Self-discovery as a pathway to your dreams: the story behind “Gutless and Grateful”
February’s issue is relationships. There is no better way to start than to share the story of how one amazing woman who lost everything to achieve true self-discovery. In doing so, she caught her dream in a way that could have never happened otherwise.
By Amy Oestreicher
I grew up doing musical theatre.
Let me rephrase that. I grew up thinking my life was a musical. Call it the “theatre bug,” call me a “drama queen” or a great big ham–I lived for the world of the stage. Singing and acting were ways I could connect with the world around me. When I took a deep, grounded breath from my gut, I sang what my heart longed to express. I found comfort in the words of my favorite composers. Through theatre, I had a place in this world. I could make-believe by inserting myself into characters from every era, situation and mindset, while still expressing my own individuality.
There had always been a dream of combining song and dialogue in a show of my own design. I love the idea of storytelling through theatre, but as a teen, I didn’t really have much of a story to tell. Sometimes, a setback is an opportunity in disguise.
At 18 years old, I awoke from a coma. Although the medical staff—that suddenly became everyday faces—was more concerned about keeping my organs, and me alive, I was still trying to grapple with one frightening new concern:
Would I ever be able to sing and dance on stage again?
With a ventilator and a tracheotomy, I couldn’t talk. From months of bed-rest, the first time I was able to stand up, I was alarmed at how I trembled, as if my legs were Jell-O.
So what do you do when you’ve invested everything into your passion and you can’t follow it anymore?
I remember asking every person I could find in the hospital if they thought I would ever be able to sing and dance again. I was faced with many apologetic “I don’t knows,” sighs, shrugs, and awkward changing of the topic.
With time, patience, and dogged determination, I was eventually discharged from the hospital. What I’m glossing over are the multitudes of surgeries, setbacks and frustrations, because what was the most important was my passion–I never forgot how I missed the stage. Without theatre, I felt disconnected, purposeless, a has-been.
Eight years after my coma, I was headed toward a life of medical stability. I learned through experience that things can heal with time, and that’s not always the prettiest or easiest way. It was an extremely difficult journey, yet when I started to put together a musical of my life, things felt like they had happened for a reason. Now I had a story to tell, a message to share.
Suddenly, I had a tale of hurdles, triumph, and heart.
My one-woman musical autobiography, Gutless & Grateful, started as stapled pages of my journal–a few pages from the thousands of journal entries I had completed when unable to eat or drink for years. I selected 16 songs—some of which I had written–that had always resonated with my journey and me, and loosely strung them together to sing for my own therapy. I’d perform Gutless & Grateful for my parents, my dogs, but mostly for myself. Through the songs, I could allow myself a safe place to feel the charged emotions I was still trying to process from years of medical trauma.
I called it my “world in a binder.” My parents called it “Amy’s little play.”
I performed Gutless & Grateful for the first time in NYC in October 2012. It was a frightening, bold, vulnerable, and breathtaking experience. In it, I told everything–the pain, the medical, the joy, the infuriating–with music, drama, and most importantly, humor. I had played “roles” before, but for the first time, I was honestly revealing my own medical and emotional struggles for hundreds of strangers every night. Laying my soul bare was a risk, but the reward was in how my own vulnerability caused others to become vulnerable and moved by my struggles.
Since then, I’ve been performing it in theatres, hospitals, and groups in need of any kind of inspiration and encouragement. When I realized how combining powerful firsthand experience could transform lives, I developed my little-show-that-could into a mental health advocacy and sexual assault prevention program for students. Nearly losing my life at 18 years old, I’m now reaching out to students at that same pivotal point of self-discovery.
Sharing the path of self-discovery
Through Gutless & Grateful, I’m sharing my story of self-discovery and helping others find the gifts and the gratitude in the hardships. And in healing other people, I heal my own self a bit more every day. I’m not there yet, but just like my show–I’m on the road.
As a performer, all I want to do is give back to the world. Being on stage and singing is one part of the joy, but what brings the process full circle is knowing that somewhere in the audience, I am affecting someone and making them think in a different way. That is the power of theatre – stirring you to see things differently.
Doing what I love, my passion once again can freely flow through my veins, and I’m a person now, not just a patient or a medical miracle. Passion may not heal 27 surgeries, but passion has healed my heart. My passion has re-anchored me in who I am. And for that, I am Gutlessly Grateful.
See Gutless & Grateful at one of these great New York City venues… as an added bonus… purchase a ticket for this Sunday’s show, and get a free copy of our latest anthology when you email us your ticket stub.
February 5 @ 7:00 pm – 8:15 pm EST
Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd St
New York, NY
March 26 @ 7:00 pm – 8:15 pm EDT
Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd St
New York, NY 10001
June 9 @ 9:30 pm – 11:00 pm EDT
Below, 254 West 54th Street, Cellar
New York, NY 10019
valentines day alone statusFebruary 8, 2017 at 7:40 am
Appreciate this post. Let me try it out.