In some areas of the country, the stigma of being a drug addict is as bad, if not worse, than dealing with the consequences of active addiction. I come from one of those places where families seem petrified to admit one of their loved ones suffers from addiction. As RIP statuses continue to flood my Facebook newsfeed, I feel obligated to do my part to break the stigma. Not all stories about addiction need to end in tragedy. Just for today, this is a story about addiction with a happy ending.
I grew up in the suburbs of northern New Jersey. For most of my life, I was a three-sport athlete and straight A student. My family provided me with more than I ever wanted or needed. I was popular in school. By external standards, one could argue that my life was perfect. I graduated High School and went on to play football in college. From college, the plan was to work in the financial services industry and live in Manhattan like most of the other guys and girls I grew up with; however, things didn’t exactly go according to plan.
I started drinking when I was 14 years old. Shortly after that, I started using cocaine. Almost immediately, drugs and alcohol became the focal point of my life. I created my identity around “partying.” It wasn’t long before it became more important than everything else in my life. I truly lived a double life. To the outside world, I looked like the All-American student-athlete, but internally I was spiraling out of control. By 19 years old, I was a daily opiate user. I started with painkillers and eventually moved on to heroin. It was at that point that it became nearly impossible to keep up appearances. At the end of the road, I was using heroin and crack cocaine, as much and as often as possible, attempting to drown out my miserable existence. I lost the power of choice and control over drugs and alcohol and, as a result, was stuck in the vicious cycle of addiction for years.
Throughout my addiction, I did a lot of damage and hurt a lot of people. The people I hurt the most were those closest to me. A sad truth about being an active addict is that you quickly realize you can manipulate the people who love you the most. They believe they can stop your pain. The reality is that no amount of love, family support or willpower, on the addict’s part, can pull an addict from the depths of active addiction. As much as I wanted to be a good son, brother, boyfriend and friend, none of those relationships were as important as getting the next high. It wasn’t until I reached the jumping off place, where I couldn’t imagine living life with or without drugs and alcohol, when I finally became desperate enough to hear and pursue the solution.
I bounced in and out of treatment centers for years.
I would stay on track just long enough to give my friends and family a little bit of hope, and then I would tear their hearts out all over again. Time after time, I would take some (never all) of the suggestions from the treatment centers, upon my discharge, only to decide in a day, week, month or even a year that “I got this” and I can do it on my own. With that strategy it was only a matter of time until my mind would tell me things like “It will be different this time” or “It wasn’t that bad” or “If I just use these substances I’ll be fine” and every time I believed the lie. From there I was always off to the races because once I started, I could not stop.
I entered my last treatment center in September of 2015. It was the perfect treatment center for me. I was given the gift of desperation which made me willing and open-minded enough to follow the suggestions given by the clinical team. For once, I didn’t try to do things my way. From treatment, I continued my recovery with a spiritual program of action and followed the guidance of those who had what I wanted, freedom from active alcoholism and addiction. With the foundation created in the treatment center and my active participation in a program of recovery, I will celebrate two years of continuous sobriety on September 26th 2017. By no means is recovery easy, but it is, most definitely, possible. It begins with reaching out for help. The stigma that prevents people from doing so is playing a part in killing people. I want people to know that I have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of body, mind and spirit. Today I dedicate most of my life to carrying the message of hope to those who still suffer. Breaking the stigma of addiction is crucial but it is only the first step.
The next step is to let people know that there is a solution that truly works. I, along with thousands of other men and women, are living proof of this. If you want to know more about my journey through recovery, thus far, please do not hesitate to reach out.”
Don’t be another statistic or part of the stigma. Help us break it by sharing your story.#findyourvoice