I suffered from the disease of addiction for 25 years, starting at the age of 16. I’ve been homeless, I’ve overdosed, I nearly died. I’ve got stories! I grew up in Riverhead, Long Island, near the Hamptons. I had no family history of addiction; I was the history. My addiction was the first. My family was in the Navy, my father and grandfather fought in the wars, and I wanted to be a marine. So I joined the military, but I was still smoking crack the day they picked me up for boot camp. It wasn’t long before they found out about my drug use and kicked me out.
I have a brother, a sister, and another sister who was killed in 1994 by a drunk boater. When she died I knew that addiction was a killer and that I needed to get help, so I tried a few treatment programs. I was one of the first clients at Phoenix House East Hampton, but it didn’t last. Next I went to Florida to get treatment, and from 1994 to 2010 I was in and out of all the fancy rehabs. Nothing worked; I always relapsed.
At one point I was shooting dope and smoking crack for days on end in south Florida. I was homeless, with no place to go. Long story short I wound up surrounded by drug dealers, praying to not get killed. I thought that was going to be it for me, and I didn’t even care. I thought, “Oh well, I’ll just go be with my sister in heaven.” I couldn’t take the addiction any longer and I was ready to give up. But then I thought of my mother and father and my other siblings and I said, “No. I can’t go out like this.” So I called an old friend at Phoenix House and he set me up with a spot at Phoenix House Hauppauge Center.
I was at Hauppauge for a bit and then I met Londi, who ran the Military Services Program at the Phoenix House Mental Health Community Residence in Brentwood. She found out I was military and said, “We need to get you over here to our program!” So I went, and I was there for ten and a half months. The military program is fantastic, and I was able to utilize everything Phoenix House had to offer: counseling, education, help with Medicaid and whatnot. I even got my CASAC (Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor) degree while I was at Phoenix House. I knew that this was it, I was finally finding recovery. It was my last time in treatment and I never looked back.
I’ve been clean for over two years now. My clean date turned out to be the same day my sister was killed back in ’94, so it’s a bittersweet day for me. I’ve gone from a CASAC to a Board-certified interventionist. Today, I travel all over helping clients and families on recovery journeys. I’m very passionate about what I do and I offer my services to everyone—whether you have a million dollars or no money at all. I mean, there are treatment centers out there that are $80K cash-only facilities, but what about everyone who can’t afford that? Phoenix House isn’t like that, and neither am I. I find a place for everyone, and I try to make a difference.
My first client as an interventionist was this guy Mikey from Long Island. He’d been addicted for ten years, and after we met he said: “Joey, when you talked to me I saw something I wanted. You were living proof…that there was a way out and this demon could be tamed.” That was when I accepted who I am (an addict) and the fact that I have a reason to be here (helping others). It’s truly amazing that I’m even alive today. I owe it to a lot of people, and especially to Phoenix House. I’m so grateful this organization is what it is. They do a lot for military folks and for others in recovery, and I’ll never forget what they did for me.
I visited my parents the other day and my mom cried, she was so happy. She said, “I never thought this day would come—I finally don’t have to worry about you all the time. I know you’re OK.” If it weren’t for her and my father, I wouldn’t be here. And I have good relationships with my sister and my brother, who’s an NYPD officer now, and with my nieces and nephews. My whole life has changed. Before, nobody wanted me around. Today, everyone does. What a blessing!
If you or a loved one needs help for a substance abuse issue, Phoenix House is here for you. Email us or call today at 1-800-378-4435.