Recovery and Service

Over the last month or so I have released many articles telling my story and detailing the phases of my own personal recovery. This last piece is something I had to actively participate in while I was continuing to get sober. However, this doesn’t just apply to people getting sober, I believe this last piece of advice can apply everyone and anyone trying to make their life more fulfilling. As I have stated on multiple occasions, addiction is a very selfish and self-seeking disease. It creates the illusion that the world revolves around the person in active addiction, and blinds them to the fact that nothing could be further from the truth. I say this because I was that addict for nearly a decade, and this was undoubtedly my truth.

This selfishness was a huge part of why I couldn’t get out of my own way. I was a Tasmanian Devil that ran through the lives of the people around me. I think a more fitting analogy would actually be some kind of parasite because I would attach myself to a host and try to get everything I could from them for as long as possible. When the well ran dry and I felt as if I poached everything I could from someone, I would move on to my next victim. I wasn’t purposely going around and doing this, but it was just how my life played out time after time. I was selfish, I was self-seeking and I couldn’t find the version of myself I had lost so many moons ago.

The last, and most important part of me finding myself, was me losing myself in the service of others. We hear stories of people going out of their way to do good deeds for strangers – and I feel justified in saying – it gives us that warm and hopeful feeling inside. In the beginning of my sobriety I needed to find the hope in myself that I could actually follow through with my own personal recovery. Once I had put some real sober time together I needed to find the hope in me that I could become a better person by helping those who needed it. The scales fell away from my eyes at this point and I came to the stark realization that I was not the most important person on earth and I never would be. I had made my peace with that. I also realized that my importance did not come from what I could wrestle away from other people, but instead what I could give to them.

Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” I have always been big into the idea of self motivation and finding out what drives someone to do the things they do in life. When I finally got sober and realized that I had the ability to tell my story and positively affect those around me, I was sold. Not to mention I had a formal education in Journalism and I had always dreamed of writing for an audience I may be able to help in some way, shape or form. I was born, I was born again in sobriety, and I had figured out that my story should be used to help others find their way – while battling through the disease of addiction.

But it doesn’t stop there. Service is a daily agreement. Service is something that we can do regardless of our background or our upbringing. This is why I believe that this piece of recovery can be used for those struggling with addiction, and also those people who just need to find themselves again. After all, Mahatma Gandhi said, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

You don’t have to be wealthy to hold the door for someone. But I am positive you’ll feel rich after the deed is done. You don’t have to be happy to smile at someone you pass on the street. But I am positive you will be after they return the favor. You don’t have to feel good about yourself to pay a stranger a compliment. But I am sure you will after you see the impact it had on their day. You don’t have to buy a homeless man a house. But I’m sure he will feel at home when you offer to buy him a hot meal. You don’t have to be an auto mechanic, but I am sure the woman’s tire you changed will treat you like one. You don’t have to change the whole world at once, but I am sure you will be able to find a way to change one person’s whole world.

A Letter to My Brother

I wrote this letter after getting news of the death of my best friend. A man that I looked up to in more ways than I could ever express. I have been thinking about him a lot recently and I wanted to share this so his memory would live on. I wrote this letter and spoke these words at his memorial services this past July. 

 

A letter to my brother,

I write this letter at a time in my life where confusion, anger, sadness and heartbreak are at the forefront of my mind. I have dealt with loss and I have dealt with pain throughout my life, but since I met you I dealt with all of those emotions with you on my team. And anyone that really knows you understands how great you were at protecting your teammates. Through the good times and the bad times we looked out for each other just as brothers would and for that I am eternally grateful.

I remember arriving at the apartments I was going to be living at with no idea of what to expect. The managers attempted to put me into a room with two messy roommates and I vehemently opposed because I like order and cleanliness. They offered to put me in a room with you but warned me you had lived there for a little while and you weren’t looking for a new roommate. It took you half of a day to warm up to me, and once we were able to go to the gym together the next morning I think you realized we were going to get along just fine. Little did I know you were going to become family. Little did I know you would have a lasting impact on my life and the lives of the people that were so rightfully drawn to you.

From that point forward we did everything together. We lived together, we worked together, we went to the gym together, we food shopped together, we cooked together, we laughed together, we cried together and we grew together. I may not have told you this enough but I always looked up to you. Even though you were a few years younger than me I always felt like you had this aura about you that projected confidence in the most humble of ways. I felt like you had the most compassionate soul that was built for protecting and helping those around you. I know this first hand because I watched you do it for mutual friends of ours – and I carry it with me to this day.

But the impact you really had in my life was a direct one. I have met a lot of people in my 28 years and I would be lying if I didn’t admit to you leaving one of the most memorable and profound impacts on my life. You taught me what it meant to have a real friend that I would have done anything for. After all, I didn’t even plan on staying in Florida for more than a month, and now its been close to three years. I attribute a lot of that to having a friend like you present in my life since the beginning of this journey.

The text messages between us always ended with the phrase, “best friend I’ve ever had bro. I love you.”  The thought of that simple statement means even more to me now then it ever did before – if that is even possible. I spent time with you’re family in Detroit and they treated me like I had always been a part of their lives. And then you spent this past Christmas with my family in Boston and they were so grateful to have such a beautiful soul around for the holidays. My mother and father told me it was a much more full Christmas because you were present; and I couldn’t agree more.

The thing about friends like you is that they only come around once in a lifetime. We had some great times together and we also went through some extremely difficult ones.  The reason you became like a brother to me is because we never changed how we acted toward one another and we always wanted what was best for the other person. That was the relationship we created and that was the bond that turned you from a friend into family.

I write this letter with tears in my eyes. Tears of sadness that I will no longer be able to share my most intimate feelings and fears with you and also tears of joy that I was able to spend some of the most important times of my life with you. Tears of loss because I understand how rare people like you are, and also tears of gratitude because I am a better man having met you. Tears of heartache because my soul hurts for your family and your girlfriend, and also tears of strength that I know you would want me to have during this terribly difficult time.

I love you Shane. I always have and I always will. Best friend I’ve ever had.

Recovery – The Growth Stage

My first year of sobriety was unlike anything I had experienced before because it was NOT just about putting down the drugs and alcohol. This year was also about growing and developing how I treated myself. If anyone out there is reading this and still struggling with the concept of sobriety, I will try to shed a little light on what it actually means to me.

Sobriety is not a word I take lightly because I know how imperative it is to every other facet of my life. I started using drugs and alcohol at a very early age, and for the better part of my life I masked all my emotions, fears and feelings with one substance or another. I thought it was a harmless way to socialize and have fun, but it was never that at all. I was never comfortable in my own skin and I was always looking for a way to escape that uneasy feeling. I deflected the real struggles I was facing with humor and never let anyone get close enough to question who I really was. You see, sobriety is not just about putting down the drugs and alcohol, it is also about working on all the things that were masked by the drugs and alcohol. Sobriety is learning about your strengths and weaknesses, while practicing humility in all your affairs.

Sobriety is . . .

Sobriety is learning to love myself and making myself available to those who need help. Sobriety is admitting when I fall short and trying to grow from each experience. Sobriety is answering the phone when my mother calls and asking her about her day. Sobriety is suiting up and showing up whenever I am called upon. Sobriety is confidence without arrogance. Sobriety is making sure my family knows I’m safe and never giving them the reason to worry about me. Sobriety is asking what I can bring to a situation and not what I can take away from it. Sobriety is sending my grandmother a birthday card and thanking her for being present in my life. Sobriety is being able to look at myself in the mirror without regret or disdain. Sobriety is a journey that I actively choose to partake in every day.

On November 20, 2016 I celebrated one year of continuous sobriety, and just four days later a very close friend, and ex-girlfriend of mine, passed away as a direct result of this disease. I had spoken to her on the phone just a few days prior, and we were making amends to one another for all the pain and suffering we put each other through in active addiction. We were not good for one another when it came to our addiction’s, but when we both got sober and lived across the country from one another, our relationship was much healthier. She was a sober support of mine, someone I truly cared about and also someone I had a lot of shared history with. It was a very difficult and confusing time in my life, and I needed to rely on my faith and all the sober men I had in my life.

This part of my sobriety took self-discipline and good judgment on my part. After all, I was overcome with feelings of fear, anger, sadness, guilt and grief, and whenever I felt things like that in the past, my first instinct was always to drink or get high. That wasn’t my thought process at this point. I wanted to be of service to her family because they had always been there for me; even during my darkest hours. I wasn’t selfishly looking for a reason to use, I just wanted to be available to anyone who might need a shoulder to cry on. I know she is smiling down on all of her loved ones and making sure we walk by faith and not by fear. Lord knows, she had a lot of faith.

For the first year of my sobriety my only real requirement was to stay sober, pay my bills and continue working on myself. But the longer I stayed sober, the more responsibilities I had, and the more things were put on my plate. This was my time to practice self-acceptance and understand what was being asked of me – and why. It was my turn to dig down inside me and find the discipline to keep doing the things that were working in my life. They say, “It is not going to be easy, but it is going to be worth it,” and I believe in this whole heartedly. Perseverance is about continuing on your journey regardless of how steep the climb becomes, and the climb sure was getting steeper.

Life wasn’t easy for me at this point, but I continued to pray and ask for the awareness to find his grace. Life has a funny way of working out if you are paying attention to the signs along the way.

I met my girlfriend last February, and my relationship with her has been instrumental in what it means to be a sober man in recovery. While she is just a few years older than me, she has over eleven years of continuous sobriety. Her faith in God was something that mesmerized me from the onset, and her positive outlook on life is second to none. They say that behind every strong man is an even stronger woman, and I couldn’t agree more. She has become my girlfriend, my best friend, a sober support, and also someone I can lean on when times get tough. Not to mention, I look up to her and hope to find the peace and serenity that she has. Only when I stopped trying to force my will on life, something showed up and far surpassed my expectations. I was finally aware of the blessings that were being given to me. My eyes were open.

It took a lot of self-discipline to continue working on myself regardless of what was going on in my life.  The concept of good judgement was instilled in me because I constantly bounced ideas off other people before making any rash decisions. Even when the road was narrowing and it was getting harder to continue, I was able to practice perseverance and stay the course that was laid out for me. Lastly, it took awareness to recognize the blessings that were being given to me. And at the end of the day, it was always up to me to make the most of them.

Recovery – The Change Stage (#9)

Around the three month mark of my sobriety things started to change. The days were more manageable, and the nights were no longer cold, dark and lonely. The tough times I came face to face with in the beginning turned out to be the foundation on which I built my recovery. They say that success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out, and I couldn’t agree more. The problem was, I forgot what it meant to put in effort everyday to accomplish a long term goal. Drug addiction is all about instant gratification. My days spent in agonizing withdrawal were washed away once the drug dealer showed up at my house. The pain of the previous hours were an afterthought because I knew I would be okay, if only for a few hours. Thoughts of hard work were non existent and I lived my life for the next high. Years of my life had passed me by while I was just a lingering onlooker. This time I was actively participating, and this time things were progressing differently.

It was up to me to assume responsibility for where I was in my life, and more importantly why I was there. It was only when I stopped looking for someone to blame that I became the true author of my own story. I looked at myself in the mirror and accepted the fact that I was a 26 year old heroin addict and had been for nearly a decade. I accepted the fact that I wasn’t able to live my life like the other 26 year olds that I went to college with. I came to grips with the fact that my story was different than all of theirs, and comparing how my life had turned out up until this point was of no benefit to me. I found integrity, and assumed responsibility for who I was. I did all of this while living in a halfway house and sharing a single bathroom with five other people. None of this would have been possible with out it.

This part of my life is what I call the change stage, because without the willingness to change, none of it would have been possible. This willingness did not rest solely upon my shoulders, and it was more about letting go and letting God help me find a new version of myself. I was in and out of treatment centers for years, due in large part to the fact I lacked the willingness to do what others recommended of me. A major stumbling block was that I could not find it in me to believe in something bigger than myself. The concept of God or a Higher Power in my life was something I had given up on during my Catholic School days. I disagreed with how my teachers treated both me and my brother, and I thought if there was a God, he had abandoned me a long time ago. I realized that something had been watching out for me all along. Something had been carrying me during my darkest moments and I was finally willing to believe.

As drug addicts and alcoholics, we never see ourselves on an even playing field with anyone. We are either better than or less than – never equal. Just as it was difficult for me to find the willingness to let go of the old and let God bring in the new, it was also difficult to let go of my pride and ego. After my many attempts at sobriety, I realize how my lack of humility kept me from working on the real issues I was facing. I would compare myself to everyone around me and tell people I was different because I never went to prison and had multiple college degrees. At the same time, if anyone were to pay me a compliment I wouldn’t know how to react. I was so unhappy with myself that I couldn’t even find it in me to believe them. I needed a few servings of humble pie, and got them in bunches during my first year of sobriety.

People stuck in the grips of addiction are selfish beings. We are self-seeking and self-absorbed. Telling me that the world did not revolve around me was a very hard concept to understand. Before we can understand how to fully amend this behavior, we must understand the concept of brotherly love. Sobriety teaches us how to do right by other people regardless of who is watching. Sobriety teaches us how to forgive those who have wronged us. After all, forgiving someone doesn’t make a person weak, it simply sets them free from the bondage of resentment. Sobriety forces people to take responsibility for their actions and find a way to make them right. Sobriety is about understanding what we are and what we are not, while offering help to the people around us whenever possible. I had to learn to love those around me while I was learning to love myself. After all, the fastest way to find yourself is by losing yourself in the service of others.

The beginning my recovery was about honesty, hope, faith and courage. Without these four things I wouldn’t have been able to stay sober long enough to work on changing the person I had become. It was up to me to grow in my next nine months of sobriety, and this growth was contingent on my integrity, willingness, humility and brotherly love. It took personal integrity to assume responsibility for who I had become and willingness to let go of the old and let God bring in the new. It took humility to free me from my selfish pride and arrogance. Lastly, it took brotherly love to truly teach me about compassion. I was finally able to remove the blinders that were covering my eyes and obscuring my view.

Early Recovery – The Pain Stage (#8)

I was released from my inpatient treatment center in December of 2015 and was transported to a local halfway house. I lived there for a few months during my last attempt at sobriety, and it was truly the only place in Florida that felt like home. When I arrived I was immediately greeted by the manager who strongly suggested that I commit to a year in the structured sober living environment. By suggest, I mean he told me that if I didn’t commit to at least a year, he wouldn’t let me stay at all. At the end of the day I know he wanted what was best for me and it was suggested by my support system that I let other people make my decisions for a while. I was apprehensive, but I agreed.

It took a little bit of introspection on my part to realize I had always done what I wanted when I wanted. I was my own worst enemy because even after all my slips and falls I truly believed I knew what was best for me. Albert Einstein once said, We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” That was undoubtably my truth. This was the first time in my life that I had really gotten honest with myself and it was an instrumental piece of my early sobriety. I was finally able to look at my life objectively, and my honesty allowed me to accept my current situation and start building from it.

The first three months of my new life were an uphill battle, and I constantly felt as if I was losing ground. It was if I had the weight of the world resting on my shoulders and it was making it hard to breathe. Not to mention, there was a constant feeling of impending doom deep down inside of me. The days were longer and more volatile than a raging river, and the nights were cold, dark and lonely. There were many instances that I was extremely close to throwing it all away, but God, the sober men in my life and hope kept me pushing forward.

Long hair

Hope is a very powerful force no matter how much or how little you have of it. That is what makes hope so special. It has kept people alive and fighting for thousands of years and has allowed those in the worst situations to continue on regardless of what obstacles were in their path. Hope has kept better men than myself from giving up, and even though mine was running thin, it was still present in my life. People told me to “hold on, pain ends,” I was just praying it would be soon because every day was more difficult than the last.

I realize I had hope inside of me all along, otherwise I wouldn’t have continued on my journey to find sobriety for so many years. But it was faith that allowed me to look outside of myself and surrender to the process that was laid out for me by the sober men in my life. I had the pleasure of working for two gentleman in long term sobriety and I believed in them. I listened when they talked to me, and their stories before and after getting sober were eerily similar to mine. I trusted them, and they trusted the process, so I had enough conviction to walk the path of faith – no matter how fearful I was.

Getting and staying sober is not an easy task. I refuse to minimize how much effort and work it actually takes. The old adage says, “I am not telling you it is going to be easy, but I am telling you it is going to be worth it.” It took me a great deal of courage to look in the mirror and face myself. It took courage to look at all the horrible things I had done in my life and that alone was no easy task. It took courage to stay away from my family and learn to grow on my own. It took courage to stay at a halfway house when my first inclination was always to run. Courage allowed me to stand my ground while every other instinct inside of me told me to scamper away.

In those first three months there were times when I called drug dealers and was on my way to go meet them. But I had the courage enough to call someone I trusted and to be honest with them and myself. There were days at work where I felt like my whole life was unmanageable and I would have anxiety attacks for hours at a time. There were times that I was so overwhelmed with thoughts of my past that I was completely unaware of my surroundings. There were mornings and nights where I would lay in my bed crying my eyes out because I didn’t think I had the strength to carry on.

As I sit here and reflect on this point of my life I realize how much I actually needed all of this pain in my life. In my past attempts at sobriety things were much easier for me at the beginning and it made me more complacent and relaxed. This time around, I had no option but to attack my sobriety head on and work for it. I don’t say that to be dramatic, I say that because if I didn’t do everything that was suggested to me I wouldn’t of made it out of what I have designated the Pain Stage.

I highlighted this portion of my sobriety not to scare others for what lies ahead, but instead to drive the point home that sobriety takes work. It takes self honesty and acceptance to understand where you are at in life – and more importantly – why you are there. It takes hope to hold on through the tough times and faith to believe they will get better. Lastly, it takes courage to stand your ground when everything inside of you wants to run.

I held on long enough, and eventually the sun started to tear through the clouds like a lightbulb through and old and moth laden lampshade. The weight was removed from my shoulders and the impending feeling of doom was replaced with a feeling of childlike wonderment. Hold on, pain ends.

We Do Recover (#7)

A drug addict’s life is very similar to a haunted house, and the saddest part is, it always leads you back to the same desperate place – the very beginning. There are three possible scenarios for people suffering from the disease of addiction, and they are jails, institutions and death. The worst part is, drug addiction tends to keep you around just long enough so you can watch yourself – almost as a spectator – destroy all the relationships you have built throughout your life. But it doesn’t have to end that way. I believe all of us are faced with a choice during the course of our lifetimes that could be looked at as that proverbial fork in the road. Which path will you take? Are you comfortable enough with yourself to make a decision and stand by it with love and conviction in your heart? If it were all to end today, what would you want your legacy to be?

When I was talking about the three possible outcomes for a drug addict I left out the fourth and most important one. The fourth option is to get sober and change your life: to walk by faith and not by fear and to spread a message of hope to those who may still feel hopeless: to recognize your own personal shortcomings while putting in the effort to amend them. This is why I wear my disease like a scarlet letter stitched onto my lapel. This is the reason I do not fear the personal repercussions of stigmatizing myself with this disease. I created the black sheep mask for myself and I wore it like a badge of honor. It is only fair that I finally pull back that mask and expose a version of myself that I only recently discovered. It is never too late to be the person you were always destined to be.

It took me over a decade of serious bumps and bruises to understand this concept and launch my journey toward finding myself. But what’s ten years compared to rest of your life?

I was medically discharged from treatment in April of 2015 and I did what all the people around me told me to do; I stayed put. I was placed into a halfway house and met two of the best friends a person could ask for – Rob and Shane. It has been nearly two and a half years since then and I currently live with Rob and I look at him like a long lost brother. When you are 1,500 miles removed from any family members, friends become like family, and I am glad I have someone like Rob in my life these days.

Me Shane and Rob

Now comes the tragic part. Now comes the part that I wish I could rewrite.

Shane passed away as a direct result of this disease a few months ago. I spent the last week of July in Detroit with his family in hopes of offering any emotional support I could during all of the services. His family allowed me to speak a few words on his behalf and humbled me by asking me to be a pallbearer at his funeral. I have tears in my eyes while I am writing this because he wasn’t just a friend to me, he was also family. Life isn’t always fair and it sure as hell doesn’t always make sense.

Me and shane

I vividly remember arriving at the apartments I was going to be living in with no idea of what to expect. The managers attempted to put me into a room with two messy roommates and I vehemently opposed because I function better with order and cleanliness. They offered to put me in a room with Shane and we were both a little apprehensive about the pairing at first. But once we were able to go to the gym together the next morning in fact, we realized that we were going to get along just fine. Little did I know he was going to become my family. Little did I know he would have such a lasting impact on my life and the lives of the people that were so rightfully drawn to him.

Shane had six months sober when I met him, and he was the catalyst that introduced me to a new way of life that I didn’t even know existed. We lived together, we worked together, we went to the gym together, we food shopped together, we cooked together, we laughed together, and we grew together. I may not have told Shane this, but I always looked up to him. Even though he was a few years younger than me I always felt like he had this aura about him that projected confidence in the most humble of ways. I felt like he had the most compassionate soul that was built for protecting and helping those around him. After all, he was a semi professional hockey player, and protecting his teammates was something he always took very seriously. Even off the ice he always looked out for the people he cared about; I know this first hand because I was one of those people.

Shane and I Christmas

I am writing this part of the entry with tears in my eyes. Tears of sadness that I will no longer be able to share my most intimate feelings and fears with him and also tears of joy that I was able to spend some of the most important times of my life with him. Tears of loss because I understand how rare people like Shane are, and also tears of gratitude because I am a better man having met him. Tears of heartache because my soul hurts for his family and his girlfriend, and also tears of strength that I know he would want me to have during this terribly difficult time.

My getting sober was not something I did on my own or with the help of just one person. I found a group of men that I connected with and began working a 12-Step program of recovery. I also found something bigger than me to believe in and I made a conscious decision to turn my faith over to it. Because of this, I didn’t have to worry about controlling every situation in its entirety. I knew that if I just did the next right thing everything would work out exactly how it was supposed to. We are the company we keep; and for seven months I kept nothing but the best company while living at the halfway house. I had a good job and I was learning a new trade, I was in the best physical shape of my life and I was optimistic about what the future held for me.

Me Aldo John

But I did something that I now chalk up as a learning experience; I took my own personal will back. I allowed myself to become so consumed with work and money that I neglected the very lifestyle and the very people that were helping me so much. When I first got sober I was just so grateful to have enough money to get some food and watch a movie with my friends, but somewhere along the way I forgot where I came from. Somewhere along the line that wasn’t enough for me and I had this obsession with more. I was working 60 hours a week and had a list of excuses ready as to why I had gotten away from all the things that helped to get me sober in the first place.

I relapsed once again and was kicked out of the halfway house I was living at. I packed my belongings while drinking whiskey straight from the bottle and left with no particular destination in mind. My girlfriend relapsed shortly afterwards but hadn’t been caught yet. I was trying to find a place to stay for the first few nights until I just decided a weekly motel was my best option. My girlfriend ended up moving into the motel with me and for over a month we lived there with the sole purpose of doing drugs and surviving. I bring this up because no matter what your age, race, gender, ethnicity this disease functions the same in all of us. She was from a loving home in Massachusetts and had all the talent in the world as a musician. However, her feelings and fears were the same as most people who struggle with the disease of addiction. Just as I mentioned before, we all have a past and we all have a story, but her’s is not mine to tell.

But this episode of my story was different because I knew there was a way out if I wanted to put the work in. All the sober people I had become friends with wanted nothing more than for me to come back into the light; and they were all more than ready to welcome me back with open arms. Everyone is different and everyone has their own bottom when it comes to drug addiction or substance abuse. My parents spoke to me while I was homeless in Florida but they never once offered to rescue me. They allowed me to find the lowest point of my life and begin to build off of it. In a moment of clarity I realized that I had been addicted to drugs for over a decade and I was now a 26 year old homeless man living out of my car with all my worldly possessions stuffed into a Wal-Mart laundry bag.

That moment of clarity came on November 20th 2015, and it is still my sobriety date today. I cherish that day for more reasons than just one. Not only is it my sobriety date, but it is also my father’s birthday. He recently told me that I gave him the best present he could have ever asked for when he turned 60; I gave him his son back. It didn’t happen overnight, and the one thing that I have learned is that time takes time. You can’t gain two years of sober life experience in thirty days; for it is just not possible. But even if I could I wouldn’t want to. Life is a journey it is not a race. Life is about the small and seemingly insignificant moments that allow us to learn about ourselves in a way we didn’t even know possible. Today my life is about being grateful for what I have, maintaining humility in all my affairs, and carrying love in my heart: then and only then am I being true to myself.

Collage

Life is too short to get completely caught up in the rat race that our society loves so much. Spend your time with people you love and be sure to tell them you love them as often as you can. Find a way to be of service to your fellow man when at all possible. Laugh until your stomach hurts and never lose your sense of humor. Forgive those people who you feel have wronged you. Cry tears of joy or tears of sadness when you need to. Reach out to an old friend who you haven’t spoken to in some time. Walk through a fear you have been struggling to overcome. Quit your job if you hate it. Go back to school if you always wanted to do something different with your life. Ask your crush to go on a date with you. Smile and talk to strangers like you would if your grandmother was present. Set aside your prejudices and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Dance like no one is watching and sing like no one can hear you. Look in the mirror and tell yourself you are beautiful. Say what you mean and mean what you say, but always think before you speak. Embrace your uniqueness and never let anyone dim your light. Carry yourself in a way that will inspire those around you. Live everyday with positivity in your mind, gratitude in your heart and love in your soul.

Rock Bottom (#6)

There is something to be said for being completely removed from society for a month and a half with no means of communication to the outside world. The only dialogue I had was with people just like me, and they all had their own reasons for being in a treatment center. I think it is fair to say that nobody struggling with addiction or alcoholism grew up hoping their life would turn out that way. After all, this disease does not discriminate by age, race, gender, ethnicity or economic status; it simply destroys all families and homes equally. Who would have thought that my life would have come full circle and I would end up right back where it all began.

Welcome back to Malden Massachusetts!

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I don’t think my family ever truly believed that coming back home was going to be the best thing for me, but I think I used their fears against them without even realizing it. No matter where I was, at this point in my life, I was using drugs but at least if I was home my parents could keep an eye on me to make sure I was alive and breathing. The PTSD from my recent overdose and brush with death was still at the forefront of their minds which helped me weasel my way back into their home. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I had the best intentions, but even as pure as my motives were, I was still a drug addict and an alcoholic. If I had learned one thing about this insidious disease at this point it was that its center was in my mind and it would do everything in its power to convince me my life was completely under control. Drugs and alcohol were never my problem; they were my solution to a problem I couldn’t even verbalize to myself.

When I arrived home I felt like a changed man. I was so excited about my future and what I could offer a generation that was in the midst of a drug epidemic. I was working a very simple job and interning at a recording studio. I was going to the gym every day and pouring my heart and soul into my fitness and personal well being. Working out had always been a means of escape for me and my passion for it never dwindled through all of my ups and downs. At the gym I had an outlet to release all of my nervous energy and anxiety and I loved seeing hard work and dedication manifest themselves physically through my body. Even my brother was doing well at this time, and we were rebuilding our relationship that had been damaged by our addictions. We spent hours every day in the gym together and I felt I had finally found the secret to success and happiness.

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I was fully aware that I could not use heroin and smoke crack while living a normal life, but I wasn’t convinced that I couldn’t drink and smoke weed like a gentleman. I didn’t think these two things ever completely took over my life and instead I saw them as a way to relax and let loose every once and a while. For about eight months this was the arrangement: work while living at my parents’ house with my brother and my girlfriend Cassandra. Three former heroin addicts were living under the same roof functioning in society like we never thought possible. Why was this so difficult for me before?

Then one night, when no one was around and I was once again stuck between my own ears, my mind, I decided it would be okay to do one single solitary Percocet. The weed and the alcohol were just not cutting it anymore so I figured that might help take the edge off just a little bit. At this point I had not done any opiates in nine months and I refused to believe that taking a Percocet one time would effect my life in a negative way. Within two weeks I was doing heroin and using needles again, and so were my brother and Cassandra. Things got ugly faster than usual, and with three addicts living under one roof I’m not surprised how bad they became. I cant believe what we put my parents through at this point. My mom was recovering from shoulder surgery and learning a new job while trying to save all three of us from slipping back into hell.

All three of us had car accidents that we couldn’t even remember because we were basically sleeping behind the wheel. I still don’t know how we didn’t hurt anyone while in this state and for that I am so grateful that we made it through this time in our lives without doing so.  There was one incident when I popped my tire on the highway and just pulled off to the shoulder and fell asleep in my back seat. I was woken up by State Troopers who were wondering why I had been there for so long. I would often go into withdrawals that were so bad at work that I would neglect my duties. I often asked coworkers if I could borrow money to get my next fix and I always seemed to have some excuse for why I was broke three days after I got paid. Cassandra and I became regulars at the emergency room, and as sad as it is to say, the paramedics and the EMTs knew us both by name.

Towards the end of this debacle I walked in on my brother stealing my mother’s jewelry and even in my state of mind I couldn’t let that happen. My brother and I hadn’t been seeing eye to eye for months and there was no loyalty between us. At this point it was every man for himself and we did what we needed to do in order to feed our addiction. So when I saw him with the jewelry I instinctively went for him and we had a fist fight in my parents hallway until my dad came upstairs and broke up it. He kicked both of us out of the house that night and told us we needed to find some type of help. Of course neither of us did, and because it was the dead of winter and we were his only two sons, he let us come back. However, after only a week back at home I stole most of my mom and dad’s Christmas money and voluntarily signed myself into another treatment center. I was on my way to another detox just three days before Christmas – if that is any indication of how bad it truly was. As my mom has often said there are no Christmases, Easters, or holidays when there are drug addicts in the family who are actively using.

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I was so sick with addiction at this point that even the treatment center’s walls couldn’t confine me and keep me away from my obsession for drugs. I was so desperate I created a hustle while at the detox: cut hair to come up with a little bit of cash. Then when everyone was asleep I would sneak out of a hidden exit and walk the streets of Dallas looking for drugs. When I felt like I had been gone too long I would chalk that night up as a loss and drink a few beers at a gas station before going back to the treatment center. Eventually my relentless pursuit paid off and I brought heroin back into the treatment center but I was caught and exposed for the sneak and the liar I was in front of all the other residents. I wasn’t getting any better there obviously, and as a matter of fact I was actually getting worse. I couldn’t even stop when I was removed from society with no phone, no connections and in a city 1,800 miles from Boston.

I was discharged from the rehab in Texas and headed once again back home to Massachusetts. I had no idea what I was going to do or where I was going to end up, but I didn’t really care at this point. I felt like I was hopeless, and knew I couldn’t go on like this much longer. It was only a matter of time before an overdose would kill me or I would kill myself. I was in so much mental anguish, that both of these scenarios felt like viable options. I didn’t want to go on living life as a drug addict but I also did not know how to get sober; I was a prisoner stuck somewhere in between what I wanted my life to be and what my life actually was.

I can remember one night sitting in my car with the gas light on just crying my eyes out. It was the winter of 2015 in Boston and if you are from that area you remember how brutal the snowfall was that year. I had no money and no means of supporting myself and Cassandra was sober and living in a halfway house in California. I was about 135 pounds at the time and I had long greasy hair that made me look even more like a drug addict. I was Nick’s rock bottom. At this moment my phone rang and it was a gentleman from Florida who was reaching out to offer me some help. Sobbing, I said yes I need help and I cannot do this on my own.

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My parents went against their good judgement and allowed me to use drugs in their house for two days before I flew to Florida. They did this, as hard as it must have been for them, because they were more afraid that I would die of an overdose on the street all alone. All they wanted was for me to get well, and they were so scared I would end up dead before I even made it on the plane. I had reached some low points in my life, but this was the worst of them all. I had no idea the decision to accept help that night while I was sitting in my car crying would have such a positive impact on my life.

Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.

I want to let it be known that writing this article was one of the most difficult things I have done for this blog. I wrote this piece as fast as I could because it felt like and elephant was sitting on my chest while I typed on my MacBook. So if there are grammatical errors, I apologize. I went as far as to share it with my family before publishing it because I wanted to be positive they were okay with some of the more personal details. This is my story and these are the situations that made me into the man I am today. So if you ever feel hopeless, just know I have hope in you. If you ever feel like the world would be a better place without you, just know nothing could be further from the truth. We are all perfectly imperfect in our own way, and every one of us has a beautiful uniqueness about us that can be used to positively impact the world around us.