Beit T’Shuvah has many voices.
Residents talk about recovery and the community sings songs during services. There are the voices of our leaders and founders who guide this ship into the future. There are many voices here at Beit T’Shuvah, but there is one in particular that reaches us when we are in our most desperate and darkest places. This voice is friendly, down to earth, relaxing and comforting. This voice knows who the addict is and knows how to reach them. It is a patient and encouraging voice. And if we are smart enough to listen to it, we may have a chance to walk through the doors of Beit T’Shuvah. This is the voice of Lysa Harrison—Beit T’Shuvah’s Intake Coordinator.
Lysa, a self-described “NorCal girl,” was born in Northern California and moved to Silicon Valley when she was eight years old. Drugs or alcohol didn’t enter her life until she was well into college. Lysa dabbled with weed for a little bit but couldn’t handle the munchies. “I got sick of eating 20 pounds of Cheetos before going to bed,” she laughs, “so alcohol really became my thing. It was a social thing. I call myself an ‘old school alky.’” Lysa was able to drink “like a gentleman,” as it were, throughout most of her 20s until a fateful day where she landed in the hospital.
In 2005, Lysa underwent major surgery. There were complications and she ended up in the ICU, on life support, and was put into a medically induced coma About six months after my recuperation, I thought to myself, I was supposed to die and I didn’t. Let’s party! And that’s what started my daily drinking,” Lysa explains. It began rather harmless, as it usually does; drinks after work, cocktails with coworkers, etc. Eventually, Lysa started drinking in the morning as she got ready for work. “I would fill up my big sippy bottle of juice and vodka and drive to work while drinking. Then I would drink at work. I would freeze beers and take them to work so that they would stay cold throughout the day. I would just put them into a coffee tumbler, as far as I was concerned, nobody was the wiser,” she says.
Then, on the day she was to put a downpayment on a house, she was fired. The consequences of her actions were finally starting to unfold but instead of using this moment to reflect and decide to make a change, she dove deeper into self-pity and despair. “I continued to not work and drink daily for the next year and a half… and my drinking was pretty out of this world. In the end, I was drinking two handles a day of vodka, really cheap vodka, because I didn’t have any more money. I literally drank away the down payment on my house,” Lysa explains. Living off the support of her parents, she shuttered herself away in a 2 bedroom apartment with her cats and wouldn’t leave unless she had to, which usually meant dinner with the parents or the liquor store.
Finally, in the summer of 2009, something inside her began to resist her growing addiction. “I admitted to myself I had a problem. I started going to AA. I drank before the meeting and would run to my sippy cup in my car after the meeting. But I did have the desire to stop,” she explains. “One day I called the local hospital and said ‘I have a drinking problem, help.’ They gave me a list of places to call. I’m still waiting for a callback from two of the three places, 10 years later.” The one place that did call her back had a bed available and was ready for her that night. She said she’d call back. For two weeks she carried on like that, calling every day, every day getting the invitation to get better and every day she declined. Lysa eventually surrendered and entered the 30-day program. While she was there, she heard of Beit T’Shuvah. Five days after leaving that facility, she moved to LA.
Lysa got clean and sober on her own, but Beit T’Shuvah saved her life. She lived in a nearby sober living and would show up at 7 am for Torah Study and stay until 10 pm. “Beit T’Shuvah is my recovery home. BTS has taught me how to be real, what surrender really means, how to look at myself, how to express myself, and how to deal with the problems that come up on a daily basis. It’s given me more than life. It’s given me love, it’s given me hope, it’s given me my family back, it’s given me a sense of self, not to mention a job that I love with people at my job who I love and respect. And I continue to learn daily,” Lysa explains.
Besides giving Lysa her life back, Beit T’Shuvah also became the fertile ground for her to build a family. Lysa met her now-husband, Russell Harrison, through Beit T’Shuvah. They were set up on a blind date in 2014 and clicked immediately. “I knew who he was. I had seen him at services. It’s kinda hard to miss the guy who stands up and shouts during Mizmor Shir,” she laughs. In Russell’s true bold fashion he proposed to Lysa while he was taking his 13-year cake while at services. “He was up on the bima, stepped down and handed me a ring. He pulls from the stuff I say and do and I pull a shit ton from him. He makes me a better person. Our lives are immeasurably better because of each other.”
Lysa celebrated her 10-year sober birthday recently. When she took her cake she gave some advice to anyone struggling. “Give this place a shot. Give sobriety a shot. I gave Beit T’Shuvah a shot, and I don’t mean for just a few weeks, especially because I was coming from 500 miles away. Within 3 months I had changed my driver’s license to live in LA. I mean I’m this NorCal girl living in LA. Who does that? NorCal people don’t move to LA, there are too many Dodger fans.”
Because of her job, Lysa gets to see people in their rawest moments. As she explains, “I connect with people at their worst, in hospitals or on the streets and I get to see them transform and flourish the way that others helped me change.” Lysa reaches out to those of us lost in the darkness and pulls us onto safe shores. One might think she has time to rest on her laurels because of her actions, but she’s too busy finding the next lost soul.