On Saturday I met my first “stranger” on the Ride … a pretty, vivacious 36 year old woman, manning the visitor’s center at Rock City. As she told us about the trail that wound through the boulders, her blue eyes sparkled and her smile broadened to a mile wide … but those eyes hid more pain and more strength than most of us could ever imagine invading our path in those three decades, and the tracks on her arm told the story of a journey no one would ever choose to take … yet sadly, too many do.
Like a lot of kids born to parents of the ‘hippie generation’, Amanda started smoking pot as a young teen and later dropped out of school in her senior year, setting out on her own to live the seemingly free & idyllic life of a flower-child and Deadhead. Hitting the road with surviving members of the Grateful Dead, she soon – and all too quickly – found herself immersed not only in the music, but in the culture & lifestyle. Weed led to an array of drugs: pills, heroin, IV cocaine, mushrooms. Of course, all layered between mandated and necessary gallons of booze. First heading to prison in 1998, a hazy rollercoaster ride over the next 13 years became a nightmare of jail, institutions, overdosing and dying friends, and the destruction of what little sense of self was left. Hepatitis C would and a final round of rehab 3-1/2 years ago proved to be a long overdue wake-up call … a call that came none too soon, as without treatment the scarring on Amanda’s liver would inevitably lead to cirrhosis, and death.
I remember when I was young, my Grandmother and I would follow the horse trail near our house, scooping up the old rotted manure … it made the best fertilizer for her roses, she said. An old Seneca woman, she had an amazing and magical touch with the roses, but her wisdom spoke far beyond the petals of those flowers. Sometimes the worst years of our lives lay the foundation for the best ones to come.
Amanda has a quote on her Facebook page that says, “Be the change you want to see in the world” … and this incredibly strong and courageous woman has embraced those words with a passion & joy I have rarely seen. In the years of her sobriety, she has become a certified recovery coach and turned her volunteer position at the Genesis House in Olean into full-time work as the house manager. She’s coordinated two fundraisers in which all the proceeds went to the Genesis House. She continues to be involved in the 12-step community where she lives, works with people at the shelter who are struggling with drug addiction, and helps to prepare and find employment for those who are at the level of recovery where stepping into the outside world is necessary and needed. When she spoke with me, Amanda gave credit to her parents and best friend who were supportive and stood by her side through the darkest and most challenging times … “They believed in me and loved me until I could start believing and loving myself.”
She wrapped it up by writing, “Recovery is a journey not a destination and I’m grateful to be living a life beyond my wildest dreams. There is always hope and recovery is possible to those that are willing to go to any lengths to achieve it!”
There are no coincidences, and the people we meet along our own journey are there for a reason. Amanda’s story is one of strength of spirit and strength of heart … and a gift to my life. And I hope to yours. It’s not just about recovery from drugs or a lifestyle we might find distasteful, but rather it’s about overcoming the hurdles that come along; about not giving in, and trying again & again until you succeed; it’s about living from the heart and learning to listen to the still small voice within. It’s about facing life with joy and purpose, no matter where you’ve been and what you’ve done …… simply, it’s about Life.