I was kind of a lost soul growing up. Living on autopilot, the days seemed like a blur, one to the next. I was mediocre at school and sports, deeply ambivalent about my future.
Middle school brought the pain of bullying. My tall, skinny frame stood out like a lone sprouted weed on a velvet-green golf course. All I wanted was to be invisible. Instead, I was a target for the older kids, whose relentless taunts instilled in me a crushing fear. I can remember walking down the hallways, terrified that I would get punched or thrown to the ground.
In high school, my fears morphed into a raw and nervous energy that I carried each day. Feeling awkward and uneasy, I developed crippling anxiety and began to shut down socially. I was diagnosed with ADHD in 10th Grade and started taking medication, which made me feel better, despite unpleasant side effects.
Some of the “popular kids” found out about the medication I was taking and invited me to join them for lunch. I was shocked but agreed. They drove me to a park and asked if I had some ADHD medication with me. I pulled out the pills and these peers convinced me to crush one and snort it with them. I was terrified and didn’t want to – but I was more terrified about what they would say if I refused.
I snorted the crushed powder and felt the greatest rush I had ever experienced. We hung out for a while, riding the high together. When I went back to school, I took with me two new exciting feelings: the exhilarating rush of a powerful drug, and a sense of connection with a group of “popular” people. Looking back, it’s now clear to me that this is where my journey into addiction began.
Over the next two years, I started hanging out with this popular group – abusing my medications, drinking alcohol, and smoking weed. I finally fit in, and the bullying stopped. I was a part of a group that I thought made me feel good. Gradually, though, I was becoming more dependent on the pills and started searching for more. By the time I graduated high school, I had mastered how to get a higher dosage of ADHD medication, and anti-anxiety pills to help me come down.
College arrived and I managed to flunk out in one year. I started using cocaine and abusing any medication I could get. When I returned home, my life unraveled. I began selling drugs and stealing money from my parents to pay for cocaine, now an expensive daily habit. My friends and parents intervened. After a series of outpatient rehab programs, I continued to relapse and gave up hope. I felt I was going to be a drug addict the rest of my life. I was 22 years old.
One night, I arrived home and was met by one of my “good” childhood friends who was waiting with my parents. They all asked me to sit down. They told me they loved me and couldn’t sit back and watch me throw my life away. They asked if I was ready to get help. I was terrified, but at the same time overwhelmed by the misery that my life had become.
I was able to hear their words and knew in my heart that I needed intensive help. The next day, I was on an airplane on my way to enter a long-term residential drug rehab program. For five months, I remained in treatment. That commitment saved my life.
After completing the program, I felt so empowered and for the first time, understood what a true connection was like. I wanted to help others struggling with addictions.
I knew I had a gift for technology and loved the internet, so I decided to build a website to reach people like me who were dealing with substance abuse. The website was rehabcenter.net. That was eight years ago and I have had the good fortune of working with thousands of families across the country – helping them find freedom from addiction. I have been clean ever since.
One piece of advice that I give people in recovery is to stay connected and help others. I feel that is the biggest asset in my recovery – to constantly strive to make a meaningful difference. It’s a philosophy that keeps you grounded and helps you never forget your own struggle.
I hope my personal journey encourages someone else who is fighting drug or alcohol addiction. We each have unique personal circumstances, but a healthy, drug-free life is possible. Millions of Americans are living in long-term recovery. As one of them, I can assure you that life does get better.