I started like everyone else—drinking and smoking weed in high school. I was scared to try pot at first, but by the time I was 16, my life consisted almost exclusively of drinking myself to oblivion and smoking weed. A year later, I did my first line of cocaine, and a few years after that, I took my first hit of crack.
By then I was working in the restaurant business, and everything was accessible. I sold a lot, used a lot, made a lot of money, and met a lot of people who introduced me to gambling, prostitution, and the underground scene. I began going regularly to raves, and my crack habit got out of control. To pay for it, I started stealing from my father and sister. I was living at my dad’s house and had people coming in and out at all hours of the night. That’s when everyone—my dad, mom, sisters, even aunts and uncles—told me I had to leave. I said a lot of bad things to them, which I regret. But I gave rehab a try in a nearby state. It lasted three weeks. I ended up hitching a ride back to my home state and picked up right where I’d left off—using and committing robberies to get more crack. The only hopeful thing in my life was that my cousin Mark was in recovery, and he brought me to my first Narcotics Anonymous meeting. I still got high, but it planted a seed. I started thinking, “Maybe I’ll just smoke weed.” But that always turned into smoking crack.
I got the wakeup call I needed when my father threatened to put me in jail after I’d robbed his friend’s Laundromat. He didn’t, but he had the cops eyeing me. I was constantly being pulled over and searched. My dad had also kicked me out, so I was sleeping in an unregistered car, or crawling through the window at my dad’s house. That’s when I thought, “I can’t do this anymore.” I decided to go to detox. I wasn’t thinking about recovery; I just planned to clean up for a little while. But when my week at the facility was up, a woman there suggested I go to an inpatient program at Phoenix House. I was so rude to her when she said that—I yelled and screamed and really gave her an attitude—but she got me to go.
I decided to go far away this time. My parents thought a change of scenery would help, and I had Florida in my mind. So I went to Phoenix House Citra Center. I had pictured a beach, but this place was in the middle of horse country. It turned out I needed the isolation. I also needed the discipline I learned in the program. I woke up every day at 5 a.m., went to the gym, and faced consequences if I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to. The discipline made me stronger and helped me lose a little bit of my attitude. I have a real strong way about me, and Phoenix House helped me transfer that passion into my recovery.
I had a better mindset this time. I was excited to be in a different place, and I was ready to learn. But I was not ready to quit using. I did what the counselors told me to do because I knew I’d probably die if I didn’t, but when I got out, I started using again. I was staying with a man who had many years in recovery, and I used weed three times while I was there. What was different was that this time, instead of going down that hole, I went to an NA meeting. A few months and many meetings later, I used for the last time. That was almost two years ago.
Today, I’m a tech at a rehab facility. I go to five NA meetings a week and finally have a good relationship with my family. They’re ecstatic that I’m clean, and I’m grateful that my father doesn’t have to stress like he did when I was using. He finally can sleep at night. We still go through things, but with a better understanding of each other. The one sad thing is that my cousin Mark who brought me to my first NA meeting has since passed due to his addiction.
What I’d want to say most to people who are struggling with addiction is that the disease wants you dead. Using only prolongs the agony. When you’re in the middle of it, it’s hard to picture ever getting clean. I would see people who didn’t do drugs and think, “You people are different from me.” Then I saw people who used to do drugs getting clean, and the clean life seemed better. I remembered all the dreams I had as a kid and realized I wanted to work toward them. I couldn’t do that if I was still getting high. It’s not just the drugs that take you down, but also the lifestyle.
I’d also want them to know that when you stop using, you might not see the benefits right away, but there are so many. Like, I don’t have to look over my shoulder anymore. People in my life trust me. All those things you don’t think you can be when you’re getting high? You can be those things if you’re clean and sober. The joys outweigh the pain.
It’s not easy. Some days it sucks. The ball can drop at any time. But things are good today.