True Story: Suzy

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

SuzyI was raised by my grandparents in Florida and moved to New York to study acting at Pace University. That’s when I started heavily smoking weed and drinking myself into oblivion. I was looking for acceptance and that’s what drugs gave me.

Soon, I got into an abusive relationship with an addict and he introduced me to cocaine. I graduated with honors, but I continued to drink and sniff coke.  Eventually, I was spending several hundred dollars a week on alcohol and drugs; I also developed a sleeping pill habit. I had a history of self-harm and suicide attempts—and I think subconsciously, I was still trying to kill myself. Every night, I’d drink and use so much that I’d throw up. In the morning, I’d curse God and say, “I can’t do this anymore.  Why am I still alive?” Somehow, I still always made it to work.  I was a “functioning” addict.

At some point, I started selling coke.  I had a dealer friend who got caught and left me his business to take care of. Being a dealer made me feel like, for the first time, I was somebody. I started going to fancy parties and lounges where everybody was calling my name.  I got involved with one of my customers and we started doing drugs together. For me, drugs and men were the same thing—just another way to hurt myself.

Eventually, I tried heroin.  A lot of people say, “Someone must have turned you onto this,” but the truth is, I’ve always been an extremist. Nobody had to twist my arm. I had only been sniffing heroin up until that point.  One day I decided I wanted to see what it would feel like to shoot up.  And I did it, just like I saw it done in Pulp Fiction—and that was it.  I was home. After a very short while, I couldn’t function without it; I lost 40 pounds and started selling everything I could to pay for my habit. I had a beautiful apartment, but it basically became a crack house and shooting gallery.  There was always blood and needles on the carpet.  I can’t even remember showering for an entire year. One night, I was dope sick and robbed my family for drug money. That’s when I finally realized I was an addict.

My mother got me into detox, but soon afterwards I started using again. That’s when she called the Phoenix House Career Academy in Brooklyn—I think she found it in the Yellow Pages. I entered Phoenix House and stayed for 15 months, but I still didn’t get it. I wasn’t ready.  I got involved with another client at Phoenix House. Three months after we completed the program, he relapsed—and then I relapsed, too.

For the next 10 years, I stayed in this relationship; for eight of those years, he was in prison. I waited around for him and just tried to get by. When you’re a heroin addict, it doesn’t matter if you’re making $20,000 or $50,000—it’s never enough. I would steal and manipulate. I pawned everything I had. I tried a methadone program, but they could never dose me high enough. It all came to a head on my 36th birthday: all my options had run out, my mother was about to kick me out…so I went to Phoenix House again and entered the Long Island City Center.

After a few months, my boyfriend got out of prison and visited me in treatment.  He said, “You’ve stayed by my side. You’ve done so much for me.” He promised things would be different and I believed him. That was my co-dependent behavior. Two weeks later, he relapsed.  It was the perfect excuse for me to use, and once again I relapsed. But this time, heroin didn’t fix anything—not even for a second.   I had lost my family, friends, and jobs, but it wasn’t until I lost that drug that I really hit bottom.

Finally, my counselor and I started working on all the feelings I had kept inside for so long. She has been wonderful; she really gets to the heart of the matter. Someone had asked me, “What are you going to do in your recovery?” and I didn’t know. Life had always been a punishment for me. I didn’t even want to leave the building because I thought, “There’s nothing for me out there.” But people started dragging me to AA meetings and I started going to church every week too.

Then I saw a flyer about “The Gun Project,” and I learned there was an acting program for Phoenix House clients through the Stella Adler Studio. I joined and instantly felt a connection with the program. I started going every week. All those old feelings of being creative came back to me. When we performed at other Phoenix House programs, the reactions I got from people who had never seen theater before was incredible. That was the beginning of me starting to live again – to believe in something again.


Suzy, fellow Phoenix House clients, and Stella Adler Studio actors perform “The Shhh Project.”

After about three months, I was offered an internship with the Stella Adler Outreach Program. As an intern, I help lead Stella Adler’s acting classes in the community. I’ve discovered true joy in working with young people – especially those who are disadvantaged. The opportunity to affect some change in their lives is such a blessing.  I’ve also been afforded the opportunity to work with kids trying to get their GED.  These guys come from a rough background and many of them have been incarcerated.  I can relate to them.  I know about that life. And I’ve started to share with them my story and let them see how things can change. Originally, the internship was supposed to be just a couple hours a week, but I’ve taken on more and more. There’s talk of it becoming a permanent job.

It took 15 years of hardcore addiction for me to be able to walk into the Stella Adler Studio and now, here I am! I’m living life beyond my wildest dreams. I’m looking forward to completing treatment and getting my own apartment. None of this would have been possible without Phoenix House. The staff saw something in me I couldn’t see in myself and for that, I am forever grateful. They taught me that it’s OK to ask for help and to trust another human being. I’ve also learned that I do have worth – beyond what I see in the eyes of others.

I entered treatment spiritually bankrupt.  Now I have faith and hope – something I never thought I could achieve. I am still a work in progress but for the first time, I truly feel like I have tools to take with me every day into the real world. Today, I’m not simply surviving anymore – I’m thriving.

This story was originally published by

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  • Emily

    As I sit here and read your story I feel so many emotions welling up inside of me, as well as tears in my eyes. I have a soon to be 32 yr old daughter who is currently in jail, I’ve lost track of how many; this last time she was in ten months in one county, came out and went right back in; where she currently sits waiting to be excepted into drug court and rehab.
    She has been to prison twice already. Had two beautiful daughters, given up for adoption, we are not allowed to see or get news from. She failed to be in court to fight for her rights because she was on drugs, addicted to prescription drugs. Your story is first one I read and truly inspirational. She has said she is ready and tired of being in jail. I’m afraid that someday I will get call like some many others have, that my daughter is dead.
    I just had to write and let you know that reading your story has given me new hope for her recovery. I hope she too will be able to tell a story as wonderful as yours.

  • Morty

    You came back from being so far gone, Suzy, that it’s a miracle you survived just physically, let alone grew spiritually. Great story to hear. I, like you, was, as we called it in Phoenix House, demoralized by attempts to quit heroin—six times—and failing. I too had little sense of self-worth. I took my last shot of junk in the waiting room at the detox center at Manhattan General Hospital on November 3rd, 1966. But being my fourth or so visit there for the so-called “21-day cure,” I was no longer hopeful about permanently quitting—I was there only to clean-up for an upcoming court case because I didn’t want to kick in “The Tombs.” But I was blessed to hear about what someone called “a real drug program” coming soon to that place, and waited for it. It wasn’t named Phoenix House yet, but was in several months when a bunch of us original guys (no gals in the program yet) moved on to two places, one of which you’ve heard about—85th Street, and the other where I went, Hart Island (which no longer exists). Continued good luck with your career and life. —Morty

  • Harry Trapp

    Yours is a compelling story and one that resonates throught the recovery medium. Please continue to provide inspiration to those who share in the discomfort of addiction seeking to find the inner self which is truly special. Once again i commend you! Good job!!!!

  • Bill Williams

    I have been fortunate enough to see Suzy perform on two different occasions. Her ability to share her emotional life in her work on stage is a gift to the audience. I can only hope she continues to act and work with others. She has so much to give. Her work on stage is every bit as inspiring as her work in recovery. Indeed, it is compelling evidence of her recovery.

  • Tracy

    Wow! What an inspiring story, a real tear jerker. I hope Suzy is still doing well. It is so great to hear such wonderful stories of recovery. As someone who has lost loved ones and who works in the field, I appreciate such amazing stories.

  • Smithk5

    I really like your writing style. Excellent info. Thank you for putting this up.

  • Deb

    I too am an alum of Phoenix House Prospect Place. A wonderful growth experience. I got to begin to know myself and eventually love myself. As a teen from Harlem I needed PH to set me on the straight and correct way of living. 46 years ago my mom was going to commit me to the Rockefeller program. On the way there we met a program director named Teddy Riley. He said he was from Phoenix House. He told my mom that she didn’t want me to go into the Rockefeller program, that it wasn’t the best place. The next morning I was inducted into the PH program on 116th Street near Lexington Avenue in NYC. Eventually going to Prospect Place. Phoenix House was my finishing school. For a kid from the hood I can say PH saved me.

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