This is how every conversation at Mending Hearts addiction treatment center seems to end — from phone calls at the front desk to residents passing each other on the streets of the four-block campus.
For over 15 years, Mending Hearts has helped women achieve sobriety through full-spectrum care, from detox to intensive outpatient programs to residential treatment to transitional housing. Women can stay in the program for up to two years.
This year, Mending Hearts is hosting the inaugural National Women Touched By Addiction Day on the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge at 7 p.m. today. Trina Frierson, the founder of Mending Hearts, will speak along with journalist Demetria Kalodimos, former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and others.
Frierson said she didn’t want to discount the experiences of anyone touched by addiction. However, she pointed out all the ways that women take on the struggles of their families and how their own addiction leads to shame and guilt and staying tucked away.
“Every individual soul on this planet with their feet on the earth came through the canal of a woman,” she said. “If we build up the women, if we strengthen the women, we break all the generational curses.”
Frierson, the youngest of six children with a single mom, struggled with addiction. She said she started doing drugs after seeing her boyfriend and his friends having fun with them. She ended up in and out of jail for 10 years on different charges. She went into treatment in prison in exchange for a bottom bunk, a “luxury suite” in jail, and ended up leading a relapse prevention program.
After she got out of jail, she struggled finding a job because of her 17 felonies and gap in work experience. Faced with that reality, she fell back into making money off drugs.
Eventually, she ended up back in the legal system, facing an eight-year sentence for a murder she didn’t commit. The judge planned to sentence her to the relapse prevention program. Frierson replied that she had designed and taught that program.
“It’s one thing that you taught the program, but this time, I want you to do the program,” the judge said.
Frierson was sentenced to one year in jail and a halfway house after she was released. When she was released, instead of walking to the bus stop, she was picked up at the gate of the jail by the halfway house.
“I believe that was the beginning of my journey,” she said.
In her new halfway house, she reconnected with a woman who she knew had previously struggled with addiction. This woman befriended Frierson and showed her where to go to get food and clothes. However, none of the clothes in the clothes closet fit her.
Yet one day, Frierson woke up to a trash bag full of used clothes in her room just for her size.
“Because you put one foot forward, God’s putting the other one,” the women told her. “People just want to see you clean, Trina.”
The women began sharing bus passes and cars with Trina. One helped her get a job.
“It was really like a pay-it-forward system, give back. And those were the things that got me through,” she said.
Frierson herself then began to pay it forward. Her friends still in jail wondered how she remained sober. Frierson began to set them up with the resources they needed to stay sober once they got out of jail.
“I remember tearing a sheet of notebook paper in half and writing down all the resources and mailing it back to them,” she said.
Frierson wanted to create a one-stop resource center where women could find housing and treatment and physical needs. A friend suggested turning it into a program and finding a house.
Frierson’s partner told her she should start the ministry in her home and use the extra money she made from her cleaning service for the women. Frierson, who had just started making money legally, was reluctant to give it away.
“If you take care of God’s people, He’ll take care of you,” Frierson’s partner said.
So in 2002 Frierson began. The first woman she picked up from prison slept on her couch. Eventually, she started obtaining houses for the women whom she was helping. By year three, she had four houses scattered around Nashville.
One day, a friend took her by a house in a drug-infested neighborhood called The Jungle. Frierson was shocked. How could she help women get sober if they were being helped around the very substances they needed to get away from?
Yet Frierson’s friend pointed out that as she was restoring women, she could also restore the community.
“If we’re in active addiction, we have polluted and destroyed our communities, so why not put these women back over here to help clean up the community as they clean themselves up?” Frierson’s friend told her.
Mending Hearts started out as transitional housing with seven women. Now, almost 20 years later, the program Frierson started has treated over 5,000 women. The campus has the capacity for 110 women in its comprehensive residential program, and it’s still growing.
Several of the clients, like Kelly Alvarado, have stayed on as staff. Alvarado was in the Mending Hearts program for eight months in 2019 and 2020. She came straight from prison and wasn’t sure if she even wanted to stay sober forever. Yet when she was offered a job as a peer supervisor, Alvarado said she realized that she could be the change in the world.
“If I needed someone, there was always someone I could call, and if I could just be that person for one person one time, that would be a life-changing experience,” she said.
Alvarado is originally from the Fairview area, and, in fact, she was arrested just a few blocks away from the campus, the start of her sobriety journey.
Next month, she will be five years sober.
“This was the first place I felt truly loved, supported and cared for,” Alvarado said.
Tammy Holman is only in the beginning of her Mending Hearts journey with two months under her belt. She said the program has helped her heal and reclaim her life.
“They took the time to help me recognize I’m not the only one who’s going through this,” she said. “They showed me love.”
She had gone to Buffalo Valley for treatment earlier this year and had heard about Mending Hearts from a recommendation from others who had gone through the program.
On National Women Touched By Addiction Day, she said she would tell other women not to give up.
“There’s a lot of women that don’t want to reach out for help, but help is there if they need it,” she said.
At Mending Hearts, she started to learn about herself apart from her addiction.
“I’m a warrior,” she said through tears.
Even on a blistering July day, “porch bouncers,” like Amber Parrish, walk around the Mending Hearts campus visiting and supporting each other.
When Parrish came to Mending Hearts in April, she was ripped open, physically and mentally.
She said she carried guilt for the deaths of her father and husband. She had lost everything, from seeing her two daughters to her job as a pre-K teacher.
She had been to several halfway houses and even Mending Hearts before. This time, she actually started to walk off the property. Staff followed her and talked to her. She stayed.
“My heart’s been here ever since,” she said.
At Mending Hearts, Parrish has found herself. She thought her favorite color was pink before one day realizing that she thinks she likes purple better. She’s learned she has artistic talent and the gift of bringing people together.
The residential houses at Mending Hearts are quite large, with enough room for six women to live comfortably without bumping into each other. Parrish said the houses are amazing.
“I can’t believe I live here,” she often exclaims.
Parrish, who has two college degrees and experience as a medical assistant, plans to work at Mending Hearts after she completes the program.
She also wants to stay sober to see her family and children, one of whom was adopted by her best friend.
“I want so bad to be a mama again,” she said.
While Parrish has learned a lot at Mending Hearts, from culinary skills to trauma management, one of the most important things she’s said she’s learned is how to love.
From cooking for a baby shower to bringing flowers to a resident who was lonely, to painting rocks with the women in phase one, Parrish’s friendship exemplifies the love and community women can find at Mending Hearts.
“If I tell you I love you, and I don’t know your last name, in my mind, your last name is Sister,” Parrish said.
“You’re a sister, and I love you.”