Heroin was the big thing for me. In high school I started smoking pot, drinking, and partying with ecstasy and stuff like that, but I was still able to function. My drug use had to do with my parents’ divorce—there was a lot of fighting in my family, so I turned to getting high and started experimenting. But when I tried heroin, there was nothing like it. By age 21 I was completely addicted. Every day, I would wake up and do everything I could to get high.
My parents were split up by then and they didn’t know about my addiction until later on. I did my own thing for a while, and I always kept a good job and my own place. Nobody really knew about my problem because I didn’t get into trouble. I tried many times to get clean, went to several detoxes, but it just didn’t work. I supported myself, but every time I saved any money I blew it on heroin. That was my cycle for many years.
When I was 26 I robbed a friend’s house for drug money. That’s how bad it was; I didn’t even care about what I was doing and how I was hurting my really close friend by committing a crime like that. I was charged with burglary and sentenced to three years in prison. I asked the judge for help, told him about my addiction and that it was causing me to commit crimes. I told him how heroin was destroying my life, and he promised that when I completed my sentence he’d send me to the Phoenix House Citra Center.
So that’s exactly what happened. It was my first time in rehab, and it was really a great experience. I showed up at Phoenix House at 30 years old, fresh out of prison, with an attitude of, “enough is enough.” I wanted help. I wanted to try my hardest and to overcome my problem. So I really gave my all, and the program has been such a blessing. I like the structure of it, how you work your way up the levels. I was a Senior Coordinator for three months, which is the highest level, and I got to help people in my house and hold others accountable as well as myself. The behavioral therapy taught me to overcome my criminal thinking and adapt my old behaviors. Treatment has really changed my life.
There are so many people at Phoenix House who truly want recovery, and that’s why this is such a great program. It’s helped my own mindset as well as my family relationships; my parents live in Puerto Rico now, but my mom came over to visit me two weeks ago and it was great. I now have four years clean, and I start a new job this week. I won’t be making as much money as I was before prison, but I’m thankful for what I’ve got. I look at it all as a positive thing—a stepping stone.
Returning to the real world is where the real test comes; when you start working and getting money in your pocket. But I’m going to continue using all the skills they taught me here at Phoenix House, and applying those skills to my life. I want to work in the treatment field eventually, and help people who are going through what I went through. But for now I’m just enjoying being involved in the community, going to AA and NA groups, and taking it one day at a time. I’m committed to my church, and there are a lot of people there whose kids or family members have drug problems, so I’m sharing what I’ve learned with them.
The best part of recovery is getting to know all the people—all the cool people who, it turns out, are in recovery too. Like I said, I’d never been to treatment before, and the network is awesome. Before Phoenix House, I had always thought I was alone in this. I thought that addiction only happened to me. But it happens to so many people, and so many people recover. I go to groups every day and hear people’s stories, and it’s like, “Hey man, that’s the same exact story that I’ve got!” It’s all made me understand that addiction is a disease, and recovery is possible if you work hard at it.