Spotlight on Lysa H. by Randall S.
“I’m so proud of every “Shuvite” that comes through, has a successful Kadima date and, keeps coming back and coming back to celebrate their sober birthdays and take another cake,” Lysa H. shares from her office.
But before Lysa took on the role as one of the Admissions “Mama Bears” at Beit T’Shuvah she had to navigate a life full of movement, accomplishment, struggle, and ultimately redemption. Her early childhood saw her and her parents move to Israel when she was five, to San Bernardino, California at age six, and finally to Silicon Valley in Northern California at age eight. “Growing up I had a Jewish upbringing,” she shares. And she had a rather typical childhood and adolescence. A member of the high school marching band, she also recalls, “not having a lot of girlfriends as well as taking my first drink of alcohol during senior year.”
Following high school she entered college and was “introduced to my first love – beer,” she remembers. During those years she was a typical college drinker and not a very good student. At age twenty-four she moved back to her parents’ house, after not finishing school. Still just a social drinker throughout her twenties and into her early thirties, she had a dramatic life change when she lost one hundred and fifty pounds. And then at age thirty-five, she underwent a difficult surgery that required six weeks of recovery before she could go back to work. “I bought a lot of Bailey’s and coffee to comfort myself during my healing period. And that’s where my alcoholism began,” she recollects.
Unfortunately, the surgery had some significant complications, which led to her having to be put into a medically induced coma. Once she came out of the coma she went home and wasn’t able to resume work until July of 2005. When she did get back to her job, as a sales associate at a large promotional marketing firm, she flourished. However, having survived a near-death experience where “I was supposed to die and didn’t, I decided to let loose and party hard. That’s when I took my alcoholism to the next dangerous level,” she describes.
She began drinking before, during, and after work with her beverage of choice, Bailey’s and coffee. “However, over time the Bailey’s got more and more and the coffee got less and less,” she relays. This Olympic level of consumption continued up until March 2008 when she was let go from her job. “I was supposed to put a down payment on a house that day. Instead, I called my mom crying and told her to call the real estate agent and cancel the deal,” she explains.
Following that devastating blow, Lysa didn’t pursue any work and over the next eighteen months, she frittered away her entire down payment drinking. “At the end of June (2009) I knew I had a problem. I tried attending A.A. but I would just go to meetings in the morning and drink afterward,” she painfully remembers. Desperate for help she contacted her local hospital seeking assistance. “They gave me three numbers to call. I called all three and two still haven’t called me back,” she recalls with a sly grin.
And after a lot of back and forth with the one facility that did call her back, her father dropped everything and took her there on August 14th, 2009. “I took my last drink literally as I crossed the threshold into the center and my sober date became August 15th, 2009,” she recalls. She stayed at that facility for thirty-four days. During that time her parents reached out to their Rabbi and she suggested Beit T’Shuvah as a longer-term option.
“When I got out my dad asked me if I wanted to set up an appointment. I was thirty-nine at the time and I said ‘sure’,” she shares. It just happened to be Erev Rosh Hashanah when she left the center. She attended services with her father and sister that night and the next day the trio drove down to L.A. and met up with her mother. “That next day I had an interview with Harold Rothstein. He was ‘me’ at that time at BTS admissions,” she says with a giggle. He informed her there was a four to six-week waiting period for a bed but said she could stay at a sober living facility at night and become a day patient until a bed became available. A diehard Northern California girl, the prospect of moving to L.A. didn’t sit well with Lysa. But during lunch with her family, following her meeting with Harold, Lysa’s sister pulled her aside.
“We went outside into the alley to smoke. We laughed. We cried and then she said, ‘this could be the best thing ever for you’,” Lysa recounts. And as the family started driving back home, ironically as they passed Magic Mountain Park, she called the sober living facility and told them she would do it. Two days later she was back in L.A. and began her day patient recovery program at Beit T’Shuvah. “I never actually lived at BTS. I did the entire program as an outpatient for nine solid months,” she shares. She attended Torah Study every day at 7 AM and stayed until 3 or 4 PM. She would then attend whatever A.A. meeting the BTS residents attended that evening. “I learned more about myself in those nine months than in my previous thirty-eight years,” she remembers.
Inspired and bolstered by the recovery lessons learned while at BTS, Lysa decided to go back to school. “I got my Associates Degree in Occupational Studies and Alcohol and Drug Counseling. It was the first time I finished something that I started. It took me twenty-five years but I did it,” she triumphantly explains. She then began an internship at a facility in Compton, California. “I was able to help women get reunited with their children, who they had lost through their drug addiction. It was an eye-opening experience,” she relays. Following her internship, Lysa worked for the next two and a half years at an outpatient program in Gardena, California. Her newfound path was beginning to blossom however, “the only thing missing from my life was a partner,” she remembers.
As it turns out her best friend and her husband knew a guy, who happened to work at Beit T’Shuvah, and they thought the two would hit it off. It turned out to be this strong and tender-hearted guy named Russell Harrison. “They were right,” Lysa relays with a big smile. Life was good as G-d continued to guide and bless her, but she began to struggle at work. “So one morning on my way to work I called the BTS front desk and I got Ryan K on the phone. I asked to speak to Harriett and I told her I needed to come home,” she shares. She told Lysa to come in for an interview the next day. At the time Lysa was living just a mile from Beit T’Shuvah and following the interview, she had an offer already waiting for her in her email inbox.
The job was for an E.C. (Extended Counselor) position and she immediately accepted. “And then a week later, while Russell was taking his cake for thirteen years of sobriety, he proposed to me in front of the entire community,” she exuberantly describes.
Six months later Lysa was asked to join the Admissions Department and she’s been there ever since. And as mentioned earlier, to see those same people who came to BTS so broken continue to stay sober and keep coming back home to celebrate their sober birthdays is something that makes her beam with pride. She concludes, reinforcing that sentiment, by saying, “I love seeing people come in at their lowest moment and then watching them flourish as they transform at BTS.”
Lysa’s life journey has been very much like that of the caterpillar and the butterfly. Cocooned away for many years in her prison of addiction she has magnificently blossomed into the “BTS Butterfly”, helping guide so many lost and hurting souls towards their magical emergence from darkness into light. As one of the frontline warriors in the BTS Admissions process she takes her calling seriously and to get to share that mission alongside her best friend and soulmate is just the amazing and dazzling cherry on top of her own Beit T’Shuvah cake.
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