I’m from Suffolk County, Long Island, and I started using alcohol and marijuana at age 12. Addiction was in my family on both sides. My mother, father, grandparents—everybody was an alcoholic. I was the black sheep in the family, and although I’m close to my brothers and sisters, they were never in trouble while we were growing up, and I always was. Over the years, between ages 12 and 18, I used everything except the “Big 2” – heroin and cocaine – pretty regularly. I got myself into trouble throughout my adolescence, and I was kicked out of school.
From ages 18 to 20 I didn’t use; I stopped because a girlfriend wanted me to. But at 20 I bought a bar on Long Island, and that bar was infested with drugs. Within a few months of buying it I started using cocaine, and from there it all went down the tubes. I couldn’t function anymore, couldn’t make it to work, started to steal from my family to pay for my crack cocaine habit. I tried to get out of it by relocating, moved to California and then Florida, came back east, and went right back to that bar. There was no change. I was back to the same destructive pattern, using again, stealing from family and friends, doing whatever I could do to get hands on money. The worst period was when I was homeless; nobody would talk to me, and my family didn’t want anything to do with me. Eventually I was arrested, put on probation, and referred to Phoenix House.
I arrived on November 11, 1993, and began my path to recovery. I spent 14 months in treatment at Phoenix House, and one of the biggest things they taught us was responsibility. We learned how to deal with our feelings, how to express ourselves appropriately. At Phoenix House, there was a feeling of family and community, which gave me a sense of purpose that I didn’t have before. I didn’t complete treatment that first time; I self-discharged, relapsed, and came back six months later. Then I completed my program and got a job at Phoenix House, but I relapsed again. Still, they gave me another chance: an opportunity to do a short-stay inpatient program, which I did. When I completed, they even gave me my job back. Completing that program was the best feeling—walking across that stage and getting my certificate, knowing I did it. That was March 9, 1997, and I’ve been clean ever since.
While I was in treatment, I finally started feeling good about myself, loving myself for the first time. After I graduated, I wanted to give back, so I went on to school and got my CASAC to become a counselor. I worked my way up and became the Director of Long Island Residential Services at Phoenix House. I’m currently working towards my Masters in social work. I have a house, eight kids (two are step-children from my wife’s first marriage, and six are adopted), and I’ve been married for ten years; my wife is also a counselor. Plus, I’m 43 and I’m a proud grandpa!
My advice to those who are in treatment today is to find the clients who are determined, who are positive, who have direction and discipline—and stick with those guys. Stick with them and do the right thing. That’s what worked for me, instead of hanging out with all the knuckleheads like I did during my first time through treatment. For me, holding myself accountable for my actions was the biggest turning point. It’s easy when we’re addicts to blame everybody else instead of taking a look at our own faults. But treatment, if you just give it a chance, is a short period of your life that can change the whole rest of your life for the better, forever.
If you or a loved one needs help for substance abuse, call us today at 1 888 671 9392 or send us an email.