My parents divorced when I was about ten; the divorce destroyed my whole idea of family. My dad was never around and when my mom remarried, I had to deal with a stepfather. It didn’t take long before I started using drugs to cover up my feelings and soften my pain. When I was eleven, my mother sent me to my first rehab; over the next four years, I bounced from rehab to rehab including a one-year stay at a group home. None of these places helped because I wasn’t done running.
Eventually, I burned all my bridges with family and friends. I stole from my family and anyone else I could to support my drug use. When I was seventeen, my mom kicked me out of the house and I lived in my car for about ten months. At that point, I didn’t want to be around people. I wanted all the drugs for myself. I wanted to consume as much as I could so that I didn’t feel anything. It was a really lonely place to be. Eventually, my car broke down. I was parked on the street and I knew this was about as far down as I could get and still survive. I had no place to go. It was either death or jail. My mom had given me the number to Phoenix House in Orange County months before, but I wasn’t interested, but after sleeping in my broken down car, I made the call.
I was nineteen when I entered the program. It was really tough, but after about three months, I saw that the staff was there to help me—and that at long last, all the drugs were out of my system. I was in yet another rehab facility, but this time, it was of my own choosing. When I realized that just days before I had been on the streets with nothing but the clothes on my back, I broke down. I began feeling emotions wash over me that I hadn’t felt in years. I cried for hours—a reaction that Phoenix House refers to as “landing.” One of my first counselors told me, “if you want to learn, you just surrender and start over.” From that day forward, I learned to let down my emotional walls and soak up as much information as I could. I started being honest with myself and with everyone around me. I had been in rehab before and played the game; I’d said what I knew the doctors and counselors wanted me to say. But at Phoenix House, I came clean about my drug habit and my lifestyle. I learned to forgive myself and to live honestly and guilt free. I was finally able to release a lot of the pain I’d been holding onto for many years and to reach out to others for help when I needed it. I learned that recovery is a lifelong process which requires that I express myself and work out issues of anger and resentment as they surface.
When I left Phoenix House in 1995, I really did start over. It was the beginning of my life. It was a hard road, but I told myself I’d never go back to being the way I was—dishonest, unreliable, and uncaring. When I got my first job at a mechanic’s shop, my parents wanted to buy me tools, but I told them that I’d already taken enough from them, and that it was time that I made my own way. Slowly but surely, I bought my own tools. For the past twenty years, I’ve been responsible for myself. I’ve made amends where I could and re-established relationships with those I had hurt. When I think about the past, I do so with a sense of gratitude that I’m not living the kind of life I used to live. My family has forgiven me and supports my efforts to live a full and happy life.
Phoenix House helped me mend my broken relationships and build new ones. After completing treatment, I continued to hang out with my best friend from the program, Monique. We’d go out and watch movies and eventually our friendship blossomed into a loving relationship. We were married in 1999—both of us graduates of the program. Today we live in Murrieta, California with our two children. My experiences at Phoenix House have stayed with me over the past twenty years; I’ve put my knowledge to use raising my own children, stressing the importance of honesty and open communication within our family. We don’t keep secrets from each other and everything we do, we do as a family. My life today is an open book, and I’m grateful to Phoenix House for having given me the recovery tools to learn to take care of myself first, to be honest with myself first, and only then am I able to look out for my wife and children. Recovery is an ongoing process, but with the effort, comes the reward of a full and happy life.