I’m a late bloomer—my addictions didn’t start until around the age of 18. At first it was a recreational thing, smoking marijuana and drinking beer. I don’t blame it on where I grew up in north New Jersey, but I will say that everyone around me was doing it. Still, it was my choice. My drug use carried on for the next 30 years and got particularly bad during the last ten. It went from weekend smoking and drinking to cocaine to smoking crack to sniffing heroin to a combination of all of the above.
I became involved in a lot of illegal activities, committing robberies and stuff to support my habit. Jail really wasn’t part of my story, but there were times I did two or three months here and there. I always figured that after those few months of clean time in jail I might stop using, but I always was back on drugs the day I got out. I was just in denial that I had a problem at all, and when you’re in denial you don’t recognize your problem until you get to that point of desperation. For me, there were several low points during my addiction—I was shot, for one. But my real rock bottom was being separated from my family. That was as low as you can get.
I came to realize that if I didn’t work on myself, the drugs were always going to come right back. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. So I signed up for detox in Newark, NJ. The first time I was supposed to start detox I just wasn’t ready—I had one of those stupid get-high farewell parties that some of us think we owe ourselves. But a couple of weeks later I finally stuck to my commitment. I finished detox and entered residential treatment at Phoenix House on October 28, 2011. I was 48 years old, and I had never tried to stop using before. But it’s never too late, and I’m proud of myself for finally trying. I’ve been at Phoenix House Long Island City Center for ten months now, and I haven’t relapsed or anything—I’m dedicated to my treatment and to staying clean.
Treatment has been different, to say the least. Like I said, it’s my first time, so I’m unfamiliar with the process. At detox I was on methadone, which is a substitute for heroin, so I was withdrawing from the methadone when I came to treatment. Instead of prolonging my methadone use, I decided the worst was already behind me, and I stuck it out through withdrawal. Maybe that’s what has kept me clean—knowing that after all the pain and suffering I went through, going back just isn’t an option. I attend a lot of meetings, about five per week, and I get a lot of information from them. There are staff members and peers here who I can identify with because they’ve been where I am now, and their success stories give me hope and inspiration. I can look up to them because they did this before me, and that’s a big plus.
I’ve always drawn and painted, but over the last ten to 15 years of my active drug use I wasn’t doing any of that. Treatment actually helped me get in touch with my artistic side again. It was like I was starting over, and now I can look back and see how I’ve grown as an artist; I can see how things used to be so cluttered and confusing in my head. Things are much clearer now; if I get a desire to paint something, I feel like I have to express it artistically—I just get this desire to put my feelings on paper or canvas. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to make art, because I didn’t have the full use of this skill until I became clean.
When I complete treatment I’m going to continue attending meetings, because they really work for me. I know recovery is a lifelong process, so I’m going to keep working on myself. I don’t want to get to that place where you get too comfortable and you think you’ve got this thing beat, so you just kind of put yourself on autopilot. Instead, I’m going to keep my recovery front-and-center in my mind. I’ve been through a lot, but I think sometimes you’ve got to go through what you go through to get where you’ve got to go. Some of us just take longer than others.
This past weekend was the best moment of my recovery so far—I got to spend it with my 18-year-old daughter. I’m really looking forward to bonding with my family again. That wouldn’t have been at all possible when I was using. This October will be one year clean for me, and although I couldn’t have done it without Phoenix House’s help, I also couldn’t have done it without my own self-motivation. I’m glad I gave myself a chance, you know, because if I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t be where I am today.