There wasn’t much to do in the town where I grew up. A lot of kids did stuff like drugs and vandalism out of boredom and curiosity; I was one of them.
When I was 14, I lived across from a youth camp, and one night my friends and I thought it would be fun to break into it. We really messed the place up—and got caught. Because the damage was over a certain dollar amount, we were put on probation for vandalism.
One day my probation officer asked, “Would you pass a urine screen?” I told her I would definitely fail. A few friends had introduced me to marijuana earlier that year, and by that point I was smoking regularly. I didn’t think I had a problem, but when my parole officer told me that I could get a few months off probation if I participated in a new drug court program that offered outpatient treatment through Phoenix House, I thought that sounded awesome. I was definitely down with shaving time off my probation.
I was in the program with other close friends, including some who’d gotten in trouble with me. Every Friday we sat in front of a judge to discuss what was going on in our lives and in treatment. To be honest, I didn’t take it that seriously. I thought once I got off probation, I’d go back to the same crowd and continue smoking marijuana every day.
But that’s not what happened. I can’t say I made a clean break from pot right away, but I never went back to using the way I did. Eventually I stopped smoking at all, and I never got into using other drugs, which a lot of my old friends were into by now.
Looking back, I fully credit what I learned at Phoenix House with not falling into the drug life that I was around. It was at a pivotal point in my life that I went into treatment. I was at the age when kids start developing the skills that will prepare them for adulthood. Although I thought I got nothing out of treatment, I guess when you’re forced to listen, some things start sinking in—even if you don’t know it. I had a great counselor who stayed on me and taught me a lot of things about addiction, and about how to cope with things without using drugs. I learned from her that a lot of drug use is about social acceptance, and that I would have to make social sacrifices in the moment in order to achieve personal goals later. I learned to take things one day at a time and have developed a great patience since learning about and from addiction; and I left the program with a love and appreciation for people that I didn’t have going into it.
I’m also glad that treatment gave me a chance to be in a good group setting with other people from my town, all learning and talking about the same things—it helped me not fall into the wrong group. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the program helped me feel a part of something better.
So when I got out and saw what was happening to friends and a close family member who was struggling with addiction, I knew that I didn’t want any part of it. In the town I come from, drugs are just something that people do; but after Phoenix House, I knew there was a better way.
I’m 24 years old now, and my friends who fell into drugs are trapped in dead-end jobs, still using.
I’m using the skills I learned at Phoenix House, and I continue to get support from great people. I’ve kept in touch with my counselor, who has been a real mentor to me. And my mom has 100 percent been my rock and best friend. With the group I was hanging out with, it was hard, but she supported me through good times and bad. When I told her I was going into treatment at Phoenix House, she didn’t know I’d been smoking marijuana, but she supported me throughout my probation, my time at Phoenix House—through everything. She’s the reason I’m who I am today. I also have a good relationship with my dad now, which I didn’t really when I was growing up.
I also have a great job: I’m a counselor at the Phoenix House Academy at Springfield. It’s a lot of hours, but I absolutely love it. I want to have the same impact on other kids that my counselor had on me. I want to instill that same spark in kids that age. And that’s all it might be: a spark. Even if they don’t realize it, certain ideas are being instilled in their minds. That’s why I tell them, “I need you to hear me—even if you’re not listening.”