When I was young, I knew I was different. I also knew something was wrong. All I remember was grown-ups telling me that mother had died in a fire.
I was put in foster care and separated from my five siblings. Later, my sister, one brother and I were lucky enough to be adopted by a foster family. After getting settled in my new surroundings, I tried to make friends. However, I was teased and called a faggot. After many trips to the psychiatrist, I was given “pills” to calm me down. That was my first experience with drugs but certainly wasn’t my last. I began acting out in school and ran away countless times, so I was sent to Childrens Village in Dobbs Ferry, New York. When I turned 15, I was moved into a group home. That’s when I discovered marijuana. I regularly cut class with my new friends to get high. I went from that faggot to the most popular kid in school because I had the drugs. This continued until I was 18, when I was asked to leave the group home. Without skills or a job, I discovered gay bars where men would pay me for sex. I was introduced to cocaine and that’s when I arrived. Every weekend I snorted coke--until I discovered crack. One day, I followed an acquaintance into a crack house. For $20, she put a pipe in my mouth and told me to pull. It was all downhill from there. I moved away so I wouldn’t embarrass my family. For the next 21 years I lived in California smoking crack. I went to prison and I didn’t care. Jail became my second home. I was homeless, penniless and living with HIV but I had to use. I finally grew tired of the insanity and went into rehab. It was the best decision I ever made. I got rid of old friends, moved out of the old neighborhood and today I am 500 days clean. I am the addict, who everyone expected to die from using, including me. Today my days are filled at outpatient meetings and helping other addicts to stay clean. I know that being at any “A” meeting (NA, AA, GA, or other) is better than sitting in front of the DA for a crime I committed just so I could keep using. This past fall, I was nominated by my outpatient treatment center, Project Hospitality, to participate in a free training program being offered at the College of Staten Island. The tuition for the training program was paid for by an organization called the Staten Island Performing Provider System, or SI PPS. Individuals with lived experience with substance use disorder can train to become non-clinical Peers to others in recovery. After completing over 60 hours of training, I was delighted when Project Hospitality hired me for one of their Peer roles! Today I know that God is in the mix and I try my best to communicate the message of hope to as many people as I can. So if you’re struggling, just know that recovery is taken one day at a time, and if one day is too long, just stay in the moment. I am living proof that addicts can stop using drugs, lose the desire to use and find a new way to live.