Collateral Damage — An Excerpt

Juliane Bergmann
3 min readMay 27

Growing into my own after growing up in the wreckage of addiction

When you don’t have sports car money during your midlife “crisis,” you come here instead.

Exactly four months ago to the day, I wrote a post about being a Pick-Me Girl and waiting around for editors to choose my writing, and something or someone to tell me I’m worthy and valuable.

I’d just spent the last Christmas ever with all our kids living at home. I’d been rejected by every single one of the writing residencies I’d applied for. My mom’s fifth deathiversary was coming up. I knew I needed to cut ties with my biggest client but was scared of the financial insecurity. The cold was relentless. We were in the middle of our hardest parenting season ever. I desperately wanted to get away while simultaneously being terrified of being alone with myself. I was exhausted in every way but also felt something deep and strong churning inside of me.

Intense need and fear paired up like this often tell me it’s exactly the thing I must do. So I hit the “book now” button as a commitment to choose myself. I’d escape the winter and spend a few days alone in the sun working on my memoir.

The AirBnB came with a kind host, several sunny spots in the backyard to write, and a sweet dog with a giant head who would lay on my feet so I couldn’t leave.

The first night I stood in the dark backyard crying, because the place reminded me so much of my mother. My Airbnb host’s brother stepped out of the main house, dreads past his shoulders, a cigarette hanging from his mouth. After a snot-bubbly introduction, he took my hand, smiled, and told me there would be clarity beyond the tears.

The next day, my mother’s fifth deathiversary, I sat in the sun and wrote. I listened to Tracy Chapman. I remembered her. More tears came, and finally some clarity.

And then I went home and didn’t touch my memoir manuscript over the next four months. I didn’t talk about it.

Today, The Rumpus (a long-running literary magazine that hosts columns by two of my writer crushes Roxane Gay and Cheryl Strayed) published my essay “Speaking Ill of the Dead.” This essay is an excerpt from my memoir Collateral Damage.

If my writing has ever meant anything to you, made you feel seen or heard, laugh, cry, or think, I have a

Juliane Bergmann

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