True Story: Ira

Monday, March 4th, 2013

iraI had a pretty good youth. I was raised in Brooklyn, I skipped grades and was a high-performing student, and I went on to college in the Bay Area at San Jose State. That’s when my drug use began, and I ended up being one of those Haight-Ashbury addict/alcoholics—although I didn’t know I was an alcoholic for a long time. I did all the psychedelics, was part of that whole scene with Ken Kesey and Allen Ginsburg. That turned me onto harder drugs, and by the time I was done I’d used practically every drug I knew about: heroin, cocaine, pills, uppers and downers and powder and everything. That began in 1965.

Soon friends and I decided we were going to change the world through hashish. So we went to Morocco at the end of the ‘60s and started smuggling hash. I was doing that for a while and eventually wound my way into Peru in the ‘70s and got involved in the cocaine trade. It was ridiculous; I didn’t even speak Spanish and there I was running this coke business.

As an addict you have this delusional thinking and denial, and although I didn’t recognize it at the time, I was putting my life in so much peril in South America. I was working with a bunch of killers, risking my life over and over. Plus, I was using substances from people on the streets, not knowing what I was putting through the veins of my body—that was insane. None of my crime partners are alive today, and I was crazier than all of them. It seemed whenever there was a choice to be made I made the wrong one.

I came back to the states and was just lounging around hitting new lows in my use. My college days of just doing drugs for recreation – for fun, sex, all that – were over. I was addicted. In 1979 I contacted Dr. David Smith, who I knew as Medical Director of the Haight-Ashbury free clinic, and he recommended Phoenix House of Orange County. I’d never been to southern California, but I got on a bus right away. I remember it like it was yesterday; I had a few pills left when I arrived, and I put them in the bushes outside Phoenix House—in case I needed them when I left!

I was in treatment for six months, and Phoenix House saved my life. It really stopped me in my tracks. The people were great, the counselors were very dedicated and truly wanted to help us. The program prepared me for a life of being clean and sober. It was a new program back then; I was one of the first graduates, and felt very proud.

Unfortunately, addicts back then thought we could become social drinkers once we got clean. I hadn’t identified with an alcohol problem in the past, only as a drug addict. So I got myself set up after treatment, moved in with a gal, got my real estate license and started working. But my girlfriend and I started drinking, and over time that turned into drugs. I tried different things to stop on my own—other relationships, relocating. It was a bumpy road for a few years but I still kept in touch with Phoenix House and the people there and the counselors, and in 1985 I started going to meetings. That was it; I’ve been sober for 28 years now.

Recovery has been a gift, but I don’t take much credit for it myself. I’m just doing the footwork and carrying the message. I got what I need to get clean and now I just try to give that to somebody else—another suffering addict or alcoholic. I understand my motives now, and I have a relationship with a higher power; I no longer think I’m the head of the universe.

Of course, I have experienced medical repercussions from my use; I have Hepatitis C, but fortunately so far I haven’t needed treatment. Mostly, every day now is just a new great moment of gratitude and appreciation for my life. Before, I never could go through a day without either using drugs or thinking about using them. But at one point, it dawned on me that time had gone past and I was just…done. I had stopped obsessing. That was my moment of release from bondage, when I became aware that some huge change had occurred in me.

You folks who are in recovery, you have to keep connected. Stay connected to your recovery, whatever you do. It’s so important. Every day I have phone calls with recovering addicts and alcoholics. I reach out when I see somebody who wants help and is struggling. I want everyone to know that you can recover and you can succeed. Your past, be it addiction or a felony or what have you, can’t stop you—as long as you’re honest. The most important thing is learning how to be rigorously honest.

Look at me; I’m married and very much in love, I have two children, I’m moving to an executive position at a new bank. There are exciting opportunities in my life now. I’m no longer the junkie on the street. There is a second chance in life, and Phoenix House was the beginning of mine.


If you or a loved one needs help for substance abuse, call us today at 1 888 671 9392 or send us an email.

Share this page: Print this page:


  • Rick Jones

    Ira and I met in AA about the exact same time. He has been a wonderful example of recovery and inspiration for me. This is the first time I heard about The Phoenix House part of his story. That you for planting the
    seed of recovery in Ira. Rick J. Hood River, Or.


    did phpenix put ypu up to this [ost i was their in the 70’s twice for basically weed smoking by my paranoid mother , but sure enough phoenix taught me how to be a real dope fiend in those days . and the staff were extremely biscious , and would at time get physical with a person . i was theifr in 72 and 76 to 78 and a// the houses which were only in ny knew mw. all but a few maybe but a few fell, directly from their stupid encounter groups and 3 day marathon encounters where i saw things u wouldnt believe, like them making my peer mike hold a double headed dildo. and would put people in makeshift coffins and raise them to the ceiling i guess to make them (david feel what it is like to be dead) he almost freaked out , if phoenix is any thing like it was they should go to hell like the rest of thepious staff that overdosed and died in the early eighties just b/c they were let go of their jobs.. i swear to u i am twelling truth. ans their are some that i would feel like killing b/c of what they did to me. herman williams who was top director in brooklyn was screwing the female older residents and told my mother on familt day that he wants to marry ny sister , who was just a kid but he thought it was funny, sum joke. but hes probably in his grave with his high blood pressure whuch realy made him violent and nuts should rot in hell, like the rest that overdosed. do urself a favor go to n/a or a/a b/c phoenix and other tc’s are short term on the outside, so save the b/s

  • eedelman

    We are sorry to hear that you have such negative memories of your experience at Phoenix House. There were certainly rough edges to treatment during the early days. Confrontation was often a part of encounters, and marathons could be highly emotional experiences. Nevertheless, many of us remember treatment during that period with great affection for the camaraderie within the community, the positive reinforcement we received, and how we came to a greater understanding of ourselves. The marathon is long gone, and encounters have been replaced by groups that achieve levels of honesty and disclosure by means more supportive than confrontation. We cannot guarantee that all TCs have benefited as much as Phoenix House from all that has been learned about the nature of addiction during the past four decades. But here treatment has evolved with the adoption of a broad array of research-tested means—from new pharmacotherapies to evidence-based practices from across the behavioral healthcare field—that can enable clients of today to achieve and sustain a lasting recovery.

More True Stories