I grew up in South Philly and am currently twenty-nine years old. As a child, I was quite the introvert and didn’t have many friends. I had a lot of anxiety and developed physical tics that I was very self-conscious about. The anxiety and tics made it hard to fit in and socialize with others. Depression weighed me down, and I was always escaping to other worlds through video games, TV, and music. Most of my time was spent alone at home.
I smoked marijuana for the first time when I was 12, and it was a complete escape for me. Most of my anxiety went away, and I began looking for other things that could take me out of my anxious mindset. I began drinking on the weekends not too long after first smoking. I eventually moved from South Philadelphia to Northeast Philadelphia. My older brother moved there, and being one of the few friends I had, I wanted to move in with him. I made a friend who regularly had marijuana, and I was eventually smoking every day. Smoking and drinking made me feel like I was fitting in. I felt like I was escaping from my anxiety and tics.
I’d go out with friends, but when I couldn’t get anything, I’d retract back into my isolated world. Having seen several psychologists and having been on several medications, I felt nothing worked. I had to find my own way to feel better. That’s where the constant marijuana use came in.
When I was 13, I broke my leg while skateboarding. The hospital provided morphine and Percocet; it was the first time I had tried an opioid. The constant swarming of self-doubt vanished, and in its place, a bolstered self-esteem that neither marijuana nor alcohol could ever give. After getting out of the hospital, I would use opioids or benzos whenever I could get access to them. I became less motivated in school and started to go with the flow. I realized I was having issues with Percocet when I was 16. I could not go to school or socialize unless I had an opiate in my system.
I was introduced to Oxycodone when I was seventeen. It was the most potent high I ever had, and I wanted nothing else at that point. I began using one 80 milligram pill a day and it escalated to three pills a day. I had worked and saved up money since I was 12, so no one noticed what I was doing on a financial level. I was able to buy the pills from friends who were diverting them from their parent’s medicine cabinets. By the time I graduated high school, I was using five pills a day. I began passing out at times but refused to admit what the pills were doing to my body.
When I was 18, I worked security at a casino and the pills began to interfere with my job. I was getting to a point where I couldn’t supply my habit and would become sick. I would come home from work and just lay down for hours. This was when my mom and brother realized what was happening and confronted me about it. I went into rehab and detoxed there. It was a 28-day program, and I thought I’d be cured afterwards. It began to hit me when I got out, that I had been self-medicating since I was 12 and had no coping mechanism. I began to reverse back into isolation and stayed in my brother’s room playing video games that whole year. I was just depressed and felt no joy in anything.
I eventually started dating a woman who happened to be using, but was hiding it from me. Through her, I gained access to opioids again. I’d try to get sober but always became anxious or depressed. I wasn’t dealing with the core issues causing my addiction. Every time I relapsed, my use would get worse than before.
Eventually, no one I knew was selling opioid pills. I was looking for a replacement and someone showed me how to get it. They took me down to a part of Philly that felt like a flea market for drugs. Every block in that part of the city had whatever you’d want. I began buying and combining different drugs, like cocaine and PCP. This is when I began using heroin and entered one of the darkest moments of my life. I was beginning to go through psychosis and was losing my mind. I had a psych evaluation and was told that I was bipolar. I told them I had been using a lot of drugs, but they didn’t want to wait for them to wear off before evaluating me. They just diagnosed me with bipolar disorder and put me on lithium.
I went into another deep depression which led to another relapse. I was getting into fights with my parents and was kicked out. I lost my job and was living in an apartment with a girl who was using crack and heroin. I sold everything I accrued in my life, like my music equipment. My use was getting so bad that I almost lost my leg due to an infection from IV use. The only thing stopping me from purposefully taking my life was the idea of my mom finding my body.
One night, I began to reflect on the life I had made for myself. I thought about the family I had hurt. I thought about my peers who went on to be successful and had their lives in order. The thoughts spurred the question of how long my life could go on for. I remembered the words my mother told me. That when I was ready for help, she’d be there for me; all I had to do was call her. I remember staring out my window, considering the two choices I had. I could give up and die, or I could get help.
I called my mom and told her that I was ready. She began calling around, but wasn’t able to find any treatment beds. She finally found one in Galax, Virginia and told me it would be an 18 hour drive there on a bus. It occurred to me that I’d be going through withdrawals for 18 hours on a bus. Part of me said to go back to Kensington and just live the old life. Another part of me said I couldn’t keep living that life, and to get on the bus.
Luckily, that second voice was bigger and my family picked me up. They took me to the bus station and said goodbye. It was a horrible bus ride but I got there. My mindset was completely different this time. Every time I had gone to rehab it was for other people. This time it was for me.
When I entered into the rehab program, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had already tried going cold turkey and using suboxone. I didn’t know if anything else was going to work. People in the program suggested I try methadone, and I’m glad they did. I didn’t get the immediate depression I tended to get every time I stopped using. I felt clearheaded and was more open to listening to others about what I needed to do.
While in rehab, I decided to attend a halfway home in Asheville, North Carolina. I didn’t want to return back to Philadelphia where I knew the streets and people I could get drugs from. I figured the best way to stay sober was to start somewhere new. I had heard that Asheville was a good recovery town. I didn’t go alone though, I went with a woman I had met in rehab. The halfway home wasn’t the best environment, but I managed to stay sober.
While I still had to work through my anxiety issues, I was becoming a different and happier person. I ended up leaving Asheville when the woman I was staying with began relapsing. Though I had been sober since rehab, I don’t feel that my recovery truly started until I came back home to Philadelphia.
Luckily, my mother got in contact with a woman named Marti who runs “To Save a Life” and recommended I go to the Aldie counseling center. It was the perfect setting for me and really helped me in my recovery. Within a few weeks, I felt like a different person. The meetings allowed me to confront my anxiety and depression. I‘m currently learning how to cope with these core issues so that I don’t resort to using drugs to cover them up.
I’m at a point where I can now help others. I conduct a peer group counseling meeting once a week. As horrible as my road has been, I think it happened for a reason; so that I could get to where I am today. The best part of recovery is getting my freedom back and knowing what I’m capable of. I now have the relationship with my family that I’m supposed to have. I realize now how important they are, and how much they did for me. I just want be able to show them how much I appreciate them.
This is why I am sharing my story, so people understand the truth of what addicts are going through. When addiction takes hold, it becomes your main focus, and it’s difficult to see anything outside of that focus. It’s not something you choose. We all need to keep an open mind and understand that those in addiction have potential for great things; they just need help.
For those in addiction, know that no path to recovery is wrong or right; it’s what works for you. We need to come together and solve this issue as a community. The best way to start doing that, is to educate ourselves on the nature of this disease. The only way to properly respond to this epidemic, is with an understanding of it.