Today my life is a prayer. I have no idea how I am still alive, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness. At the age of 22 years old, I found myself hopelessly addicted to heroin, running around the streets of North Philadelphia. This was not how my life was supposed to turn out, but it did happen to me. All those times I said it wouldn’t or couldn’t were not enough to stop the juggernaut that is called addiction. Addiction didn’t care who I was, where I was from, how much money I had, what job I worked, or how much my family loved me. It took everything from me and it shattered my very soul. I became a shell of the happy-go-lucky child I was growing up. How did I get here? I share my story in hopes that someone out there reading this sees their problem in my problem and decides to get help.
Growing up, drinking was completely normal in my family. I remember always watching my family members drink at gatherings and I thought that was what I was supposed to do. My grandfather always had a cup of whiskey in his hand. My family even joked he would be buried with that cup, and I’m sad to say that eventually came true. He died of sclerosis of the liver from alcoholism, but no one really talked about it or tried to stop him. I thought that’s just how people died. I thought I might as well start drinking too. I remember my first time being drunk. I was always a painfully shy person with undiagnosed anxiety and depression. This painful awkwardness made it a struggle to fit in and do pretty much anything socially. When I was 12 years old on Halloween night, I drank a screwdriver, orange juice and vodka. A miracle happened. All that pain I felt disappeared. I could make friends. I could talk to girls. I was the life of the party, and people seemed to like me more! At that instant, I was hooked whether I knew it or not. I remember taking shots of whiskey before school in the ninth grade. Eventually, I started dabbling in other drugs. I tried marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens, opiates, and benzodiazepines. If I was on something, I could conquer the world. I somehow managed to graduate high school on the honor roll despite my rampant drug and alcohol use. I got accepted to multiple universities. I didn’t choose the college I went to for academic or sports reasons. I chose it because their slogan was “Our blood alcohol level is higher than our GPA.” That ended up becoming true as well. I was an instant hit at the dorms because of my extensive partying experience and knowledge on narcotics. I would seesaw semesters from almost failing out to making good grades. I was still managing it, I thought. My alcohol and drug use were daily at this point.
Then, it got even worse. My father was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and given months to live. I remember being so devastated by this, crying uncontrollably, but my friend alcohol was always there for me. As my dad got sicker so did I. The trauma of losing a parent at a young age is indescribable. Eventually he succumbed to his illness, but I couldn’t even stay around for that. I had a bundle of heroin waiting for me in the mailbox at home. My using increased tenfold at this point, and I started to lie, cheat, and steal to get what I needed. Opioids became a way of life. I could barely take a shower without using. The mental and physical withdrawal was so painful that I did anything to get more, including hurting my family. My drug and alcohol use came to a head on a vacation. Our family went to visit my sister-in-law’s family in Brazil where she was from. There was no way I could make it through the trip without my drugs, so I smuggled them into a foreign country. Breaking international law was not even on my mind because the drugs were such a necessity. Of course, I ran out halfway through the trip. I was going through serious withdrawal, and that’s when my mom finally found out what was going on. I was laying on a beach in absolute paradise with clear blue water, sun in the sky, and beautiful women around me. I was in absolute hell on the inside.
When my family found out what was happening, they immediately helped me get into treatment. I started with an outpatient program, but I couldn’t fight through the withdrawal. The obsession of using opiates is stronger than anything I ever faced before. I wanted to stop but found out that I couldn’t. I’ve seen it bring the strongest of men to their knees. It became an instinct to survive. Just like I needed to drink water and eat every day, I needed my next hit. After a few more rehab stays, I remember the exact moment I surrendered. Prior to this, I made half-hearted attempts at 12 step programs, but never really took it seriously. I was standing in my mom’s kitchen, and I said the most honest and sincere prayer I have ever said in my life, “I need help.” Despite all the pain and turmoil I caused in my family, they helped me one last time.
On April 27th, 2010, God separated me from drugs and alcohol. I couldn’t do it on my own will or family’s will, so it must be his Grace. In that moment of surrender I decided to do the opposite of what I was doing to stay sober, and to take every suggestion that rehab gave me. I sat in one group for chronic relapse, and I was going through bad withdrawal. The mental terror started to creep in, so I gave up. I raised my hand and said, “I feel like getting high right now.” The counselor looked at me, and knew I was telling the truth. He said “Brandt fighting addiction is like fighting a brick wall. You can’t win.” I said, “Great I guess I’m screwed.” He explained that I was not, and that all I had to do to win was to never get in the ring with addiction. If I stopped fighting my addiction and took the suggestions given to me, I could overcome! That’s exactly what I did.
My insurance company cut me off after 13 days. The rehab suggested an extended care program in Florida, so I said why not. At that program it was suggested I enter a recovery house, so I said why not. At the recovery house they suggested I work a 12-step program, so I said why not. I got a sponsor, home group, and started working the 12 steps. Every day I fell to my knees and prayed to God to remove the obsession to use, and at night I thanked Him. Through this process of complete surrender, the miracle happened. Somewhere along the line in that recovery house the desire to use drugs and alcohol completely dissipated. Even when the opportunity presented itself and no one was around, I refused! I didn’t know why it was working but it was, so I decided to continue. I remember feeling strongly that I would like to open my own program one day. I started working in drug and alcohol treatment. I worked various positions at the facility where I got sober. I found my passion was helping people, so I dedicated my life to it. After a few years, I decided it was time to return home to Pennsylvania. My sister just gave birth to my oldest nephew, and I knew I needed to be back in my family’s life.
This is why I am sharing my story. I’ve been able to stay sober for over nine years. I’ve had amazing jobs, true authentic friendships, and even bought two houses! I went from homeless to a homeowner. I never thought any of this would be possible while in the depths of my addiction, but since entering recovery I know that miracles are real.
Today I have been blessed with the opportunity to open my own outpatient center and recovery houses in Pennsylvania! It has been an absolute blessing to be able to dedicate the rest of my life to helping others. How I measure success today is not by financial or social status but by the peace of mind I feel, as well as the individuals I get to interact with daily who need help. God Bless!