Have you ever had a bad day? Of course you have. But has that bad day ever fully turned around because one person took the time, the simple moment, to say hello to you? Not a passing, “hi,” but a full stop to their day, where for a brief moment, they see you. If you have walked the halls of Beit T’Shuvah in the last three months, there is a good chance you have been blessed with the gift of Erica saying hello to you…and meaning it.
Despite the ear to ear smile that seems to be permanently glued to her face, Erica has lived a hard life of depression and anxiety. She was adopted at birth and by the age of six, it was clear to her family that she was struggling with these issues. Soon after her diagnosis, she was fully medicated, which Erica now feels was a mistake. Due to the severe symptoms of her anxiety and depression, she was placed into her school’s special education program. This led her to feel even more ostracized and confused than she already was.
Once in high school, she started to make friends. As she describes them, “Not best friends. Just friends. There was no deeper connection.” One of these “not best friends,” who suffered from schizophrenia, decided to brutally stab Erica multiple times all over her body, including her lungs, her heart, and her back.
Even though her body eventually recovered, her mind was still in disarray. That is when she started racking up frequent flier miles at her local mental hospitals. When those proved unfruitful, she tried going to a treatment center (despite having no real drug problem…yet). While at this treatment center she finally graduated high school. “I did great there, but I don’t know if I was excelling or selling.”
Soon she found her true passion—sign language. She fell in love, spending months refusing to speak to anyone out loud. Erica started making friends in the deaf community and even attended deaf events. Within this community is where she first discovered meth. Almost immediately, it was all she did.
One day, high on crystal meth and without telling a soul, she decided to drive to Missouri and find her birth parents. Erica was pleasantly surprised by their immediate warmness towards her and their invitation for her to stay with them. She spent the next two years sampling the meth that Missouri had to offer.
Like with most drug addicts, one substance is never enough. So, after a fight with her then boyfriend she decided, “Well if he doesn’t want me doing meth, I guess I’ll do fentanyl.” Years after leaving Missouri, she finally returned to attend her half-brother’s wedding. A few days before the event, the car she was in got pulled over. The police found a single pill on Erica. That pill contained fentanyl and she was arrested on the spot. She was released the day of the wedding and went straight to the chapel. Erica was aggressively asked to leave and escorted out with a headbutt.
Years and years later, Erica heard about Beit T’Shuvah from an alumni and decided to attend one of our shabbat services. Her mind was blown. She thought to herself, “If I ever go to treatment, I’d go here.” To this day, shabbat services are Erica’s favorite part of the week.
I usually take pieces of quotes–slices from large chunks…but the pure joy, love, and gratitude of this next quote felt uneditable.
“Every single day that I wake up and I see that I am here, I am so happy. I come downstairs and I see everybody that has gone through the same types of problems as me, sitting around, laughing, having a good time. It makes me even more happy…and then shabbat happens and everyone is dancing and singing and clapping and I’m even more happy and I start crying sitting back there behind the soundboard while I am watching all the people in the front dancing cause I wanna get there too, but I am just so happy that they are getting it now. I have only been here three months and I can already see what other people probably saw when I got here. It is just so…oh my G-d…”
Since arriving to Beit T’Shuvah, Erica has truly found herself in the most undeniable way. She has internships in both the music department and the clinical department and has solidified a vision for the rest of her life. After treatment, Erica plans to work with deaf people in recovery. She wants to serve this wildly under treated population of addicts and to bring her story full circle in a way that can save lives.
If you hear the sound of ukulele playing on Shirley’s patio:
That’s probably Erica.
If you enjoy the sound mix during shabbat services:
That’s probably Erica.
If you see a resident being consoled during a difficult time:
That’s probably Erica.
So, next time you pass someone in the hall, at work, on the street, take a moment. Say hello. See them.
Because that’s what Erica would do.