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.

College Daze (#3)

There I was, a recent high school graduate caught in the midst of a terrible heroin and crack cocaine addiction.

Hindsight is always twenty-twenty, and after taking a long look at this time in my life I am fully aware that the drugs and alcohol were never the problem. In fact, I believe whole heartedly that the drugs and alcohol were my misguided and selfish solution to the problem. I say selfish because I never once thought about how my choices were going to affect those around me who loved me unconditionally. It felt as if I was the center of my own universe; and if I was not getting what I believed was owed to me, I became resentful. But it wasn’t always that easy for me to distinguish between the rational and the irrational. At this point I was dealing with a drug addiction and an undiagnosed mental health issue that would be uncovered in the near future.

Even though I had been battling these demons throughout high school, I still managed to get into some decent colleges due to my academic and athletic body of work. I was done with the idea of Catholic school because I believed if there was a God he had abandoned me a long time ago. I can remember the impending feeling of doom I had when my father was dropping me off at orientation and I saw the sign that read, “Welcome to the University of Massachusetts class of 2011!” I had to bring a carton of Marlboro Reds and four grams of heroin just to make it through the weekend. When will this end I thought?


The college campus was about 100 miles west of Boston in a small college town set in the middle of nowhere. I was completely out of my element. I was a city kid raised on gangster rap, drug culture and a misguided idea of what the word “friend” meant. But I did what anyone hiding from the truth would have done, I put on my mask and tried to blend in with the crowd. But I was alone; and the only two things I had with me were a bad drug addiction and an even worse attitude.

I discovered that heroin was more difficult to find in the Boondocks, so I did what any self-respecting addict would do, I switched addictions. After going through terrible heroin withdrawals for about a week or so, I realized that people in college drink and do the occasional line of cocaine. So that is what I did. The only problem was I didn’t drink and do cocaine sparingly like a college student; I majored in it. If I ever went to class it was simply because one of the people I got drugs from was going to be on campus and it made sense to meet them early in the morning. I would drink a solo cup full of rum in a few massive sips and black out before I could even see the bottom of the glass. When these weren’t enough for me, I would take the two-hour trip back to Boston, get a bunch of heroin and bring it back to campus for a few days of “bliss.” I didn’t even show up to classes on exam days because I knew the curtain was coming down and the Wizard of Oz was not who everyone thought he was.


I finished that first semester with a 1.8 grade point average in an undeclared area of study. I was so physically and mentally exhausted from maintaining all my lies that I finally got honest. I told my parents everything, and in between semesters I attended drug and alcohol treatment. I went to groups for six hours a day and also received one on one therapy a few times a week. I wanted to go back to school and have some semblance of a life, and I thought this may fix me. After a short period of counseling I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and prescribed the same meds I was abusing in high school – Xanax and Klonopins. On top of that, I was also prescribed a maintenance drug for heroin addicts known as Suboxone. It is based on the same premise as methadone, and it acts more as a substitute than a solution.

Armed with some FDA approved – and doctor prescribed – medications, I made it back to school for that second semester. The anxiety meds helped ease my overactive mind, and the Suboxone helped take away some of the cravings for heroin. I thought I was cured. I decided that if I was going to try to be a college student I would need to go to class and get some healthy stress relievers in my life. I made a deal with myself that I would go to every single class because I knew if I missed just one it would start a downward spiral back to my old behaviors. After class was over for the day, I created a routine for myself at the gym that I followed religiously. Since I was no longer playing sports, the gym became my competitive release. Just by doing these two simple things, I completed that second semester with a 3.0 grade point average and a much more hopeful outlook on my life.


For the next three years I did not get anything less than an A in every single class I took. I used my willingness to work hard and my excitement for a challenge, and I took it to a whole new level. I knew that after getting straight A’s once, if I didn’t do it again I would have been selling myself short. I declared for majors in Communications and Journalism, while also adding a minor in Spanish. I began writing for the student newspaper and sitting in on classes that I was not even enrolled in. I was writing investigative journalism pieces about environmental issues, and spending my Saturday mornings interviewing the appropriate people. I taught myself about video editing and podcasting while working on highlight reels for the basketball and lacrosse teams. I knew that hard work paid off all along, I was just finally seeing it materialize in my life again and it felt great!

Just as it was when I was growing up, school always went hand in hand with athletics.  I wasn’t playing organized sports any more, but I created a gym regiment for myself and stuck with it. Growing up I was always short and skinny and I never believed I would be able to get past a certain point. But, I decided to trust in the process I had learned from my father and work out regularly. I started to see some real changes in my body and I fell in love with the results. I was hooked on the feeling of the pump, and I was hooked on the way my body reacted when being pushed to the limits. Once I started gaining weight and getting more muscular, I had tangible proof that my lifestyle in the gym was paying dividends. That was all I needed to continue pushing forward. When I went to treatment after my first semester I was about 115 pounds, and by the time I graduated college I was closer to 170 pounds. In three years I managed to gain close to 55 pounds of muscle. What could I do in ten years?

During this time I was also able to live life as a college student and find some balance in my academics, athletics and recreational life. I had parties, took trips to New York City, went to Cancun for spring break, and spent lazy weekend days on the Connecticut river. However, I wouldn’t be telling the whole story if I didn’t admit to putting too much academic pressure on myself. There were times when I felt as if the world was ending because I believed a letter grade below an A on my transcript would change my life forever. But there are two sides to every coin, and it’s the same anxious mind that allowed me to grow academically and undertake things that I will bring with me for the rest of my life. It’s the same mind that allowed me take what I knew about the gym and turn it from a hobby to a lifestyle. And it’s the same mind that would allow me to graduate college with multiple degrees. The anxiety was both a blessing and a curse.

I stayed on my medications all throughout college and I was completely physically and mentally dependent on the both of them. They allowed me to focus on my studies and gave me the illusion of a normal life during my college career. I knew that if I didn’t take either of them I would have withdrawals, but I figured once I graduated college I would reevaluate which medications were necessary. I couldn’t risk trying to get off them when I was doing so well where I was at, so I just continued doing what I needed to do while kicking the can down the road. Knowing what I know now I still wouldn’t change it. How many heroin addicts get to experience such a full life for over three years? I felt like I was given a Mulligan, and I was more than willing to accept any help I could get to have my life back.


There was always this burning question in the back of my mind. What happens when this is over and I go back home to Boston? Will I be okay back in my old stomping grounds? However, it was always a passing thought that I never let consume me. It never felt like this life I was living would end; but eventually it did. One day the party was over and the four years of accepted Tom Foolery were gone. What’s next? Do I just find a job and work for the next 40 years? How do I know what I really want to do with my life? I had so many questions and not enough life experience to come up with all the answers. So I moved back in with my parents and told myself I would figure it out in short order. But life had other plans for me, I just didn’t know it yet.