Stories of Recovery: Remarks by Speakers at our 2009 Award Dinner

Monday, September 14th, 2009

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Nick

Good Evening, my name is Nick and I’ve been in Phoenix House on Jay Street in Brooklyn for close to a year now.  I brought myself into treatment, it was time.  I had been drinking heavily for 4 years.  I had all the classic signs of an alcoholic.  My hands shook in the morning and I couldn’t wait for that first drink.  I was proud that I never blacked out …until the day that I did.

I was going into the subway at Bay Ridge Avenue and I felt really unsteady… lightheaded and shaky.  When I reached the token booth I just collapsed, cracked my head against the wall, and was lying there going in and out of consciousness.  I blacked out and the next thing I knew somebody’s hands were coming at me…so I fought back.

When I came to I was handcuffed to a hospital bed.  It seemed I’d assaulted an EMS worker who’d come to help me.

Clearly it was time for treatment.  I realized that without professional help I wasn’t going to have much of a life, or a long one.

Treatment works, I already knew that.   Seven years earlier I had a heroin habit.  I had been using for a couple of years before I realized it was out of control.  I signed myself into a residential program upstate and got the help I needed to recover.

Drinking hadn’t been a problem, not when I was a kid, not after I left college and became a bartender.  I had a strong supportive family and good friends.  My troubles started after my parents sold our house and I decided to see more of the world.  That’s when I started to drink heavily and I ended up doing time for drunk driving in Colorado.
You don’t usually go to jail for DWI but I had three arrests in two months.  When I ended up back in New York the drinking only got worse, until that day in the subway.

For treatment I first tried a 28-day program.  Both I and my counselor there realized it wasn’t going to be enough, so he recommended Phoenix House.

People at Phoenix House will tell you how tough the program is, all the rules, all the expectations, and you do get the dirtiest jobs at first.  But in reality Phoenix House is a simple program for complicated people.  The rules and regulations are there to put structure back in your life.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned at Phoenix House is patience.  That was hard and still is.  I learned the difference between what I wanted and what I needed and how to live life on its own terms.  I came to understand that I was, deep down, a decent guy who had made a mistake, and could get past it.

I came to realize I had to listen to that other voice inside my head.  Because when you’re about to do something dumb but fun, the voice that says ‘go for it’ is your own.  The voice that says ‘don’t do it’ is another, and more mature part of you – the one you have to listen to.

I have spent all my time with Phoenix House at the Career Academy in Brooklyn where I’m finishing the Office Skills Course.  So I will be looking for a job soon and preparing to leave treatment.  Eventually I would like to obtain a college degree.

Life has come together pretty well for me and I’d like to thank the people that made it possible, my friends and counselors at Phoenix House and my family, especially my father who is here with me tonight.

Nancy

Good Evening, my name is Nancy and I’m a graduate of the Phoenix Academy.  I’m also a graduate of Rikers Island.  I did four months for selling drugs in 2005.  Did that stop me?  NO…once I was out…I was back selling crack and smoking weed.

When the cops caught me the next time I faced hard time…in state prison…but the judge gave me a choice.  I could go to Phoenix Academy instead.

That was a no brainer.  Of course I went to the academy.  In my head I was beating a bid; I do my time in the program and then be back on the streets.

I was a good student before I got to high school and never got in trouble…but when I got to high school things changed, I really wanted to fit in…and not with the dorks.  The kids I chose to hang with all smoked weed.  So I did too.  We started smoking after school…and eventually I was smoking instead of school.

To fit in with my new friends…I had to look like them and dress like them and buy clothes we couldn’t afford.  That’s when I started selling drugs and eventually got caught.
The Phoenix Academy gave me a chance to change all of that but was I eager to take it?…NO!  I was not easy to deal with.  I didn’t like all of the rules, all of the chores all they wanted me to do, and I had no trouble telling everyone about it.  I wouldn’t shut up!

Things began to change when I started school.  This was a different kind of school, with different kinds of teachers, and I discovered that I could be a much better student than I ever imagined.

But that was school, it took me longer to get with the rest of the program…and it never would have happened if it weren’t for my counselors. They never stopped bugging me; they always stayed on my back…and finally got me to understand that the academy was my last best chance…to become the person I really wanted to be.

For me, that was the great lesson at Phoenix House, coming to know who I really wanted to be.  I‘m not there yet, but I’m getting there. I finished up at the Academy last December.  I’m making up the credits I need to get into college.  I want to study Performing Arts.  My dream is to become an actress.

I’ve made it to Broadway already…working at McDonald’s and someday I have to be on stage.  I’m grateful to everyone who’s helped me get this far…everyone at the Phoenix Academy who gave me such a hard time…Leslie, Geraldine, Jazmine, Jessica, Tamanda, Tina, Earl, Kenny… and most importantly my Mom who never gave up on me and is always there for me.

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