My family moved to Manhattan from Georgia when I was two. Growing up in the mid-60s, I witnessed a lot of drug activity. Heroin was the drug of choice on the streets back then. I come from a stable family, but my father was an alcoholic who would go on month-long binges. His drinking caused a lot of embarrassing moments that scarred me for a long time.
When I was ten or eleven, we moved to Queens and my new friends introduced me to marijuana and alcohol. My parents warned me about my friends, but I didn’t listen because I wanted to fit in. My pursuit of getting high took over my life and I got kicked out of high school for truancy.
After I left home, I found that I could make a quick buck by dealing drugs. All the so-called cool guys who had money and women were dealing, so I thought that’s what you did to be successful. Then I started snorting heroin and it wasn’t long before I was hooked. I got married and had a daughter, but my addiction was still with me. I always chose the drug over my family. It got to the point where my wife would pay me to stay away—and I did stay away because I was ashamed to be around my daughter.
I was living in the streets, moving from house to house, staying wherever I could find shelter. Finally, when I was in my mid-20s, I got busted for selling to an undercover cop and got sentenced to two years in the state penitentiary. At that time, Rikers Island had a methadone maintenance program where they weaned you off heroin. I managed to get clean and after they released me I went back to my ex-wife. She took me in for one night but she made it clear that this wouldn’t be permanent.
Soon I began drinking and getting high again. I started sleeping on the number six train. That was the worst—waking up on the train when everyone’s going to work. One day, I thought, “There’s got to be more to life than this!” A friend recommended that I go into treatment at Phoenix House. I spent a few months at the Short-Term Residential Program in the Bronx and then I was transferred to the Long Island City Center.
Every day I thought about leaving. My bedroom overlooked the river and the lights of downtown Manhattan would call to me. Then one day, during a house meeting, I found out that Phoenix House planned to open a new facility in the Catskill Mountains. When I received the opportunity to go there, I thought, “If I’m ever going to give myself a chance, this is it.” I knew I couldn’t resist the allure of the city.
When I transferred to the Delaware County Center, that’s when I began to change. In those days, after your first three months in treatment, you got a dollar bill with the words, “If you ever forget the past, you’re doomed to repeat it.” I have that dollar to this day. My counselors used to tell me, “When you think about leaving, take the whole trip.” That meant, imagine packing your bags, getting dropped off in the city, and seeing how your family members reacted when they found out you never completed treatment. I would always take that trip in my mind—and all I could see was destruction. So I stayed.
What really worked for me at Phoenix House was the family concept. It was about one person in treatment helping another. That sense of togetherness, that notion of “one for all,” is what helped me.
The most amazing thing happened after I got out of treatment, found a job, and was able to purchase a car and a home for the first time. My mother had moved to Florida by then and I flew her up to New York for my recovery ceremony. My siblings also struggled with substance abuse, and it hurt my heart to think that she might go to her grave believing she’d failed as a mom. Having her witness me leaving behind my life of drug addiction was the greatest feeling in the world.
After I finished treatment, I became a Certified Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) and in 1992, I was hired as a junior counselor at the Delaware County Center. I worked my way up to director of the facility. I also served as deputy director of the Short-Term Residential Program in the Bronx. I’ve been married for eighteen years and I have three daughters, two of whom have graduated from college. I’ve earned some college credits myself and my ultimate plan is to get my masters. It’s all about keeping my goals.
When I think back on my recovery journey, I always remember a seminar we had while I was in treatment. The guest speaker told us, “He who conquers himself is greater than he who conquers a city. The battle is within.” That saying has stuck with me for 21 years. Society is what it is, but I’m where I am today because I changed from within.
If you or a loved one needs help for a substance abuse issue, Phoenix House is here for you. Email us or call today at 1 888 671 9392.