Written by Caitlin King, digital marketing associate, and Kristina Glockler, communications assistant at Ashley Addiction Treatment.
Mae Ashley Abraham touched so many lives with her kindness, determination and never-faltering commitment to helping others find recovery.
To celebrate the 39th anniversary of Ashley, we wanted to take the opportunity to get to know our co-founder Mae Ashley Abraham from a very personal side — through the eyes of her sister Micki Thomas and her niece Peyton Niswonger. Mae played an integral role in helping Micki find long-term sobriety and worked side by side with her for many years at Ashley. At the age of 13, Peyton found a new home with Mae and her husband Tommy, resulting in a deep connection between the two women.
Peyton came to live with Mae and her husband because her parents were suffering from a substance use disorder. Due to her parents’ substance use, as well as Mae’s, Peyton had to grow up faster than other children did. Despite that, Peyton experienced a loving and caring Mae who became her role model early on.
Peyton smilingly recalls favorite activities she and Mae would share while she was living with the Abrahams:
“We would dress Alex in his little tuxedo with his little bow tie and flaming red hair and take him to lunch or dinner. He was the talk of the restaurant. Starting at Thanksgiving, we would go Christmas shopping to all the big department stores in Baltimore when the stores were the only place to shop. […] We did so many things together: Taking the grandchildren to Disney numerous times, going to the movies, going to Aruba — just she and I sitting on the beach. We didn’t have to say a word to each other; we just read books all day long. We were so much alike. We would soak up the rays and read those books.”
…and there was so much more.
“To this day, I have a lot of questions that will remain unanswered,” but there is one thing Peyton is certain about: “Mae saved my life.” “She was my everything.”
This kindness and care she bestowed on Peyton extended to all the people in her path.
Micki Thomas shares a memory of Mae with us from her early childhood, “She had brought home an eight by ten photograph framed of her fiancé Tommy Abraham. And he was so handsome.” Micki wanted to look at the photograph but accidentally dropped it, and the glass broke. She was frightened that Mae would get angry, but instead, Mae knelt down and said, “‘It’s only glass, honey. It can be repaired. Please don’t stay here in hiding. I’m not going to get angry with you.’” “The gentleness and that forgiveness, and that ability to just come at the moment and be there for that person,” is something Micki will never forget.
There are moments that Mae and Micki shared in their childhood, but due to their difference in age, they did not get to form a strong bond until later in life. Micki describes that she really got to know Mae once she had entered sobriety. Mae attempted to help everyone find recovery, including Micki, who likes to reminisce on a memory that proved just how persistent and determined Mae could be when helping someone find sobriety.
She says, “I didn’t know Mae until after she found sobriety, and then she was after me like a detective! She kept inviting me to hear Father Martin’s Blackboard Talks, and so my good friend Betty and I drove down to hear it at the St. Joan of Arc’s basement. While we were leaving, I saw this pack of stuff in my purse, and I said, ‘What is this?’ and pulled it out. The first one said, ‘Could You Be An Alcoholic?’ She was hoping that talk would open some doors.”
Mae continued to try and help each of her siblings struggling to find a new life in recovery and didn’t stop until she succeeded. Not only did she have the ability to help her siblings find sobriety, but she was determined to help young women in Alcoholics Anonymous work the 12 Steps. She welcomed these young ladies into her home and became a well-known sponsor in the community due to her patience and perseverance to help them find a new life in recovery.
Mae had quite the influence over Micki.
When Micki did enter long-term recovery, she wanted to find her place in life and build a future. Mae and Father Martin said to her, “You need to get sober all over, and you need to do that with your sponsor and AA group and not with your family.” For two years, Mae called Micki frequently to check in on her well-being but understood that Micki needed to get well on her own without being attached to family. Ultimately, Mae knew that she had to stop rescuing Micki to help her achieve recovery.
Up until Mae’s last breath, she continued to care for everyone in her life. This is why Peyton felt a true calling to care for her in her later years. Peyton says, “It meant everything to me to care for her in her final years. She was really my mother. She was my life. I don’t think I have ever missed anyone as much as I miss her. My aunt Mae was always there, so truly I was my aunt’s daughter.” Just as Mae was always there for Peyton growing up, Peyton also agreed to always be there for Mae.
Everything that made Mae so special equipped her for creating a place for individuals struggling with substance use disorder. Without Mae’s perseverance, strength and patience, “Ashley: The Possible Dream” may not have become a reality. When Ashley opened its doors on January 17, 1983, Mae continued to be the heart and soul of the facility.
She made sure that every patient was enveloped in love and surrounded by a unique environment of care that enabled them to heal. Mae made Ashley a special place, and everyone who comes here can feel it. Just as Father Martin once said: “We opened on Monday, January 17, 1983, a very cold day, but Noble Hall glowed with warmth. That feeling of warmth, comfort and security wasn’t coming from the new — and very expensive — heating system, however; it was coming directly from Mae Abraham, and everyone knew it.” (One Step More, p.184)
A note from the authors:
We are very grateful to Micki and Peyton for talking to us about cherished memories and trusting us to share personal stories from Mae’s life.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.