“I bought a large bottle of wine, drank it down, picked my son up from school, drove home drunk, got into a belligerent confrontation with my husband, and blacked out. I woke up the next day and everyone was gone. My neighbor told me if I didn’t get sober I was going to lose my family,” Hiedi S. recalls, sitting back in her chair. This calamity, one of many she experienced in the throes of her decade-and-a-half of alcoholism, scared Hiedi into sobriety. She became sober on November 25, 1997 and hasn’t had a drink since.
But that’s not Hiedi’s complete story of recovery and redemption. Born into a household with a belligerent and, at times, violent alcoholic father and a chronic overeating mother, little Hiedi experienced a childhood of divorce, domestic violence, an unstable living situation, and sexual molestation at the hands of a family preacher, babysitter, and several others. It all culminated with the tragic death of her father when she was just nine years old. To cope with this traumatic childhood, Hiedi retreated into her imagination. “As early as I can remember, I wanted to be someone else,” says Hiedi. This desire prompted her to create an alter ego known as Susie. Susie’s life was not like Hiedi’s. Instead, it was an idyllic one replete with perfect and loving parents, a big house, and many friends.
But her childhood was not all abuse and suffering. At the age of nine, Hiedi discovered synchronized swimming. As she recounts, “I could channel my energy, anger, and sadness into becoming an athlete.” And she was good. At the tender age of 14, she became the youngest woman ever invited to train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO. She didn’t make the team, but she finally saw a path to becoming a swimmer in college and beyond. However, her mother dashed those hopes, and that’s when Hiedi discovered drinking, boys, and partying. “From the warm and euphoric sensation of that first Heineken, and the accompanying rush, I felt prettier, funnier, and more confident in myself,” she recounts.
However, there was a terrible and life-altering experience that resulted from her early drinking. At the age of 16, she and a new friend she’d met in school decided to drive down to Mexico and party. As Hiedi relates, “We were drinking the whole time while she (her friend) was driving her convertible Spyder.” On the way back, Hiedi blacked out. When she awoke, she was lying in the car, which was upside down. They had driven off a cliff and crashed. Federales and EMT workers were swarming around the car and eventually got Hiedi out. But she couldn’t find her friend. When the car was turned over, Hiedi saw the tragic result. That wonderful new friend was dead. “This was one of the most traumatic events of my life. My friend was an only child,” Hiedi explains.
But she tried to pick up the pieces of her life, and by the age of 18, she was married and pregnant with her first son, Michael. Unfortunately, Hiedi also experienced her own bout of domestic violence, at the hands of her first husband, Six months into her pregnancy. Following the birth of her second son, Jonathan, she left the abusive relationship at the behest of her children’s babysitter. That same babysitter introduced her to her brother, and Hiedi’s current husband, Bobby. Unfortunately, he was also an alcoholic, and the couple’s toxic codependency resulted in multiple attempts at sobriety by both and a few separations. By the late 1990s, Hiedi and Bobby were both sober, and life seemed to be heading towards stability and a somewhat normal family life.
But that all changed in 2001, when Hiedi, having been introduced to casinos and gambling at the age of 21, began channeling her alcohol addiction into compulsive gambling at the age of 35. The family moved to a new house close to a casino, and Hiedi started to gamble regularly. The lure became intoxicating, and so began a nine-year odyssey of chronic gambling, abstinence for a short period, relapse, rinse and repeat. This culminated in bankruptcy for the family in 2008.
Recognizing she had a problem, Hiedi began attending Gambler’s Anonymous meetings, and she stayed abstinent for several years. During that time, her mother passed away, but she also rediscovered synchronized swimming in her mid-40s and even won several Masters competitions. “It was the best feeling of my life,” she joyfully recalls. But the euphoria was short-lived. By 2015, having lost faith in G.A., Hiedi relapsed and began gambling again. The familiar pattern of relapse, short-term abstinence, relapse, and so on continued all the way up until early 2021.
Having started work with therapy dogs, more specifically Labrador Retrievers, during this same period, Hiedi developed a close bond with her beloved Marley. The work was just as therapeutic for her as it was for her patients. But when Marley passed in February 2021, Hiedi cratered and relapsed. Her gambling went into overdrive, and she spiraled. Desperate to stop and save her life, she reached out to BTS. “Even with all my drinking, this was the darkest place I’d ever been,” she recounts behind eyes, welling with tears. Unfortunately, the wait for acceptance was protracted due to Covid, and it got to the point where she took her gun and seriously contemplated ending her life.
Thankfully, the call came from Brad at BTS, and she was accepted into the Beit T’Shuvah gambling program. Almost overnight, as she recalls, “I became a completely different person. My team of Brad, Michael Saks, and Rabbi Miriam literally saved my life.” With a smile and energy that illuminates every room and conversation she enters, Hiedi is an active participant in the BTS community. “I’m training as an intern with the PF team, going back to school, and have created a powerful and loving bond with the sisterhood of women here at BTS,” Hiedi says with that infectious smile.
But her transformation goes beyond the walls of Beit T’Shuvah.”My relationship with my sons and husband has improved dramatically. And I’m looking forward to my 30th wedding anniversary on August 17th. Likewise, my son, Michael, and his wife, Nikki, just blessed Bobby and me with a new granddaughter, Summer, on August 3rd to go along with her brothers, Jacob and Jeremy. And my youngest son, Jonathan, and his wife, Roni, are expecting a son, Kai, this September,” she relays with a bright and loving sparkle in her eyes. BTS is the house of transformation, and if ever there was an embodied symbol of that mission, it’s Hiedi. We look forward to her next chapter as much as she does and we all celebrate her story and courage to choose recovery for herself and her still-growing family.