I grew up in Nashua, New Hampshire, and I honestly never thought I was going to be able to get sober here. When I was a kid, I could see my addiction forming over little things, like collecting certain toys and attention seeking behaviors. I remember seeing adults drink at parties and thinking, “I can’t wait to grow up and do that”. Those are not normal thoughts for an eight year old kid.
The turning point – when my addiction really took over – was when my girlfriend passed away in a car accident off exit 8 in Nashua. Shortly after that, a friend gave me my first drink. I felt a lot of guilt, shame, and remorse, and I didn’t know how to express it.
I come from a very loving family: my mom, Darlene, my father, Gary, and two older brothers, Brian and Tom. All of them were there for me. Some people come from broken homes, but my parents were high school sweethearts. Both my brothers are very successful. I always put myself in the mold of black sheep. When I got the ability to escape through drink, everything slowly started to turn on me. College didn’t work out. I kept comparing myself to my brothers: “They’re successful. I’m not going to be as successful as them.” So I didn’t try. I’d be lying if I said I tried in school, and if I tried to progress in the workplace. I just did what I had to do to get by.
Once I picked up that first drink and was able to escape, I chased that feeling. I always blacked out when I was drinking, which led to arrests. I have a DWI in New Hampshire and a DWI in Massachusetts. When barbiturates came into play, I’d forget what I was doing. Anytime one entered my system, all bets were off. It felt like I blacked out for months on end. I stole from my family. Lying was huge, too. I hurt all the people around me. The sad part is, I didn’t care. I just needed that next one.
I tried getting clean. I went to different detoxes and tried Suboxone maintenance. I used around it. But that wasn’t my low point. My low point wasn’t going to jail either. It wasn’t enough. There were numerous times, whether I was sitting in a Nashua holding cell or Valley Street, when I would promise myself, “the second I get out of here, I am going to do the right thing. I’m going to change my life around. The drugs are out of my system”. Within hours of getting bailed out or released, I would be getting high. If you’d asked me, honestly, if I was done using, and I really wanted to change my life around, I wouldn’t be lying if I said yes. I really did. But the drugs took ahold of me. And I didn’t understand that.
My addiction took me to Wisconsin. My brother is a doctor in a hospital there, and he works in the mental health and substance abuse field. Even he couldn’t help me. I was homeless for about two and half months out there. I lived inside my car. It was the middle of Winter, and I was holding a sign and begging for change. That’s how I survived. I ended up coming back to New Hampshire because I knew a couple people who were in recovery. I thought they could help me change. But I went on a run and picked up theft charges. Those charges led to my last stay at Valley Street. I did the same thing. I promised myself I was going to change. I talked my parents into coming to get me. I told them I was going to get help – I was going to do everything differently. But on the way home from Manchester, I told them there was no way I was going to a program. I remember one of the last things my father said: “Don’t talk to me until you get help”. Pulling out of the driveway, I saw my mom standing there crying. My father was tough love toward the end of my drug use, and my mom just wanted to save me. But there was nothing she could do.
My life revolved around building myself up to what I thought everyone wanted me to be, and then losing it all. I was constantly rebuilding. You would think the arrests – and friends who died of overdoses – would make me want to get clean. None of it did. I lived in my car for the last year and a half of my using. I stole from people and from stores to get the next one. But that wasn’t my rock bottom. My rock bottom was truly wanting to die. I didn’t want to continue my life. I was using to die.
My last high was at a gas station in Merrimack. There was a nice shower there. It had been a long time since I showered. I stood with the water running, and I broke down and cried. That was the first time I cried since my girlfriend died. It was kind of like a spiritual experience. For the first time, I thought, “maybe I don’t want to live like this anymore”.
My good friend, Tim, talked me into respite in Nashua. I had been to respite seven times in a year and a half. I would always leave within twenty-four hours. I did it to show people I wanted to change. With no comfort meds, however, I didn’t have the willingness to last. He talked me into going again, and he went in with me. Every single time I went there, this nurse, Elizabeth, would say, “Come on, we can do this!” She was literally an angel. On day two, she helped me fill out an application to Keystone Hall. All I had to do was sign. She asked me all the questions. I was so sick I could barely open my eyes. That lady saved my life. I always told myself, “the drugs are the problem”. Sitting there, really starting to withdrawal, I thought, “something is going on. I’m having all these thoughts and feelings I can’t control”. My thinking was so fogged. I thought, “maybe there is more to it than I’m willing to admit. Maybe I am the problem”.
I entered the twenty-eight day program at Keystone Hall. That was the first twenty-eight day program I ever attended. The groups and the staff really impacted my life. They loved me. That’s why I love working at the Process Recovery Center. We love people where they’re at and we love them until they can learn to love themselves. I came in a broken guy. I didn’t love myself. I didn’t know who I was. I brushed my teeth in the shower and avoided looking in mirrors. My disease told me I was a GQ model and my life was perfect. But I looked terrible. I came in at 140 lbs. I was covered in track marks. I didn’t have two cents to rub together. The only person answering my phone calls was my mom, and that was just to make sure I was alive.
I didn’t really know if I was going to stay. I was still on the fence about it. I missed the chaos. I missed running around. I missed the ritual of using. That’s all I knew for so long. I was so overwhelmed with anxiety, depression, and fear of the unknown. Then my sponsor came in on a commitment. He told me, “if you can last through the first 28 days, you can do anything. You just gotta start being honest. Don’t listen to what your head tells you to do, listen to what your heart tells you to do”. When I asked him to sponsor me, he said, “to use is to die. Do you want to live or do you want to die?” That sentence summed it all up for me. For once in my life, I wanted to live. I haven’t turned back since.
I did the twenty-eight day program and got accepted into a six month program in Massachusetts. But I just didn’t want to let go. My brain was telling me, “go live with this person,” but my heart was telling me, “you gotta stay”. I remember sitting across the desk from my case manager. I had fallen in love with Keystone. They made the wheels start turning and they made me believe I could do something other than what I’d been doing. My case manager asked, “why don’t you want to do the ninety day program here?” I told her did. She asked, “what would you be willing to do?” I said to her, “if you put me in a room with all the guys, threw in a lead pipe and shut off the lights, I would walk out of the room. That’s how bad I want it”.
I had started getting things back. My mom and my dad started visiting. I was doing good. The last thing I wanted to do was go an hour and a half away. She spoke with the other case managers and they offered the program to me. I balled. I had found a place to call home. I felt comfortable. That was my first pillow since I moved out of my parents’ house. You don’t think about something as small as a pillow, but I had been living in my car with no gas and no heat, I wore three pairs of pants, five sweatshirts, and a jacket, and I was still freezing. There was something different about this place. I started seeing something different about me. I was doing stuff I hadn’t done since I was a kid: trusting another man, telling my deepest and darkest secrets, and reading books.
From the ninety day program, I got a job and learned about Rise Above sober living. My mind was still telling me, “you could probably live with this friend, you could go back to that job, you didn’t burn this bridge”. But my heart was telling me, “you need to go to sober living”.
My two buddies, Shane and Mike, are still clean to this day. The three of us are like the Three Musketeers. They graduated treatment two weeks before me. I called Michelle V. at Rise Above and said, “if I get a completion letter, do you mind if we move in together?” She let us all move into the same apartment. From there, we really leaned on each other and chased our recovery. These two guys loved me where I was at. They didn’t ask who I knew for a drug dealer. On day one, they showed me nothing but love. They didn’t care about my background. That’s something I hadn’t felt in a long time. There were always self-seeking motives, especially on my part, when I was using: “What does this person have to offer to me?”
Everything was going good but life just hit me. I had five and a half months clean and I was starting to fall off. I was doing everything I was supposed to – praying, working the steps, being honest, going to a meeting a day – but something felt off. My buddy told me, “Michelle needs help painting one of the Rise Above houses”. I had the day off and I called her. I’ve gravitated toward her ever since. Her phone was constantly going off with people and their problems, and she never got upset about it.
I think that was my first lesson on hanging out with people who have more recovery time. I tend to hang out with people for the qualities about them. My good friend, Nick, is a hard worker. I’ve always slacked in working hard. He’s dedicated to his job. My buddy, Craig, owns his own business. He’s an entrepreneur. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Michelle V., who is honest, loving, and meets people where they’re at – I love that. I’ve got guys at the office, like Chris DiNicola and Ryan Welch, who motivate me and want me to do more; who try to push me to dress nicer, have a bank account, and look at the future. What do I want to do about a family? Having a mortgage? All the things I crossed out of my life a long time ago.
I was doing oil changes at VIP, and on my days or nights off I was painting with Michelle. I was having a good time. I said to her, “you need to hire me. You have to”. She said, “when the timing is right”. I just kept showing up. I think I was hanging out with her because I felt something coming on. Not a relapse – but I was starting to feel like what I was doing wasn’t enough. I was sitting at a noon-time meeting one day and Michelle called me. She said, “come outside. I’m with Chris DiNicola”. I got in the back of the car. Chris turned around and said, “so, we’re going to hire you. You’re going to start next week. Is that what you want to do?” I said, “yes,”. He loved me up and gave me a shot. I had counted myself out. Like I said, I was doing step work, I was praying, and something just didn’t feel right. I grasped onto Michelle and she introduced me to all these people. I consider them like a family. She didn’t have to do that. She saw something in me. She tells me that all the time. Chris says, “you don’t even know your own potential. We haven’t even scratched the surface”.
They put me through recovery coach training. Now I am recovery coach certified. They put me through training for my CRSW. They believed in me. Rise Above saved my life and got me connected with the community. That community is in my corner – not just my loving mother, Darlene, or my amazing father, Gary. I have Chris DiNicola. I have Ryan Welch. I have Eddie B. I have Jenna D. I have people around me all the time who are solid in their community and solid in their recovery. I feel lucky because, a year and half ago, I was shooting dope. A year and a half ago, I was living in my car. My mom was leaving dinner outside the house when my dad went to bed. I put a wedge in their relationship. My dad didn’t give up on me – he was showing me tough love and trying to help me hit rock bottom – but my mom just couldn’t. Through step work, I’m able to make an amends to them, but I keep that pain and suffering in the back of my head.
One of the greatest gifts I’ve received is inner peace: understanding where I want to be in life and where I definitely don’t want to be. The most difficult part was getting through detox and admitting I had a problem. I’m a guy and my ego likes to tell me I can do anything. I can take anyone. I can defeat anything in the world. My disease lied to me in my own voice. It told me I was fine and I could control it. Admitting I need help was really hard, but it was the best decision I ever made. Eddie B. said, “I firmly believe when you are done, and you really believe it, you are done”. I agree. I can’t explain what happened to me in the shower at the gas station that day. Something just clicked. Anytime someone told me I had to go to treatment, it never worked for me. The hardest thing to do is block out what my mind tells me to do. My heart was telling me to get clean a long time ago – but I just wasn’t done. I didn’t take life seriously and a lot of time passed. If you think you want help, the toughest thing to do is ask. But the second I was able to ask for help – and really willing to throw my hands up and say, “just tell me what to do” – my life started to change.
The love I’ve been shown from day one – from Rise Above, from Process, from Keystone Hall – is what helped get me through. I didn’t come in here with confidence. I honestly feel like I’m a man now. I turned twenty-eight in rehab. I’ve heard it said before, “you return to the age you were when you first picked up”. I believe that. I knew how to do laundry but I didn’t know how to be honest. I didn’t have a bank account. I didn’t know how to work hard. That’s why I surround myself with people who show me how to be a man. Now my debt is all gone, I have family back in my life, and I’m fortunate enough to be a house manager for Rise Above. I work in treatment. I see guys come in on day one. It’s good because I was there not so long ago.
I owe it all to the people around me but I work really hard on the inside. I don’t ever claim I’m Mr. Perfect. I’m not. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Chris tells me, “if you’re honest with yourself, you can be honest with anyone around you”. Relentless communication, connecting with the community, and spirituality are things I have to work at on a daily basis. If one of those fails, everything else fails. That’s when I start to do unspiritual things. I was told that helping out another addict/alcoholic, and passing on the solution, is what’s going to keep me sober. I never have to return to getting high. As long as I don’t pick up that first one, I never will.