we do recover

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.

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.

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.