Halfway There (#5)

I can vividly remember stepping off the plane in Florida and thinking to myself, “what did I just get myself into?” Before I could even let my imagination run wild, I was greeted by someone who worked at the halfway house I was going to be living at. I stepped in his vehicle with all my worldly possessions and we talked about 90s era hip-hop as we drove to what would become my new home. When I pulled up, all I can remember seeing was some girl braiding a white guy’s hair on a picnic table outside of the property’s main office. My level of uneasiness went from DEFCON 5 to DEFCON 3 in a matter of seconds. I did my intake, took a drug test and got a quick rundown on all the rules. Then I was sent on my way like a tumbleweed blowing through a vast and barren desert.


The rules were as follows:

  • Do not get high or drink
  • Get a job immediately
  • Be home by 1030 pm on weeknights and midnight on the weekends
  • Work a 12 step program of recovery
  • Maintain a tidy and neat living environment
  • Be present for a mandatory house meeting 10 minutes prior to the meeting time
  • Pay your rent on time every week

If you have ever seen the movie “Billy Madison,” I would basically describe myself as the puppy who lost his way. The only difference between me and the puppy was that no one was trying to rescue me. I created this mess for myself and I needed to be the one to dig myself out of it; even I knew that. Within a few days I came to the realization that this halfway house was a lot like the island of misfit toys, and once I drew those parallels I felt a little more at ease. I do not say that in a condescending way at all, I say that with love and compassion in my heart. After all, I was one of the misfit toys. These were some of the smartest, funniest, most generous and most caring people I have ever met, but they were all lost in their own way. They had a story and a past just like I did, and somehow 150 men and women managed to coexist in a row of old townhouses in South Florida.


I had a way of finding some connection to everyone at that place and I actually began to enjoy living there. I felt like I was back in my high school days and I was changing my facades as quickly as I needed to so I could fit in. It was like a college dorm for sober people, and we had a lot of fun. Some people butted heads with the staff over the rules but I never had a problem respecting the staff that worked there and doing what they asked.  I was pretty well liked and I did my best to fly under the radar in a Boston kind of way – if that is even possible. However, I still did things “Nick’s Way.” Instead of looking for work, I went to the gym a few times a day and spent my afternoons on the beach. I was playing cards and betting on sports constantly, and I convinced myself it was okay because it gave me some type of income while I was looking for work. My parents were willing to pay my rent while I was staying there, and since I was not doing drugs or drinking I really didn’t need much money to survive.

But my unwillingness to work on myself and uncover what was really driving me to use drugs and drink alcohol incessantly was about to rear its ugly head once again.

I was sober for exactly three months and my parents agreed to let me come home for Christmas. I had already spent Thanksgiving away from them, and if you have been reading the previous articles you know how close I am to my family. I flew in to Logan airport and before we even got to my house I was texting and calling my drug dealer to bring me heroin. I had the best of intentions when I boarded the plane, but once I was in Boston I had no mental defense against my obsession for that ever elusive feeling. I felt like someone else was controlling my body and I was just an onlooker stuck in what some might call “the sunken place.”


The drug dealer happened to be right down the street, and at the time I thought it was a sign from God that I was making the right decision. This is how jumbled my mind was at the time. I told my dad I was tired and I wanted to get some rest before the Christmas eve festivities began the next day. I went upstairs and did the heroin in my parents’ bathroom only to wake up laying on the hallway floor with police, firefighters and EMTs huddled over me. Since I was sober for three months my tolerance had dropped tremendously and even though I did less than I usually would it still caused me to overdose. If it wasn’t for my mother’s training as a nurse and my dad’s intuition to come check on me that night I would have been dead. I was turning blue because I had not been breathing for several minutes and my mom was convinced that at the very least I was going to have brain damage from my body’s lack of oxygen. When all was said and done, I ended up spending the night in the hospital with no permanent issues.  I had awoken the ghost of Christmas past.

My mother and father still have nightmares from that incident, and I will never be able to completely amend that wrongdoing.

I flew back down to Florida a few days later and never told anyone at the halfway house what happened when I went home. I drank enough water to flush my system for the drug test they administered and I truly felt like I beat the system. But all I was doing was prolonging the inevitable.


I stayed sober for another three months until I decided I no longer needed to live in a sober living environment. I then moved out of the halfway house and into a sublet with my girlfriend. She was also a drug addict and neither one of us were ready to stop using completely. Both sets of parents tried to convince us not to leave the sober living facility but we thought we knew everything. The first night we got into our new house we were drinking wine and smoking weed. A week later we decided to go to Ultra Music Festival in Miami and I partied so hard for three days I couldn’t even stand up straight when the weekend was over. My body wasn’t used to drinking and using drugs in such large quantities so I didn’t rebound as quickly as I usually would. I needed to find a way to make myself feel better.

UltraI can remember parking my car in the ghetto and knocking on a door until someone answered, and needless to say, they were not pleased. I took a shot in the dark by looking for a nice car parked in a bad neighborhood and was willing to assume the risk associated with being out of my element. But when the dust settled and all was said and done, I finessed the situation and met my main heroin dealer. I knew if I had cash in hand everything would run very smoothly and that is exactly how I made this situation work in my favor. Bang! I was off to the races. My girlfriend and I came to the realization that we were not very compatible and it didn’t take long for us to simply become roommates and drug buddies. At the time I think we were both more than okay with that.

A 23 hour car ride on I-95 North and a series of really unfortunate and personal events landed me back in Massachusetts. Just like that – after nearly a year in Florida – I was right back to where I started. I felt like I was running a rat race and everyone was watching me and laughing as I tripped, stumbled and fell time after time. I was empty on options, but full of guilt, shame and remorse. I was rapidly approaching my mid twenties and all I had to show for it was a 2004 Nissan Sentra and an EBT card with a few dollars left on it. I managed for a few weeks up north until the pain got great enough and I had no choice but to check myself into another detox and another treatment program.

Last time it was the Lone Star State of Texas, and this time it was the Garden State of New Jersey. The location didn’t really matter too much because all I knew was if I wasn’t physically removed from society I simply couldn’t stop. Whether I was buying baby food on my EBT card and trading it for heroin, or stealing from friends and family, I always found a way to get that next high. Drug addicts are a very resourceful bunch, and we manage to find a way to adapt and survive until the next opportunity presents itself.

By the time I got to the treatment center it felt like a vacation. At least I knew where I was going to be sleeping every night and I wasn’t concerned with finding something to eat while I was there. Both of those things were steps up from how I was living my life before I arrived, so it wasn’t too difficult to settle right in. But when they asked me to introduce myself to the other clients, I did so by telling everyone I was a hopeless dope head with no chance of staying sober. I wasn’t being dramatic, that is truly how I felt at the time. Not only was I still using drugs, but I was putting myself in even more danger to do so while further torturing those people in my life who still loved me.

No matter how much pain and suffering I caused myself and those around me, I always found a way to tell myself it wasn’t that bad once I started feeling a little better. I was an ego maniac with an inferiority complex, but I’d be dammed if I was going to listen to anyone who had my best interests in mind.

Growing Pains (#4)

Right up until this exact moment in my life, there was always a blueprint for what path I should follow. First it was to get situated in high school and figure out where I fit in and what my strengths were. Then it was to get into a decent college and obtain a degree in some discipline that would become my career. It wasn’t that I was forced into it, but since my parents were the first to go to college in their families it seemed like the logical track to follow. At this point I was finished with both of those things, but I still had no idea what I wanted for my future and where I ultimately wanted to end up. A lot of my friends went to school for very specific careers and the fact that they seemed to have it all figured out made it even harder for me to admit I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. I moved back in with my parents and continued to work at the job I had when I was still attending college. I told myself I was just biding my time until I could figure out what my next move would be. But I was not excited about my future; instead, I was fearful and apprehensive about letting myself and those around me down again.


 Within two weeks of moving home I was physically and mentally addicted to heroin again. I had no idea what the future held for me, and I was so terrified about having to make my own decisions that I just didn’t make any. I stayed working at my old job for that entire summer and couldn’t understand why people weren’t knocking on my parents’ door seeking to hire me. After all, I thought I had a very employable skill set and a likable personality. Maybe it was because of my drug addiction and my lack luster approach at taking responsibility for my own life. However, I was surviving. I had managed to save money while in college and I was still prescribed my medications, so the heroin withdrawals were not really too much of an issue at this point. Once that first summer home was over, I reached out to a friend of mine who was working in the fitness industry and I landed a position as an assistant manager for a personal training company.


At this point I was still very much in love with the gym atmosphere and not only did I fit the part, but I looked it. My hard work and dedication in the gym during my four years at college seemed to have more of a positive impact on my job opportunities than my degrees did. I was still going to the gym daily and I had these pipe dreams about competing in fitness shows. I knew I would have to stop doing drugs if I ever wanted to do that, but I knew that would be sometime down the line. I felt as if I still needed the drugs to function in society at this point. My anxiety and fear were at an all time high and the heroin became a crutch for me until I gained some confidence and self esteem. I was very nervous about assuming my new position in the personal training industry, but I became so accustomed to acting as if I had everything figured out that I just put on a facade and kept it moving. The drugs helped this immensely and I just kept telling myself that they were benefitting me for the time being.

 Once I got to understand what was expected of me in this new job, I was actually pretty good at it. It was a sales job with training and some customer service mixed in. Not only did I understand fitness and the training industry through years of trial and error on myself, but I also loved and had a true passion for it. I was excited to talk to people about their training regiments and their diet, so the idea of doing this while getting paid for it was very appealing to me. The only problem at this point was that the money I had saved was running out and my addiction was only getting worse.

College Hair

 I was quickly promoted to full time manager because of my work ethic and sales ability. The president of the company went so far as to call me and congratulate me for helping to turn my location around and make it more profitable. I wasn’t really forcing anything or pretending to be something I wasn’t, I was just doing a job I had a passion for. Not only was I able to focus on my own fitness goals, but I was able to help other people obtain theirs. I had a zeal for what I was doing because it felt like I was helping other people with their fitness goals while making great money doing so. This seemed to be the best of both worlds,  but as my money and responsibility increased, so did my habit. I had to use more and more heroin just to keep from getting sick, and the only way I had energy to work was if I had drugs in my system. It was a conundrum of sorts. I had to keep doing heroin to continue working, and I had to continue working so I could afford to keep doing heroin. I was really stuck between a rock and a hard place.

 Things continued like this for the better part of a year until I was eventually found nodded out at my desk. The medications I was receiving through college were no longer being prescribed and the physical addiction was only getting worse. My work had been slipping for the past six months and I was no longer looked at as a promising young manager in the company. I was looked at as a liability and an unreliable employee. I was once again at the point in my life where I just wanted to pull the mask off and ask for help, but I still believed I could fix this problem myself. I willingly resigned from my position and knew that I had let a promising opportunity slip out of my grasp. I didn’t know what my next move would be; so once again I just didn’t make one.

After college

 I had a little bit of money in the bank because my only expense while working the past year was heroin. I was living at my parents house and working so much that my social life was nonexistent. For a few months after leaving that job I did nothing but lie around the house and do drugs. I either watched Sports Center while struggling to stay awake or I smoked cigarettes on the porch while waiting for my drug dealer to pull up. I was extremely depressed and resigned myself to the fact that this was going to be my life. I would always be just another drug addict from Malden Massachusetts – no matter how hard I tried to change that.

In fact, I was no longer going to the gym at all and my eating habits were terrible. Carbohydrates and sugar were the only two parts of my diet and I was ingesting them in large quantities at the worst times possible. I had gained a lot of unhealthy weight during this part of my life and was close to 215 pounds. I had gone from the young and undersized wrestler to an overweight drug addict with no prospects and no plan. Even with all this going on, my ego and my misguided sense of pride told me I wasn’t a real drug addict because of my college education and my ability to earn a living for myself. Both of these were lies I told myself in order to keep on living the only life I felt I was good at.

Freshman year

 My brother was back in another drug treatment program and I figured it was time for me to do the same. I knew that I couldn’t get out of this cycle on my own, so once again I asked my parents for help. My parents were fed up with my shenanigans, but they still did everything they could to find some type of help for me. I did not really want to stop doing drugs, I just knew that I was out of money and my habit was impossible to afford. I didn’t want to have to keep breaking laws to get money so I figured it was time to go away. As soon as my brother returned home from his 30 day program I was shipped out to the same location. I don’t think my family or the facility wanted us under the same roof because whenever we were together it was a recipe for disaster. I can remember flying to Texas and being so full of fear and regret. I was a jobless 23 year old with no money, no girlfriend, no permanent residence and no hope. I guess the only place to go from here was up.

 Upon arrival the nursing staff took my vital signs and weighed me. I was 215 pounds and my blood pressure was so high that they rushed a doctor in to do an EKG. It took two weeks of terrible withdrawals for my mind to start functioning somewhat regularly and I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit to being suicidal.  I was a prisoner to drugs and my life felt like self inflicted torture. I was physically free to act how I wanted, but I was held captive in my own mind. But I had the humility to do what I was told and listen to the people around me who had my best interests in mind.


I spent the next 45 days in that treatment center in Texas surrounded by people who were just like me. We all had different substances that we were addicted to, but the feelings and emotions were always the same. It was like an intensive crash course in addiction for all the troubled students they could fit under one roof. By the time I completed my program and was ready to return home to Boston my parents told me I wasn’t welcome at their home and needed to go to a halfway house. It was November at this point and I figured I might as well escape the cold, so I found a halfway house in Florida. I had all my belongings in a suitcase and I was traveling to a foreign state with no friends or family within 1,000 miles of me.


How did my life get to this point? How could I have had so many promising things going on in my life but time after time I chose drugs over my future? What am I going to do now? How will I earn a living? The questions poured into my brain relentlessly and I couldn’t even imagine what this new chapter in my life was going to be like. I had no references to base it on but movies and A&E documentaries, so I assumed the worst. I guess it was time for me to grow up and take responsibility for my actions, and that is exactly what I set out to do. This was my opportunity to make it on my own and finally be the true author of my own story.

I continued to think about a quote that my wrestling coaches embedded in my brain some ten years earlier. Albert E. Gray said, “The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.” It was time to pull myself up by my boot straps and afford myself the opportunity to grow. I knew what it took for my body to grow physically in the gym, but the growth I needed was more emotional, mental and spiritual. After all, I was a 23 year old with a chip on my shoulder, anger in my heart and pain in my eyes.

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.

HIGH School (#2)

Before I continue on with my story I would like to mention that I was overcome with anxiety as I was brainstorming this installment in the series. A lot of these memories bring me back to a time in my life that was very dark, very lonely and very confusing. I am not writing this so the reader feels bad for my situation, I am writing this to let you know we all have our fears. Fear is a normal emotion, and in the animal kingdom fear often times keeps those lower on the food chain alive. So in this regard fear is often times a balancing act between the rational and the irrational. I have already survived this part of my life, and it has shaped me into the person I am today. Without the trials and tribulations that I went through I wouldn’t have the insight or qualifications to begin to speak on these topics. So my fear of sharing my secrets with those reading was trumped by the fear of having another person go through a dark part of their life while feeling alone. We are currently in a war with addiction and mental illness, and the only way to combat it is to show the people suffering they are not alone. There are other people who have shared in those feelings and emotions. Once my mind made sense of this, the anxiety was removed and I was overcome with gratitude.


Since we’ve already broached the topic of anxiety, who remembers the feeling just before high school? Who remembers the nervousness of fitting in with all the boys and girls in your city? Will I be popular? Will the girls make fun of me? Yeah, I never had that. I continued my education at an all boys Catholic high school, so some of those fears were alleviated almost immediately. The school was a popular choice for a lot of the people in my city, and my brother and most of my friends were already enrolled there. So I strapped up my backpack, laced up my dress shoes and got ready for the next chapter of my life.

The first year of high school was a pretty normal one. I continued to excel at school while playing football and wrestling. I was barely breaking the five foot mark so that year I wrestled in the 103 pound weight class. I cut a decent amount of weight to get there, and I can vividly remember eating just two slices of deli turkey and a clementine for Christmas dinner that first season. Since I was so small, football was put on the back burner and wrestling took over my life. I still wanted to be the best at something, and since there were weight classes I didn’t have to worry about being so outmatched like I was on the football field. Maybe this was finally my chance to stand out amongst the crowd.


My double life was still in full swing, but now that I was in high school it seemed more normal. Everyone around me was either my age or older and other kids my age were starting partake in some of the activities that had gotten me in trouble with my mom in the past. But it always seemed as if I had to take it a step further than the rest of them. By the time the year ended and the summer rolled around, I was so busy traveling the state for open wrestling tournaments that I didn’t really have much time to get into trouble. I drank with my friends at parties and smoked weed constantly, but neither of them took over my life. At this point it really seemed as if my master plan was working. I was playing sports at a high level, I was getting A’s and B’s in school, I was weight lifting with my father and I was using drugs and alcohol when the opportunities presented themselves. I couldn’t believe how easy it seemed to navigate the three different lives I was living.

Cig MC

When Sophomore year rolled around I was so invested in the wrestling team and my coaches that I decided it was best for me to take the year off from football and prepare for the wrestling season year round. I was winning tournaments that summer and I felt like I had the real opportunity to compete at a high level. The season turned out to be a failure as far as I was concerned. I had cut a lot of weight that year to get into the 112 pound weight class and I just didn’t have much energy the entire year. I can remember my mother telling me the teachers were saying I was falling asleep a lot in class, and asking if everything was alright. Some of that exhaustion came from the lack of food and grueling wrestling practices, and some of that stemmed from the fact I was using Xanax on a more regular basis. I had such high hopes for the season and what I was going to accomplish that year, but not many of them came to fruition. It wasn’t from lack of effort or training, it was more from lack of ability and technical skill in the sport. I was longing for this instant gratification. I knew that things took hard work and dedication, and I was more than wiling to put that type of effort in. But when things didn’t materialize as quickly as I wanted them to, I would really beat myself up about it. I was my own worst critic.


At this point the drugs and alcohol were no longer a harmless way to socialize with my friends. They had become a coping mechanism for these feelings that I was going through on a daily basis. I was starting to come to grips with the stark realization that I was going to be good at many different aspects of my life, but I was never going to be the best. That was simply not good enough for me. I knew that when I was drinking and using drugs the feelings of being a failure and a disappointment became indirectly proportional to one another. The more I abused drugs and alcohol the less I felt these overwhelming feelings of disappointment with myself and my life. When I was sober I felt angry, resentful, discontent, restless, irritable, unsure and fearful. These feelings began to overwhelm me on a regular basis and I needed a stronger way to escape them.

Just before that school year ended I found something that would change my life for the next decade. Boston was already going through a Oxycontin epidemic, and the pills were plentiful throughout the city. I knew people who were doing them, but I always felt that they were too dangerous to get involved with. I saw the wreckage they were causing in my city first hand. I finally decided to try one before my 16th birthday and I was instantly hooked. I wasn’t hooked physically from the very beginning, but I was enamored with how they eased all my worldly concerns. I couldn’t understand at the time that my life was so full already, and if I just stopped for a second to enjoy the process I would have felt so much more content with my situation. I had my loving family, good friends, a great brother, I played sports at a high level and got good grades in school with hardly any effort. Why was I so unhappy?

By the time my Junior year started I was completely mentally and physically addicted to Oxycontin. When I did not have it in my system I felt like I had the flu and my mind could only fixate on how I was going to get more. My brother was in the same sinking ship I was in, so we used together. We came up with hustles in order to get the money we needed to continue on this destructive path. I used to walk around with a gas can on the weekends telling people I was from New Hampshire and ran out of gas to get home. We would steal cash out of my mothers purse or sell tools out of our basement that we thought my dad wouldn’t miss. My mind was no longer fixated on feeling like a failure in other aspects of my life, instead it was only concerned with the next high.


Just before that wrestling season started, I can remember this terrible fear of how I would even make it through a practice without drugs in my system. Wrestling practices were hard enough without a physical dependency on pain killers, and now I had to deal with both. I was named team captain that season and I wanted nothing more than to pull all my masks off and come clean with everyone in order to get some relief from the turmoil I was feeling inside. But instead I did what I always do, I took the burden on myself and went about my life as if everything was functioning normally. During one practice after school I can remember my brother coming to find me to ask me how we were going to get high that night. My guess was as good as his.

Two days before Christmas I was wrestling someone who was ranked very highly in the state. At this point I was winning at a very high level and moving up the rankings while hiding my addiction. I was using all the pent-up anger and resentment I had in me when I stepped out onto the mat. That morning my mother dropped me off early to get on the vans and I looked at her and said, “no matter what happens I am not going to lose this match.” We were in a 3-2 stalemate going into the second period and my opponent took the top position. I drove my leg into the ground and went to stand up to tie the match. When I did this he lifted as hard as he could and picked me up high into the air and lost control. I fell down hard to the mat and landed directly on my right shoulder, suffering a terrible dislocation. My season was over, but since he used an illegal move, I won the match by disqualification.  I told her I wouldn’t lose.


I mention this point in my life because this is where it turned. This is the point where sports and school no longer became of any real importance in my life and all I cared about was getting high. The one thing I was pretty good at was taken away from me and I had no other outlets for escape. I entered into an even darker spot in my mind and felt as if my destiny was just to be another drug addict from Boston. Lord knows we had a lot of them at the time. The drugs were not even working properly any more, I used because I was physically dependent and did not want to go through the withdrawals. I began looking for other ways to escape my mental anguish and I still have the scars and burns on my forearms from cutting myself with razor blades and putting cigarettes out on them. The physical pain reminded me I was still alive and helped to quiet my racing thoughts. But only for a moment.

I wrestled my senior year of high school with a huge brace on my right arm and my shoulder was always in pain. I stayed involved just to keep up appearances, but I had checked out of the sport mentally a long time before. This wasn’t a willing choice, it was out of necessity to continue getting high. I knew that if I did not maintain some appearance of a normal life the rue would have been up and I would have had to stop my charade. Somehow I still made it to the sectional finals that year but lost that match and finished in second place. This only perpetuated the idea that no matter what I did in my life I would always come up a little short. It didn’t bother me any more because I knew that with my addiction I was at a terrible disadvantage out the gate. I was just biding time for the next high.

Before I graduated high school the Oxycontin had gotten much too expensive and I told myself heroin made sense on a financial level. I convinced myself that as long as I didn’t use a needle I wasn’t a real heroin addict. That didn’t last long, and before my 18th birthday I was hanging around heroin addicts in their mid 30s while smoking crack and using needles. I had been constantly drawing lines in the sand while crossing them willingly. First it was managing my double life before I entered high school. Then it became managing what types of drugs I used in order to never become a full-blown drug addict. Then it became how I would manage my painkillers in order to function at a decent level while playing sports. Now it was a free for all. Everything seemed to be a go as long as I wasn’t going through the physical withdrawals.

I would go to my “friends” house first thing in the morning and facilitate drug deals in order to get free ones from the dealers. We told people they were $50 each, but we got three for $100; so for every two that we sold we got one to keep. My parents already knew my brother had a raging addiction and all their efforts went into trying to save him from its grips. They could see the signs in me, but I just think they didn’t want to believe that their only two sons had grown up to become drug addicts. I can remember my brother and I had split up one day to try to come up with some money. When we reconvened later in the day, neither of us had enough to end the withdrawals. I remember falling to the floor with tears in my eyes in defeat. All I wanted to do, and all I needed to do was get high, but I couldn’t even do that right.

I was lost. I was living two or three different lives at once and I had no idea how I would ever escape the situation. I wanted so badly to just come clean to everyone around me and try to end the pain and suffering, but I didn’t want to let my parents down. My moral compass was completely flipped upside down and I was doing things that I knew were wrong just to feed my addiction. I was stealing from my parents and hanging around people in their mid 30s that had been drug addicts for the better part of their lives. I wasn’t raised like this. I came from a loving home surrounded by a family that cared about me and was always present in my life. How did this happen to both me and my brother?

I was losing weight at an alarming rate from all the drugs I was doing and the gym was merely an afterthought. My high school days were behind me, and I had been on the last sports team I was ever going to be a part of. Now what?

While the students I graduated high school with were planning their college careers and deciding what major they wanted, I was planning how I would get high that day. While they were excited about that summer before college, I was sitting on the floor in a beat up crack house because all the furniture had been sold. I no longer had any sense of what was important in my life and I would avoid mirrors because I couldn’t stand the person I saw looking back at me. The multiple lives I was living were all boiled down into one. They were put into a spoon, drawn back into a syringe and injected directly into my lost and lonely bloodstream.

Who am I? (#1)

By Nicholas Bellofatto

Whenever someone asks me to describe myself, I almost always become confused and uneasy about what that question actually means. Do they mean my physical attributes? Do they mean the standardized test type questions that you can only answer with a #2 pencil? Do they mean I should describe myself how I think the world wants me to appear at certain stages of my life? Well in any case, I don’t really believe any of those options hold much weight if you really want to get to know someone. All those questions serve their purpose, but none of them could ever fully encapsulate what makes our hearts beat faster with love and excitement, our hairs stand up in awe and amazement or our eyes swell with emotion.

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I was born in the summer of 1989 in a small city about five miles north of Boston. Welcome to Malden Massachusetts! For any of you that are familiar with the area, Malden is very much like the other cities that surround Boston. The houses employ old Victorian style architecture, the streets are winding back roads that possess no real rhyme or reason as far as navigation is concerned, and the people who live there have a lot of pride for their city. I say that with a lot of conviction because even though I have relocated to Florida over two and a half years ago, Malden will always be home. Even as I typed that, I stuck my chest out and lifted my chin because I will always feel a certain prideful connection to that city.


I was born to my loving mother Susan and my hard-working and intelligent father Anthony. My father is an electrical engineer and my mother is a nurse, but shortly after giving birth to me, she took some time off of work to care for my older brother and I. My brother Anthony is about two years older than me, and when we were growing up we were as close as brothers get. I grew up in a very loving home surrounded by two parents that cared about me and my well-being, and a brother that was my best friend. But it was not just my immediate family that played a large role in my life, I also had my large extended family around me at all times. We’re Italian, and anyone that knows anything about Italians knows that family always comes first. When my parents were busy on the weekends my brother and I would take a trip to Chelsea and stay with my grandmother, grandfather and my aunt. I can remember exactly how the old brick house looked under the Boston summer sun. I can remember how the house began to smell as I walked up the entry way stairs to get to the second floor where they lived. I can remember how warm my grandparents and my aunt made me feel inside when I got there. That apartment in Chelsea always felt like my second home.


I mention these things because family has always been of paramount importance in my life. We weren’t rich in the traditional sense, but we sure were rich with love and affection. My brother and I had everything we ever needed and some of what we wanted, and for that I can honestly say we were blessed. As I said, my mother took years off of work and always made sure my brother and I were balanced in our daily lives. At this same time, my father was working long days and hard nights to provide for his family in a way his dad never did for him. This is the reason my parents will always be my biggest heroes.

As the years passed and I entered grade school I began trying to figure out where I fit in. After all, I played every sport under the sun but at the same time I loved school and got really good grades. So was I an academic or an athlete? Sports were always tough for me because I was a very undersized in my early years. I was under five feet tall until high school and because of that I always had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. But yet, I always wanted to be liked by everyone that I came into contact with, so I developed this chameleon type of armor that I used to protect me. When I was around the athletes I was one of them and I acted as if I couldn’t care less about school. What I didn’t mention to them was that I did my homework the first day it was assigned and never missed a day of school. When I was surrounded by the more academic type, I downplayed my attachment to athletics and tried to make myself out to be more intelligent than I was. I guess I was trying to answer that ever elusive question, “who am I?”

At this point in my life I was pushed around a little bit because of my small stature, and also because I had a terrible lisp growing up. When I was born I had an issue with my hearing and had a few surgeries to correct it. The problem was that by the time my ears were working properly I was already pronouncing words wrong and my tongue seemed to have a mind of its own. Not only did I have a Boston accent, I also had a speech issue. It amazing anyone could understand me at all. So for the better part of my life growing up I had to go to speech therapy to correct it, and I can remember being very self-conscious when the other kids around me would call it to the forefront of jokes. It didn’t affect me too much on the outside because even at a young age I knew that would have given them the power. However, looking back at it now, I can honestly say I was getting angry, resentful and self-conscious about certain aspects of my life.

I was angry that I wasn’t a big and strong gifted athlete because I idolized the likes of Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Randy Moss, and Marshall Faulk. I wanted so badly to be these guys but I did not possess the natural talent or size necessary to stand out on the football field or the basketball court. So I connected myself to the idea of the underdog and my favorite character in cinema history to this day is still Rocky Balboa. I came to understand that even though I may not have been the most naturally gifted I could still work harder than everyone else. I always did my best. I could rest my head at night and know that I did everything in my power with the gifts I was given to be the best version of me in that particular scenario. But I still wanted to stand out.

As much as I idolized all the best athletes in their respected sports I was also enamored with my parents from a very early age. Not just because of their ability to make me feel safe and loved, but because in their earlier years they were both competitive body builders. When my mother and father started dating he was already really interested in bodybuilding and had a tall and lanky frame perfect for building muscle. My mom was a young nursing student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who was focusing on her studies while smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. She had no knowledge of weight training or proper nutrition and up until meeting him never really thought much about it. Once they got together, a big part of their life was built around going to the gym together, dieting together, meal prepping together and competing in shows in the New England area together. When I was a kid I can vividly remember pulling their competition pictures off the mantle over the fireplace to show my friends how big and muscular my parents used to be. The reactions were always that of awe and amazement. I couldn’t wait until my mom said I was old enough to start lifting weights. Maybe that would have been my opportunity to be the best at something.


Before my thirteenth birthday my dad and I began weight training in my basement a few times a week. He would show me what exercises worked specific muscle groups and how to do them without risking injury. He made sure to document how much I was lifting and how many times, he called these things “sets and reps.” I slowly picked up on the lingo and started to see some progress in the way my body looked. I can remember being in school and looking forward to my weight lifting sessions with my dad when he got home from work. I knew that in other organized sports I was competing with other people, but when it came to weight training I was competing with myself and I could get used to that. I knew I only had to work hard to be better than the person I was the day before, and that was something that was going to hold my attention for the next 15 years.

But there was a storm brewing.

In the last few years of my life before I hit high school, something inside of me began to change. I was good at school but I wasn’t the best. I was good at sports but I wasn’t the best. And I was introduced to weight lifting but it was merely a seed that was planted, it was not yet a lifestyle. I was getting more and more angry about this as the years went on and I wanted so badly to find my niche. As I mentioned, I always hung around my brother, and his friends were my friends. By this time they were already in high school and some of them didn’t really concern themselves with sports or school because they had found weed and alcohol. I can remember thinking, “maybe this will be the way for me to stand out amongst the crowd that often times seems to swallow me up.” But I had this mental battle going on in my head telling me that want to be an athlete and a scholar and those people don’t do drugs and drink. I was getting uncomfortable in my own skin because even though I could find a way to fit in with anyone, I didn’t know who I was on the inside.

By the time I was in 8th grade I was smoking cigarettes, smoking weed and sneaking out of the house to go drink with my brother and his friends in the school yard down the street. And for the first time in my life I no longer cared if I was the best athlete or the brightest young mind in school, I was just “Lil Nick.” That was the name my friends bestowed upon me because not only was I two years younger than them, I was also the second person named Nick in our group of friends. Of course my small and underwhelming stature also played into my unofficial title; so I embraced it. They thought it was hysterical to have an undersized 13-year-old drinking with them, and I thought I finally found my niche. I felt as if this is where I belonged and this is what I was missing all along. Then one morning I woke up on my friends couch with throw up in my pockets and had to have a serious conversation with my mother about what was going on with me.

With the benefit of hindsight, I realize that at this point I was at a crossroads in my life. The decisions I was making based on the feelings I had inside, were about to determine how the next 15 years of my life were going to unfold. I knew that I did not want to disappoint my family and let my mother and father down, and I also knew I did not want to give up the things that I loved and cared about – sports and school. But I knew that for the first time in my life I felt put together when I was drinking and using drugs, and for that reason I couldn’t let them go completely. I remember making a conscious decision to balance all three of these things and make it work as my life progressed more into adulthood. My master plan didn’t work as well as I had hoped because before I even started high school I graduated from using just liquor and weed. At this point I was already selling small amounts of weed out of my parents house and taking Percocets and Xanax.

I was fearful of my future without knowing it. I was resentful at all the people who pushed me around. And I was angry for all the things that I wasn’t given. And I lusted for more. I knew I was blessed in many aspects of my life but all I could find myself fixating on was the things I did not have. I was endlessly searching for some external solution to an internal conflict. All I needed to do was open my eyes to see what was around me, but it is hard to see the forest when you are amongst the trees.