‘Calm down, it’s not like you’re gonna see the guy you robbed.’ Well guess what. I walked up to the church, and guess whose face I saw? The man I had just robbed. He was the greeter.’

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Adolescent Substance Abuse

“I started drinking and using when I was 12 years old. Before that, I was extremely depressed and often suicidal. I started self-harming at the age of 10, and later on would have several attempts at ending my life. Alcohol and other drugs led me to heroin, all of which nearly killed me, but with the environment I was growing up in, and being a child with no other coping skills, I’d say when I found alcohol, it probably saved my life… at the time. It made it so I didn’t feel pain. I suppose that’s how we all start, right?

When I first found alcohol, I brought liquor with me every day to school until I began getting expelled and shuffled around from school to school, eventually dropping out at the age of 14.

Shortly after, I was shipped off to a juvenile behavior reform facility, where I spent 9 months. I was supposed to be there for 2 years, but I got lucky, in my own way I suppose… because the facility shut down due to the amount of child abuse lawsuits it was dealing with and apparently losing, because they had to shut their doors and all of the kids got released.

After getting released, I turned 16, left home, and moved in with my boyfriend. I won’t say much about what happened during that time, but I will tell you that my addiction along with the world I had been entering at a younger age greatly progressed. Violence was commonplace, the relationship I was in was abusive, and I believe I was just as addicted to the chaos, the lifestyle, and the man I was with, as I was to the drugs. Luckily there are recovery programs that have helped me address addictions outside of drugs and alcohol, because as soon as I got clean, those ‘secondary’ addictions flared up immediately.

Rock Bottom

It’s been a hell of a ride leading up to the point I finally made it into recovery. I robbed a house and got busted for burglary. Before getting to jail I remember looking at one of the cops who arrested me and saying, ‘Just f—ing shoot me and put me out of my misery.’ He looked at me, laughed, and said, ‘No, but this will probably be really good for you!’ I responded with, ‘Just get me off the f—ing streets.’ He was right, it was one of the best things that happened to me.

Courtesy of Tess Bergin

I was released from jail and went straight into a treatment center where I stayed for 90 days. This was an incredible process for me, and the staff there pulled no punches. It was not comfortable, you were called out on your self-centeredness, manipulative behaviors and ego on a daily basis and forced to look at yourself and the wreckage you had caused.

As far as a rock bottom in my addiction, it wasn’t going to jail. It wasn’t being hospitalized, it wasn’t violent relationships, it wasn’t sexual assaults, it was consciously making the ultimate sacrifice to heroin. I remember it so clearly. I was trying to detox myself, and being sober was agonizing; it felt like the fabric of my body was being shredded apart and electrocuted all at the same time, and that wasn’t because of the withdrawals. That was because the addict within was screaming and I had so much pain and trauma I hadn’t dealt with that being sober was a nightmare. I remember being on the floor in my bathroom, and coming to a conclusion. I uttered, like a prayer, while collapsed in the bathroom I had locked myself in, ‘I cannot be happy without heroin. From this point forward, I will go as far as killing someone to get it every day, and if a day comes where I can’t get it, I will kill myself.’ That was a bottom for me. I learned that ‘rock bottoms’ are emotional, not necessarily consequential. If that was the case, I would have gotten sober years before I did. I surrendered my life and soul to heroin that day, and I became the walking dead. And the small shred of me that was still alive, trapped inside my body, was observing all of this happening, and had no power to stop it. All of the morals I had were shattered every day by the actions I took to get my next fix, and there’s no real way of describing what that feels like. I knew fully what I had become.

Treatment Journey

I will share with you a story of when I first began to believe there was hope for me. When I was in treatment, they took us to 12-step meetings outside of the facility. I was on the list one night to go, so we get in the van, and start driving in the neighborhood where I had just robbed that house. I wasn’t allowed within two miles of that house, one of the many conditions of my release from jail and into treatment, and now all of a sudden, I’m heading to a church right down the street from it. I start freaking out thinking, ‘Im going to prison for violating the restraining order,’ but the staff and everyone else in the van was like, ‘calm down, it’s not like you’re gonna see the guy you robbed at the meeting.’ Well guess what. I walked up to the church, and guess whose face I saw? The man I had just robbed. He was the greeter. I had no idea he was in recovery.

I don’t know why I didn’t just turn around and book it, because I thought he’d either beat me down or I’d go back to jail, but instead I ran past him, through the church, out back where everyone was smoking, and tried to hop the fence. Well, the fence had vertical bars, and the horizontal ones where I’d get my footing were too far apart. I couldn’t get out. I was terrified. I actually felt real shame for what I had done. I walked back into the church, walked up to the man I had robbed with tears in my eyes, and he gave me a hug. ‘You are in the right place,’ he told me. ‘When I was your age, I was doing the same thing.’ He said, ‘if you want to make it up to me, just don’t do it again!’ That sounds really simple, but to someone who constructed their entire life out of lies and stealing, that is no easy promise. But guess what? That was the first promise I’ve ever kept. That was when I realized that redemption was possible. That was what hooked me into sobriety.

Courtesy of Tess Bergin

When I was in treatment, I was in there with a poet, who has unfortunately passed away since then. His name was Nate. We used to share our poetry together because I always wrote when I was institutionalized (basically any time I wasn’t on drugs.) I also wrote a lot when I was younger, I’d listen to rap music and just focus on the beat and write for hours. We shared our work together, and he told me, ‘you know, your writing doesn’t read like poetry, they read like songs. I can hear a rhythm in the way you write.’ When he told me that, I felt a surge of absolute terror come over me, because I knew what that meant. It meant I had to put my words into a song. So I made myself a deal. I said, ‘If I can make it to 90 days without relapsing and dying, I will pursue this.’ Well, guess what, nearly 10 years later, no relapse, no death, and I am making music full-time. For the first two years of my sobriety, that kept me sober when I wanted to use, so I urge anyone getting sober to search for your passion and purpose in this life, because everyone has one, and if that thought scares you, guess what, it scares everyone. You can still do it. Having a purpose in life is what keeps me sober, and alive.

Courtesy of Tess Bergin

I started making music about a year into my sobriety. I was on a roll, but then my addiction to men/relationships kicked in, and for years I put myself on the backburner and stopped making music because I was so engrossed in being someone I wasn’t, just to please someone else. I genuinely believed I was nothing if I didn’t have a man in my life. Thank God that is no longer the case. There is another huge struggle I’ve faced in my sobriety, that so many others do as well, but is still taboo talk about.

Mental illness. PTSD. Panic attacks that landed me in the hospital. Dissociative episodes that made me feel like I was on a bad acid trip. Yeah, around 4 years sober, all that started happening. I had already been in therapy since I had gotten sober, and I was doing ‘all the right things,’ but the symptoms would not stop. As a matter of fact, they were getting worse. I was extremely against psychiatry because when I was a kid and when I was in that juvenile facility, I was forcefully put on medication. But the reality of the situation was that I had no other choice, I had to seek help in that area. A few years went by, at one point it seemed like I had stabilized, and then it all went to hell on a level I could have never imagined. At 7 years sober I was in a psychiatric hospital. I was hospitalized 9 times.

Courtesy of Tess Bergin

Pursuing Music

Long story short, it became clear I needed to go away to a long-term residential trauma treatment center, which I did. Everything changed after that. And guess what? Music found me again, after I had left it behind long ago. It just so happened I was in this facility with numerous musicians and poets, and we’d share our work with each other daily. One day I got brave and started singing one of my songs. Then we had a night where we all shared our stuff, it was like a talent show. I was so nervous I couldn’t even stand up so when I sang and another kid rapped with me, I had to sit down. We were both terrified. But something shifted. All of a sudden I had a reason to live again. When I left that facility, I left with my soul on fire. I knew what I had to do. I knew I had to return to music, so I did.

Courtesy of Tess Bergin

Everything changed about my recovery as well. I began to see things differently, I began to live my life differently, and that resulted in a change of the support group I had known for years. It even resulted in the ending of the relationship I had been in for years. All of this was for the best, but it was a painful transition.

Courtesy of Tess Bergin

When the smoke cleared, I went all in. I got a vocal coach, started releasing music, started performing locally, I got my music on the radio, and was even nominated for the best singer/songwriter in my town in a local newspaper. In my music, I use my stories, just like this one, to reach out to others going through the same things, and to give those voices a platform. That is my mission, along with making enough money to open a trauma treatment center, because this country does not have nearly enough of them, and I don’t think I’d be alive had I not been to one. The road has not been an easy one, but here I stand, nearly a decade sober, and I feel like my life is just beginning.”

Courtesy of Tess Bergin

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tess Bergin. You can follow her journey on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more inspiring stories of people overcoming their addictions:

‘Get in the car,’ my mom forcefully tells me. My mind is racing. Turning me into jail? Where are we going? The drive feels like an eternity.’ She parks. ‘Do you see this place?,’ she chokes out.’

‘Our daughter has been placed in protective custody,’ my husband said. ‘We will deal with that later,’ I remember replying. Because first, I needed to get high.’

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