“It’s crazy to think I went from the age of thirteen when I started using to thirty, and within a year-and-a-half I’ve gotten a lot more mature. I’m not gonna say I’m thirty years old, but I may be like twenty-four.”
My name is Alex. I’m thirty years old. I’m a person in long-term recovery, which means I haven’t used for thirteen months. Really it started out when I was about thirteen years old; I was molested by a family member. After that I just lived in fear. [I] started doing drugs when I was thirteen.
As I got older I was picked on for being the short, fat kid in school. I was in sixth grade, 180 pounds, [and] I have psoriasis. I was made fun of for being fat and having these pink spots all over me, for being poor. I started experimenting with harder drugs—cocaine, ecstasy, acid—that was all by the time I was fifteen or sixteen. I was hanging out with older people because they really didn’t care what I looked like or stuff like that. They thought it was cool that someone kind of emulated them. I really didn’t do so great in school. I didn’t want to be there because of all the other kids.
“I was made fun of for being fat and having these pink spots all over me, for being poor. I started experimenting with harder drugs—cocaine, ecstasy, acid—that was all by the time I was fifteen or sixteen.”
When I hit ninth grade I realized I had gotten bigger—taller—and I started to fight back. I’d get picked on, I’d start fights, and I didn’t care. I got suspended over and over again. Then I started—I knew what it was like to get bullied—so when I saw the nerdy kids getting picked on, I’d stand up for them. I became the kid in school that nobody wanted to hang out with, that everybody knew of but stayed away from.
By the time I was supposed to be in junior year—I got left back twice—the principle called my mom and said, “We’re just gonna have him drop out and get his GED. He’s only got a credit and a half.” So my mom agreed. I thought it was great. I could get out of school—it didn’t matter.
Once I had all the free time, I started working my first job and I had some money. I was partying even more at this point and this is when I started getting into prescription pills. When I was younger I got settlement checks for an accident when I was seven years old, so I got my first settlement check and that really set me off the deep end. It was about $20,000, and you can buy a lot of drugs for that money—and I did. I had a really big party on New Year’s Eve that involved mushrooms and pills and alcohol and everything, and it turned out to be the worst party in the world. I just had a horrible trip [that] involved cops and luckily I got out of it with nothing, but I knew I had a problem.
I went home to my mom’s house January 1st, some[time in the] early 2000s and I told my mom I officially had a problem. So we tried a few different places for me to go into, and I went into a recovery center. About a week after I got there I was doing better, and someone I knew from partying came in and they were just there to please their family. They came up with this crazy idea, and I called my mom and I said, “Mom, you gotta get me out of here. I’m gonna do something stupid.”
She didn’t believe me. She thought I wanted to come out and keep using, which I really didn’t, but I did this thing with this guy and I got arrested for the first time. I had a couple felonies—burglary, possession of stolen property, forgery—and it was either go do prison time or go to rehab. Since I was already trying to get help, I took a year in a TC (treatment center).
I did a year there, completed probation, [and] the only reason why I stayed clean was because of probation, really. As soon as I got off probation, the party was on. I had no consequences again. At this point, after about a year off probation, I had my own house, I had a fiancé, I had two cars—everything was great—and I picked up heroin. That’s when life just went completely [chaotic].
After a while I moved to Newburgh and I got involved with some pretty bad people over there. I knew them from before, but [they] kind of took me under their wings. I got gang-involved. I was doing a lot of stuff that it took me a long time to get over. I wasn’t proud of it. We were robbing stores, sticking stores up—it was crazy. I think back to it and I’m just astonished.
“I got gang-involved. I was doing a lot of stuff that it took me a long time to get over. I wasn’t proud of it. We were robbing stores, sticking stores up—it was crazy. I think back to it and I’m just astonished.”
Skip forward a little bit, and four years ago [I] decided to get clean and go for my LPN. I made it quite a while there, but relapsed shortly after. [I] didn’t take the boards—just full-blown heroin. I started stealing from my family again—it was just crazy. I hurt my family the most. Now [that] they can say they forgive me and they’re proud of me, it makes a huge difference. I still had the fight [left in] me where I want to get sober someday, some way, somehow.
So I tried to find a bunch of places that would take me, and I finally got taken into a TC in Ellenville, New York. I was there for five months and then I got kicked out for smoking cigarettes, which to me at the time I thought, “Well, you wanted me to quit everything else, at least let me smoke cigarettes.” They didn’t see it that way. I went back home to my mom’s house and she’s like, “You’re all right now. You can do this.” It wasn’t the case—[I] relapsed again.
It got to the point where I hocked one of my mom’s watches and it was a birthday gift from my stepfather to her. My stepfather was in my life for I think thirteen years, and at first I had the whole, “You’re not my dad; you can’t tell me what to do.” I was totally against him—and he backed me through everything I’ve ever done. Through getting sober I have the best relationship with my family that I could have ever had.
In 2013 I decided to get help once again. A friend of the family stuck their hand out and knew of a place in Albany I could go. So I came up to Saratoga with my cousin. I stayed there for about a month detoxing and stuff like that. They took me camping and hiking and all sorts of stuff I used to do before I got high and it was great.
So I said, “I’m gonna do it this time. I’m gonna do it. And when I’m done I’m gonna live in Saratoga.” It was a goal—the first goal I set when I got sober. I went to this facility in Albany and I was there for six months. I learned so much there. I learned why I started using, different coping skills, just a ton of information about myself. It was the first time I knew that I could do this.
“I said, ‘I’m gonna do it this time. I’m gonna do it. And when I’m done I’m gonna live in Saratoga.’ It was a goal—the first goal I set when I got sober.”
I made it six months and I went home on a home pass. My aunt was on pills, and I stole some of her pills. When I went back to the rehab it was the first time I ever told on myself. I went back and I said, “I got high. Drug test me. I’m dirty.” So they did.
They couldn’t keep me there any longer, so instead of kicking me out they sent me to another facility in Rhinebeck as a transfer. There, it wasn’t a great place, but I completed it. It was the first goal I ever actually accomplished, which was to complete a program, and it made me feel so great.
I had to wait a while to get another halfway house after that, so I went to my cousin’s house down in Monticello, [which is] not a great area either. When I came to Saratoga to this halfway house for a drug test they were like, “Wow, I’m surprised you’re still clean after a month of being on your own.” And I said, “Well, I really want to do this.” So they took me in.
It was kind of rough being at the halfway house because you have a little more freedom, but for some reason it wasn’t that hard for me. A lot of people got in trouble there—I got in trouble once. I just—I surrendered—and I became really involved with twelve-step programs. That was a big turnaround as well.
Through everything I’ve learned, gratitude and humility are the two biggest things. Being grateful for what you have [and] being humble and thinking, “Well, it could be worse. No matter what, it could be worse.”
I wouldn’t give this up for the world. I’ve gained so much back in my life that I never thought I’d have. I have real friends now—a lot of them—not even just one or two. I have one friend who stood behind me no matter what, no matter what I did. Through all my years of drug addiction—he stood behind me—and he’s still there today.
I just have so may people in my life that support everything I do. It makes me want to cry at times. It’s almost surreal that I’ve been sober over a year—I never thought I could do that. Now I know that anything I set as a goal is attainable, as long as I do the next right thing. I’ve learned how to handle situations [that] I never would’ve been able handle in my past. I have people I can talk to.
“It’s almost surreal that I’ve been sober over a year—I never thought I could do that. Now I know that anything I set as a goal is attainable, as long as I do the next right thing.”
My next goal is to be a life coach. That’s honestly something I want to do—I want to help people. I’ve been helped by many, many people, and I want to give that back to people that don’t have what I have.
I see a lot of my friends through Facebook have died from overdoses and it kills me. I would never ditch any of my old friends, but I don’t hang out with them. I can’t. I don’t even really talk to them, but I have them on my Facebook just to keep an eye on them. If one of them dies, I want to be there for their family. Even some of my friends that I used to use with told me that they’re proud of me for making it out. They know that they’re still in the throes. Every once in while when I go visit I run into them, and I see them and I see their eyes glazed over. It’s just such a shock to think that that’s how I used to be.
When I start using I was thirteen, and since I started this journey it’s been a year-and-a-half. It’s crazy to think I went from the age of thirteen when I started using to thirty, and within a year-and-a-half I’ve gotten a lot more mature. I’m not gonna say I’m thirty years old, but I may be like twenty-four.
It’s just amazing how life can change, and how drastically it can change within a year. After I got those six months clean before I relapsed, when I relapsed I thought the world was over—I’ll never get that back. And now I have that back, plus more. I refuse to use ever again—I refuse. I would rather be homeless in the cold not knowing where to sleep than to be high again.
I have so many people in my life. I have a girlfriend that supports me. It’s just nice to have all that support and people who can talk to you and you can tell them anything—and they understand. They don’t run away, you know? I’m just so grateful to have all that. It’s something I never would’ve dreamed about.
Photographs taken at Alex’s apartment in Saratoga Springs, NY.