Amber Leone Murphy knows it’s largely luck separating her happy story from the tragic tales of Christina Lee Hauser and Marie Ellen Ahmann.
Hauser and Ahmann, both young women of promise, died in January in separate car crashes resulting from the same devastating culprit: alcohol.
Ahmann, a popular 21-year-old finance major at Winona State University, plunged down a 40-foot embankment into the Mississippi River. The Woodbury native had a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit.
The 36-year-old Hauser, of Winona, missed a curve and drove an SUV into the Mississippi River, killing herself and three male passengers, all under age 30. Married and the doting mother of a son she, too, had twice the legal limit of alcohol in her blood.
Murphy, of Blaine, isn’t about to point a finger. An alcoholic for 10 years beginning at age 13, she recalls “pretending to be a sober cab” for friends, her liquor hidden inside a child’s sippy cup placed in her center console.
“People are baffled as to how they got behind the wheel,” Murphy said. “But the first thing to go when drinking is judgment.”
She blacked out at 14, body-boarded drunk during a major storm at 19 and was raped at 20 after a party.
Things are far sunnier for Murphy, 32, since she got sober eight years ago. She founded a business, began a full-time administrative job with a health care company and became a sought-after inspirational speaker at treatment centers where women struggle not just with alcohol abuse, but addictions to Adderall, incense and many other substances.
In January, Murphy launched her website, Can’t Keep A Sober Girl Down, (www.cantkeepasobergirldown.com) which focuses on sobriety, the dangers of codependency and the joy of living a passionate life. In just one month, the site’s three blogs collectively had visitors from 65 countries and more than 80,000 page views.
The hot-pink and black design of the website, filled with blingy images, speaks to Murphy’s audience — young women — in whom she sees much of her vulnerable younger self.
“I kept getting asked questions about codependency,” Murphy said of recovery meetings, where young women would approach her for advice.
“Women and young ladies are dying inside from not feeling good enough. They don’t feel seen, heard or understood. I am here to take a stand for them, and tell them that they are good enough.”
Murphy has self-published a book, “Crushing Codependency,” and has another title in the works, featuring 25 people in recovery talking about what life looks like now (hint: Pretty great).
Murphy’s own road to recovery was long. She first tasted alcohol at 8. Bullied as a kid for her weight and acne, she never felt she measured up. After the death of her beloved grandmother, the young teen turned to alcohol for comfort.
Murphy attended high school in four states, following her stepfather who traveled for work with Schwan’s. She created a double life, hanging out with “great, amazing, inspirational friends” and “party friends.” The latter, she said, were “more fun.”
She ignored her best friend, who told Murphy she was an alcoholic. They’re still best friends. It wouldn’t be until she was many years sober that she understood the genetic component of her addiction. Her mother and grandmother both were alcoholics. Her mother stopped drinking when Murphy was 9. Her grandmother, with whom she very close, had stopped drinking in her 40s.
Murphy graduated from a film and television program in New York City but was too buzzed most of the time to show up for auditions. She later moved to Los Angeles, then back to Minnesota in 2011, after divorcing her husband of five years.
It was during that year that actor Charlie Sheen made a well-publicized comment that motivated Murphy to action.
“I was sober for five years a long time ago and was just bored out of my tree,” Sheen told a Fox Sports Radio host in 2011.
“Sobriety is not boring,” said Murphy, a sharp dresser with a killer smile. “When I wasn’t a victim anymore, my life got really interesting.”
Her message resonates with Afton Nelson, 26, of Fridley. Nelson struggled with addictions to alcohol, then meth, from ages 15 to 25. In 2012, Nelson was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue which, she said, “helped me sober up.” She’s in remission.
She met Murphy through friends “and I was just drawn to her. She has a presence,” Nelson said.
Murphy soon became Nelson’s sponsor. “She listens to me and tells me how she got through it,” Nelson said. “I have a lot of goals and aspirations and she goes for hers. She’s somebody I want to be like. She makes people who are my age want to be sober.”
Guys, too, seek out Murphy’s advice. Thirty-two-year-old Dan, who asked that only his first name be used, met Murphy 10 years ago when both were drinking heavily. Now clean, he turns to Murphy for advice a few times a month about how to avoid codependency, and embrace being alone, as he parents his young children with his ex-wife.
“She’ll say things to me and it’s just the right thing or just the right prayer that helps me in those moments,” Dan said of Murphy. “She’s doing so much more than I would ever have thought, based on when I met her 10 years ago.”
Follow Gail on Twitter: @grosenblum