I had always been straight-edge, against all drugs and smoking. But at age 19 I got into a rock band and started playing a lot of shows in bars; everybody was drinking around me and having a good time. I thought, “Shouldn’t I be having that good time too?” So I tried a beer. I went from beer and cigarettes to hard liquor pretty much instantly, and from there to weed and then I dabbled in almost everything. I’m an alcoholic, straight up; alcohol has taken me to places any heroin addict would cringe at. When I was playing shows we would get paid with a bottle when we walked in the door, and I always chose vodka.
When my dad got cancer, he asked me to slow down the partying a bit, so for four years I didn’t drink at all. But that was the problem: I had stopped drinking for him, not for myself. So after he died I went overboard—partying and blacking out every time I drank. I was married by then, with kids, but my drinking ruined those relationships. I don’t remember the day my son was born.
I worked for a moving company, and there’s a lot of drugs and alcohol involved in that. We’d pick up a six pack in the morning and smoke a bunch of weed on the way home. Day in and day out, I was smoking and drinking—it didn’t matter if I was on the job or off. Pretty soon I had my own moving business, with two trucks and high-class clients like Donna Karan under my wing. One night I made 6k and took my crew out to the bar to celebrate. I had picked up a coke habit by then – I would do coke so I could stay up and keep drinking – and I got completely wrecked. I woke up the next morning to discover I had sold my truck and my entire business. I don’t even remember doing it.
That was my wake-up call. I tried to stop using all by myself, but the union realized what was going on and told me that in order to keep my status, I had to go into a program. So I did some outpatient for a month and started going to AA, but I wasn’t really doing anything for my recovery—I was a “dry drunk” as they say. My wife and I separated and I moved to a three-quarter house on Staten Island. Life went on, I met a girl, and had another baby with her. So by then I had three children with two different people, and only then did I start to learn about sex addiction and learn that it was part of my own compulsive, destructive behaviors. I was kicked out of the group house for drinking, and I went to a bunch of different 30-day treatment programs. I was six programs in, and I still wasn’t getting it. That’s when I found Phoenix House.
I spent six months in the Phoenix House Prospect Place Community Residence and then moved to the Phoenix House Hauppauge Center. After three months there I left and I moved upstate with my girlfriend, even though I was still sleeping with my wife. My girlfriend started using drugs, and I started drinking because she was using drugs. At that point I just told her, “You keep the apartment. I’m going back into the program. I need help.”
I went back to Prospect Place. I was doing well, and a friend and I decided to go to school to become personal trainers. I thought that was a great idea, because I’ve always done martial arts and I knew I’d be safe somewhere where people were thinking about health all the time. So we started school—and my friend started using again. I was like, “Dude, I have to get away from you. I’m done.” That was when I realized you can’t save anybody; you can only save yourself.
That’s when I went to Phoenix House Long Island City Center. I wanted long-term residential care; I wanted to stay there until I was really ready for recovery. That’s where I met my best friend, Suzy. She and I have almost the same sober date – mine is 3/13/13 – and we have similar interests. We knew we’d be friends right away. I introduced her to AA and she helped me find the right sponsor. It’s so helpful to have someone else who’s on the same path as me. Suzy also got me involved with the drama therapy program that Phoenix House does in collaboration with the Stella Adler Studio, and that’s been the best thing for my recovery.
While I was working with the Stella Adler folks to do a performance called The Shhh Project, I wrote a short play based on my life. One day we were rehearsing and Tommy Demenkoff, the Artistic Director, asked me to put down the play and just engage face-to-face with the other actors. I’ve been through seven different programs and in all my years I’ve never had something so powerful as that moment when I had to face my friends like that. I wasn’t just connecting with them; I was connecting with myself. I realized who I am and I was finally OK with the answer.
Today I’m an AA sponsor myself. I go to meetings all the time. I see my kids every weekend. I have a great job; I actually run a gym. I only hang out with other people who are in recovery and I stay away from people who use. Every day I thank god and the rooms and Phoenix House and Suzy and Stella Adler. If it weren’t for them, I’d still be out there. I don’t apologize for my past, but I don’t make up stories either. I’m not running away from anything anymore—I’m running towards things, towards my goals. I look forward to challenges in life instead of disappearing into drinking and drugs.
If you or a loved one needs help for a substance abuse issue, Phoenix House is here for you. Email us or call today at 1 888 671 9392.