Before Phoenix House, I had always imagined I was a kind of “Iron Man.” I had overdosed on heroin nine times, and I didn’t care if I died before I turned 30. I didn’t even want to live until 30. I started using hard drugs when I was 18 and I always figured they would kill me sooner or later, so I didn’t go to school and basically felt like I was free from any responsibility.
I had been at a 12-step treatment facility for four months when that little gremlin crept back into my mind, like, “oh, maybe just one more time…” So I went to Los Angeles and scored some heroin, and I came back and shot up in the bathroom. It’s the typical heroin mistake: you relapse after four months, except now that you’re clean that kind of dosage will ruin you. So when I used in that bathroom, I overdosed and ended up in the hospital.
I went straight from the hospital to Phoenix House in Santa Ana. My mom had done research and found Phoenix House, and she thought their emphasis on discipline and accountability would do me good. I hated it for the first two weeks. I mean, I was a criminal, and I’m not good with discipline. I also had major short-term memory loss after my overdose—I couldn’t remember anything, and I would ask my mom the same questions over and over. It was really scary. I’m not very talkative, but with my memory problems I was talking even less because I didn’t want to look stupid.
The longer I stayed at Phoenix House, the more I ended up connecting with the residents and staff members. My counselor, Diana, was an angel to me. Even the counselors I initially didn’t like ended up becoming my friends. I still wanted to leave, but I knew that leaving would put me right back in jail. So I stayed. When my wife and mom visited, they brought me a picture of my baby daughter. “Just take a minute,” they told me, “breathe, take a step back, and look at your daughter. This is what’s important.” They were right. I realized I’m not just living for myself anymore—my daughter is my whole life now, and I’ve never experienced a love like that before. She came along at just the right time, and I don’t think I’d still be here if it weren’t for her. I’m not just staying clean for myself; I’m staying clean for her.
I completed my six months of sobriety in September 2010, but wasn’t even thinking about it. I hadn’t been counting the days or anything. I’m back home now, looking for a job and trying to put my life back together now that I’m out from under the cloud of heroin. When I was using, I wasn’t really present in my life—I was in another world. I was a body, not a person. Now I’m dealing with the consequences of those actions, slowly rebuilding my marriage and helping my wife trust me again. I feel great, my friends are really supportive and my mom just lights up when she sees how healthy I am. I changed my phone number and I stay away from old friends who are still using. Sure, I’ve gotten a few cravings, but I know that’s not the answer; it’s the opposite of the answer.
The most important thing that Phoenix House taught me is to tough it out. We used to have a running joke: just do the right thing, don’t try to weasel your way out of it through logic or common sense. The things they make you do at Phoenix House – making your bed, tucking in your shirt – are annoying at first, but they’re part of opening yourself up to change. It’s not about your bed or your shirt. It’s about preparing you for the rules of life and the law, about giving you structure and helping you deal with discomfort without turning to drugs. It’s tough at first, and I thought I was above it all, but I got through it and gained a lot of strength in the process.
Treatment does help. I don’t like being the spokesperson, but hey, it saved my life. I hope everybody who’s in treatment today takes it seriously, keeps an open mind, and doesn’t just shoot it down without trying. Little by little, it will change your mentality, and it will work out in the end. It’s still working for me.