I grew up right outside of Worcester, Mass, in a town called Spencer. My parents have been married for over forty years. We are a family of seven: five boys and two girls. The first time I ever tried alcohol, I was five years old. My aunt used to think it was cute to give me alcohol; it would get the adults laughing at me. I ran with it. Once my parents found out, I wasn’t allowed to go there anymore.
As a kid, I always felt weird. I was hyperactive. I felt out of place because my other siblings weren’t as hyper as me. My dad coached college basketball before I was born, so I got into basketball through him. I played sports my whole life: football, basketball, and tennis. Playing was probably the happiest time for me.
Fast forward to age thirteen: I was in school taking my MCAS test and the superintendent came down and told me to stop. I immediately thought to myself, ‘What did I do?’ I hadn’t been using drugs and alcohol, but I immediately thought I was in trouble. He said, ‘you have to come with me”. I asked what happened, and he said, ‘I can’t tell you”. My mom picked me up. She was in the car with my brother Josh, my brother Jordan, and my mémé. My mom was crying and she said, ‘tell Justin what happened’. My brother told me that my sister had died the night before. It was two days before her nineteenth birthday. I was only thirteen and she was my best friend. She protected me from a lot of stuff. After she passed, I thought I was going to die. I welcomed the idea. I remembered how the alcohol made me feel: It made me happy and it made me numb. I immediately started turning to marijuana and alcohol. By the time I was fifteen, I was already sniffing cocaine and taking opiates. I was getting drunk on the bus and going to high school absolutely wrecked. I didn’t think there was a problem. I used my sister as an excuse; ‘You didn’t lose your sister. You have no idea what I’m going through’. It messed me up for a long time.
My Junior year, I had my first opiate overdose. They rescued me and I woke up in the hospital. The principal was there with my therapist and my parents, and they said, ‘you’re either going to jail or rehab’. That was the first time I agreed to go to rehab, but I took it as a joke. I sat in the back of the room and laughed at the people who came to talk. I told everyone they were losers and I hadn’t hit that point yet. At sixteen, I was already sniffing heroin and Percs. But because I wasn’t homeless and using needles, I thought I was better. I wasn’t ready to hear it.
A year later, the same thing happened. I went to smoke pot in the bathroom and the principal was walking through the school. He smelled the pot. I went to my boy and said, ‘take my stuff, they’re gonna come search me right now. I’m gonna get in trouble’. He didn’t do what I was doing, so he looked at me and said, ‘nah, bro, you need help. I’m not doing it’. They came and shook me down, and they found coke residue in my bags and marijuana. The pipe was still hot. Again, they said, ‘you’re either going to jail or rehab’. So, I went back to rehab and it was the same thing. It was a joke; I was better than everybody. I didn’t take it seriously.
I had people who cared about me. My parents would come and see me. Even my therapist was bringing my homework and visiting me. I ended up graduating high school. I think it was because the teachers felt bad for my parents and everything they were going through. I don’t think I deserved to graduate; I was a troublemaker. I was always smart but I never applied myself. I didn’t care. I didn’t want to be in school – I wanted to be dead. That’s all I could think about. I just never had the courage to kill myself.
When I was sixteen, my brother Jeremy and I did music together. He had four years sober at the time. We were doing shows and going all over the place – meeting with record labels. It was really good for us. But I was still struggling and keeping it on the low. I was using and hiding it from him. After his fourth year, we were in New York meeting with Eminem’s A&R, Rick Ross’ A&R, and Wiz Khalifa’s A&R. We were at a big function. My brother was acting weird. His girlfriend said, ‘Follow him, he’s up to something’. I walked downstairs and he was shooting up in the bathroom stall. I was probably only eighteen at the time. I wasn’t using needles yet. I snapped. I called my Dad to pick me up. We were supposed to be going to a video shoot the next day and I left. My brother tried telling my dad it was because I wanted to get high, and I told my father that he relapsed.
A couple years went by and Jeremy kept doing his thing. He called me one day – I was about twenty years old – and he was crying. This time he was on a robbing spree. For months, he was hitting gas stations and banks. I said, ‘don’t do this right now. I know you’re sick, I’ll get you high’. He said, ‘I’m gonna stop and do one real quick, and then I’ll come and get you’. He pulled up to the front door rather than parking around the block. His car and license plate were on camera. He ran in and told them to empty the register. Within five minutes they named him over the scanner. He called me and said he was going to kill himself. He wasn’t going back to jail for the rest of his life. He had done thirteen different places. I went to my dad and said, ‘you need to find Jeremy right now. He’s going to kill himself. He just robbed a place. You’ve gotta go find him’. My dad went with a detective and, by the time they got to him, he was blue in the face. They revived him and he was angry, but my dad and the detective had him detained: ‘We’d rather you were in jail than dead’. Every time he’d go away for a couple years, he’d do the right thing. It would start him off on the right path. He’d get out, follow up with meetings, sponsor people, and things would work out.
At twenty-one, I started playing with needles, and that’s when I first got arrested. A week after I shot up for the first time, I was pulled over on the side of the road. They found stuff in my car, arrested me, and I was on my way to Worcester House. Even then I didn’t think: ‘I need to stop’. I thought, ‘whatever. This is just part of my story. I’m going to sit and get high in jail’.
People went to bat for me. They all felt bad for my parents. My dad was very well connected. They enabled for a long time until it was heroin. They would lock me up and I’d come out and do the same thing all over again. I had probation officers and judges texting me and asking: ‘Are you okay? Are you doing the right thing?’ They went above and beyond. Every time, I took it and spit in their face. I wasn’t ready to stop.
In December of 2017, I went to Florida to get clean. For a month straight, I had been taking my Dad’s checks – he’s a property manager – and stolen over thirty grand. I had no other hustle. I was too soft and too scared to get money on my own, so I stole from the people who love me most. Unfortunately, they picked up on the money being taken. My dad didn’t want me to go to jail – I was facing over ten years in prison for forgery – and he replaced the money himself. He was trying to save me even though I wouldn’t save myself. That’s when my dad became willing to say, ‘you’re going to Florida or I’m going to press charges. I have every single check you forged. I’ll take it to the courts myself’.
A month later, I was watching the Patriots’ AFC Championship game with everyone in the house. We were playing the Steelers. The owner of the program’s husband came in with my therapist. They looked terrible – and they weren’t Patriot’s fans. My therapist said, ‘Justin, we gotta talk outside’. I went outside and they said, ‘your dad just called us. Your pops made supper tonight for the family and they went to get your brother, Jeremy, and he was found with a needle in his arm”.
I lost it. I couldn’t believe it. It was the second time I was going through this. It wasn’t just a friend – it was my blood. I was less than sixty days clean. I called my mom and I begged her to tell me they were lying to me. My brother and I were talking about getting back into music that morning. He FaceTimed me to tell me he was proud of me. He said, ‘I want you to get back into music. I think I’m too old, but I want to manage you. I think you can make it and I’ll do whatever I can to help you’. I asked if he was still getting high and he said, ‘no, I stopped. I’ve been stopped for two weeks’. That was the last thing he said to me and then my parents told me he was dead.
I flew home the next morning for his services. I buried him clean. That was one of my reservations. But I reached out, talked to my sponsor, went to meetings, cried, and shared: ‘I lost my brother after losing my sister. I want to get high. I don’t want to be clean’. People loved me up. They took me out and tried to keep my mind off it. I carried my brother’s casket and read his eulogy clean.
I ended up going back to Florida. My parents didn’t want me to stay home. They didn’t think I had been clean long enough. When I went back, I was working with my sponsors and my therapist, and everyone was trying to talk to me about my brother and sister. I was mad at my brother – and I took it out on everyone around me. I’d tell them to mind their business. My sponsor looked at me and said, ‘you realize if you don’t write about and talk about this, you’re going to get high again’. I told him to worry about his own recovery.
He was right. Less than a month later, I was getting high and running the streets of South Florida. My parents – who buried two children – were reaching out to me, and I was shutting off my phone. They didn’t know if I was dead or alive. I played the victim card; ‘I’m in too much pain. You don’t know what I’m going through’.
Somebody called and said I was going to get picked up and extradited. I went back to treatment and it was the same thing: I met a girl and I went on a run. Within two weeks of leaving with that girl, I was arrested again. I missed my little sister’s high school graduation. I went in front of the judge and used that as an excuse. The lawyers, the DA – everyone was on my side. The judge said, “if I let him go, his parents are going to bury a third kid. He’s going to Worcester House and I’ll see him in a month”.
This time I told myself, ‘I’m not going to use. I need to stop’. I didn’t want my parents to bury a third kid. So I stuck to myself. I didn’t get in any fights or get high. I did what I had to do and I got into a treatment center from there. I met another girl. But I was doing some work on myself and my sponsor was telling me, ‘don’t mess with girls. You know that’s a downfall for you every time’. After I was in treatment for a month, someone suggested, ‘why don’t you go to The Process Recovery in Nashua?’ I was like, ‘nah, I’m not going up there. I’m going home after this’. I talked to my parents and they said, ‘you’re not coming home. You’re not welcome at the house’. When Jeremy overdosed, my brother Jordan’s kid was there, and DCF came in and took him. We were no longer allowed to live in the house. If we did, they were coming back for my nephew. My parents weren’t risking that. So I agreed to go to Nashua.
When I came to the Process, I had a chip on my shoulder and I was still angry. But I was able to recognize the realness and the love that was here. It was different for me. The owners and directors were in the office and running groups. They were getting to know the clients. That was insane to me.
It was a tough time. I got here in August of 2017 – seven months after my brother died – and his birthday was on September 6th. I tried sharing about it and putting on a front that I didn’t want to use – but I wanted to get high. I kept it as a plan in the back of my head. I relapsed on September 6th, 2017. The Process was trying to get me to come back. They didn’t want me to go. My answer was, ‘I don’t get high once and stop. I’m gone’.
I slept underneath a picnic table that night. I was sitting there and my phone was dead, and I cried all night. All my bridges were burnt. My parents weren’t letting me come home; they said, ‘you come on the property, we’ll have you arrested’. I couldn’t believe it because it came from my mother’s mouth. That was the first time my mother told me ‘no’. I realized it was the end of the road for me. I called Eddie at the Process and begged him to come back. I was a punk. I was ungrateful and fresh out of jail, thinking I was something I wasn’t. I walked around with a chip on my shoulder. Eddie and Ryan both went to bat for me. Thank God they did. When I came back, I acted differently. I took the groups seriously rather than thinking it was a joke. I shared honestly and openly.
I remember having a conversation with Chris. He told me that if I just share honestly with one person in my life every day, everything else will work itself out. I told him he was crazy. I told him he had no clue what he was talking about: ‘I don’t care what you have for time, that’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard’.
Chris asked, ‘what if I’m telling you the truth? You have nothing to lose. You were just sleeping under a picnic table. You have nothing’.
‘You’re right,’ I said, and I bought into it.
After my brother died, I said I’d never do music again. I just did a record with Colicchie, who’s another addict in recovery. Two weeks ago, I met with Atlantic Records in Boston. I’m in the process of making a radio record for JAM’N 94.5. It’s crazy to me. So many blessings have come. Chris always says to me, ‘you haven’t even scratched the surface yet’. When he first said that to me, I thought it was B.S. He didn’t lie. Every time, it’s something even better than the last. I never thought I could do shows again. I always performed with my brother. The first show I did, I had a bad anxiety attack. But I prayed and talked to people in my network. People from the Process were there supporting me. I went out and I killed it, and I ended with a song that me and my brother did years ago. It was awesome.
For the longest time, I had no self-respect and no self-worth. I have that today. It’s because I came in and took it seriously. I bought into it. I have resentments toward God because of my brother and sister, but I have to just work through it. My sponsor said, ‘J, if you don’t rely on a higher power, you’re going to act on your will and get high again’. He’s a hundred percent right, so I put my pride to the side. I’m going to work through the resentments. It’s just going to take a little bit.
My life is beautiful. I get to go home and my parents let me be at the house. My dad leaves his wallet around. He used to sleep on it. He told me I would never, ever watch Bryson by myself. I watch my nephew by myself today. My nephew is two years old and he’s my world. He’s never seen me high and he’s never going to – as long as I keep doing what I’m doing. That’s the biggest blessing. He was the biggest reason I came back. My parents told me I would never see him again. In the beginning, it was for him. Right around a year, I realized I like doing this. I like being clean. I like waking up not having to rely on a substance to get out of bed. I take nothing and I feel awesome. I never thought it would get to that point. But it’s because I go to meetings and talk to other addicts in recovery every day – no matter what. I share honestly about where I’m at and what’s going on. I can cry in front of other men and I don’t care. I don’t care if you judge me because this is what I have to do for myself to stay clean for another day. I’ve been through a lot of pain but that’s just part of my story. It doesn’t define me.
I am an addict in recovery. I’m chasing my dream. That’s why I’m doing the music: to give a message of hope to addicts who are recovering. I don’t glorify getting high, using women, or getting money. And I won’t. I don’t care if a label told me to sign for five million right now. I would tell them I’m all set. That’s not what I’m doing it for. I don’t want people’s parents to bury their children. My parents will never be the same again. So I have a message of hope.
If it wasn’t for the Process and the chance to come back, none of this would have happened. I wasn’t willing to go anywhere else. When I came here, I felt the love. I saw that the staff actually care about people, and I have never seen that before in any other treatment. I’ve been to detoxes over sixty times. I’ve been to rehab – counting detoxes, holdings, and halfway houses – over a hundred times in my life. No exaggeration. In two weeks, I will have seventeen months clean. I’ve been at the Process the whole time. It’s the step work, it’s the meetings, and it’s what Chris said to me – sharing honestly with somebody every single day. Everything else works itself out.
Photo and video courtesy of J-Remedy.