Substance abuse

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 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.


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!


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.

Boston Always Strong 7

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.

Always Strong 7

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.

Always Strong 7a

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.

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.