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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Feb 07, 2020

Middletown Mom Turns Life Around after Battling Addiction

By Shanna O'Mara

Nicole Tierney and her 19-year-old triplets, Amanda, Ashley and Kyle

Clad in a plain black sweater and jeans, she discussed her schooling, her family, her charitable work and her past. She beamed when bragging about her selfless children, who have sacrificed so much to help others and to help her. She swallowed hard before she explained why. Meet Middletown’s Nicole Tierney.

Tierney is a graduate student at Monmouth University in the clinical mental health counselling program. She is an intelligent, articulate, charming and sincere person. She’s also a former substance abuser.

At the age of 14, Tierney was rushed to the hospital for intense abdominal pain that revealed itself to be a stomach perforation. She was treated in the intensive care unit for two weeks and sent home with prescriptions for highly addictive medications. Her mother, acting with her best judgment, gave her daughter the medicine to “stay ahead of the pain” caused by the internal damage.

Time passed, and Tierney’s prescription expired. But in moments of panic, such as the first time she was left home alone since her hospitalization, the pain would return. Little did she know at the time, her history of mental illness and newfound dependence on painkillers were fueling the fire. Through the remainder of her years at Mater Dei Prep, Tierney kept her grades high and her reputation higher. She was an all-star basketball player with straight As and a ton of friends. They didn’t know she was struggling. She wasn’t so sure yet either.

“People viewed me as a walking book of accomplishments, but I was broken inside,” she said. “I had good grades because my mental illness caused me to obsess and study for hours on end. I was tan and beautiful because I used a tanning bed to treat my psoriasis. I was constantly afraid of death unless I was on something.

“Drugs take away pain, but they take away joy too.”

Tierney attended Rutgers Law School, earned Academic All-America honors and passed the bar exam. She began drinking and said she was looked at as “the nice girl who liked to have a little fun on the weekends.” She became a highly regarded attorney, all while raising four children and maintaining the façade of happiness and wealth.

“It looked like I had everything,” she said. “I had a big house and a nice car. My parents bragged about their lawyer daughter.”

But after one evening of too much drinking and an unfortunate fall, her parents also prayed for her.

“I cracked my skull and was bleeding out,” Tierney recalled. “My dad later apologized to me and said, ‘Nikki, I’m sorry but I thanked God that night for taking you away. I thought you were dead, and I was relieved you didn’t have to suffer anymore.’ They suffered with me.”

Tierney’s lowest low came in 2007 when she pled guilty to a child endangerment charge. It was a nonviolent crime involving her youngest son, Kole. She lost custody of her children and was sent to drug court where she began her journey of sobriety.

Nicole Tierney and her 16-year-old son, Kole

Tierney has apologized repeatedly for her mistakes, attended countless classes, studied to help others and vowed to help herself. This year, Tierney will celebrate 12 years of being clean and sober. She has regained custody of her children and said her family is closer than ever.

Her sobriety coach told her early on in the process that living drug- and alcohol-free would bring her bliss she never knew existed.

“I thought he was crazy,” she laughed. “I went from living in a mansion with a lawyer salary to sharing a one-bedroom home with my four children. We used to compete to stay awake longer than each other because whoever fell asleep first was moved to the couch, and the rest of us would share the bed. They forgave me, and they loved me. They called me ‘Mommy’ again. That’s when I got it. I could never have fathomed being this happy.”

Tierney said there is always opportunity for redemption.

“No matter how low you are, you can come back,” she said. “I lost so much. I had nothing, and I did. You can too. Family dynamics will heal because things always come back together. There is help and hope.”

Family Addiction Network is a nonprofit organization which provides meetings and support in Long Branch for families and friends affected by addiction. To learn more, visit FamilyAddictionNetwork.org. CPC Behavioral Healthcare is Monmouth County’s provider of choice for high-quality mental health, addiction, special education and physical health services for adults, children and families. To learn more, visit CPCBehavioral.org. Integrity House is committed to helping individuals and families through comprehensive, integrated addictions treatment and long-term recovery support. To learn more, visit IntegrityHouse.org.