I grew up in Exeter, New Hampshire, where a lot of people think there’s nothing to do except drugs. It’s a lame excuse, but nevertheless, I started smoking pot and drinking when I was 12 years old. Right away, I was hooked: I was in 6th grade and using every single day.
By age 13 I was doing coke and pills, and my addiction just took off from there. I started using hallucinogens, because I was into the whole hippie scene and going to Grateful Dead concerts, and that became my drug of choice. My parents were unaware for a while, and I developed other problems; I had eating disorders and I was extremely depressed. I constantly fought with my parents and I hated everyone, but especially myself. At one point I got into a fight with my mom and I blurted out “I’m going to kill myself!” I don’t think I consciously meant it at the time, but it was reason enough for my mom to call the police. They sent me to a psychiatric hospital and then to Phoenix House Academy at Dublin.
During my first month at the Academy, I was just a drone. Once the drug aftereffects wore off, I just started breaking down because I was so mad at myself. The Academy is a strict program with a lot of rules, and I’m a perfectionist—the older residents were telling me about the changes that would happen to me eventually, but I was angry and frustrated because I wanted them to happen NOW.
At some point something clicked, and from then on it was full speed ahead; I became so committed to my treatment, and I really excelled. I was helping other people, leading the house and following all the rules. I was doing all the things I knew I was supposed to do, but I still wasn’t getting much respect out of it from the other residents. Looking back, though, I’m glad I had a tough experience with those kids – most of whom were boys – because it really helped me grow and become a stronger person. Besides, when I graduated, those boys all apologized and thanked me. That was a really eye-opening experience—it proved that you can’t judge what someone is feeling based on how they are acting.
I graduated in exactly 89 days. I made so many great friends at Phoenix House, and I’ve never met more amazing people than the staff members. The bonds you develop in treatment are hard to explain—it’s a different sort of family with whom you’ll always be connected. One of the hard things in recovery is that the relapse rate is so high among adolescents. It’s hard seeing friends relapse, because you care about them, but you have to care about yourself first.
I’m in college now, on the honor roll at George Mason University—something that I never would have thought possible before Phoenix House. I’ve been clean and sober for over two years, and I check in with the Academy at Dublin whenever I can. Last year I started volunteering there, which is something I have always wanted to do. I’m glad to be able to give back and help people who are having the same experience that I had. It’s difficult and it’s inspiring; I care about the kids I work with, I have hope for them and I want them to do well and grow. I’m really passionate about helping other addicts and alcoholics, and helping them helps me.
Recovery is about awareness, and that’s what Phoenix House teaches you: the fundamental tools you need in treatment, in recovery, in the rest of your life. These tools will be forever embedded in me. I know some people can get clean and succeed on their own, but I needed Phoenix House—it saved my life.