There are a lot of people who think this isn’t a disease. One of my oldest memories – I was probably four or five – is of me and my friends playing in a sandbox. I felt like they didn’t want me there. For no reason. They didn’t do anything to make me feel like I wasn’t involved. I remember that vividly, which is weird because there are a lot of dark spots in my story.
I had a great upbringing: Upper-middle class in the suburbs. Everything I needed and wanted was provided for me. I was an athlete my whole life and I was instinctually smart. I didn’t try hard in school and I still got A’s. I learned I could do the bare minimum and get away with things. I was always really popular. All my friends were popular. I still felt alone in a room full of a hundred people.
To me, there’s no explanation other than I have some sort of mental disease. To me, it means I was born with this. It’s a thinking problem.
I was kind of a late bloomer when it comes to using. The first time I smoked weed, I was sixteen. I probably drank a little bit before that – maybe thirteen or fourteen – but once I smoked, that feeling I was talking about went away. As popular as I thought I was, there was always a group I felt was above me or out of my league. It was in that group that I first smoked weed. I felt accepted. I associated being accepted with smoking weed, drinking, or doing something to make me feel like a “part of”. Eventually that bloomed into Percocet and other drugs.
By the time I was eighteen, I was doing four or five Percs a day. And that progressed over the course of the next six years. I thought “okay, I can finally make myself relatable to other people,” and I ran with it.
I’m not sure what year it was, but my house was broken into the night before Thanksgiving. My mom wasn’t home from work and I was gone. That was traumatic for my mom and I could tell, but the thing that stands out to me is that I didn’t care. I had all my supplies with me – all my drugs and money – everything was in my car. Meanwhile, this person stole my sister’s iPad, and my mom’s North Face and her whole jewelry box, and I could care less. I had what I needed.
I graduated on the Honor Society and I got some scholarships to UNH. I was really excited. At the time, I was just getting into “bigger drugs,” and when I got to college it got out of control. I went to UNH with a couple people I used with. That helped me bridge the gap. I was always big into being with other people. That’s why I started using; I wanted to be part of a group.
Transitioning to college was seamless for my addiction because I met thousands of other people who were also getting high every day of the week. There we no rules. It exploded. I was on academic restriction after one semester. I had to write an essay to the Board of Directors to come back for a second semester. It didn’t matter. Both semesters I failed out, and I didn’t want to go back. I thought maybe if I left college, I could get better. If I went home and left that situation – the “geographical fix” – it would change. That didn’t happen.
We lived in Laconia and my mom accepted a job at New Balance, which is down in the city. For a whole summer after college, she was only home once a week, and I was living at my house. There was nobody there to stop me from doing what I was doing. I was selling drugs to supplement income and I was also working full-time. I don’t know how it happened, but I was able to keep a job for a decent amount of time. I was selling product so I could use for free and still have extra money to do things I wanted to do. In my head, I was telling myself that because I was living in a house and I had some money, and I was only doing Percocet, I was better than the people in my town who were shooting heroin. Meanwhile, I felt completely fine stealing from my parents and my sister, and all the people who loved me my whole life. That was okay as long as I wasn’t shooting heroin. That was the one thing that was going to keep me “normal” compared to others.
During the summer I lived at my mom’s house, a really close friend of mine died. I played basketball with him my whole life. I had been numb for months and months on end. I didn’t care about anybody and anything besides getting what I needed. That was an eye-opening moment for me. The only thing I can remember is how badly I wanted to use. It wasn’t enough to show me I needed help. I just couldn’t see it.
That summer was also the first time I tried to stop using on my own. I didn’t realize I was going to be sick. I had never heard of that. I just decided I was going to stop. If I took a lie detector test, I could have passed saying, “I’m not ever going to use again”. That wasn’t the case. I got really sick, but I got through it. It was almost ignorance. I didn’t associate it with withdrawal. I started feeling better nine or ten days later. I remember thinking to myself, “thank God that’s over. I’m never going to use again. This is it. I’m just going to drink and smoke weed. That’s all I’m going to do”. As I know now, that doesn’t work. I had no education on recovery. I just figured if I could stop using the drug that was the biggest problem for me, my life would naturally get better. I was using again within a month.
I was homeless from 2013 until mid-way through 2015. My mom sold the house in my hometown and was living full-time in the city. I think I got into an apartment with a friend for three months before he was done with me, too. I burned every bridge possible. I had lost a few jobs but I found another one that was kind of solid. I was there for six months, and I was still selling a little bit, so I had “friends” who still wanted me around. I didn’t care that I didn’t have a place to live. I had a car. That was my apartment. I am 6’3 1/2”, and I was in the front seat of my Corolla thinking, “everything’s fine”. I had no idea about the severity of my disease – I didn’t even care. I don’t think I was able to comprehend because I was so sedated.
Throughout this whole period, my family never gave up on me. A big part of what eventually lead me to recovery is that my mom stopped letting me stay with her. I’m sure that wasn’t easy. Her son was obviously getting high, and the worry she must have felt is something I realize now, but back then it didn’t even occur to me. They didn’t give up, but they also stopped enabling. I remember my grandmother saying, “you can’t stay with me but I’ll meet you”. She met me at this little breakfast place and I tried to convince her I was clean. My grandmother bought me a single person tent. I never opened the tent, but that was a big moment for me. Even for a split second I thought, “oh my God, my family is so disgusted and done, not only are they not going to let me stay at their house, they’re going to spend money on a tent”. They were grasping at straws to keep me somewhat safe.
My first time going to rehab, I was so frustrated. I finally realized I had nothing. I had no relationships in my life. I had friends who I thought were friends, but they were just acquaintances who wanted to use with me when I had money. It’s funny how it happened. I had just finished using in a parking lot in Methuen, and I immediately thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore, I’m going to do what I can to get help”. What that help looked like to me was calling my mom. I had no idea what to do. My family came up with logical solutions. I thought, “Nope. You just need to grab me and put me somewhere that’s going to make me better”. Even though I had a mental breakthrough, I wasn’t willing. I just wanted somebody to do everything for me.
There was a two week period between when I had that breakthrough – that moment of clarity – and when I actually was able to get into a rehab. There are not enough resources in New England. I was put on a two week waiting list. Sitting in my car, I was ready. In those two weeks, it was tough to continue to want to go to rehab. In two weeks, the window had closed, my moment had gone. I went into that thirty day program because I was so sick of being homeless. I was excited I was going to be in one spot for thirty straight days. That feeling lasted for half a day. I was getting sick and I didn’t have what I needed. I was such a tough guy that I refused comfort meds. I decided I was going to leave. I couldn’t participate in group. I didn’t go to a single commitment they put on for us. I wasn’t going to the classes. This is when Rise Above first came into my story. I dragged myself out of bed because the clinician said, “either go to the commitment we have upstairs, or leave”. I wasn’t utilizing any of the tools and it was clear to them I wasn’t trying to get better.
Back then, Rise Above had a commitment at Keystone once a week. I went up and it was Fred and Nick. Nick was younger – my age. The majority of people there were older. I was engaged. Nick started speaking and you could feel the pain. That’s how I felt, too. I just didn’t know how to say it. I remember that single moment lead me to stay for the whole thirty days, and also made me want to go to Rise Above. Whatever he had from that place was what I wanted and needed.
I moved into Rise Above for the first time in October of 2015. I was going to IOP at the Process Recovery Center when it was still in a basement on Kingsley Street. It was a two-floor thing, but the basement was where we had group. That was the best recovery-based foundation I could have asked for. I still carry some of those things with me today. It’s funny, now, looking at what we’ve become. Thank God the Process is bigger because it can help more people who need it. Chris, who is the co-owner of Rise and Process, would drive over in the morning to pick us up for IOP in his Nissan sedan. The Process and Rise Above have always attracted people who want help. They offer the best help out there. It’s indicative by the fact that Chris would come and pick us up in his own car. We all really bonded through that. My behavior wasn’t good but I met those key people in my life. My core group of friends is still the same today.
I moved out after nine months. I thought I was great, but I was drinking under the assumption that if I just drank, I would be okay. The reality of the situation was I did no step work, I didn’t get a sponsor, and I barely went to meetings. I wanted no part of recovery. In my mind, if I didn’t do my drug of choice, I wouldn’t have a problem.
I refused to educate myself. Within three months, I was using again, and that continued on for another year. I was rifling through jobs. I couldn’t hold anything down. I had no connections as far as being able to sell product. So I was stealing and manipulating family. They were under the impression I was clean. I would tell them I was having a rough time and I needed money. They put me up in a beautiful apartment in Cambridge and I was still begging for money. Eventually, they started to realize that something wasn’t right. That whole year was the bottom for me. My clean time – even if it wasn’t legit – ruined using for me.
I came back again in September of 2017. I called Chris, crying, on my way to detox. “I’m scared,” I said, “because I don’t know where I’m going to go when I get out”. All he said was, “don’t worry about that. We got you. No problem”. He told the truth. He was willing to help me. He didn’t have to do that but he did.
My first ninety days back in the house, I wanted to use every single day. I’m honestly sitting here now, with over two years clean, and I don’t know how I got through that. I was reluctantly going to meetings, but not nearly as many as I should have been, especially in that mindset. The one good thing I had was a strong support network. They made me feel like I was a part of, but I wasn’t telling them how I was feeling. On the outside, everything was good, and on the inside I wanted to die. I just wanted to use so bad. For some reason, I didn’t. I’m not sure why. You hear in the halls: “If the best thing you did all day was not use, you had a good day”. I thought, “that’s not true. I didn’t use today but I still feel like dying”.
The moment that I came out of it, I sat back for a second and thought to myself, “wow, I haven’t wanted to use in a week and half. I haven’t even thought about it”. I had been picking up my meetings and doing service work at my home group, and talking to Chris a lot and trying to do step work. It’s not a coincidence I was feeling a little better. I lived in an apartment with all my friends. That was the breakthrough I needed. Feeling “part of” was huge for me. I needed people there for me. Even though I wouldn’t say it out loud, it just so happened that I ended up with all those people around me. I don’t think that’s by mistake. I think my higher power put me around people who really cared about me until I could do it on my own.
I got the opportunity to become a house manager. They trusted me – which still blows my mind to this day. I would steal from anybody and everybody. Especially my family. I had just achieved a year clean. I remember the moment Chris, Michelle and Sean called me. I was getting ready for a basketball game. They asked, “how would you like to be a house manager?” I had always wanted to but I didn’t think it would be an option. I accepted and, when I hung up the phone, the emotion poured out of me.
I am moving out November 1st. I was a house manager for a year. I feel really good about the people I helped and, more importantly, the people who helped me. Without that position, I could have easily stayed in that apartment with my friends. I felt comfortable there. I took a leap to not only help others, but to also broaden my horizons. I am a very internal person and I don’t like the spotlight. I always want to help people. I just don’t want it to become a show. Through this process, I’ve gained more friends than I could ever have imagined. I don’t know how to put in words how it feels to help another addict in need. I guess from the outside looking in, it’s me who is helping them, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They actually end up helping me more than I could ever help them. It’s a really beautiful feeling. If those kind of people weren’t there for me when I first came back, I wouldn’t be talking to you now.
To go through that process – and become that person for the next group – is one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. It’s come full circle for me. I have gratitude for where I am – for the Process and Rise Above – and all the people who gave me a chance to become something more than what I was. There are times when I reflect back and think, “how in the world did I turn this around?” The short answer is that it wasn’t me. It was my higher power; it was the community as a whole; it was my relationships; it was my family. All areas of my life are clicking. It feels natural. It’s all I ever wanted. I wanted to feel like everything was going to be okay. Nothing was okay for that five-year-old kid in the sandbox. I could never figure out why. There’s no reason for a five-year-old hanging out with his friends to feel nervous. I can say, honestly, that feeling is gone now. That’s a result of this process and helping other people. My life is second to none and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m excited for the next chapter, knowing that when I move on, I will never fully move on. I have relationships that are going to last the rest of my life.
Reach out. I hesitate saying that because when I was out there suffering, that was the last thing I wanted to do. I get it. Everybody around me wanted me to reach out. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t ready. I understand that’s easier said than done. Maybe if those people who cared about me could have somehow rephrased “reach out” into “when you reach out, this is what’s going to be there for you”. For me, it was Rise and Process, and the friends I met. But wherever you go – this is the beautiful thing about recovery – if you reach out, people will be there and they will help you. That’s the purpose of this process and this community. The main reason we exist is to help others. That’s the last thing you can picture when you’re using and you feel like there is no way out. But if someone could have said, “hey, when you call this person, there is going to be an endless amount of love waiting for you on the other end of the phone,” that might of worked a little better for me. So I guess what I would say to the person still struggling is pick up the phone. There is an endless amount of love waiting on the other end. No matter where you are.