I started smoking weed when I was 14 because everyone was doing it and I wanted to fit in. But soon I was smoking without anyone else there.
When my parents found out, they gave me regular drug tests. So I started doing K2, which I knew wouldn’t show up.
Eventually, it wasn’t just my parents’ drug tests I had to worry about. I got arrested for stealing and put on probation. But I kept getting high and found ways to cheat the system; then when I was off probation, I tried meth carelessly. A buddy asked if I wanted to try it. I asked him, “Will I get addicted?” He said, “Yes.” I did it anyway.
Within three months, I was down to 109 pounds and stealing again. Among the things I stole was my dad’s TV. He didn’t realize I was the one who stole it, but he looked so sad that I told him the truth—and that he could do whatever he wanted with that information.
He put out a warrant for my arrest.
My dad had tried telling me earlier that I was a drug addict. I was offended. Drug addicts were people who lived under a bridge with a needle in their arm. Right?
But now I knew: Addiction could happen to anyone, and it had happened to me. I talked to my probation officer and told him I wanted to go to Phoenix House.
I got into Phoenix House Academy in Austin, but I didn’t do all the things I was supposed to do when I was there—for example, I didn’t really do the 12 steps. Phoenix House introduced me to the concepts, but I still didn’t understand what addiction—and recovery—was really about; I still thought I could one day drink with my family.
When I graduated from the program, my dad thought an environmental change would help and we moved up north. But the people at my new school wanted to get drunk. I was lonely and having those old feelings of wanting to fit in—so I gave in.
I was still on probation and undergoing regular drug tests. I’d tell myself, “You have three weeks to get clean. You can smoke a little now.” That turned into two weeks, then one week, and then I just went on the run and started shooting heroin.
I knew I’d fail the drug test, but I just wanted to get high. I had this hole inside me that I felt I had to fill with drugs. My life felt hopeless. I didn’t have my family anymore, I didn’t have real friends, and I wasn’t a productive member of society. Death was sounding better than this so-called life.
That’s when I fell asleep at the wheel on the way to buy meth. It was December and I was wearing a muscle shirt and gym shorts. I was very cold and shivering. I knew I didn’t want to live this life anymore. I called my grandma and told her I needed help and that I wanted to go to rehab.
When I went back to Phoenix House Academy at Austin, I was instantly welcomed back. The counselors and management were clearly glad to see I was there instead of where I had been. For the first time in a long time, I felt safe and I felt hopeful.
I also felt that the staff truly cared about me. Soon after I arrived, I got sick. The staff recognized that I had hepatitis C and took me to the hospital. I was there for three days—and a staff member was always there for me.
The fact that I felt cared for but not judged helped my treatment. My counselors would tell me when I was doing well, when I was slipping, and where I could do better—and I knew they were saying it because they had my best interests at heart.
One area where I really needed to do better was dealing with conflict. When I had a problem with someone, my counselors would say, “Is this going to matter two hours from now? Will you still be mad about this in two days? Two weeks? You have bigger issues.” Asking those questions helps me even now.
At the end of treatment, I felt so ready to leave, but, at the same time, I didn’t want to go because Phoenix House was my safe haven. I knew, though, that I had to continue this new chapter in my life, and that Phoenix House had given me the skills to do it.
My counselors helped me find a place to stay at a sober living house, which was great. I’m still there, but now I’m not just a client—I’m the manager. I didn’t think that would happen.
My life today is full of things I never thought would happen. I honestly thought I would die before I’d drive again, but now I have my own car and my own job. I’ve got my family back, and the experiences I get to have with them are one of the greatest things about recovery. I do stuff like pick my little brother up from school, when I used to not even be allowed to talk on the phone with him. I’m a sponsor and go back to Phoenix House every Tuesday for meetings. I tell the kids there, “I was in your spot. I literally sat where you’re sitting now.” I give them hope the way others gave me hope.
I have real friendships with good people, 99 percent of whom are also in recovery. I don’t even want to hang out with my old crowd–but I let them know I’m there if they need help. My friends today surround me with hands out if I ever need them. It’s a great feeling.