I was born in Panama City, and that’s where I started smoking marijuana. I was maybe 14 or 15 years old when I started, and soon I was also using cocaine. I was enrolled in high school but I never went; I just hung around outside and used drugs. My mother was already living here in New York City, so in 1972 she sent for me, my sisters, and my brother, and brought us to the States for a better life.
In New York, I was basically doing the same thing as in Panama: smoking and sniffing. I never went to school. Drugs were always there in my neighborhood. I got a job working in a warehouse, but all the money went to support my habit. One day some friends and I decided to join the army, but it wasn’t long before I was discharged for smoking hash. So I came back to New York. Eventually I got married, moved to Utah, and started doing good for a while. But the thing is, when you’re looking for drugs you can always find them. So I found them.
I got introduced to freebasing – that’s what it was back then, it wasn’t crack – by a friend of mine. That was the worst drug I ever encountered. I lost everything. I stole from my family, from my friends, from drug dealers—all to support my habit. I was separated from my wife and I had two kids with my new girlfriend, but I lost them all because of freebasing. From 1984 to 1986, I was homeless. I’ll never forget that: sleeping wherever, in empty basements with rats running all over. It was crazy. I remember one day during my homelessness I was about to eat out of a garbage can when somebody saw me and gave me $5 for food. Instead, I took the money and got high; that’s how bad I was. It’s a miracle that I’m alive right now.
I got arrested three times in one year for drug possession. After my last arrest I was put on a five-year probation, and I violated that. I didn’t really want to get treatment, but I didn’t want to go to jail, so I told my probation officer that I had a drug problem. He told me that if I went to Phoenix House I wouldn’t have to go to jail. So I thought, OK, let me go to this Phoenix House place and kill some time. When I got there, someone was giving a seminar about his life story. I went, I listened, and let me tell you: that guy’s story was identical to mine. I said to myself, “Wow. If he could get clean, I don’t see why I can’t.”
That was on January 8, 1986, and that was the day I decided I wanted help. I stayed at Phoenix House for 24 months and I got exactly what I needed. There were consequences for my actions, and there was structure. I got in touch with a lot of feelings, and I learned how to release stress and how to talk about my problems. Today, that’s what keeps me going—knowing how to talk to people and how to deal with my problems without having to turn to drugs. I don’t need drugs anymore. Sure, sometimes I still get that feeling like I might want to use, but now I know that’s all it is: a feeling. It always goes away.
Treatment was fun, it was worthwhile, and it saved my life. Still, I pray that I never have to do it again. I just want to stay sober and keep up my great relationship with my kids. My son is in the Navy and my daughter lives in Virginia; we’re very close, and they know my whole story. Losing them was the worst part of my addiction, and getting to spend time with them again is the best part of my recovery. Today, I’ve regained the respect of my family—I’m there whenever they need me. My goal is to be the best dad in the world.
I started working for Phoenix House in 1988 when I completed treatment, and I’ve been here ever since. Today I’m the Accounts Payable Coordinator. I also received my GED and a bookkeeping certificate, and I now attend New York City College of Technology. If I see people who are thinking about getting treatment or maybe just starting out, I tell them this: “The decision you make now will affect the rest of your life. Treatment might be hard, but it’s the best way to go.” I mean, I’ve never known a successful drug user. I’ve never even heard of one. Sure, you’re successful for a little bit, but in the end drugs only take you to jail or worse. Recovery, on the other hand—every day since I got clean has been the happiest day of my life.
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 1 888 671 9392.