Spotlight on Hannah W. by Randall S.
“I was just sitting around all day doing drugs. I was doing an 8-ball of coke every day for six months,” Hannah W. quietly recounts sitting in the boardroom at BTS. This was not how she had envisioned her life growing up in Las Vegas, NV. The middle child of a Jewish father and Christian mother, Hannah recalls celebrating both Chanukah and Christmas as a child. As she also wistfully relays, “Judaism was a big part of my life. I had a really happy childhood.” However, around the age of thirteen, she remembers, “Mom took my older brother and me aside one day and proceeded to tell us that she and dad were divorced and they had been for a few years.” The justification was that she wanted her and her brothers to be raised in a two-parent home. However, all it really accomplished was teaching Hannah that lying was okay, so long as there was a reasonable justification.
It also had the positive effect of drawing her closer to her older brother. Their bond became strong; the resiliency and strength resulted in Hannah and her brother becoming high achievers in school. But as she entered middle school, her grades began to drop. Meanwhile, her brother was achieving practical perfection as the family’s “model child.” As Hannah recalls, “He was president of his high school, captain of the soccer team, and prom king. I felt like I had to match his achievements to gain my parents’ love and approval.” Along with this pressure to achieve academic perfection, Hannah was also relentlessly bullied by the “mean girls” at school.
In a desperate attempt to be accepted by those girls, she says, “The summer before my freshman year in high school, I was trying to meet guys so I could fit into the group. I met one, and on our first date, he sexually assaulted me.” Somehow she was able to move past this incredible trauma and, during that same year, began attending parties thrown by upperclassmen. It was at one of these parties where she was introduced to alcohol for the first time. “My first drink felt amazing. My anxiety went away. I could talk to people. I no longer felt shy or awkward,” she recounts.
But between the constant bullying, pressure from her parents to achieve, and the sexual assault, Hannah psychologically, emotionally, and physically collapsed. As she puts it, “It was all too much. So one day, I took a bunch of pills. I tried to kill myself.” Fortunately, the attempt failed. Shortly after that, Hannah abruptly switched high schools. She stopped caring about school and her grades. “I made my identity the ‘party girl.’ It made me feel good about myself. Finally, I was accepted,” she shares.
By the end of high school, she had added cocaine to her drug repertoire and had burned so many bridges she wasn’t allowed to walk at graduation. Seeking a clean slate, Hannah enrolled in Santa Barbara City College in Santa Barbara, CA. Initially, things seemed to be turning around. In her first semester, she made the dean’s list and made new friends. But this success was short-lived as she explains, “After my great first semester, I spent the next two and a half years partying.”
And then the pandemic hit. In the first month of the lockdown, she also got a DUI and lost her car and license. This all created the perfect storm for a bender of epic proportions, as mentioned earlier. To repair her relationship with her roommates, who had had to endure Hannah’s out-of-control drug addiction, they all tried to celebrate her birthday. And the night seemed to be exactly what she and they had hoped. Yet again, however, Hannah’s demons took over. A male acquaintance crashed the festivities with additional alcohol and cocaine. One thing led to another, and Hannah awoke two days later, with her only memories being a horrific sexual assault by that same supposed male friend. This culminated in Hannah’s most intense and final drug binge, as well as another suicide attempt. Her mother and family had finally had enough. Hannah was checked into a crisis center in Santa Maria shortly after that.
The hope was for her to get clean and then find an actual rehab facility to get her desperately needed help. Following a series of relapses, including hand sanitizer at one point, Hannah ended up in a homeless shelter. She had reached her bottom. It was at this moment that her rescue materialized. Her parents found Beit T’Shuvah, and she was accepted into the program. Despite this life-saving event, Hannah still resisted. “I didn’t think I had a drug problem. I had a depression, anxiety, and PTSD problem,” she explains. She finally said yes, because she was facing homelessness as her only other option. “Within a week of being here, I realized that I, in fact, was an alcohol/addict,” she says.
The groups Hannah attended and the treatment she began to receive helped reassure her that she wasn’t alone. To add further strength to that belief, two months into her treatment, she was given an internship in the BTS kitchen. “Working in the kitchen gave me purpose. I learned so much. I was able to give back to the community,” she relays with her infectious Hannah smile.
Another Godsend she received was getting a sponsor and beginning step work. “The Big Book/A.A. is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me,” she joyfully relates. But that’s not all Hannah has experienced at BTS. She’s currently a P.F. intern, runs the women’s 10th step group every night, as well as the gratitude group every Friday night, following Shabbat services. In addition, she’s two-thirds of the way to her real estate license and has begun to rebuild her relationship with her parents and brothers. A beaming light of joy and love, Hannah is one of the true success stories at Beit T’Shuvah. But for her, one of the biggest results is a very simple yet meaningful discovery. “One of the most important things I’ve learned is how to have fun in sobriety,” she exclaims with her signature smile and head tilt. One thing’s for sure, if there’s a ‘Fun Ambassador’ at Beit T’Shuvah, Hannah is the most qualified candidate, and there’s not even a close second.
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