There are people who sell drugs because they have to feed their families, who didn’t receive a decent education or have job opportunities. I didn’t have that problem. I grew up in a family that had no liquor, no drugs. My mother was an assistant director at a government organization and my father was a high school teacher. I didn’t have anything to do with drugs until I was 28 years old. At that point, I had graduated from college and I worked as a manager for a department store.
I fell into drugs by accident. It was actually fashion week that got me started, in a sense. I was dating a woman involved with one of the fashion houses who was looking to buy some drugs. I knew someone who could get it for her, so I made the call. That’s how I started dealing drugs—I kept making calls to that person. About six months into this, I realized how much money I was making for this man, so I decided to do it on my own. Biggest mistake of my life.
I began dealing when I was 28, but didn’t start using cocaine until I was 33. I wasn’t really tempted to use at first, but once I started, it was all downhill. Initially, I was able to maintain a job, but as time went on, the situation got worse. I was late for work a lot, and I started moving from company to company.
At first, I didn’t have any trouble with the police. Eventually, though, they came to my house to search for drugs. They found nothing in my home, and I continued selling. They came to my house three more times. The third time they found paraphernalia and credit cards. That’s what they arrested me on—they never found drugs even though that’s what they were looking for. I took that as a sign—that was my rock bottom. What was I doing?
Through the criminal justice system, I got an opportunity to seek treatment. Once I walked through the door to Phoenix House Career Academy—that was it. I was going to rebuild my life.
From day one, I took treatment seriously. I spent eight months there doing my time. One of the things I noticed immediately about Phoenix House was the opportunity to change your life. It’s something you have to put some work into. It’s an opportunity to look at the issues that got you started using to begin with. My experience at Phoenix House helped me bring back the person I was before I started dealing and using.
While I was in treatment, I started a young men’s group. I saw the positive influence the group had on its members, and I noticed that the young men gravitated toward me because they could relate to my story. That’s when I realized I wanted to make this my career. I found something I’m passionate about.
After finishing treatment, I worked as a part-time night staff member at Phoenix House on the weekends and quickly moved to full time during the day in operations. In May of 2014, I became a counselor. My job is extremely gratifying. You’re not going to get rich being a counselor, but I can use my experience to help others—it’s like I have to give back.
My advice to others is that you have to admit to yourself that you have a problem. As long as you can say, “it’s not that bad,” it’s going to get worse. If you’re not honest with yourself, you’re going to be stuck. You have to surrender. I’ve been clean for four years and I’m proof that this process works.