine working anywhere else.”

Along with her Beit T’Shuvah family, Amy has also built herself a family at home. She has a loving husband, Todd, and a wonderful son named Jack…both of whom are as eccentric as she is. “Jack says, ‘People think I am weird,’ and I tell him to embrace it! That’s what makes life amazing, and it’s what makes us such amazing people.” I simply could not talk about the wild nature of her family without mentioning her husband’s job. Todd, whose stage name is Jack Dagger, is a professional knife thrower. He travels all around the country throwing sharp objects with incredible accuracy around willing victims and dutiful assistants. For years, the assistant that was getting blades tossed in her direction was Amy. A husband and wife knife throwing team? Yes, this is most definitely an eccentric family—and we love them all the more for it. 

This week, Amy celebrated her twenty year sober birthday—a feat of unimaginable strength. “My life has changed so fundamentally, that it is hard to look back at the person I was twenty years ago and remember that person is me.” That mask she once wore, to fit in, was long ago tossed in the bin. That dream of being someone else has morphed into a deep love for the person she always kept hidden, and the excitement for what is to come. Not only has this chameleon metamorphosized into a brightly colored butterfly, showing us all what it means to be a strong, loving woman in recovery, but she grants others a chance to do the same. If you are a resident or alumni, you may not even know that Amy has had a hand in your recovery. So, if you see her curly locks and effervescent smile walking down the hallway, don’t hide yourself. If you talk to her, you’ll realize that Amy’s light is bright enough to bring us all out of the shadows. 

Spotlight on Amy Abrams by Jesse Solomon

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