I grew up outside of Boston in Somerville, Massachusetts. I thought I had an awesome home but it was actually really broken. My dad left when I was three. He left my mom with three boys. My mom played both roles. Growing up, she was always working – and my brothers were a lot older – so I felt alone. At a very young age, I had to fight for myself. It made me who I am today, but when I was younger it messed me up. I just felt like no one was really there for me. My mother kept a roof over my head, kept things safe, and kept food on the table, but she wasn’t there as much as I wanted. I grew up in an area where there is a lot of crime. When I was young, I would look at the older kids – the ones out playing basketball in the projects – and they had the girls, drugs, money, and tattoos. They were always fighting and getting in trouble. That’s what I was attracted to and that was my perception of what I was going to do when I was older… and that’s what I did. I have an addictive personality, so I didn’t just do those things, I did them to the maximum.
My brothers moved out and my mother and I moved to a nicer neighborhood in Arlington. We had a little apartment. All the other kids had nice cars and big houses and I couldn’t relate to them. I felt like the black sheep and I felt like I was less-than. I didn’t fit in because I came from a different place. I got as messed up as I could at parties. Inside, I was dying. I thought everyone was laughing at the life I had… but it was all in my head. In High School, I was a good athlete – the captain of the football team and the basketball team – and my coaches were my teachers. I never had to push myself in academics, I just had to show up and practice. I had college recruiters coming up to me and little kids wanting my autograph, but I didn’t care about any of that, all I cared about was getting my next fix. I didn’t care about a life, I only cared about drinking, drugging, and partying.
I tried college – I went there to play basketball – but it didn’t last long. By then, I was an IV drug user. I had injured myself at the end of High School and, after the prescription pain meds ran out, my addiction progressed. Right after I dropped out of college, I got arrested for the first time. I got kicked out of my mother’s house and I found myself, at twenty-one years old, homeless and on the streets of Boston. I was lonely, helpless, and angry and I was numbing it with drugs. For three years, I ran around programs in Massachusetts. When I was using, the only relationship I had with my mother was through Facebook messenger. I didn’t have a phone. She would send me a question mark. I would reply: “Yeah, I’m alive”. That’s all she wanted to know… if I was still alive. She would send those question marks every other week.
After I got one of those messages, it kind of hit me and I broke down. I talked to my mom and I met her at the courthouse. I had to go to a locked-up facility because I couldn’t stop using on my own. I had to be somewhere I couldn’t leave. I had some help from my mom and a few other people to go to a sober house. They gave me some money to hold my rent so I could find a job and not get kicked out. While I was in that place, I hung around guys who had a couple years in recovery. They took me under their wing because I was brand new. I was like their little brother. They took me to meetings and drove me around and showed me that there is another way to live. They taught me how to get honest and talk to people instead of just keeping things inside. That was huge for me. When I was in other programs, I was with guys who had the same amount of clean time as I did. That didn’t really work out.
After six or seven months, I finally got a sponsor and started working the Steps. I started speaking at meetings and going on commitments. Weeks turned into months, and months turned into a year. When I celebrated that first year, I cried out of pure joy in front of everybody …and I didn’t care. My friends were getting married, getting their Bachelor’s, or getting a Doctorate, and I was just getting a year clean. That’s all I wanted. It was the most important thing to me. After I celebrated, it was really time to put in the work. There’s a difference between being sober and being in recovery. There are people who just don’t drink or drug…but they’re miserable. I don’t want to be like that. I just want to be happy and have freedom, and that’s what I have today.
My mother’s trust is one of the greatest gifts. Before, when I was using, my family would call the cops or say: “Greg’s around, hide everything”. Now, they call me when there is a problem. It’s beautiful. My grandmother calls me all the time to see how I’m doing or to ask if I can come and see her. I have my brothers back in my life and my baby cousins running around. They give me hugs. I didn’t even know them when they were born, and now that I’m clean and sober, I’m a part of their lives. I also have a baby boy on the way. I get to be present as a father in recovery.
I love working at the Process and I love helping other people. Helping others helps me. I love seeing people succeed. I feel like I’ve found my purpose in life: to help other addicts like me. I was hopeless and helpless for a long time and, if I can do it, you can, too. Please hold on. You are beautiful. You do have a reason to live and there is a way to cope with this disease.
Diseases need treatment. When there’s an infection or there’s cancer, you need to take certain steps to recover – to better your health and your life – and to fight through it. With addiction, it’s the same way. You need to go through the process of treatment to better your life.
There is no shame in who you are or what you’ve done. We are all the same. No one in the world is better or less than. If you need insight or someone to talk to, I am available. There are millions of people in recovery who will love you, stand right next to you, and tell you that everything is okay.
I’m really grateful for the life that I have today and that I have a second chance.