One day when I was ten my dad just walked out—he packed up his stuff while my mom was at work and took off. We never heard from him again. After that, things started going downhill for me and my family. My mom was depressed; she stopped caring for me and my brother, and she left us home alone a lot. I started hanging out with the wrong crowd. My mom worked nights, so I would bring friends over and we would all hang out and get high. I was mostly into meth, but also marijuana. I started using when I was just 13 years old.
My drug use led me into the juvenile justice system—I would end up in jail or juvenile hall on some sort of drug possession charges. When I got out I would find myself with nowhere to go, on the streets, homeless. I felt that the only choice I had was to go back to jail because I knew I could stay there. I remember thinking, “Wow, I actually need to go to jail just to have a place to stay.” My mom didn’t want me at home anymore. Nobody wanted me. I was that far gone in my addiction.
Then, finally, when I was 15 I got arrested and they sent me to the Phoenix House Academy of Los Angeles. I turned 16 at the Academy and then 17. At first it was hard to get settled in treatment because it was so much more structure than I was used to, but I enjoyed it because I found a lot of support there and people I could depend on. Now, ten years later, I still have that support system.
I learned so much in treatment. I learned how to trust and be trusted, and not just with one person but within a whole community. I really enjoyed that aspect of the Academy. It was difficult because it was different, but I learned to trust the staff and earned their trust in return. That was what did it, what got me clean and made me stay clean—the group of people who believed in me. I realized that Phoenix House would always be there for me. And they have been.
When I graduated I did outpatient treatment and everything went really well, but then when I went back home – back to that negative environment and my mother’s negativity – I relapsed. I fell back into my drug addiction because I felt like I had nowhere to go. I called my counselor at the Academy and she came and picked me up. I was already 18 by then, so I was too old to go back to the Academy, but my counselor took me to another program and I got sober again and stayed sober.
Since then life has been great. I got married and had my son, Benjamin, who’s four years old now. Having a child and a family of my own has been amazing. I also got custody of my two nephews last year; they came to live with me because my brother and sister-in-law are still using. It’s not easy, but all three boys remind me of why I’m still sober, why my life is better now. I know I won’t go back down that road.
I went to college and became certified as a drug and alcohol counselor, and after working for another program for three years I got a job at the Phoenix House Academy of San Diego. Everybody I meet who’s struggling with addiction, I tell them to get into a program like this. The scary part of going into treatment is that fear of change. But being able to leave that environment you were used to, the drug use and the bad habits and negative influences, that’s the best thing you can do. That kind of positive change can be really powerful.
Now that I’m sober, I have everything together in my life: my family, my job, my home. It’s hard work, but I love being able to work for it. I’m 25, and I plan to keep working here at Phoenix House for the forseeable future. I was so proud and amazed when I got hired here. It was a long process but it feels so good to be able to look at my clients, these teenagers who are struggling, and say to them: “Look, I’ve been there. Right where you’re sitting. And it gets better.”