T h e S T R E A M :
Overcoming addiction through artistry: One woman's journey to wholeness
Emily Hedberg managed to convince everyone around her – her parents, friends, professors, even the school guidance counselor – that she was fine. After all, she was acing her classes. Her Facebook profile page showed a happy-go-lucky college senior, surrounded by smiling and laughing friends. So what could make this 22-year-old so miserable?
Emily says she started feeling depressed when she was 13. “I would have thoughts like, ‘I’m worthless.’ This became a downward spiral.”
When Emily was 16, her grandma passed away, only making things worse.
“I told my parents that everything was fine. I told my counselors what they wanted to hear,” she says. “I just suffered in silence.”
She began to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. But, because school wasn’t affected, she slid under the radar. Away at college in Arizona, she was distanced from her family in Minnesota and could easily hide her addictions. Until one day, her dad unexpectedly showed up at her apartment.
“I was supposed to fly home on a Friday, but when I didn’t show up, my parents knew something was wrong,” Emily says. “When my dad knocked on my apartment door on Sunday, I was so angry. I was still in denial that I had a problem.”
He got her on a plane and back to her childhood home. That’s when the withdrawal symptoms started. Rushed to the hospital, she was diagnosed with liver hepatitis and pancreatitis.
“The doctor looked at me and said, ‘If you don’t quit what you’re doing, you’ll be dead in six months,’” Emily says. “I still didn’t get it. I was just thinking, when is the next flight out of here?”
But, something hit her when she was released from the hospital four days later. She finally said three little words to her mom that would change the course of her life forever: make the call.
Her mom immediately picked up the phone and enrolled Emily in a 30-day treatment program at the Mayo Clinic. Unfortunately, she had to wait a week until a spot opened up. Knowing she had to keep busy, Emily asked her mom to take her to the local craft store. Stocking up on fabric, she channeled her inner Grandma June and started quilting.
“I’m so proud of myself, still, for getting through that week,” she says, looking back. “For the first time in a long time, I chose to do something healthy to cope with stress.”
Bringing the finished quilt with her to Mayo, Emily immersed herself in meditation and group therapy. She finally started learning about healthy ways to cope with anxiety and depression. She began to see big changes – quickly – especially in the ways her brain processed thoughts. Instead of accepting a negative thought – such as “I’m worthless” – as fact, she looked at it from a different perspective.
“I would ask myself, where is the proof, what’s the evidence?” She says. “I started to see that the thought wasn’t true. I started to think differently. Then, I started to feel differently.”
A NEW BEGINNING
After 30 days in the treatment program at Mayo, Emily transitioned to a sober living community near her parents’ house. To occupy her hands and mind, she again channeled her creativity; this time to make jewelry, something she considers a gift from her grandma.
“Grandma June was such a peaceful person. She was always herself and she was perfectly okay with that,” Emily says.
One day, when she driving between her sober living house and her parents’ home, she noticed a Mainstream Boutique.
“I was in that store for at least two hours. I loved every second. The clothes were adorable. The staff was amazing. I thought, I need this positivity in my life,” she says. “I asked the manager, ‘Are you hiring?’”
A few weeks later, Emily walked through those same doors again; but this time, as an employee. That was just the beginning. Each day, she would wear her hand-made necklaces, which would garner compliments from both customers and staff. Storeowner and manager Dyana Doherty noticed too.
“She has this incredible creativity,” Dyana says, who encouraged Emily to create her own brand and logo. The two of them pitched her business – Em & Gem Designs – to the corporate office. They loved what they saw. “Starting her own business has been a game-changer for her. The best way to learn is through doing and she hasn’t stopped.”
More than a dozen other franchise locations fell in love with her line and began carrying Emily’s jewelry in their stores.
“I never want anyone else to feel what I felt,” Emily says. She’s now in graduate school studying Integrated Behavioral Health and hopes work as an addiction counselor. “Something as simple as a necklace can brighten someone’s day and make them feel loved.”