When I was ten years old my parents separated. I remember thinking it was entirely mom’s fault. My dad got an apartment near our house and my brother and I would spend one night a week and every other weekend there. This is when I start to remember his drinking. When I was eleven and my brother was eight he used to send us to the liquor store downstairs to pick up his Stoli. It was paid for ahead of time and they knew him. So we were probably the youngest kids in D.C. buying liquor. We liked going to his apartment, he let us do whatever we wanted. But then he would change and start yelling and doing crazy stuff. So we would call my mom and leave. He would drive us around drunk and get in fights with people threatening them by saying stuff like “Don’t you know who I am?” One time we were walking and he tried to get on a full shuttle bus for one of the places he had developed, the guy wouldn’t let us on because my dad had no proper ID. He started screaming at him and cussing him out telling him that he “would never work in this town again!” I remember feeling embarrassed and thinking that this poor guy was just doing his job. I never wanted to be like that.
I started using when I was thirteen. My family had told me to never try drugs and “just say no.” My mom used to tell us stuff like “if anyone ever comes up to you and says little boy, snort this white powder up your nose, make sure you say no.” My friends were drinking and smoking weed at thirteen, so I was gonna do it too. The first few times I drank it was okay, but the first time I smoked weed I loved it. Everything was okay, I had never had that feeling before, and so I decided I was going to smoke the stuff every day until I died. I loved music and I played guitar, I was really good, I used to say the only stuff I was good at was playing guitar and getting high. I would have been perfectly happy smoking weed and playing guitar by myself. I immediately became a daily user, and while I had to hang out with friends to cop, I always preferred to use alone. When I was in eighth grade I had surgery. They gave me anesthesia, the kind where they tell you to count back from ten. I counted from ten; and nine to seven were the best two seconds of my life. I woke up puking and it didn’t bother me, it was a small price to pay.
When I was fourteen I went to summer camp with my best friend, we brought some weed and met some girls who brought some weed and some LSD. I told myself I would never try hard drugs, that I would stick to the alcohol and marijuana. I don’t think I would have taken the LSD at that point, but we never got the chance anyway. We smoked weed every day, and it was a good summer. One week before camp was over I got called into the office and questioned about my involvement in “the camp drug ring.” I denied everything. Later that night they woke us up and took us to the office where an off duty DEA agent was waiting for us. He told us he was a friend of the camp director and once he heard about what was going on he had to come out there. He questioned us separately and threatened legal consequences. We all told the truth and got kicked out of camp. I remember thinking what a loser this guy was; he is a DEA agent and has nothing better to do than kick some kids out of summer camp. My mom was upset and that meant more therapy for me. Drugs had already caused problems in my life, but they were the answer I had been looking for, the only thing that helped and I wasn’t ready to give that up.
When I started high school my parents started a very public divorce case. The school counselor showed me a newspaper article and asked me if I was okay. It didn’t really bother me. I started drinking and smoking weed during school and at home. At school we would mix rum or vodka with slurpees from Seven Eleven. We would drink them during class, we thought nobody knew. We would chug malt liquor during our breaks (we had an open campus) and we would smoke weed every chance we got. At home I would drink while I did my homework. I hated school, I was diagnosed with learning disabilities and it was hard for me. When I was sixteen, I had my first blackout. I was in a town called Broadway in England with my dad, his girlfriend and a friend of mine. Me and my friend went out and got really drunk; I blacked out and woke up with projectile vomit all over the room. The next day my friend told me that I had been choking on my own vomit and that he had saved my life. We got charged a room soilage fee. My dad asked what happened and I told him I got food poisoning. About ten days before my eighteenth birthday I got arrested. Me and a friend of mine bought a bunch of weed and pulled over in a residential neighborhood to smoke a blunt outside my car. A car with high beams came up and blocked us in, we got scared and tossed the blunt and got in my car. I put the key in the ignition and the red and blue lights started flashing. I got charged with a felony possession with intent for distribution (I had about two ounces of weed a digital scale and some baggies) and driving while intoxicated. That really pissed me off because I hadn’t driven anywhere. I always had that victim mentality and could never take responsibility for my actions. The truth is I drove high and drunk all the time, I liked it. I always wanted to go where I wanted to go; I always wanted to be in control. I didn’t ever want anyone else to be able to determine where I was going.
I went to court and my felony got reduced to a misdemeanor possession charge. I went to outpatient treatment at Suburban hospital and got one year probation with drug testing and I had to go to two meetings a week. I went to Beachcomber’s Saturday night NA meeting at St. Alban’s and Footsteps on Sunday night in Georgetown. I don’t really remember too much about that year, except that it was miserable. That hole in my soul, which had gotten bigger and I had found something that seemed to work and I couldn’t use it. I don’t remember much about the meetings except that I didn’t relate. At some point I read the “are you an addict pamphlet?” and picked one question to answer. One of the questions was “did you cut your plant before it was 3 feet tall?” At least I think it said three feet. I wasn’t into growing at that point and that question seemed ridiculous. I would sit in the back and I didn’t talk to anyone. I would wait until the end of the meeting and get my slip signed. I conned my probation officer into thinking I was doing really well and he decided I was a smart kid with a future and I had just made a mistake and told me I could stop going. At some point I got accepted to University of Miami. I went to Beachcomber’s for the last time and got my slipped signed by a guy named John with dreads. I told him that this was the last time they were going to see me and that I was moving to Miami. He gave me this look I will never forget and said something like, “Yeah, good luck with that, we’ll be seeing you.” I said whatever and went on my way. That was always in the back of my mind.
When I got to Miami I had the best of intentions. After about two days I found my first weed connection. It was the chronic. I became a weed connoisseur and sought out the best marijuana in the world. I developed a reputation for having the best weed and people liked me because of it. At first I was a terrible drug dealer, I was a people pleaser and often times made no money or even lost money so that people would like me and need me. I still swore no hard drugs and then I met a girl. Her name was Kate. Kate was really into ecstasy and told me that I had to try it so that I could really understand the world, so that it would open my mind and so that I could really feel. Finally she talked me into trying it, at first I was scared then it hit and I loved it. I loved it so much that I took about ten pills a day for six months straight. My body became so toxic to the stuff it started having the opposite effect. It would make me angry and violent and want to be alone. So I stopped taking the stuff. I came back to D.C. for the summer and got a job, went back to the marijuana and alcohol thing and “took it easy.” I saved up some money got an apartment set up in Miami and decided I was going to do this thing right.
I went back and went to a friend’s apartment, my friend wasn’t there, but his best friend from Dominican Republic was, I had heard of him, his name was Big Stew. I introduced myself he said he had heard of me too, we smoked some hash and I gave him a bunch of money and said “find me the chronic.” He did, he introduced me to a small time Cuban drug dealer named Alex. Alex thought I was a cop, but over time we became “friends” and partners. Soon I tried cocaine. I said I would never try it. I was at a friend’s place one night with a bunch of girls and he was talking about how beautiful the coke was, the fish scale with the pinkish hue. I said fuck it, and I snorted a small line, just one. He wouldn’t give me another one. I stared at the coke all night thinking I need some more of that. Next time I bought a gram, they taught me to take downers with it to take the edge off. Xanax and Roofies (the so called date rape drug) were what we could get at the time. I loved the combination of the uppers and the downers. The next time I bought an eight ball, and then I started buying ounces. This guy Alex would come to my place twice a week with like a pound a chronic, an ounce or two of coke and a couple hundred Xanax bars. My apartment became known as a party place. There were people there all the time, I felt like I was a part of and that people liked me and wanted to be with me. They really just wanted my drugs. I was still a terrible drug dealer, never made much money but it was worth it. I had girls, I had “friends,” and I thought I had arrived. People told me I always had a look on my face like I knew something that nobody else knew. I knew there were more drugs and more money. I never let anyone see all my cards; I was always involved in more than what I let on.
Needless to say I was not doing too well in school; it was no longer the priority. My roommate moved out and I let this guy named “crack head Jimbo” move in along with a football player. By this time we were getting really pure cocaine and doing crazy stuff, like snorting lines that were two and three feet long. We used to call it “powering.” When people would come over to buy coke, we would lay them out a huge rail and call it a house rail and if they didn’t do it I would kick them out. They would look at it and say “I can’t do that; I’ll have a heart attack.” I would tell them they were a pussy and kick them out.
All we did was get high all the time. They introduced me to a guy named Manny; he could get us as much coke as we wanted. But the lady who was really running the show was named Mayte. She was nice; she called me “baby boy” and really liked me. One day Manny blew his brains out and her sixteen year old son cleaned up the mess. I felt really bad for her. I started spending more and more time with her. She would call me her “N*%$a,” her “road dog.” She was like three hundred pounds, bald and wore spandex all the time. I later found out that everyone called her “La Negra.” She was Cuban Mafia, her and her family and friends worked for a major drug kingpin in the 1980’s in Miami. In the early 1990’s they all went to prison, mostly for RICO indictments, they got out and they were trying to make it big like before. She introduced me to everyone. She had people in Little Havana, Little Haiti, Coral Gables, Winwood, Hialeah, Goulds, Liberty City, Overtown, South Miami, The Grove, South Beach, Homestead, everywhere. They all used to call me “el hijo de la Negra.” I always brought some good chronic with me so that I could get in good with the big time drug dealers. The first time we went on a run together, we were in Little Havana buying a lot of coke, she told me to wait in my car and the next thing I saw was her hurdling fences with white stuff all over her face, hugging a trash bag with the cops chasing her, she was yelling “meet me at the house, move boy move.” One time I saw her take out four men of her equal size, she was like a cannon ball… she was one bad bitch. She taught me how to sell drugs. She taught me how to cut cocaine, how to dress like a normal “loser” so that I wouldn’t cause attention to myself, and to always take the big loads during rush hour. Her children looked up to me. I was getting patted down for wires all the time and guns became part of the scenery. I got phone calls non- stop, my phone never even rang, it was one call waiting after the next. By now I was the biggest drug dealer at University of Miami. It was like Miami Vice, I loved it I had a family that accepted my drug use, I had money, friends, women, I was staying in nice hotels and traveling, I had decided this was how I wanted to live the rest of my life. I had started getting some heat at my apartment complex. I had a couple of break-ins and everyone knew who I was. I started getting robbed at gunpoint. The first time I was terrified. A kid had set me up, I was pretty sure the football player who I lived with was behind it. Me and Big Stew went and kidnapped the kid and help him responsible for setting us up. I started staying up for days at a time with Negra. We were making tons of money and having a good time. Her whole family loved me because I was their connection to the University of Miami, which meant unlimited funds. She introduced me to people who didn’t even associate with white people, I had all their phone numbers. I had other connections of my own that weren’t associated with her. I started working with her ex husband. He had the worst reputation of all, everyone said he was heartless and a killer and not to trust him. He was nice to me. He had been on America’s most wanted list and he was a Latin King and Cuban Mafia. The first time I met him we got some Peruvian pink, Negra was working out pricing with the guy and she told him, “take him and teach him, but only a little bit.” He showed me how to test the coke. He lifted his head up and smiled, I saw the gold creep out of his mouth and he said “la manteca.” This became my new family, I stopped talking to my real family, or rather they stopped talking to me, they knew I was in trouble, but not how deep.
At some point before most of this, I met a guy named Crazy Steve, we had a friend in common at school, he was from Bethesda. He told me to stay away from Jimbo and the football player and I didn’t listen. We used to sell drugs together and use together a lot. He saved my life a couple times and I got him out of a few jams. We became best friends. He was really worried about me and used to tell me stuff like he thought he was going to find me dead any day. He told me I used to be up for days in my underwear walking around with a freezer bag full of coke and throw rocks at people and tell them to “Get the fuck out of here and leave me alone!” I really didn’t care if I lived or died. I just wanted to escape from my reality, the only things I was afraid of were running out of drugs and going to prison. I was so heavily medicated at any given time on any combination of Adderall, crystal meth, special K, marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms, other hallucinogens, nitrous oxide, alcohol, Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, Marinol, Thorazine, Roofies, cocaine, alcohol, Soma, Flexeril, Demerol, barbiturates, Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin, and a whole variety of pharmaceuticals, antipsychotics and antidepressants. I have snorted, smoked, swallowed and/or shot pretty much every drug there is. I would have taken anything; I used to take stuff without knowing what it was or where it came from. I said I would never try heroin. I had a cousin who died the first time he ever tried heroin. Steve went down that path and started stealing and doing really terrible and crazy things from the Oxycontin and Heroin. He had a beautiful girlfriend named Chloe. Steve’s dad came to get him in Miami because he was so fucked up. Chloe and I ended up getting together. She used like I used and part of me really loved her. Steve hated that we were together and would call us from D.C. and threaten to do terrible and creative things to both of us. He told me he was going to kill me.
A new semester would start and I would have the best of intentions. I would sit in the first day of class and get a call from Negra and she would say, “Baby boy, you gotta come to the house on Douglas now… I just got the mother load.” And like that I would walk out of class and hardly ever go back. I would somehow get grades just good enough where I was on the verge of getting kicked out. Often times I would go to campus with no books, just a backpack full of marijuana, cocaine and pharmaceuticals to sell drugs. A typical day would start out with me setting my alarm to the most violent heavy metal music I could find, I would set the alarm across the room to wake me up at 6 AM. I would take 60-90 mg of time released Adderall and go back to sleep for two hours. Then by the time I got up at 8 AM I would be able to actually get up. I would do a couple bags of heroin, snort a few rails of coke and pop a few downers and take some bong hits. Then I would start to get ready for school. Before I left I would do some more coke, maybe some crystal meth take a few more downers and smoke a joint or a blunt in the car. After class I would go to the bathroom and do a couple more bags of heroin, take a few more downers and do some more coke or crystal meth. Then I might go get a couple of drinks and go home and start powering. I would use late into the night and have to take a whole bunch of downers to go to pass out. That is why it was so hard for me to wake up in the morning. Often times I would stay up for days and derail the schedule. That trick with the Adderall stopped working too. I would pass out for days not knowing what day it was or if it was morning or night. I always liked kids and was studying education. I would do field work at schools and continue the same regimen. I would pass by the “Drug Free School Zone” signs and think this can’t be good. Soon after I dropped out of school. Throughout all of this I was going to therapy on and off trying to figure out what was wrong with me. At one point I had a seizure in my psychiatrist’s office and went to the hospital. I had two more at the hospital; marijuana was the only thing that showed up on the toxicology report. I went on anticonvulsants and was told not to drive, but that didn’t stop me. Often times I was on antidepressants because I was “depressed.” I was never honest with the doctors and never told them about my drug use.
Of course I started going down the same path as Crazy Steve. I was hiding my heroin use from Chloe and everyone else. Negra was not okay with my heroin use, she knew because I asked her for some connections. I would drive to Overtown to cop heroin, it was the best around, really pure stuff and it is probably one of the worst neighborhoods in the country. I used the chronic trick again and met all the dope boys. They would ask me for my number and call me every day. I met one guy named Adam so naturally we got along, his friends called him AD so they called me that too. Some of the guys called me midnight, I guess cause I would go there all times of night and I was the only white guy around. They all knew me and would yell my name when I drove through. It was pretty dangerous down there, a lot of violence and a lot of cops, but I thought I was invincible. I was so delusional; I walked around the neighborhood like I owned the place.
La Negra did stuff for me that nobody else would do. She hated Chloe and told me to get rid of her, said she was a liability. Chloe would overdose all the time on everything from cocaine, alcohol and Xanax to Prozac and Tylenol. Every time I took her to the hospital I would leave because I never wanted to stick around for the questions. Negra would get her out of the hospital for me while I was waiting in the parking lot getting high. Eventually Chloe caught on to my heroin use, she was devastated. Earlier she had begged me for a key to my apt, and I was reluctant for so long, but now she had one, we lived together. She would come home and find me nodding out and get so mad that she would beat the shit out of me and I could not defend myself because I was too doped out. At that point I was 145 lbs. and would shake uncontrollably anyways, so I probably couldn’t have stopped her. I would mumble incoherently and nobody could understand me.
Chloe had a lot of issues. She used to cut herself and bleed all over the place. One time we got in a fight and left for a couple days. When I got back there was blood on the walls and the furniture, I thought she was dead. One day we were getting ready to drive up north to Big Stew’s new place, he was throwing a party. I was getting ready and stocking up on drugs, we were going for a few days and we were with another girl who asked me to get her a bundle of heroin. I got five bundles and put them in my bag, ran a few more errands and came back ready to leave. I checked my bag one more time and was missing a bundle. I could’ve sworn I had five but there were only four. We started driving and Chloe was pissed, she wasn’t talking to me and I didn’t know why. We got up there and after a few hours I asked her “what is your fucking problem?” She took me in the bathroom, threw the bundle of dope on the floor and said “fuck it, I want to get high.” I tried to talk her out of it, I really did love her, but it was no match for my addiction. I knew that we were headed in a bad direction after that point. The two of us became daily heroin users after that.
Something else really bad happened too. I had been selling drugs to this guy on South Beach named Lorenzo. He was Pat’s, one of my only real friends, neighbors. Pat had a meth lab and was a heroin addict too. Lorenzo was crazy. He would smoke meth all day and drink GHB and do really crazy shit. One day we were walking down the street and he started complaining about how hot it was and started taking his clothes off. He threw his clothes on the ground and ran down the street butt naked yelling all types of crazy shit. I was getting sloppy to even be hanging out with the guy. One day he asked me to get him a lot of 80 mg Oxycontin. I had an awesome pharmaceutical connection at the time, so I made it happen, there was a lot of money in it for me and the money wasn’t coming in like it used to. I left Lorenzo’s place and two blocks later I was pulled over at a shell station by about 8 undercover cop cars surrounded. They had guns drawn and yelled “get on the ground” so I did. I had a shit load of drugs on me, a bunch of money and I had been up for two days. I knew I was fucked, this was it, it was the end. I was going to prison for a very long time. The cops said my car was reported stolen from Washington, D.C. I knew that wasn’t true because I owned the car. They searched me and my car and found nothing. I couldn’t believe it. I was on the perfect combination of drugs to act cool. I even had the audacity to tell them what a huge inconvenience this was and who do I file a complaint with. They let me go. I later found out Lorenzo got busted too, by the DEA, he showed me the police report, my name was in it and we had both been under surveillance for weeks. Lorenzo tried to extort money from me and threatened to turn me in and “sing” as he called it. For whatever reason I was never charged with anything. I believe that God knew I would not do well in prison. Lorenzo is serving a mandatory eighteen year sentence. After that things got difficult. I was paranoid and thought I was under surveillance, I later found out that I was. I would lay low and still use the same way. One day Elvis, Negra’s son asked if he could use my phone, he gave it back to me and said it wasn’t working. The next day Negra told me that Elvis had told her it was tapped. I started spending more time alone with Chloe, It seemed like I had less and less “friends” and acquaintances and less and less money.
Often times I would use by myself in my apartment and peak out the windows and sit in the dark paralyzed with fear and by the drugs. I would be really quiet and if I breathed too loud I was sure someone would hear it. I would sit in the dark and check my pulse. Those times were miserable. I would forget that it got like that and think I was still having fun; I would do it again day after day. I would come to in the morning and think “Fuck, another day, I’ve got to do it all again.” I started small time hustling to get high. I kept doing things that I said I would never do. The drugs had stopped working as good as they once did. People didn’t trust me anymore; everyone knew I was a dope fiend. I had a crack head with an eye patch named Obie staying at my place bringing all types of shady characters in and out. He taught me how to cook crack. Even La Negra and her family started to distance themselves from me. I still had Chloe, and I thought that’s all I needed. We couldn’t pay rent anymore and I lost my apartment. We moved in with her mom and her sisters.
Her mom loved me and treated me like a son. I couldn’t even hustle anymore. I started getting restaurant jobs. I could only hold onto those for so long before they figured out what was going on. I was without a soul, a walking shell of a man. We got so desperate we went to the methadone clinic; we thought it was the best solution living with her mom and her sisters. That worked just fine for the dope sickness, but nothing changed and I never had steady money to go every day. By this point I had stopped eating regularly, food was a luxury. For years I had crappy eating habits and didn’t take care of myself. Now, I was lucky if I ate one meal a day. It seemed like whenever I really needed to cop and had no money, those were the times I got ripped off the worst. The cops started to recognize us in Overtown. They stopped us a few times, but we never got arrested. I thought about suicide all the time, I was too much of a coward to do anything about it. I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life like this. I was so hopeless, words can’t describe how I felt. I was waking up sick every day. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. Sometimes I would cry thinking about how far down I had gone. I never thought that there was help out there, a way out, a solution, a different way of life.
Chloe and I started fighting more and more. We were stealing from her mom, the sweetest lady in the world who had financial problems of her own. I would leave and run away and go on binges for a couple days and then come back. A lot of times I had nowhere to go and would walk the streets and hide out. I guess I was homeless. At some point I tried to play my friend’s guitar, I tried playing songs that I had known for years. I couldn’t do it, it sounded like shit, it was all so confusing and it didn’t make any sense to me. We always told each other if we could just get stable and save up some money we would stop using. We never saved up any money and we could never stop using.
One day I was working at a restaurant and asked Chloe to pick me up. I lost the cars awhile ago and crashed the one that was actually mine. She came and I wasn’t getting off of work in time so she asked if I could give her some money so she could go buy some coke from Negra’s son and then come pick me up. That’s where I was going anyway so I said sure. She never came back. I called her and she asked if I could get a ride with someone else. I made my way over there and got some drugs fronted so I could go make some money. Chloe asked if she could hang with my “family,” I didn’t like it but I said “sure.” At that point, Tony, a Puerto Rican drug dealer was staying over there; he had broken up with his wife. Tony was my family too, we always got along. I went on to do my thing and Chloe ended up spending the night there. To make a long story short Tony told me she slept with him. I didn’t believe him, I confronted her and she denied it. She finally told me and I lost it. The one thing I had left, I had lost. Chloe and I had been together almost four years at that point, we had talked about marriage and said we would always be together. At the time it was one of the most painful thing I had ever dealt with, I had to block it out with complete oblivion. I showed up at Negra’s house and told her “I was ready.” We went and made some quick cash and I pretty much blacked out for a whole week. I remember bits and pieces of what happened but not much. When I came to, I was on her ex-husbands floor. He told me to get the fuck up, we had to move, to drive up North, He had just stolen four kilos of heroin and they were looking for him. I told him I was dope sick and I wasn’t going anywhere. He gave me a taste and we left. He was yelling at me the whole time telling me what a worthless junkie I had become. I thought he was going to kill me. I really feared for my life that day. He told me I used to be smart and we used to make money together and now I was a worthless piece of shit and no good to anyone. He asked me “why can’t you just stop?” I had a moment of clarity, I thought this isn’t the way it is supposed to be, I can’t live like this anymore. He didn’t kill me. I had run out of money and out of options. At that point I was physically, mentally and spiritually empty. I called my mom for the first time in a long time and told her I needed help and I needed to come home. She bought me a ticket. I saw Chloe one last time and we were still in love, but we couldn’t be together anymore. I somehow got enough money to buy a couple grams of heroin and flew back to D.C.
I got to D.C. and called Crazy Steve, I told him what happened and we apologized to each other. We met up at the Friendship Heights metro station and used together. I gave him some heroin and he gave me some Suboxone. I was physically, mentally and spiritually bankrupt. I remember thinking he looks like shit. Then he said “you look like shit, you should go to treatment. Father Martin’s is nice, I hear they give massages.” I thought, oh yeah, a massage sounds so good, everything hurts so bad. He was the last person I ever used with. My mom had been getting help from this doctor who was a pioneer in addiction. I called him and he said Father Martin’s was the place to go, but I had to go today. I thought shit, I have no job, no family, no drugs, no money, the jig is up, and it’s only twenty-eight days. So I went.
We drove up and I took a bunch of Klonopin, Xanax, and Suboxone on the way. I got there and they asked me when I used last, I lied and told them yesterday. I hated treatment. I was so afraid of going through dope withdrawal; I thought it was going to be so bad. They medically detoxed me; it was bad, but not nearly as bad as I thought. I didn’t talk to anyone, but I stayed. I had a counselor who told me that she needed me to put my shoulders back, smile and look people in the eye because that’s what sober people did. I couldn’t do it. I was there for their alumni celebration. Everyone was smiling and talking, there was a band playing and I was in my room trying to figure out how to kill myself. I was already on suicide watch. I talked to Negra and her ex-husband from treatment. They both told me how proud of me they were and to keep doing good and get my shit together. They said I could come back and we could make some real money. My counselor told me that the recommendation was that I move into a recovery house. I said no, and then we had family therapy and I realized I had nowhere else to go. I called this place called the Men’s Home and talked to the assistant manager named Harold L. He told me that he had one bed but it was reserved and wished me the best of luck. On my last day of treatment the counselor called me in his office and played a message from Harold, he said that he did have a bed and I should be there the next day. I felt a little relief.
My mom picked me up from treatment and drove me to the Men’s Home. I remember dressing nice to make a good first impression. Driving down the street I said “this place is a dump, this isn’t much better than where I came from.” The first person I met was Brian; he seemed okay, clean cut guy in his mid thirties. Then I met Harold. He took me and my mom in the office and told us his story. He asked where my mom was from, she said upstate New York and he agreed it was a nice area, that he had spent time on Riker’s Island. He told us how he used to shoot dope in his neck and had no other veins, how he had full blown AIDS for twenty years, Hepatitis C, failing kidneys and a whole bunch of other health problems. My mom was crying. She had never heard stuff like this before in her life. He told her she had been getting ripped off my whole life, and not to let me do that anymore. Then he started telling us that he was in recovery and how he was staying clean one day at a time. He told her everything was going to be alright and that by the time I was supposed to leave the home, I wouldn’t want to. I thought “who is this MF, he doesn’t know me.” Harold took a special interest in me. He had a gift to talk to people on a level they could understand, no matter where they were from. He could con people into doing the right thing.
Early recovery sucks!!!!!!!!! People told me it would get better and it did. I was twenty four years old and scared of everything. Scared of people, work, responsibility, girls, everything. I had no self-esteem, I didn’t know how to communicate with other human beings and I thought I was the worst person in the world. I hated AA, but I had to go to a meeting every day, they were the house rules. When you get out of treatment they tell you to go to a meeting that day, I was already thinking about how I had been through a twenty-eight day treatment and I didn’t need to go to a meeting that day. When I got to the Men’s Home, Harold asked if I wanted to go to a meeting with him, I didn’t want to go, but I went anyways. Once we got back Harold told me to hook up with another young guy in the house and go to a meeting with him. I didn’t see how AA was going to help me, I couldn’t relate to what was going on. I wanted to go to NA, but there weren’t very many meetings close to the house and everyone told me that AA in Northern Virginia was a stronger program. I couldn’t sleep well for months. I used to walk around thinking it would be so much easier if I got hit by a bus and died.
Harold used to tell us that recovery is not a spectator’s sport. He kept asking me if I had a sponsor, I didn’t. He asked if I wanted him to get me one, I said okay because I never would have asked someone myself. My first sponsor was Bob F. We used to go to a meeting once a week together. I didn’t really use him too much; he was just a sponsor in name. Harold was the first person I was ever honest with. At the Men’s Home you take turns chairing and being secretary at the meetings. The first time I had to give out chips I was so nervous. I said that “we recognize lengths of uninterrupted sobriety with a chip and a hug.” Harold started laughing and said, “I might have to commit chip fraud to get one of those hugs.” They made me a server at the breakfast on Sunday mornings. A lot of fellowship is there and it is a really good opportunity to meet people in recovery. I used to hate it, I was so sick I didn’t talk to anyone, I just stood there with a piece of paper waiting for people to tell me what they wanted. I once told Harold that I thought I was depressed, maybe I should go on some medication. He told me that I wasn’t depressed; I was a dope fiend with no dope. I have never been depressed since that day.
In the meantime I had gotten a job. They said at the house you had to have a job, they called it work therapy. They told me I didn’t need a career, I didn’t need my ideal job, just a job to pay the rent. I got one of the worst jobs I had ever had in my life. Some really amazing things happened there. I met other people in recovery and I met this lady named Queen. Queen was a big Ethiopian lady. She was really spiritual and always talking about God. She knew where I lived and what I was going through. She would ask me if I was still clean every day, I would tell her yes. Then one day she asked me, “so, Adam, have you started praying yet?” and I said, “why would I pray, I don’t believe in God.” She was furious, she told me to follow her and sit down in the office. She took me through my whole story and said, “You’re not supposed to be here, you’re supposed to be dead or in prison. How are you going to know why you’re still here, what your purpose is in life? There are others who can benefit from your experience. You need to start praying; you need to find your path.” I really couldn’t argue with the part about how I should be dead or in prison. I didn’t know why I was still here. She gave me a rosary and sent me on my way. I never used the rosary, but I did start praying that night. I started praying in the morning too. I have prayed every day since then. That’s when things started to turn around, I started to believe there was a God and he was watching out for me all along. I started participating in the meetings and I learned to laugh again.
I got a home group. I started going to the Wednesday 12:30 meeting at the Salvation Army on Mt. Vernon Ave. out of convenience. I had nothing in common with these people. Most of them were sixty years or older and had an average of thirty years recovery. I hear a lot of bullshit in meetings, but I don’t hear any in this one. They talk about how they got sober and what they do to stay sober. They talk about how they use the steps in their lives. They talk about the spiritual and practical solutions they use to live life on life’s terms. They were happy and they laughed a lot. I was by far the youngest person there and the newest to recovery. They took me in as one of their own. That is the room I got sober in.
A few months later it was time for me to leave the Men’s Home. The Men’s Home saved my life, and Harold was a big part of that. Left to my own devices I probably would have used after treatment. I had plans to go to the Robinson House, another recovery house two blocks away. Sure enough I didn’t want to leave, I told Harold that I was going to go out and use again just so I could get back in the Men’s home. I was joking, but he told me that it doesn’t work like that. That once we use again we release our addiction all over again and we can’t stop. He said I would be lucky if I made it back. At the Robinson House I got to a point where I was miserable, I knew I couldn’t live life with drugs and I didn’t know how to live life without them. I missed the fast life style I had been living in Miami; I was addicted to that as well. I realized all of my problems were of my own making. I knew what I had to do, I saw people around me working the steps and getting better, and I thought it would work for me too. I got a new sponsor, Kevin N., who was very into the literature and working the steps. I did a fourth and fifth step and learned I wasn’t all that bad. I was no better than and no worse than anyone else. I was doing what everyone else was doing. I had made a commitment to staying sober and to AA. I moved in with two guys in recovery. I started loving life and recovery. I got a new Job. I finished the rest of the steps and felt freedom. I felt comfortable in my own skin without drugs for the first time ever. I got service positions and started working with other alcoholics and addicts. I started sharing at meetings and I made some amazing friends. I started to grow up. I had this faith and this feeling that everything was going to be okay as long as I didn’t pick up. I had become responsible for my recovery. I realized that you get out of recovery what you put into it. I started saying stuff like “man, it’s a great day to be sober!” I started saying that just to fuck with one of my roommates and I really started believing it. I had gotten a little taste of recovery and I loved it. I wanted more and my willingness grew.
I have met so many amazing people in recovery, God works through people. Allen J. has forty-nine years of recovery; he is the most humble person I know. He is eighty years old is one of the coolest and most amazing people I have ever met. He talks about “the truth that sets us free,” if you’re an alcoholic or an addict you can’t drink or use, it’s that simple… “If you can drink there’s nothing wrong with it, if you can’t drink there’s nothing right with it.” He says, “If you want to get low, get high, if you want to stay low, keep getting high. Having nothing, being nothing, doing nothing and feeling good about it, that’s unnatural! We all came in here mad and sad, we came for the pain and stayed for the gain… none of us can do as good as we want as fast as we want but the main thing is that we’re on our way. Winners do what they have to do and losers do what they want to. The longest journey in the world starts with one small step. You can’t slide up the hill, but you sure can slide down. If any of us are doing better somebody helped us, God works through people, we do our best and God does the rest. The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary. If you want to see if something is right or not, look who’s doing it and see where it got them.” There’s probably hundreds, they go through my head all day long. Often times Allen J., Larry R. and I go out to lunch; I can’t even explain the gratitude that I have for the time I’ve spent with them. If you would have told me five years ago that I would be hanging out with these guys, I would have said yeah right and ran in the other direction.
I started following this other guy from my home group around, David R. I started following him to meetings all over D.C., Maryland and Virginia. I started step studies with my friends and each time I work the steps I dig deeper. I have come to realize that addiction and alcoholism are the same disease. The drugs and alcohol are only symptoms. My disease goes way deeper and touches every area of my life. I have a hole that represents our disease. The only thing that I have found that works is a relationship with a higher power which I have found through AA/NA. Now I am able to be of some service to man and God. I have to work the steps to constantly clean out the crap so I can connect with other people and God.
I’ve had the opportunity to go back to school, something that I thought I would never do. I went back to teach emotionally handicap kids. I remembered all the kids I knew in Miami, my “family,” how they looked up to me and how I could relate to them. I decided that’s what I wanted to do. Turns out I still hate school and have temporarily stopped going. I love my job. The guy I work for trusts me with his business and his livelihood. Today thanks to AA/NA I am trustworthy, I am a responsible member of society and I am happy. I can’t take credit for any of this stuff. The miracle in my story is that I stopped fighting and I let the program work in my life.
My relationships with my whole family are better now. After I celebrated one year, I met up with my dad. I gave him my one year chip and he started to cry wrote me a note about how I did do something he could never do. I told him all I did was follow some simple instructions. He is still using, but our relationship is better than ever and I love him for who he is. I was angry at him my whole life and as soon as I got into recovery I understood that he is an alcoholic and I forgave him. My relationship with my mom is a lot better too. I didn’t talk to her for awhile in recovery, I was very angry with her. Now we get along pretty well. I never really had a relationship with my brother, but now we are building one.
Harold relapsed right before he was clean ten years. He resigned from the Men’s Home. It broke my heart and I cried. It’s the only time I have ever cried in a meeting. I thought he would be clean until the day he died. After all, I felt like he had saved my life, and that God had used him to help me. He is like a father figure to me. He taught me an important lesson; that none of us are exempt from relapse and it truly is a one day at a time program. Every day is a gift. I started waking up and thinking I’m screwed. Even though the obsession and compulsion to use drugs has been lifted, I wake up every day and decide what I’m going to do to make sure I don’t pick up. I pray, use a sponsor, talk to others in recovery, go to meetings and try to help others along the way. It works.
About six months ago I got off of work on Saturday nights. Something told me that I should start going back to Beachcombers. I started going back periodically and told them about how I had been there eleven years prior and I felt like there was something for me there, they told me to keep coming back. I went on and off, and then I went back after my four year anniversary to go pick up one of those black key tags for clean and serene for multiple years of recovery. I remembered seeing Harold’s and thinking how cool it was. A lot of things happened that night; I wasn’t as enthusiastic about recovery as I normally am. I was leaving and Chris K. told me not to leave, to stay and hang out and that the group loves me. I stayed and hung out a little bit and Chris told me about his website. I went home and looked at his dead friend’s memorial and read some of the personal stories. It was amazing. I started watching Chris and I felt like I could see inside of him and decided that I wanted to be like him, that I wanted what he had. I knew what I had to do. Everything was going great, but I had in the back of my mind that Chris would make a great sponsor. Some stuff happened and I asked him. Now I begin the next chapter in my recover. I will do it the NA way.
Chloe had a baby and lives in central Florida, she is not using but not in the program. Big Stew teaches English in China, he is not clean. Crazy Steve has been in and out of the program a bunch of times and I run into him every now and then, he’s helped me more than he will ever know. My friend Pat was on the Methadone program in Georgia for five years, last I spoke to him he had just gotten off. I often times think about what happened to my “family” and then think that it’s probably better I don’t know and don’t try to find out. Some of my old acquaintances are in prison, a few are dead, one is in a coma for the rest of his life, but most of them are doing the same stuff. I wouldn’t trade places with any of them.
Today I don’t have a lot of money, no wife, and no house; in fact I don’t have much. But I feel like a billion dollars on the inside. I am free. By the grace of God and the help from the rooms I have not picked up a drink or a drug since 8/22/05, it is a miracle. I believe this is life or death for me. We have been saved. As long as I don’t pick up and keep coming back everything will be okay and anything is possible. My faith is stronger than ever. I love recovery. Recovery gives me a chance to work on the underlying issues that I chose to drink and drug over in the first place. Now I am able to address and change my negative behavior so I can feel good about myself. I fall short all the time, I am human, but as long as I don’t pick up I get more chances. The longer I’m in recovery the more aware I am of God working in my life. The connection with my higher power in addition to the fellowship of AA/NA has managed to successfully fill the void in my life. For that I am extremely grateful, I choose to show my gratitude by sharing the gift of recovery with others. Recovery opens up a world of possibilities and we can do anything we want as long as we put our recovery first. If it can work for me it can work for anyone, recovery is possible, and I am not unique. God Bless.