WARREN, Ohio — May is Mental Health Awareness Month and a Trumbull County woman is taking the time to share her story of mental illness and addiction to help others.
Alyssa Zebrasky went viral for a series of mugshots showcasing her memorable facial tattoos in 2018 and 2019.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it to 30,” Zebrasky said. “I’m a completely different person than I was two, three years ago.”
Three years ago, Zebrasky was entangled in a web of mental trauma and addiction.
“I was really bad on heroin for a while. But I used everything,” Zebrasky said. “I was doing meth, and I was doing suboxone.”
Zebrasky said she and her ex-boyfriend used drugs together and he told her to get facial tattoos and some hand tattoos as part of a gang initiation.
“I kind of was like, 'I've already been to prison, how much more can it hurt to get my face tattooed?' and I really didn't realize what I was getting myself into,” Zebrasky said.
Zebrasky dealt with hateful comments from friends and strangers alike.
“The things that people were saying about me like ‘oh she's always going to be a junkie, she's never going to stop using drugs,’” Zebrasky said. “I’m more hurt than anything because people make these assumptions by just looking at me and I'm not a mean person.”
Joanna Mannon, the co-occurring diagnosis family coordinator at the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Lake County said those kinds of comments stem from ignorance.
“It's more than making a choice. Folks want to be well, and it's difficult. There's a disease process that happens in the brain,” Mannon said. “And the truth is that on social media, folks roast other people and shame others and make fun of others. And it just compounds this terrible weight of stigma on individuals.”
Zebrasky said the negativity piled onto her pain stemming from mental health issues that have gone untreated since childhood.
“Due to being misdiagnosed I started with cutting and stuff,” Zebrasky said. “And then as I got older, I turned more to drugs to kind of calm that pain. I didn't know why I was feeling this pain.”
And the tattoos,—Zebrasky said they were a coping mechanism too.
“I give myself physical pain to make up for this invisible pain that I don't know where it's coming from,” Zebrasky said.
After her arrest in 2019, Zebrasky said she decided to make a change for good and got into a drug court program that connected her to a therapist and a 12-step program.
“A few times I tried to get clean. I was never able to get clean because I never got the help that I needed for my mental health,” Zebrasky said. “And it wasn't until this last go around with the law that I actually got help for my mental health first and sort of working on that because mental health and addiction go hand in hand.”
Mannon said there's a definitive link between addiction and mental illness.
“It's astronomical as to how many folks who have a substance use disorder have a mental health condition. And so oftentimes we find that people are attempting to cope by using substances, or behavioral addictions like gambling or sexual addictions, things like that, and that it's like attempting to escape the reality that they just can't find any relief from often. That's how it starts,” Mannon said.
Zebrasky has been in recovery for two years now, has her own place, a job and a dog, and is now taking the last step to shedding her old identity.
Tattoo laser removal company Removery is getting rid of her facial and hand tattoos as part of their free INK-nitiative program. Its a community outreach initiative that provides safe, effective, and free removal on the hands, neck, and face to people in need who were formerly incarcerated, gang members, survivors of human trafficking, or wish to remove hate symbols or racist tattoos.
For everyone who pays for a tattoo removal from Removery, the company provides a free removal service to someone in need.
Zebrasky applied for the program in October and has done four sessions since. She said it's done wonders for her recovery and mental health.
“These tattoos represent a time in my life that I'm not too proud of anymore,” Zebrasky said. “It’s done a lot. I'm more confident. I love myself again. I actually can sit by myself with just me in complete silence and just not hate existence.”
She’s hoping her story helps others make changes to feel the same way.
“I just want to help the next person. That's all I want,” Zebrasky said. “If it only helps one person, I’d be happy.”
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The PEER Center Warm Line
(614) 358-TALK (8255), 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Disaster Distress Helpline
1-800-985-5990 (1-800-846-8517 TTY)
Ohio Crisis Text Line
Text the keyword “4HOPE” to 741 741
Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services help line
1-877-275-6364 (to find resources in your community)
Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services COVID-19 resources: Click here.
Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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