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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.