In Episode 14 of The Courage To Change: A Recovery Podcast, Bella shared her story with podcast host Ashley Loeb Blassingame. We’ve edited and condensed it here for a fast read. You can listen to the entire interview here.

Bella Baskin is the 29-year-old founder and CEO of Bless It Bag, as well as the granddaughter of Burton “Burt” Baskin of Baskin Robbins. Bella came from an artistic background, having gone to CalArts for fine art and costume design. As a photo consultant for Warner Brothers, she drove to Burbank every day for work and would always see homeless people on the side of the street, struggling with addiction.

Bella knew that this was a big dilemma for people, even people who aren’t sober. People “know if they give a homeless person money, most likely, it’s not going to go to basic necessities that are going to help them it’s going to go to drugs or alcohol or cigarettes, and it’s actually going to do more harm than good.”

“I didn’t want to support something that could possibly kill them.” (call out)

Early childhood

Bella was adopted at birth and always felt different. When she was 5 years old, a friend found out that she was adopted and asked, “Are you adopted?” In her brain, she thought, “I don’t know, I don’t know what that means I’m five.” And that translated to: I’m unlovable. I’m not good enough. I’m unwanted.

Bella’s addictive tendencies began to surface early on in her childhood. On Halloween one year, she recalls that her mom only allowed her to have one piece of candy at a time. She would take that one piece, and whisper to her brother – as if she had a secret – ”I have candy.” She treated it like it was a drug.

Her adoptive parents we’re also gone a lot. And when Bella turned 10, her family moved her to Los Angeles. She was resentful, angry, and she says, “just fed up.” Not to mention, the new girl in school. Four years later  her adoptive mother underwent brain surgery, which unleashed a flurry of feelings Bella never knew she had. She had already lost a mom, so the thought of losing her adoptive mother was a very scary thing. 

Bella, now 14 years old, was freaked out. That’s when she ran away to Idaho, which is where she had her first cigarette, her first drink and her first joint all on the same night. Bella shared, “[her] obsessive tendencies had always been there.” This time, however, she became addicted to drugs and alcohol.

“What it did for me was it took away those awful feelings that I dealt with my whole life. I no longer felt different. I no longer felt scared. I no longer felt angry. I just felt a release and it was an escape.” (call out)

It started with alcohol, and then pot, and progressed to cocaine. Bella had a box with all of her paraphernalia in it. “It was like a collection, like a little shrine. And honestly, it was a security blanket. Because at least [she] knew it was there.”

“I had this little box with all of my paraphernalia in it. It was like a collection, like a little shrine. And honestly, it was a security blanket. Because at least I knew it was there.” (call out)

She would do so much coke that she would become paranoid. She was convinced there were cameras in the smoke alarms, spies in the trees, a secret passageway to her closet. Her friend would come over and Bella would say, “we have to whisper,” as if she was five years old again.

I Can Stop

At 17 years old Bella had her first serious relationship. While her boyfriend was a “pot guy,” he didn’t like that she did coke. They broke up because of it. Bella wanted to prove to him that she could stop using coke. But that didn’t happen. Instead, she found heroin. “Coke is one of those things where people negotiate. There’s no place for heroin socially.”

Bella tried to quit heroin before she went to college. “The fourth day of withdrawal was the worst.” She was on a plane and was getting really sick – “shaking, shivering, it was awful.” Instead of getting clean, Bella got more heroin. By this point, she was just using to get well. She wasn’t getting high anymore. 

‘Isms’

That’s when she told her dad that she was doing drugs. Her dad helped her get off of heroin by getting her methadone treatment. She only had to do it for a few days before she kicked it. That got her through the worst of it, but then she replaced her drug habits with alcohol. She would get really, really drunk to the point of passing out so that she didn’t have to deal with the withdrawal symptoms of heroin. 

Bella would overeat when she drank, and became really overweight – Bella calls it “the fourth meal.” To lose the weight, Bella became cross-addicted, and went from drinking and drugs to anorexia and cigarettes. She became obsessed with counting calories to maintain a certain weight and used cigarettes to cope with stress, as a reward, and as a release. 

Bella realized that food was her first drug. “That ‘ism’ (alcohol-ism) can be directed at anything whether it’s a bad relationship, sex, shopping, food, or cigarettes,” Bella says “It’s always that search for something outside of yourself to fix you – it’s really the root of it all.”

Path to positivity

The memory she has of the “friend” telling her she was adopted brought back traumatic memories throughout her life. Over the years, Bella has learned to re-categorize those memories so that they don’t have as harmful an impact on her. Rather than “I’m not good enough, I’m unlovable, whatever it is. [She] learned to re-categorize that as, that girl wasn’t a nice girl.”

“Everything I ever gained is due to everything I ever lost. So, if you don’t lose something, you’re not likely to gain anything.” (call out)

Bless It Bag

Bella is now 10 years sober and clean and has turned her life around. Bella wants everyone, including people who aren’t sober to have the opportunity to have an outlet to be of service. Bless It Bag provides hygiene kits for men, women and dogs who are experiencing homelessness. The bags are full of essential items including snacks, water and personal hygiene products that can easily be kept in a car to pass out to those in need. “It’s made for people who have busy lives, but who want to help.”

You can purchase Bless It Bags to hand out yourself or work with the organization directly to deliver to shelters in L.A. You can learn more at blessitbag.org.

Quotes have been edited for clarity.