I grew up on a 50-acre farm in Western Maryland with sheep and every animal you can think of. I grew up with my older brother, older sister, mom, and dad. My dad went to work, and my Mom stayed at home and took care of the kids. I looked up to my older brother a whole lot growing up. It was a normal childhood: I went to school, played sports, did farm work, and that’s what life was like for me as a kid.
I started using substances when I was about 15. I started out drinking and smoking weed on the weekends. I started drinking to fit in with everybody else drinking at a party. I didn’t want to be the loser kid that wasn’t doing what everybody else was doing. Then, during college, things really picked up for me. I started using ecstasy, smoking every single day, drinking every single day, not paying attention in school, and trying to fit in and hang out with everybody else who was partying. At first it was my decision to pick up everything that I picked up for the first time, but it quickly became a need.
I left college after a year and really started hanging out with the wrong people. I started taking ecstasy every single day, smoking crack, taking cocaine, pills, and just about anything you could think of under the sun. I didn’t start using opiates until I was about 23 years old. Once I started using opiates, it’s all I ever did.
At first, I still maintained a job, had a family life, had a son, and had a girlfriend, but the opiates eventually took complete control over my life. I went from having all these things to in about six months being homeless, living out of my car, stealing from stores, and robbing loved ones just so that I could get that next bag. I wasn’t talking to anyone in my family or any of my friends anymore. There was absolutely nothing that came first. For about three or four years straight, every single day, all I did was get high, and that’s all I wanted to do.
I used substances because I wanted out of myself. I never really fit in at home, yet I was that person who tried to fit in with everybody. I had friends and I played sports, but I was always different from my brother and sister and different from my friends. Once I started using heroin, none of that really mattered; nothing matters anymore once you’re using heroin. Getting and using heroin was all life boiled down to for me.
I was homeless for about four years, one year in Maryland and three in Philadelphia. I decided to come to Philly after I ran out of places to go in Maryland. I had caused a trail of destruction from the western part of Maryland to the eastern most part. I had warrants in four different counties and had absolutely nothing to do. I continued to run from all of my problems and came to Philly with a friend of mine, well someone who I thought was a friend. Once I came to Kensington, I never left. I was perfectly fine being homeless and waking up every single day doing the same thing over and over and over again, not caring about anybody else but myself.
Being homeless for me was difficult at first, especially because as a kid, I used to go on outreach programs and mission trips to big cities helping homeless people. I handed out food and gave people clothes, only to find out that 10 years later, I was one of those homeless people receiving three meals from soup kitchens and receiving help from kids. While I was homeless, I noticed that sometimes people would cross over to the other side of the street. If I walked by somebody in their car, they would quickly lock their car doors. People treated homeless people as if we were the plague. It was upsetting, and it was rough too. While being homeless in Kensington, I have been beaten up, I’ve had people try to rob me, and I’ve overdosed numerous times, although I don’t remember half of them. I’ve woken up with paramedics and police officers over top of me, and I have been arrested and in jail countless times. The times in jail were just vacations, as I would call them, because I already knew I was going to go back out and do the exact same thing every single time.
One day in particular, I was at a fast food restaurant sitting and eating what I could afford with a little change when a young girl, probably about the same age as my son, came up and gave me ten dollars and said, “Go get something for yourself.” I guess I looked pretty beaten up and worn down, and that was the lowest point that I ever had, having some little girl come up to me and hand me money because I didn’t look well.
While I was in active addiction, there were really only two times when I actually wanted to get help. The first time, I was cold, tired, didn’t have anywhere to go, and I told the crisis center I was going to kill myself. They gave me a bed, I detoxed for three days, and then left. I just had no desire after that to stay sober. The day I got out of the crisis center, I overdosed. I thought I could keep doing what I was doing, but I had just detoxed so my body couldn’t tolerate it. I woke up with a scar on my face and paramedics over me. I had fallen over and had hit my face on a cinder block. As soon as I got up, I left to go get the next bag; that was how it worked for me. I didn’t stop willingly until about a year-and-a-half later.
The thing that made me want to stop the most was being so tired of the way I was living and tired of letting people down all the time. My family, my son, and probation never kept me sober. I got to the point where every single morning I woke up not liking the person I was, having to wake up and walk to somewhere just to steal to get that next bag. It weighs on you after a while, so I got fed up with who I was and was willing to do whatever I needed to do to make a change. I was able to put a few things together and put a few days together to enter and continue recovery.
When I finally had the realization that I needed help, I made my first attempt ever to go to rehab. I went to a crisis center in Center City, and 13 hours later I was in a bed in a rehab attempting to get help for the first time. I spent 40 days in rehab, and it really changed my perception of recovery and made me realize that I’m not the only person who has these problems. I’m not the only one who has issues with family and friends and kids. I was finally around people I could relate to.
After the 40 days in rehab, I went to a recovery house for the first time. I’d never been in one before and didn’t know what to expect. The recovery house (called the First Stop) was actually the best thing that could have happened to me. I had no idea how to live, how to be a normal human being, how to pay bills, how to make a bed, or how to take a shower and brush my teeth every single day. In the program, I had to follow rules, which are something that you don’t have when you’re living on the streets. It was an intensive outpatient program with a 90-day blackout period without a phone. This is where I learned how to become an adult again, did chores, got my feet wet in recovery, started making meetings, met a sponsor, and met friends that I still have today. This is the foundation for where I am now. I spent four months at the First Stop and then moved to a sober house, where you have a little more independence, before moving in with a friend in Kensington.
Throughout all my time in recovery, I have been involved in service at the First Stop. I try to help people as much as I can while working on myself at the same time. A few months into my sobriety, I became responsible for opening the door for others for meetings, which is a big responsibility in my recovery group. I also started to branch out by going to other places for meetings, and this is where I was able to meet more people. That was one of my keys in keeping me sober: meeting and helping people who are like me. Sitting down and talking to somebody with the same issues brings a lot of relief. It’s powerful to know that you’re not the only one.
Today, I have a leadership role at my local recovery group, so I help organize the meetings and keep things in line, and I am around to help any new person who comes in. I focus on being a welcoming person at these meetings. I love making people smile and laugh and I joke around at times. I’m also at the First Stop every single morning since that is where I meet for work. I work with a group of sober people, and we all talk together, as well as with people staying in the recovery house every morning. Helping out at the First Stop is a huge bonus for me. I enjoy doing it, and I want to know that there will be people around here for years to come. They say we can’t keep what we have unless we give it away. I can’t continue to be sober, happy, joyous, and free unless I pass on what I’ve learned to the next struggling person.
Three years ago, I never thought that I could have a little over three years sober. I had these expectations and thoughts that sobriety was difficult. Who wants to pay bills every single week? Who wants to go to work every single day? It wasn’t something that was appealing to me at the time when I was still using. Once I finally got sober and I realized that there is so much more to life than waking up every single morning just to get high, I started really loving and enjoying what sobriety had for me.
One of the best things to come out of my sobriety so far has been meeting my girlfriend and her daughter, who calls me daddy now all the time. It was interesting how it worked out. I was doing a video online for a Facebook page about how to stop doing heroin. She was watching it and messaged me. From there on out, we started talking and hanging out. She’s in recovery also and has a substantial amount of sober time, and we just clicked. We have things in common, we can help each other out, and we call each other out when we need. In a couple of months, we’ll be welcoming our own into this world, another little girl.
My life now is a complete 180 from where I used to be. It’s wonderful living life today when I hated myself three years ago. In a little over three years, I went from living in an abandoned house in Kensington to now having an apartment, a family in that apartment, friends who I can call every single day, and people who come to me for help, not just when they need money. One of the best things about recovery for me is the freedom I have from the person that I used to be, the ability to not dwell on the past and the things that I did to all these other people before I got sober. I can now go to bed at night, rest my head on my pillow, and sleep. This is a sense of ease and relaxation, and I have friends and family now back in my life.
My relationship with my family is slowly working its way back. I can’t expect them to instantly want to talk to me again after some of the things I did to them. I talk to my brother on a regular basis. My sister is not willing to talk with me yet. My dad will help me out every once in a while, and he’ll e-mail me. But, every single day, I wake up and keep doing what I’ve been doing to get a little bit closer to having relationships with my family again.
This is why I’m sharing my opioid story. Having recovered from an overdose myself, I think it’s very important that we continue to keep trying to help people in active addiction. I try to help people, praying that one of my daughters doesn’t end up in the same exact place that I was. You never know when somebody could finally get the information or the willingness to get sober. It happened for me. I didn’t want to always be that guy robbing people and robbing stores. You never know who’s going to come around and be that person who could help your son or daughter one day if they end up in the same situation.