I’ve tried to remember how old I was the first time I had a drink, but I can’t. I thought I was 10, but my mom thinks I was more like 7.
I definitely remember how old I was the first time I smoked weed. I was 13. My friend and I were hanging out skating, and he asked if I wanted some. I said yes. The feeling I remember most is not feeling anything at all—just being numb. The drug made me not care, and I thought, “This is going to be the solution to all my problems.” Over the next couple of years, the “solution” came in the form of Xanax, cocaine, Percocet, OxyContin, and other pills.
It was around this time that I stopped seeing my dad. My parents divorced when I was 3, and I was raised in my grandparents’ house with my mother and siblings, visiting my dad on the weekends. Then it became every other weekend, and by the time I was doing drugs, I wasn’t visiting him anymore at all. It was actually kind of a relief since it wasn’t a safe place. The drugs helped me not care about anything anyway—especially after I got into heroin when I was 17. A friend introduced it to me as being cheaper with a bigger high, so it seemed like a no-brainer to try it.
I knew my using was getting out of hand, that I was headed in the wrong direction, but it didn’t matter—I just wanted more and more of the numbing.
Then I had an incident that included destruction of property and assault. I was on drugs at the time. I got busted, and the judge said, “If you’re not in a program, I’m going to sentence you.” I had a friend who had been through Phoenix House, and he suggested I go there. Since he knew me and what I was going through, I took his suggestion and went to the Men’s Residential Program in Hauppauge.
There were a lot of things that helped me there. Being at a residential program gave me a safe environment—just changing the geographic so that I wasn’t in the street was helpful. And the 12-step program there, together with psychotherapy, was helpful, too. But really it was a lot of things all together: being sober for a while; having people to talk to and encourage me; and experiencing the trials of being stressed and full of anxiety and working through those feelings sober. All these things helped me start feeling better about myself, more confident, and not so worthless.
It was also helpful to have someplace supportive to go after I completed residential treatment. I didn’t want to go back to my mom’s—I wanted to get a job and make it on my own. So I went to Phoenix House Prospect Place Community Residence, where I could stay and attend an outpatient treatment program off site.
While there, I had a relapse—and surprisingly, that helped me, too. Fear of starting over almost got the best of me, but it didn’t because I realized something that I still say all the time: that I know nothing. I had to totally put my ego aside and admit that I had to learn everything—not everything all over again, because the truth is that I never grasped anything to begin with. The fact that I made that realization and worked through it at Phoenix House is a huge part of my recovery story.
I made a lot of progress after that, and was able to start figuring out what to do next. Before treatment, I got certified to become a security guard, and the plan was to get a job in security; but when I went on an interview, they wouldn’t take me because I had a criminal record. I decided to become a drug and alcohol counselor and help people the way my counselors had helped me. I got my training while I was at Prospect Place, and today, I’m working as a Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor.
It’s hard to imagine when you’re in the middle of that lifestyle—using drugs, selling drugs, feeling numb—but there is a different way of life, and it’s worth living. After treatment, I realized that I’m worthy of living it.
The best thing about being in recovery is that I have the ability to show up and be reliable, especially with my family. I can be honest with people face to face, and talk to them without being ashamed.
When I was using, there were always issues of trust with my mom and siblings: Is he going to come home? Is he going to die? Is he really sober, or is he still doing drugs? I’m sure they still question that sometimes—I would if I were them—but not like they used to. I have a good relationship with them now, and they know they can trust me. Things are back to the way they should be.