I’m from the Ukraine, and my family moved to New York 20 years ago when I was 13. I first tried drugs as a teenager, and it escalated over time. It’s a lifestyle; little by little, you use more and more, you get more friends who are also using, and pretty soon you don’t care about anything but the drugs. By age 25, I was definitely addicted—I was using all the time, and cocaine and heroin were my drugs of choice. I was working as a fashion designer at the time so that’s what I had in common with the whole fashion crowd: drugs and parties. I enjoyed the career and the whole scene, but it didn’t last long because pretty soon my #1 priority became drugs.
I spent the past seven years between jail, using, jail, and using. Phoenix House was my first experience in treatment—I was court-mandated, and I hated it as soon as I arrived. I had never experienced anything like treatment, and at that point I had no choice but to do it. It wasn’t until I started studying at Phoenix House’s Beyoncé Cosmetology Center that I finally started to make progress and become happy. I was enjoying it, I had a great teacher, and I was surrounded by motivated fellow students. During the eight-month program, I learned so much—I had never been involved in the cosmetology field before, so it was all a new and exciting experience, and it really sparked my interest. The Cosmetology Center teachers are exemplary; they have time to spend with each student, they work with us one-on-one, and they bring us to hair shows and other important field trips. The staff isn’t just there to get a paycheck, you know? They’re really involved, and they do everything they can to help their students.
Although I’m now an alumnus, you can still find me visiting the Cosmetology Center often. Today, I work for Chanel doing makeup application. I’m good at it, and I enjoy it—I enjoy working in general. Eventually I want to get my cosmetology license and move into working with hair at a salon. I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but I know that I want to stay involved with this field. I have a good support system for my recovery; I’ve got my family and my old friends. I’m still in touch with everybody I used to know, but the difference is that I’m not doing what I used to do anymore. It wasn’t my friends’ fault, and they weren’t bad people—neither was I. But the decisions I made in those days were bad. Now, I’m trying to make the right decisions—one step at a time.