I was born in 1957 and I grew up in Spanish Harlem with my mother, my stepfather, my brother, and my five sisters. My older brother introduced me to marijuana when I was 12. I started hanging out at the dollar clubs where you’d dance, smoke, and get high. Then when I was 17, I joined the service. I was stationed in southern Germany for two years nine months and twenty-seven days. That’s when I learned to smoke hashish. We’d go out into the field and when we came back, we’d get drunk, high, whatever. In the Army, we’d walk around with parts in our hair and sunglasses, doing acid and pills.
I came back on November 29, 1978. I took up with a girl and we had a son two years later. I started going to afterhours clubs where I used cocaine and black beauty. Then I got into crack, but I didn’t like it so I went back to cocaine. At my worst, I’d walk into a room and if I saw something that looked like white powder, I’d get down on the floor just to see if it was a drug. That was my lifestyle for years and years. Somehow, I always kept a job. I was what you’d call a “working addict.”
Slowly but surely, my life began a downward spiral. My wife died of HIV in June of 1996 and I wound up in the psych ward. After I got out, I tried to get my life back together. I found a job in security and I was saving up for an apartment. Then I went to a club and blew all the money I’d saved—more than $2,000—on drugs. I looked at myself in the mirror of that club and said, “I have got to stop doing this.” I decided right then and there that I was not going die alone and unidentifiable.
I went into treatment later that month and I stayed for seven months. Then I got in trouble and had to leave the program. That’s how I wound up at Phoenix House. I had orientation at the Long Island City Center and then, on December 29, 2004, I arrived at the Career Academy in Brooklyn. My peers would tell you that I was a real pain in the ass—in that I always followed the rules and I wanted everyone around me to do the same. I took treatment seriously, because I knew that if I ever got high again, I was going to die. Other clients used to say, “Don’t do anything around Alex! He’s a whistleblower.” But I earned the most important thing from my counselors—and that was trust. Eventually, I got the respect of the other residents, too. I changed my attitude. Before, if something pissed me off, I went to get high. But I learned that getting high wouldn’t make my problems go away. Phoenix House taught me to I talk about how I feel and take things one day at a time.
My proudest moment was completing treatment. Today, I’ve been clean nine years, three months, and six days. I used to think I needed drugs to accomplish anything, but I’ve accomplished so much in recovery. I work at the Career Academy in maintenance; Herman Lozada, the first guy I saw when I got to the program, is now my supervisor. I’m back in touch with my son. He’s 33 and lives in Arizona. We talk every weekend and I’m waiting for him to make me a grandfather. I’m also remarried; I’ve been with my wife for five years now. When we first starting going out, she asked me about my drug use. I told her that I was in recovery and I was never going back to my old habits. She gave me a chance and I’ve kept my word. I know I’ve got too much to lose. Sure, I’m still loud and arrogant, but I’m clean—and I defend my sobriety vigorously.
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.