Second Chances

Elisa Hallerman Trades Hollywood Agenting for Addiction Counseling

Elisa Hallerman puts her career as a Hollywood agent behind her to take up addiction counseling.

Reed Saxon / AP Photo

After 15 years as a successful talent agent for TV and movie stars in Hollywood, Elisa Hallerman has started a case management business for the drug and alcohol dependent as well as opening a sober living home for young male addicts. This is her story:

You might find it surprising to imagine stepping away from the lifestyle of a Hollywood agent into one dedicated to helping those trapped in a world of drug and alcohol dependency. But to me, it doesn’t feel odd at all. It’s simply the progression of my life.

My journey began in 1995 when I left my emerging New York law practice to become an assistant in the entertainment industry. Within a few weeks of my first arriving in Los Angeles, I picked up a job as an assistant at ICM. I worked for a great guy, someone who was very good to me. He took me under his wing and started to teach me the business. His friends became mine, and I felt at home for the first time in years. Wow, was all this fabulous. Wow, was all this fun.

There was a shadow side to my new environment, however, though I found it myself and it had nothing to do with him. I don’t even think it’s any more endemic to the entertainment business at this point than it is to any other corner of American society. That, of course, was the seemingly exciting, seemingly harmless, and ultimately perilous world of drugs and alcohol.

For a while I functioned pretty well as an alcoholic and drug addict. I focused on the glitz and the glamour of Hollywood, had huge parties at my house, hung around with famous writers, directors and actors, and actually convinced myself I was in real relationships. I was the party girl and loved to throw a great bash. It rarely even occurred to me that vomit isn’t beautiful.

And then the inevitable crash. My boss committed suicide, which amplified my pain. I had deep feelings of sadness, fear, and guilt. I kept trying desperately to anesthetize my pain. Yada yada yada. I had thought it was all so cool. I was on every list, attended premieres, the Oscars, Golden Globes, and Emmys. I operated at the highest level—packaging movies, making multimillion-dollar deals, and managing those treacherous waters you have heard so much about.

Ultimately, it was someone “in the business” who broke the news to me that my life was a mess. The vortex of Hollywood is where I lost my sanity, but it’s also where I found it again. And I will never forget that.

Like millions of others, I found that sobriety not only saved my life; it greatly enhanced it. I quickly realized there was more to Los Angeles than the parties I’d already been to, and like many others in this town, I found that when you leave the parties, there are a whole lot of people in recovery who used to be at the same parties! What an irony, that Hollywood can be so drunk and yet so sober.

I don't make this move from the movie business to the recovery field because there is anything wrong with being a Hollywood agent. This career has given me, and continues to give me, gifts of clarity and understanding that I don’t think I could have gotten elsewhere. If sobriety has given me anything, it’s the ability to appreciate the many blessings in my life. And this career has been one of them. In leaving the business, I do not let go of the place in my heart that it has held for 15 years. I take with me the strength, the knowledge, and the relationships that the industry has given me, in order to do a work that I’ve come to see as the highest use of my talents at this point in my life.

Five years into my sobriety, I realized I was being called to serve it as it had served me. I got it on a visceral level that many people, who have slid down the same hellhole I fell down, don’t have the inner or the outer resources to get out of it that I did. And thus, the change that I’m making now. It has been an honor to manage many different artists’ careers. Now, I have been inspired to create HALLYLIFE to help manage an individual’s recovery.

I’ve learned that getting sober is not just a point in time. Its not a “Well-good-I-did-that-now-it’s-behind-me” kind of thing. Rather, it is something that we have to commit and recommit to on a daily basis, and sometimes the commitment can take us into what can feel like startling places.

I’ll never forget the person who first looked at me and said, “I love you, but you’re broken, you’re screwed up, you’re a mess, please let me get you help.” That level of honesty mixed with hope literally saved my life, and if I can give that level of clarity to others, then any move I could possibly make will be worth it. For one thing I’ve learned is that life is not a movie. In real life, the blood is real, the horror is real, and the death is real. But so is the miracle that finally comes, when we surrender it all and are open to what might come next.