I started using in California when I was 19 years old—my dad passed away when I was 17 and I just kind of fell into a bad crowd and started hanging out with the wrong people. My use started with just marijuana and alcohol, you know, smoking and drinking on the weekends for fun, but eventually I got into coke and it became an everyday habit for me. Things got really bad once coke was in the picture; I didn’t graduate high school, and before I knew it, ten years had just passed me by.
I came to New York in 1992 to try to escape my addictions. I thought if I could get away from California, away from the craziness, away from the same group of friends, I might have a chance. I bought a one-way ticket, and it really did work for a while. Once I was in New York, I started to get back on my feet. I even got off drugs for ten months; although I was still drinking alcohol, I wasn’t smoking pot or using coke. But I wasn’t committed to recovery, and pretty soon I was back to my old ways—just getting high, getting high, and getting high.
For a while I was a “functional addict,” but by September of 2008, I had stopped “functioning.” I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t go to work. I was trapped in my kitchen, smoking coke. It was pathetic.
That was when my wife took my son and daughter and left—she couldn’t take it any more, and I don’t blame her. It was my rock bottom, watching them leave; I fell into a complete depression and I knew I had nothing left to lose. That’s when I took out the yellow pages. There I was, at 3AM, sprawled on my kitchen floor, calling up drug treatment centers. The folks at Phoenix House were the only ones who picked up the phone and listened.
I entered treatment at Phoenix House the next day, and I stayed there for a little over two years. The first 30 days were awful; I was cranky and I didn’t want to be there. I knew it was my choice, but I still hated it. When I finished induction I switched over to the Phoenix House Long Island City Center. There, I finally started seeing the bigger picture of treatment and recovery. There were something like 250 people in the center, all these colliding personalities, and the community kind of opened my eyes up and got me to where I could settle down with myself and truly see myself as I was.
I’ve always enjoyed drawing and painting; I studied art in college in California, but I never finished because of my drug use. At Phoenix House I started to bring those skills back, and I had the opportunity to paint some murals on the walls of the Long Island City Center. The murals were kind of a challenge to myself. I wanted to check and see if I had any skills left—I needed to see something of value in myself to understand what I was getting sober for. I was relieved to discover that I do still have that small artistic talent that God gave me, and these days I use it to further my recovery and support my inner self. I felt a real sense of accomplishment when a film I made of the mural won an award from the 2009 OASAS Recovery Fine Arts Festival. Plus, it was nice to leave something beautiful behind for the Phoenix House building, for future clients to enjoy.
Addiction is terrible because it forces you to burn bridges—I lost contact with a lot of good people, connections, and financial assets over the years. It would have been nice if I had had access to some sort of prevention program when I was a kid. Knowing what I know now might have put me in check and stopped a lot of my self-destruction. Luckily, treatment put a lot of things back together for me. My family is back together—my son is eight and my daughter is five, and they’re wonderful. I’m 41 now and I’m finally facing reality, working full-time, and supporting my family.
I hope my kids learn from my mistakes; I’m letting them know ahead of time about the pressures they’re going to face as they get older. There are a lot of young people who are already using drugs, but if those kids can be motivated to change their lifestyle early on, that would do a lot of damage control. No one should have to watch their life pass them by while on drugs. No one should give up. I haven’t given up, and I’m rebuilding myself and my life every day.