She was only 8 years old when a family member gave her a sip of beer.
That introduction to alcohol at an early age significantly impacted her life and left her searching for years—definitely for the alcohol, but also for something more fulfilling, more peaceful.
“I just remember it was in a pink plastic cup,” she said. “I remember feeling very strange and warm and then after that it was kind of like a mental obsession to want to get more.”
Imagine that experience and the “mental obsession” that followed when you are just a child. Most kids that age are trying to sneak an extra can of pop when their mom isn’t looking. Or maybe trying to play a few extra minutes of their favorite video game.
That wasn’t the case for Amber Leone Murphy.
The trigger point
Amber’s family moved from Minnesota to Montana when she was 11 years old. Her mother had recently remarried and had herself become sober only a couple of years before the move.
While in Montana, Amber’s grandmother, who still lived in Minnesota, passed away. As a kid, Amber visited her grandparent’s house almost every weekend, and the bond between grandmother and granddaughter was strong.
Amber was only 13 when her grandmother passed away. She had come back to Minnesota to visit her while she was sick, believing she would get better. She didn’t.
The day her grandmother passed away, Amber wrote in her diary, “I need to have a drink or some pot.”
Her desire was soon met.
“I found it at a family member’s house when I was all alone,” Amber recalled. “There was a bottle of vodka sitting on the top of the fridge. I had to make a really hard phone call to my mother talking about the day’s events, because my mom had gone back to Montana because my grandmother was supposed to get better.
“I had to make that hard phone call and before doing that, I got intoxicated. I just remember being on the phone crying. My mom had no idea that I had been drinking. That was my first vodka, when I was 13.”
That was Amber’s trigger point, so to speak.
“After that, it was off to the races,” she said. “It numbed me out. I didn’t have to feel my feelings, nor did I know how to deal with those kinds of feelings of great loss until I got sober.”
For Amber, alcohol served as an escape, something to occupy her mind when she didn’t want to deal with pain.
And it did so for the next many years, until she was in her 20s.
Riskier behavior and a brief encounter with God
Once back in Montana, the pain of her grandmother’s death and her inability to deal with it without alcohol led Amber to riskier behavior, including attending parties with older people, promiscuity and smoking pot.
Her brief foray into pot culminated when she gave a friend some of the drug on school property and was quickly caught—forcing Amber to explain herself in front of the principal and the town sheriff.
Her riskier behavior led her outside the norm, and it also led her to something unique and tantalizingly life-changing.
“I went to a church when I was 15 with my best friend and her mother,” Amber recalled. “The pastor was up there and was talking about Jesus. It was the first time I remember going to church and being affected. I’m sure I had visited several churches. I don’t really remember any of them, but I’m sure I had.
“[The pastor] asked [people] up to the altar that wanted to ask Jesus into their life and into their heart and to be saved. Something just, like, came over me. I couldn’t stop crying, and it was just beautiful. I felt so much love. I just felt enveloped in this love that I had never experienced before. I remember my best friend saying, ‘What are you doing?’ I’m like, ‘I’m going up there. Why aren’t you going up there?’”
She went to the altar and asked Jesus into her life.
But her newfound faith was short-lived.
“Then I turned away,” she said.
This wasn’t the first time Jesus intrigued Amber. While the family didn’t attend church regularly, Amber always had a fascination with Jesus.
She would visit garage sales as a kid and see pictures of Jesus and bring them home, the images speaking to her in ways she still can’t understand.
“My mom would be like, ‘Where did you get that?’” Amber said. “I remember my favorite picture as a kid was Jesus with children with, like, a rainbow … and He was reading to them. I just felt like this beautiful safety inside of that belief. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know why I was drawn to pictures of Him.”
Amber’s journey into alcoholism was progressing, but she still felt caught between two competing worlds: the pull of trying to do the right thing and the oftentimes much stronger pull of the pursuit of alcohol and the role it was taking in her life.
Amber briefly moved back to Minnesota during high school and lived with her grandfather, who was still grieving the loss of his wife. She recalls him going to bed early—as early as 6:00 p.m. each evening—leaving a teenager with lots of time to sneak out and attend parties.
At the end of her junior year of high school, Amber’s mom caught her drinking. Amber wouldn’t admit it, so her mother called the cops, and they administered a field sobriety test. Amber’s insistence she hadn’t been drinking was easily disproved.
During these years, as she was drifting further into alcoholism, Amber said, “I always felt like I was a liar. I had so much shame.”
But the shame never led her to admit she had a problem.
“I felt bad, but I never thought I had a problem,” she said.
While working at a radio station in the Twin Cities soon after high school, Amber attended a holiday party.
“I got absolutely snockered at the Mall of America,” she said. “They didn’t know about it. The night was a blackout. I don’t remember anything that happened. I remember the first 25 minutes of the night. That was my first scary blackout. I was 19. I woke up in my bed with my coat on and my shoes were by the bathroom toilet, and I had no idea how I got there.”
She later discovered that her friend called Amber’s uncle, who had to carry her to the car and then drive her home.
The incident scared her, but her attitude was unchanged.
Over the next several years, Amber moved around the country: to Georgia, New York, Los Angeles, Washington state.
The locations changed, but her addiction did not.
Bankruptcy and sobriety
“I remember the week before I got sober,” Amber recalled. “I quit my job and filed for bankruptcy.”
That was early November 2005.
Her life had continued to spiral out of control, but somehow at this particular time, she understood the consequences.
“I was flirting with disaster,” Amber said.
At this point, Amber was engaged to be married, but shortly after he proposed her fiancé shipped out with the Navy. With no job and no fiancé, Amber was looking for companionship and something to do, and she focused on a friend.
“I had been eye-balling him at parties all week, because I didn’t have a job,” she said. “Finally, push came to shove, and he came this close [to kissing me]. All of a sudden I was present for my own experience.”
She had already been drinking for 10 hours that day.
“I should have been blacked out,” she said. “It’s like I saw my life flash in front of my eyes. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, you are going to sabotage your whole entire life. No.’”
Somehow, this realization served as another trigger point in her life—this one causing Amber to change her life for the better.
Waking up the next morning, she looked out her window and with tears in her tears, prayed, “God, please help me. I can’t do this anymore.”
That was her breakthrough.
“I needed help, and I was broken, and I admitted I was broken to God,” she said. “Through that breaking, there was a blessing.”
She immediately went to her computer and looked up recovery meetings. She found one that started in a few hours and drove there. She sat in the car, looking at the building.
“I knew that if I left, I wasn’t going to come back,” she said.
But she didn’t leave.
Nov. 7, 2005 was Amber’s sobriety date.
The intervening years have not all been easy. Amber said she struggled with spiritual warfare and with always making God the main focus in her life. It’s been a difficult journey, but one that has consistently brought her closer to God.
Since her sobriety, Amber has worked with hundreds of recovering addicts in Minnesota and in other locations. The Twin Cities resident is also currently developing a seminar series to help empower women in recovery, and she has written the not-yet-published book “Daily Letters for My Sober Sisters.”
Her tagline communicates the new journey she is on: A sober life is not a boring life.
Looking back on her journey from an 8-year-old dabbling with alcohol to someone who was in its grips for many years to now being a woman helping others with recovery, Amber hopes people who are struggling with addiction will look at their lives and see where their actions will take them in the future—if they do not change.
“With prayer and meditation and asking for guidance, I believe we can play our lives forward,” she said. “The decisions I make today are going to impact my tomorrow. My tomorrows impact my years ahead. So today does matter. Life’s too short to have guilt and shame and resentment.”
Those things, Amber said, are not from God.
Amber Leone Murphy speaks at church recovery groups, colleges, workshops and women’s retreats in the Twin Cities area. To request more information, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— by Scott Noble