WORDS Christina Wise PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Sugden
Author Kristin Tierney’s road to recovery is an epic journey of self-discovery and spiritual resurrection. From Nike Project Manager, to crack addict and prostitute, her book Cracked…Not Broken is a compelling narrative that recounts a flight from darkness to light and illustrates a triumph of accountability and authenticity with forgiveness and grace.
When you were at Nike, was the working environment a contributing factor to your drug use… or was there something empty inside of you or chemically related, such as depression, or anxiety, that simply wasn’t being addressed?
Nike had nothing to do with it. In fact, I thrived in that competitive environment. My drug abuse had everything to do with feelings of inadequacy. Although I had always managed to look put-together and in control on the outside, internally, for as far back as I can remember, I never felt as if I was ever enough. I lived a lie. There were days when even I couldn’t tell where the lies stopped, and the truth began. Some days I felt like a really great actress, other days, a fraud. So, for years, I relied on powder cocaine to achieve and maintain a certain level of detachment that kept me disconnected from my emotions. Drugs seemed to quiet the vicious voice in my head.
Was Nike supportive in getting you help, once they knew what you had done?
Beyond any reasonable expectation. Initially, I was given a paid leave of absence—my bosses at Nike knew something was off, but weren’t sure what. Within hours of me finally fessing up as to what was really going on, Human Resources began helping me find an inpatient rehab facility. My problem was that no one had yet discovered that I had been stealing from the company for months to support my new crack habit. I suspected the other shoe, so to speak, was soon to drop so I politely blew off every offer of help and waited for Nike to fire me.
What was it that took you from casual use to the dark side of your addictions?
In September 2002, I was no longer getting what I needed from powder cocaine and made the reckless decision to pick up a crack pipe for the first time. I foolishly thought, “Well, it’s just coke, rocked up coke. Same thing. Different flavor.” But it wasn’t. Crack was a beast that I should have feared. And it took me down so fast, I never even knew what hit me. I woke up on morning of February 17, 2003 on the floor of a filthy crack house to my new reality—I had lost everything.
Did you ever feel afraid for your life? How did you deal with that constant fear?
All the time. Crackheads live in a dark world full of danger and tragedy. Thanks to no one but myself, I was trapped in it. I suppose the saving grace was that survival was all consuming. That dominated every thought and dictated every action. So, although I was very aware of how terribly frightful each hour of every day was, there was very little time to fall apart over it.
Many don’t survive your journey…what were your first steps out?
The day I finally walked away from the dope and prostitution for good was the day I was able to embrace just barely enough strength and courage to surrender. To be willing to make a commitment to my spirit. To be able to be internally firm enough to say that although I didn’t know what the next hour or even the next day would look like, I was still all in—I was done destroying my life. It might not sound like much, but it was a huge first step. And the many, many small steps that followed could not have happened without it.
Every story has villains and heroes…who were yours?
The villain and the hero of this journey are identical twins. The villain was always the vicious voice, in my head. My inner critic. Her voice taunted me for most of my life and played a starring role in my downfall. I had a handful of people who supported me when I made the decision to reclaim my life, but I realized that I had to be the hero. I had to do the hard, methodical, gut wrenching work myself. If my efforts were going to be successful and sustainable, I knew I needed to achieve an inner peace.
Today you seem to have control over your addictions…what do you do now to keep them at bay?
As with most struggles in life, “it’s not the thing, it’s THE THING.” In my case, the focus initially was on addiction, not the underlying issues that fed my need to detach and, then, self-destruct. I did my work. I identified, deconstructed and reconciled my old self and replaced it with self-worth, self-esteem and self-love. I have cultivated an entire repertoire of healthy coping mechanisms and behaviors so when I am presented with challenges now, I face them head-on; confident they will not destroy me. Blowing up my life will never again be an option let alone a solution.
Are people celebrating you today or do you feel you’re being judged?
For the most part, I have been very blessed to have my journey supported and celebrated. But that in and of itself can be shocking. For some, it seems, my transparency is too much to wrap their heads around. “It’s a lot,” as someone recently said. He meant it was a bit too much for him to handle. I get that. But I also know I am centered in my gratitude for every dark minute of it because it has allowed me to become the woman I am today.
Your book is very revealing and very brave the way it’s written in what you expose. What gave you the courage to write the book?
Before I wrote one single word, I made a personal commitment to write a book that put it all out there. How else was I going to tell the whole story? There’s something empowering and sacred about embracing everything I once was, and the reader has to know the entire story to celebrate the journey.
What’s it like being on stage as a motivational speaker telling your story?
I believe my willingness to stand in my truth, to lead with my vulnerability and transparency, inspires the meaningful conversation to be had—that my audience walks away willing to look deep within and, hopefully, continue the dialogue long after I have left the stage.
When can we expect your next book?
One of the most profound discoveries is my belief in divine timing—that everything that happens in one’s life occurs at precisely the right moment…including the release of another book. On a recent morning run, the title of my next book came to me. I’m keeping that to myself for now, but that’s how it was with Cracked . . . Not Broken. A short time later, during another run, the opening paragraphs of the first chapter started writing itself. So, it is already happening.