The Face of Addiction | Noah Bergland

The Face of Addiction Noah Bergland Mugshot from 2011

“The Face of Addiction” arose from my correspondence with Brigette Molitor, a middle school teacher (and now a contributor to resilience2reform), and she asked me, “What does addiction look like?”

She told me that many of her students have the mindset that addiction is only for certain populations of people and that “It won’t happen to me.”

What I would like to say to Brigette’s students is, I understand what you are going through and why you think that way because I was once you. More than anything, I wish somebody had tried to convince me otherwise.

Eighth grade was a turning point in my life (see “A Letter to my 8th-Grade Self”) when beliefs and insecurities led to bad decisions. I’m here today, over twenty years past where you are sitting right now, asking you to take a closer look at yourself and who you want to become.

I’m not going to tell you how to live your life or how to feel, but please consider my story. Think about the choices you make now because no matter who you are, those choices will dictate your future.

When I graduated from high school and moved to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota, the only drugs I had tried were alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine. I had no intention of doing anything more.

However, the more people I met, the more I was introduced to harder substances. I was able to say “No” throughout my freshman year, but not the summer after.

Once substances like cocaine and ecstasy had been around me for so long, they were normalized. Drugs didn’t seem dangerous, they seemed fun. One time, numbed with alcohol, I gave it a try.

I thought, “What’s the worst that can happen, I don’t like it?” But what I didn’t think about is where that choice would lead. From that one time, one drug led to another, and eventually, there weren’t any drugs left to try.

I thought I could do whatever I wanted: go out and party and not have it affect my life, have unprotected sex, and never get an STD or unexpected pregnancy. I thought I could drink and drive and never get a DUI or kill someone.

I figured I could get into a fight without getting hurt and control myself before I hurt someone else. I thought I could experiment with any drug and have the self-control to stop whenever I wanted to.

Boy, was I wrong. 

At 25 years old I had a daughter that I wasn’t ready for, I had been dope sick (withdrawals) from heroin multiple times, and I was using uppers to get me through the day (methamphetamine, Adderall, cocaine, or crack, — it didn’t matter I was addicted to them all).

I had countless close calls while driving under the influence, and any wrong turn could have resulted in the death of myself or anyone else involved in the crash. I pushed my drug use and the mixing of drugs to the limit and had a couple of near-death experiences.

In the end, I owed money to bad people, and I was being investigated by the FBI, and in 2013 (at 27-years-old), I went to prison.

The Face of Addiction | Noah Bergland | This was my daughter, Melrose's baptism, I was strung out, it was a few months before I got raided. When we think of this time, my family remembers me being anxious, wanting to leave, obviously I had more important things to do. They are correct, I was not in a good place, I had people to meet, drugs to sell, and my child was not my top priority.

I had plenty of people to turn to for help, though many of them were sick of my antics. Both my sister and brother were living 15 minutes from me, but I didn’t call.

I had aunts and uncles that would have taken me in, but I didn’t call. I had friends who I pushed away during my use, that would have given me a second chance, but I didn’t call.

My mom or dad would have driven down in a heartbeat, but I didn’t call (or answer the phone). When you are an addict, it doesn’t seem that simple.

I was in the depths of addiction. The shame and guilt I was feeling for what I’d done and how I was living were unbearable. I was suffocating and I didn’t know how to change it.

I didn’t know how to get out.

What does addiction look like? Does it have a face?

I am a white male, average height, average build, and educated. When the above picture was taken, I was smoking crack in my downtown Minneapolis high-rise apartment, when my door was kicked in.

Addiction doesn’t have a face. Male or Female, White, Black, Hispanic, or Asian, it doesn’t matter. Addiction is not racist, sexist, or prejudice.

Do you think it matters if you are rich or poor? Addiction doesn’t care how much you have or what your background is. It will pull you down all the same.

Between the people I met and the choices I made, my time in prison has taught me, that addiction has no face.

The Face of Addiction | Noah Bergland | I will never forget this picture, the first visit after I went to prison. I hadn't seen my daughter in 9 months, she had turned 3, and didn't really know who I was. It was a terrible feeling, she wouldn't let me hold her and she sat with grandma throughout the whole visit. Another reminder why I can't go back and put my daughter through it again.

So to Brigette’s students: this is my story, this is what I’ve been through, and it all started with me sitting in your chair 20 years ago. I had a loving family, decent grades, lots of friends, college in my future, and my whole life ahead of me. And then I got hooked.

If you believe me, make choices for your future, choices that your children would be proud of.

I know this might sound crazy to an 8th grader or anyone who doesn’t have kids. When I got hooked on drugs and started selling them, I didn’t have a daughter, but I do now. I watched her grow up without me.

She attended her first daddy-daughter dance with someone else (see picture below). Now since my release from prison in May of 2020, I am still faced with many challenges while trying to rebuild my relationship with her.

Believe me when I tell you, the consequences of your choices today affect your life for years to come.

If you don’t believe me, then you have to find out for yourself.

Either way, I am here when you’re ready.

The Face of Addiction | Noah Bergland | This is the ultimate consequence, a daddy daughter dance that my daughter attended. But it wasn't with me it was with her best friend and her dad. I'm thankful that Melrose still got to experience a daddy daughter dance but it also serves as a reminder of why I can't go back to prison.

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