When I was six years old, my mother considered me an out of control child. I was so out of control, she thought therapy and psychiatric help were needed. By the age of seven, I had been diagnosed as bipolar and put on very high doses of Lithium, Tegretol, and Buspar. By the age of seven and a half, I was institutionalized for the first time. When I first got to the group home, I did not expect to stay long. I began to act out, hoping for punishment. I fought other clients, purposefully destroyed things, and verbally and physically lashed out toward staff. I was restrained for hours at a time in straight jackets, even waking up in restraints after being heavily sedated with shots of thorazine. I became institutionalized at a very young age. I fell in love with the institution… it became my home. After two years, my mother came to pick me up. I did not want to go. I had a resentment toward my mother for sending me away. The day she arrived, they had to drag me on my knees. I cried and begged my friend not to let her take me. The staff had become my family. They were all I knew.
After being released from the institution at the age of nine, I spent my childhood and teenage years in and out of hospitals and inpatient facilities. Doctors continued to feed me medication like candy. I no longer subscribed to the belief that I was normal. I was put in special education classes. The teacher was allowed to use physical restraint when needed…and he often took advantage. He punished us by making us hold books out on our hands. He also made us exercise in front of other students. I developed a very low self esteem. My whole childhood and adolescence, I was told I was different and needed medication to fix me. Being told I was different made me feel different. “You have a chemical imbalance,” the doctors said. I always felt less than everyone else. One week I’d be in class with my friends and the next I was in a hospital, walking around in scrubs, heavily sedated. I never felt okay. I never felt like I was good enough for anyone, especially my mother.
At the age of eighteen, I started to rebel against my mother, my teachers, and any doctors who told me I was sick. Instead, I turned to doctors who would prescribe me something that had a more intense effect than the medication I was already prescribed. I started to “doctor shop”. If a non-narcotic anxiety medication made me feel good, I could only imagine what a narcotic anxiety medication would do. I was able to manipulate any doctor into giving me any medication I wanted. I knew the exact things to say and the exact ways to act in order to get diagnosed. If I told the doctor “my mind can’t pay attention, I can’t get things done without thinking of a million other things to do,” I knew he’d give me a stimulant. If I told the doctor “I get nervous in crowds, I panic in class, my palms get sweaty, and I become short of breath,” I knew he’d give me anxiety medication.
After getting bored with going from doctor to doctor, I started to take my ideas to an extreme. I began mixing medication with alcohol and eventually mixing medication with heavy pain killers. Soon I progressed to taking only pain and anxiety medication. I was self medicating. I was stuffing down all my emotions and pain from childhood. My whole life, taking pills was all I knew how to do.
After awhile, I started to become “bored” with medication and took my substance abuse to a whole new level. As if the pills weren’t enough, I started to self medicate with a much stronger opiate: Heroin. I grew up hating needles due to receiving monthly lithium levels. Heroin helped me overcome that fear and, within a month of using, I was injecting it. Heroin ruined anything and everything I had ever gained in life. It took any decency I had and threw it right out the window. I lost my friends, my family, and myself. While using this substance, I was only existing. I was part of nothing. I was a nuisance. I hated myself and so did everyone who had the displeasure of meeting me. Getting high in bathroom stalls became an everyday occurrence. I was in and out of more court rooms, outpatient programs, and detox facilities than my age.
By the end of my substance abuse, I was homeless in Miami, Florida. I abruptly left my apartment after selling everything inside to support my habit. I spent my last days on an airport bench, stealing food in order to eat. I decided to go for help one last time and make it count. I wanted to make a change if there was still time. I always believed I was capable of so much more but did not know how to make my blind faith an actual reality.
After spending days at the airport, my family agreed to help me one last time by getting me a plane ticket back to the Boston area. When I returned, I checked myself into a facility I had been to many times before. Staff would say: “We know you’re not serious, so why don’t you leave now and give the bed to someone who actually wants it?” I put myself through a halfway house and let others make decisions for me. I managed to graduate after six months. I met some amazing people along the way – people who believed in me even though I didn’t believe in myself. They pushed me to do better, get out of my comfort zone, and start to become comfortable with myself.
After leaving the halfway house, I jumped into attending self help meetings. I surrounded myself with people with long term sobriety who promised me that life gets better if I don’t use any substances. I started to put an enormous amount of effort into everything I attempted to do. I began to see results – and those results motivated me even more. I started to gain material possessions and rebuild relationships with my family. Most importantly, I started to figure out who I really was after years of not knowing. I went back to school, held down a job, and became a trustworthy man of my word. People wanted me around and I wanted to be with them. I became desperate to never take another drink or drug in my life. I became desperate for success. I was no longer doing things because I was told to do them, I was doing things because I wanted to do them. No one had to tell me to straighten up; I straightened up because I knew it was right and because it was what I wanted.
The little boy who was told he would need medication for the rest of his life has not taken one medication in over four years. The little boy who went to numerous hospitals and detox facilities now works at a treatment center helping others change their lives.
I want people to know that they can turn their lives around and life can be amazing. I want others to see what I see in them, even if they can’t see it themselves. I went from sleeping on a bench to purchasing my first home. In my second year of recovery, I opened my home in order to help other people recover. I firmly believe that I was allowed to live through my heavy drug use to help others who struggle with addiction and to be of service to them. I truly believe that is my purpose on this earth.
I am going on five years of recovery and the blessings I have received are incredible. The man I was in my past does not define who I am today. Throughout my five years of recovery, I have managed to not only maintain sobriety, but I have also managed to lose over one hundred pounds and get my physical health back. Every morning I wake up at five a.m. feeling excited to work out. I also spend two days a week volunteering for the special olympics at the gym. My day consists of doing my best not to focus on my own problems. Instead, I focus on those whose struggles may be far greater than mine.
Even though life can get rough, there is most certainly a way to turn it around. You have to believe the blind faith in the back of your head. Life can get better even when success is completely out of sight. I am not ashamed of my past. I was not a good person and I made bad choices, but I would not change those choices now. Those bad choices brought me to the good choices I make today. I plan to continue with the path of success and to help others see the same path for themselves.