I grew up in a normal family, in a middle-class town in New Hampshire. I was popular, good in sports, and got excellent grades. I was also the class clown, badly behaved, and using drugs at an early age.
One day when I was 11, I was hanging out with a friend before football practice when his mom offered us pot. It turned into an every-other-day thing, and then an every-day thing.
Two years later, my family moved to South Carolina. That’s when my addiction got really hectic. My older brother was smoking and selling pot, and I started using with him. That’s all I wanted to do, and it showed. In two years, I went from getting good grades to passing eighth grade just barely. By ninth grade, I was hardly going to school. Instead, I was driving around with older kids, drinking and smoking pot.
I guess my parents thought a change of scenery would help, and we moved back to New Hampshire. On the second day of school, a girl I knew asked, “Do you still smoke?” I said, “Yeah, of course I do.” So we left school and went to the park across the street to smoke. That’s how the rest of the year went: Instead of going to school, I hung out at the playground smoking pot, drinking, and, eventually, doing pills—at first Percocet, and then whatever I could get my hands on. I’d been stealing small amounts from my mom to support my pot habit, but once I got into pills, I started robbing electronics; then I started selling drugs so I wouldn’t have to steal so much. I was 15 years old, and my drug addiction had me wrapped from head to toe.
Before this point, my parents had an idea what was going on but didn’t fully understand. Now there was no disguising it. My brother had gotten clean on his own, and my dad couldn’t understand why I couldn’t do the same. He kept telling me that he wanted his old son back and that I should just stop what I was doing—but I didn’t know how.
Then my mom pressed charges on me for stealing. I was found guilty of three misdemeanors and a felony. That’s when I realized that none of this—the stealing, the lack of relationship with my family, and other things that continue to haunt me—would have happened if it weren’t for the drugs. I cried to my mom that I wanted to go to rehab. She said yes, and when I finished my time at Midway Shelter, I started treatment at Phoenix House Academy at Dublin [now relocated to Phoenix House Academy on Wallum Lake]. I’ve been sober ever since.
You want to know what helped me there? Nothing helped in the beginning; I was there for five months, and for the first two, I didn’t even listen. But eventually, I began hearing what I needed to hear. The program was very strict, which was good for me, and the groups really helped, especially the anger management group. Being in that group made me realize the role that anger played in my addiction. I started to learn how to open up to people instead of holding my emotions in and using drugs to deal with them.
The family sessions and Family Days were also really good. My parents would sit in the groups and listen, which helped them grasp what I was going through, and the process it would take for me to stay clean. Having my family truly understand made things so much easier.
Just as important, the groups helped us understand each other better. When I was using, I hated my mom, and I felt like she hated me, but I began to see that wasn’t true.
I graduated from the program almost a year and a half ago. Today, my parents and I have a pretty good relationship. I tell my mom everything, and she listens. When I was using, I didn’t want to tell anyone what was going on with me; but Phoenix House helped me open my mind and feelings. Now when I’m feeling down, I’ll tell my parents, and it feels so good to be able to talk things through with them.
I lost a lot to those years I was doing drugs. Now I have to work harder to make up for them, but I’m doing it. I’m taking online classes and working toward my high school diploma. After I graduate, I plan to join the Army, which I’ve always wanted to do.
My parents are still very involved in my recovery, and for a long time, I stayed connected to the program at Dublin. We attended Family Days there once a month. It was good for me and my recovery, and I liked to share with others what I learned. I can do that because I’m standing here living it.