I first did cocaine in college, once or twice, but I was much more interested in just drinking and partying. Then in law school I had this core group of best friends, and we just kept picking up cocaine, maybe once a month or so. It didn’t seem like a big deal, but the more we did it, the more I wanted to do it. Pretty soon I got selfish; I didn’t want to share anymore, so I started buying coke and doing it by myself. During this time I was working full-time as an attorney, getting better at my career, and the money started coming in more easily. I took care of my family, paid the mortgage, bought cars, and with the money that was left over I would buy cocaine. The more I earned, the more I’d buy.
Truthfully, I had a real problem for the last three years of my use. But in those final eight months it all came to a head. I became managing attorney at my firm, the stress was higher, and I thought I could deal with it all. I never got drunk any more, never abused alcohol, but at the end of the night I’d get that cocaine and it was just like going on vacation in my mind. Cocaine really got its hooks in me. The way I describe it to people is this: imagine going out with your friends and having a great time, and you’re at like a 100 on the happiness scale, and that’s the happiest you’re ever going to get. Well, cocaine took me to a 1,000, which made the whole happiness scale itself shift in my mind, until I didn’t even know what real happiness was anymore.
I remember going on a date with this girl I liked and at the end of dinner she wanted to keep hanging out, but all I could think of was getting some coke. So I was like, “Sorry, I’ve got an early day, let me just drive you home,” and then I went and did coke in the car by myself. Every day was just like that; I could be in a great situation but it just wasn’t enough anymore without the cocaine. I thought, “I’m an adult. I can control myself. I can do this.” But I had too much freedom and too many resources. I was living with my mother and father at the time, and when they went to Taiwan for a month to visit family I spent the whole time just doing coke by myself in the house. I went to work cracked out—and I still won trials! I thought, “I’m still a winner, I’m the man!”
After that month, I was supposed to pick my parents up at the airport on a Saturday morning. I had stayed up all night doing coke, and I remember looking around at 8AM and realizing: my house was a total wreck and I was crashing on coke. I freaked out. Normally, a crash would just involve me in my bed trying to go to sleep, saying to myself, “What’s wrong with you? You’re a smart man, you know right and wrong, just stop!” But that time I knew I had to go pick up my parents, and I couldn’t face them. I felt useless, that they’d be better off without me. So I started going online to look up ways to kill myself. I’m a big sissy, so I didn’t want it to hurt. I thought about inhaling bleach or helium, or jumping off a bridge…but I just couldn’t do it. Instead, I went to the bank, took out everything I had, and bought a Greyhound ticket for as far as I could go. That’s how I ended up in Ohio.
There I was, a 30-year-old grown-ass attorney running away from home. I got a hotel room in Cleveland and I thought I’d start a new life. I was looking in the papers for places to live, for halfway houses, and I remember the taxi driver who was taking me around saying to me, “Man, you couldn’t pay me to live in these places.” Meanwhile at home there was apparently a man-hunt going on for me. I had a pretty big network of friends, coworkers, classmates, and everybody just went crazy. They had people looking for me in California, Pittsburg, Florida…I was getting calls from Channel 11 News. People I had met once in my life were sending me messages on Facebook like, “Mike, we’re here for you, if you’re running you can stay with us,” stuff like that. I had thought I was just a pebble in the pond, but it turns out I was a boulder!
So eventually I made my way home. I’m such a coward that I had my friends tell my parents everything—I had lied before and told my parents I had a gambling problem, because in Asian culture drugs are really taboo. So now everybody finally knew my problem and that I needed help. I went online to look up treatment centers, and the first place I called was like, “For $50,000 you can go to Malibu or Palm Springs!” And I just said, “Look, lady, I’m not going on vacation. I need help.” I wanted to be mentally present for every second of treatment, and I wanted to remember it forever.
The next place I called was Phoenix House. It was Friday, and they said they’d take me Monday. I was scared, but I just jumped in and did it, and it was phenomenal. I had never been to rehab before, so I went in without knowing what to expect. Everyone was so welcoming and put me at ease. My roommates were great, my counselor was fantastic, the resources were all there: the clinical team, seminars, and meetings. I’d be sitting eating a meal and people would come over and say, “Hey, new guy, how are you doing? You’re gonna be OK.” Everybody had the same mindset of wanting to get help. I can’t say enough good things about Phoenix House.
When I finished treatment I went to beg for my job back. My boss is great, and before I went to treatment he was really understanding. He said, “Go get help, and then come back.” Still, I was expecting the worst. But my boss took me back and kept me on as an independent contractor to the firm. So now I do court appearances and depositions in the morning, and I go to outpatient treatment and NA meetings in the afternoon. I really look forward to the meetings, and we all encourage each other to stay clean. My family is very supportive, and I’ve learned how to talk to them instead of internalizing everything and going to get high. It’s really working. My parents and I, we love each other no matter what. We’re a team.
The hardest thing about recovery is changing who you are. My personality is still the same as when I was using – I’m still jolly and happy – but the bad habits that had become my second nature are gone now. Coke made me feel like if I didn’t have it, I couldn’t be happy. But my addiction wasn’t just the drugs; I was addicted to always wanting more. Now, my whole mindset has shifted. I’m working with a personal trainer, cutting back on smoking, learning how to live healthily and honestly. I’m learning to be satisfied with what I have and who I am. It’s almost like I was in a nightmare for the past couple of years, and I’ve finally woken up. I’m slowly starting to be at peace and learning to love myself again.
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