“In a weird way, I felt protected on the streets. I was outside of time.”
Amber Fries spent much of her life as a young adult running from the sense of guilt she’d carried with her since she was 3 years old. “It was a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ situation with me,” she says, “and I couldn’t prove I was innocent.” Amber had been sexually assaulted by a family member.
It wasn’t her fault.
“But I was choosing to live on the streets. I was choosing to sell drugs. I was choosing to hang around drug dealers and to abuse substances.” And she’d chosen to steal from her parents, to break parole, and not to show up for many of the few days she was allowed to see her son.
Did she feel unloved, unwanted? Did she fear abandonment? Had she not had some core need met as a child?
She says it wasn’t like that.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better family. I grew up in a very stable home. Loving parents. Solid, solid people of faith.” She was also the life of the party in high school. “But I was totally functional and could always moderate myself. I was a hard worker. Went to church. Graduated high school.”
By all accounts, it appeared that she had recovered easily from the trauma she’d endured as a 3-year-old.
“But I carried that guilt with me. My trauma was minimized and swept under the rug. And that’s what actually hurt me. I never felt protected.”
In 2008 she entered into a relationship that preyed on her fear - the fear that she was the reason men did horrendous things.
“I averaged a concussion a month for 3 years,” she says. “I experienced the worst kind of abuse anyone can imagine. Cigarette burns, punching, hitting, slapping and kicking. I had to sleep on the floor when I was pregnant because that’s where dogs slept.”
This was the father of her first and only child. “It took me longer to leave that relationship than the relationship itself,” Amber admits. “It was a roller coaster.” And when she did try to leave, repeatedly, he tried a different technique every time to get her back, making it appear that he was changing, that he was truly trying to earn her back or to prove her crazy. This went on for 4 awful years.
When her son was 3, Amber had once again moved away from this relationship, and this time she was working with a domestic advocacy center in Wenatchee called Sage. She was starting to see that she was worthy of finding safety, but she admits it was a long time before she truly believed it. At this point, her son’s father broke into her home one afternoon. In a total power craze, he approached Amber as she held her son. He started beating her with his fists. It was when he missed and accidentally struck her son that she says she started to wake up. She grabbed a can of pepper spray, but he took it before she could use it and sprayed her and her son.
“That was my wake up call.”
She knew at this point that CPS could take her child if she stayed in any sort of relationship with this man. So, she escaped once and for all.
However, she slipped quickly into another abusive relationship, this time financially abusive. And when she extricated herself from that, she fell into another, and another. In each relationship, she would give more than she had to give. Bailing men out of jail with money she needed to make car payments, loaning money, saying yes to every request. She ended up homeless, carless, and having lost custody of her son.
So, life on the streets became her escape. She used drugs recreationally, but says it was never the problem. She could take it or leave it.
“Codependency is what wrecked me. Not the drugs.”
Her parents fought to maintain relationship with her through it all, but in 2018 they were done cutting her slack. Amber had gotten it into her mind to bail another boyfriend out of jail, but she had no money. So she pawned her parents’ valuables straight from their home. She also opened up their house to her friends and contacts who wound up stealing far more of their possessions than she’d imagined they would. Either way, her parents had her arrested. And she was charged with theft in the second degree, a felony.
It was in a jail cell that she first learned about Union Gospel Mission. One day, a commercial for UGM played 4 times in a row. “I remember calling my dad that night and saying, ‘you have to google this place. Dad, I think it’s a sign from God.’”
She was ready to try to change. But what it would take, she still couldn’t imagine.
The Center for Women and Children in Coeur d’Alene had an opening and she was allowed to go in for treatment. Her felony would be dropped to a misdemeanor if she could complete the program. “I didn’t want to come. It turns out I wasn’t ready,” she says, “but I was on autopilot and somehow I did what I had to do to get here.” She laughs. “I smoked my last cigarette walking through the front door. You’re not supposed to use before coming in. But I didn’t want to let go.”
“It wasn’t until several weeks in, when I was again wanting to talk to a guy in jail – I needed $20 to call him – that I let everything go. I called my dad at work. I was demanding the money. Yelling. And then I heard this crack in his voice like he was choking up. And I thought, ‘What am I doing? How am I still being so entitled?’ That’s when I gave in. I had to let go of everything I was holding onto.”
“Surrendering is letting go of what is toxic.”
Even when the toxic thing is the only thing that comforts you. “I made my bed in my mess but it was so comfortable because it was all I knew for so long. So, getting well was really uncomfortable.”
Nine months into the program, she says she knew she was healing. She started her business practicum at Environment Control, and shortly after that, her son was able to visit. On his visit he opened up about abuse he was receiving from his father. “So I just kept him. I knew I would be in contempt of court, but I couldn’t send him back.” Her family, her counselors, everyone she asked, prayed for God’s will. The day before her court date, the father gave up. “He dropped the charge.” And she had her son back, full time.
“It was a miracle.” And Amber was all in. “I rededicated my life to Christ. This program, not only did it save my life, but I don’t have to settle for less. I can go for so much more.” Amber has embraced her true worth as a child of God.
“I know God is going to move mountains for me. He always does. I remind myself on a daily basis that God is so much bigger than my mind can fathom.”