Tess Sweet is an award-winning producer and director known for Cleaner Daze, a dark comedy series about addiction written by a recovering drug addict. Cleaner Daze shines a light on the realities of living with addiction and reminds us that there is a little “fucked-up” in all of us.

Tess never had a goal in life. She always had artistic inclinations, but she didn’t know quite where she belonged. Instead of finding herself, she discovered drugs, and sunk deeper and deeper into a pit of danger and despair.

Tess experienced a terrifying moment that compelled her to get clean, but afterward, she had to start life all over again. Learn how she went from halfway house and community college to an MFA and a dream life working in film.

I was born an artist, but it is a curse at times.

CLEAN DATE: Friday 13th, 2001

Listen to Tess’s Story

Here are a few highlights from our interview. To get the full story please join us on the podcast now!

Tess Sweet’s Story

Tess drank alcohol and smoked marijuana for the first time at the age of thirteen. She could tell right away that her urge was fueled by discomfort and once she was intoxicated, her awkwardness disappeared.

The story behind the story, Tess says, is that she had battled depression since she was born. Her family loved her, They were not addicts or alcoholics, but they both worked and she was home alone a lot, eating and watching TV. Tess thinks that too much TV sets kids up for addiction because it prevents them from learning how to be alone with themselves. TV also made her wish she had a life other than her own.

I just wanted other peoples’ lives.

Everything changed when Tess’s hormones kicked in. She liked boys, but they boys always liked her as a friend. She was lonely and depressed. She had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. Drinking and smoking allowed her to putt off her future until tomorrow.

Relationships had always been a big issue for Tess. Because of her insecurities, she would worship whomever she was in a relationship with. She felt as if she couldn’t live without them and would end up suicidal whenever there was a breakup.

The trauma that changed Tess forever was when she was the victim of rape at gunpoint. Up until that point, she had hope in the world. After the crime, it was all darkness.

Right after testifying against her assailants, Tess shot up heroin for the first time and began a cycle of numbing out.

She made attempts to get clean, but she couldn’t stay clean. She wasn’t done. She tried to commit suicide multiple times.

Tess hit the bottom when she met a guy a Burning Man and followed him to San Fransisco. He blew her off and she was left in a town where she didn’t know anyone, living on a dangerous, drug-riddled street corner.

One night, Tess woke up naked on the bathroom floor, which was flooded and overflowing into her neighbor’s apartment. Her face was bloated from soaking in the water. Malt liquor bottles were strewn everywhere and there were signs of sex taking place without a trace of the stranger who had with her.

She was terrified and checked into the hospital to detox. There, she was visited by a man in a wheelchair who invited her to 12 Step meetings held in the hospitals large basement. She noticed it was full of attractive, healthy men. Even though getting involved with a man was the last thing she needed, seeing the radiant, healthy people in the meeting inspired her to keep coming.

For me, using and suicide were the same thing.

After she got clean, she found herself with extra time on her hands. She had no idea what to do with herself, so she began taking random classes at the community college. She joined the YMCA and started working out. She took advantage of all the resources available to get her fresh start.

She eventually got her bachelor’s in film. When it was time to apply for her master’s at UCLA, she told the story of her bottom with a dark, comedic twist. She came out and was open about her shame and she got in.

Now Tess produces her own show and makes a priority to hire young addicts in recovery.

What kept Tess from getting clean?

Tess thought that meetings were too cultish. She just couldn’t drink the Koolaid at first, but when she listened deeper, past the language and the religious aspects, she realized the power of the stories.

Focus on the truth from each other. Hear the stories. Hear the likenesses.


That aha moment

Tess had always struggled making friends, but in early recovery, she was able to develop a strong bond with fifteen other newcomers

I felt scooped up and loved that shifted my ability to picture myself clean.

Best suggestion

Play the tape all the way through.

Tess admits, the desire to use has not been 100% lifted. When she’s having a tough day, she thinks about what would happen if she used. Once the high wore off, where will the road lead? What would the end look like? It would look like the night she woke up on her bathroom floor.

Suggestion for the Newcomer

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what you want to do or who you are. Eventually you will find a dream.

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Disclaimer – The opinions shared on this show reflect those of the individual speaker and not of any 12 step fellowship as a whole and though we discuss 12 step recovery and the impact it has had in our lives we do not promote or endorse any 12 step anonymous program.