“I’m but one of many incredible, incredible stories that continue to inspire me and so I hope to inspire others. In the self and other, and there being no difference, those inspired, inspire. Those who inspire, are themselves inspired. There is no separation between the two.”
My childhood would be very easily summed up in one short story. My mother, divorced, single, very abusive husband. My father was very abusive mentally, physically, emotionally. My mother put herself, I think, out there to take the brunt of it as often as she could. Very, very hard-working woman coming up in the science world as a single mother in the eighties, God bless her. The woman is an animal. She has done very well for herself. She’s one of the most hard-working people I know. She would go away on business trips, and [on] one in particular, she went to Arizona, and she came back with cowboy boots for my sister and I, which was awesome, and I loved those friggin’ cowboy boots. I would wear them all over the place. They were like my thing. I was like, “These sweet cowboy boots.” I had everything I ever wanted as a five-year-old.
I was outside on the front stoop rocking my cowboy boots, and I remember it was a beautiful day out during the summer, and I was on the top step of the stoop. I remember right in the heel of the boot, I remember getting that caught on the very edge of the top step. I remember kind of rocking forward a little bit and with the step right in the heel of the boot, kind of just teetering, teetering, rocking back and forth on the top step. For a split second, I wondered to myself, “I wonder what would happen if I fell.” So I sort of leaned forward just a little too far to where I could feel myself begin to fall, and could have very, very easily stopped myself, but at five or six years old, I’m pretty sure I had my first “F-it,” where I was looking directly at a solid five-foot fall onto slate steps and I was like, “Ah, let’s see how this plays out.”
Of course, I smashed against them, cut my legs up, bruised myself up real bad, and I remember lying there in the middle of the driveway, crying, and saying, “Oh, that wasn’t very smart,” but then fully remembering that I had the chance to stop myself and I had the chance to, and I was just not in a place to care. As a kid, where I was emotionally and mentally with things was just not a place of really caring. With the full knowledge of what the outcome might be, I still just didn’t care.
I certainly would not put that all on the relationship with my father. I certainly wouldn’t put it on the relationship with my mother. There was some sexual abuse mixed into my story as a kid, but I wouldn’t put it on that. A lot of different things played a role in the attitude that I developed as a very young child, of just not caring, even with a full understanding of what the outcome might be. This was just cultivated throughout my later childhood into my early teens.
My first drink was my sister and I, she’s three years older, at family parties, or at social events my mother would host, we would steal drinks off the tables, as like a six year old. Then, again, with my mom being gone a lot, my sister would babysit me, and I was off the wall. I was just off the wall. I would chase her around with knives, getting them stuck in cabinets as I swung them at her. I would smash windows and break stuff. As a kid. Not very five- or six-year-old behavior. I’d chase her around with sticks and just smash her, in the face, with large sticks. I’d begun developing a propensity for violence at a young age.
She actually found the solution to my angst as a youth, which was alcohol. As a six year old, she would give me a shot while she was babysitting me, and it would calm me down almost immediately. I can remember she would then put me on the washing machine on spin cycle. I’d be shaking all over the place, and it was fun. It was really fun. I didn’t really put the pieces together until years later that she actually found the solution to my problems before I even did or really even understood what they were.
I would have qualified as a very early teen to be a part of the program, any program, but at that point in my life, I had developed enough tools to cover up a lot of what I was doing. If I couldn’t cover it up, I learned that doing some good stuff would counteract some of the problem areas. “Aw, Andrew, how could you do this? I know you’re a good kid.” Something I would continually hear is, “You’re the story of potential, Andrews. You’re the story of potential.” That’s what I would hear so often growing up. It was true because I [was]. I still have an incredibly huge heart. It’s been one of the things that has guided me through recovery, and my life. There was just this other part of me that I fed a little too much and continued to cultivate as a youth.
Moving into high school, fortunately, there were certain activities that I participated in and liked. One of them was sports. I excelled in sports. That kept me healthy, kept me grounded and semi-structured, even though senior year, as a solo captain and all-star lacrosse player, I was high for almost every single home game. Despite even having some structure, I still managed to feed my addiction in a lot of ways.
Fortunately, I maintained with a number of healthy behaviors and healthy activities. A lot of outdoor stuff. I did, for a time, excel in scholastics. I didn’t want to work for it, which I hear a lot and I still occasionally experience. I want to be given what a lot of people work very hard for and expect certain things. [It’s] something I work very hard on, and have for a while.
As high school wrapped up and I went into college, [there were] less barriers to partying. Less barriers to alcohol. Increased access to alcohol. Not just decreased barriers, which ironically a lot of the work I do in my recovery is to decrease barriers to and increase access to treatment, education, housing and employment. College, for me, was increased access, decreased barriers to alcohol and drugs and parties and girls and all that fun stuff that comes with life. That’s what it was at that point, and that’s what I pawned it off on was, I was living life. I was having the experience. Despite the fact that none of the freshmen at St. Anselm College, where I went, could drink like me, and I was the only freshman that was allowed in the senior frat house. The only one. For years.
It was actually a running bet that people had that would literally line up with me for weeks ahead of time to go out partying with me and see how late into the night they could hang and drink with me. This was not just freshmen. Sophomores, juniors. Really, the only people I could find that drank like me were the seniors. Even some of them, I drank just under the table. As a freshman. That’s an eighteen-year-old. Fresh eighteen-year-old.
The two-sport collegiate prospect that I was barely made it through half of the first season of football. I did have an injury to my knee which got worse and worse, and I ended up getting surgery on it halfway through the season. I had broken my leg playing lacrosse back in high school, and as it turns out, my left leg or my left tibia grew about an inch longer than my right, and so I was very, very out-of-balance all the time, which inevitably led to a lot of back problems for me, which is a huge part of my story, and really augmented the speed at which I arrived at opiates and then heroin.
My first try at college did not go very well. Drinking beer in the shower, eight a.m. in the morning. Throwing up and drinking beer in the shower at eight a.m. in the morning. Full handles, no problem. Two thirty-packs in a day, on occasion. Still keeping it semi-together. Still showing up for some classes even though I was drinking in class. Inevitably, my GPA suffered. My fitness suffered. My health suffered. Mental health suffered. Emotionally, everything started falling apart. I failed out of school and moved back home.
I had made some connections. Got a job for the summer after just kind of blindly walking through a couple months of the second semester and not doing anything. As life goes, experienced a few tragedies. Realized a few things. Hit some hard truths that I wasn’t ready for and ran away from. Ran to more alcohol, more drugs.
Again, I ended up getting a job, a really good job moving furniture. The company was called Clark & Reed. They had a contract with a fine furniture worker out of Maine called Thomas Moser. Fifteen-hundred-dollar bar stools. Really nice cherry wood. Everything. Gorgeous. I landed a job riding shotgun in the truck delivering from Maine to Virginia.
This is one of the things that I really ran from. Part of our route was Manhattan and month-long trips. Three-week to month-long trips. At least three days of it was dedicated strictly to Manhattan. Every trip. Every trip, we’d go from downtown to uptown because we were staying in a hotel just across the border in Connecticut and on the morning of 9/11, we were walking out to the truck, and the driver was screaming up and down and swearing out our dispatcher that she scheduled us backwards and that we were going from uptown to downtown that day, and that our last delivery was the biggest one we had and we were going to be there for hours, and we’d be lucky to get back to the hotel at midnight, so get ready for a long day, and this was at like five in the morning. I was still pretty drunk from the night before.
We get in the truck and we head into town. My routine was [to] pass out in the back until we got into town, which took an hour and a half or two hours, and so I did. Opened up the screen in the back to, I believe it’s Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan. It’s this beautiful, beautiful cathedral. We went up to do our delivery. As we came out, Dave was like, “Hey, Andy, you want to go check the church out? Just go take a look around. It’s supposed to be a pretty hopping tourist destination. It’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful cathedral. It’s huge.” I kind of [disdainfully] agreed. “All right. Whatever. Fine.”
As I walked in, I realized that I hadn’t been in a church since my uncle had passed the year before, and whatever relationship I had with God at the time was very contentious. We’d had a big argument going for some time, where I kind of had told him to go screw himself, too. All these emotions were coming up as I walked in this church, and regardless, I just followed Dave’s lead and he went over and he knelt down in front of the candle that burns in the back of the church and, not to my knowledge, we ended up doing what’s called an adoration, which is you sit there in the presence of Jesus. That’s what I’m told. I vividly recall as a failed Catholic, a failed raised Catholic, going through the motions of, “Hello, heavenly Father, up there in the very perfect place that we all strive to get to with our suffering here,” is basically what I was saying. “Oh, by the way, could you take care of this person and this person, please. Thank you for this, this, this, this, and that.” Just going through that motion of blah blah blah.
If I may digress for a second, “the three-column prayer.” It was like I might as well have had it written on my hand and I was just reading it off my hand, again. Not that that’s not a healthy behavior. It quite literally may have gotten me through, but I was just sitting there and I kind of had had it, and I was like, “You know what, dude?” I remember saying this in my head. It was kind of funny, actually. I was like, “You know what, dude? I know I’ve been a dick, so I guess what I’m saying is, you know, thank you for taking care of me when I don’t deserve it, and especially when I don’t know it, all right. Like, thank you.” I just kind of left it at that. It was almost maybe one of the first sincere prayers I had maybe ever prayed, because it was just like, “All right, enough with this. This is how I really feel.” It was just an emotion that I put some words to, and so I left.
We get back to the truck and within a half an hour or forty-five minutes, we had found out that both of the towers had been hit and that the U.S. was under attack, and then the Pentagon, and this surreal experience of being in Manhattan just a little over a mile, a mile and a half away from the World Trade Centers which were burning, and depending on where you were, you couldn’t even see them. You had no idea. People were just walking along the street like nothing was wrong, and then there would be one person running, sprinting down the street screaming at the top of their lungs, on their cell phone. “We’re under attack!” People were looking at them like they were nuts, and then being that guy trying to tell people, “Guys! We’re under attack. The towers got hit.” People looking at me like I’m nuts.
We’re having this experience of like, “Whoa!” Like a Pearl Harbor. A modern-day Pearl Harbor. I remember the driver, Dave, looking at me and being like, “Dude, let’s get the fuck out of here. Let’s get out of here. We do not want to be here anymore. Let’s get out of here.” It just so happened that our last delivery was on the way towards the highway. We stopped and we did our last delivery. We went up. It was under twenty stories, but we were up there and we got out on this guy’s balcony, and we looked over and saw the two towers burning. We saw all the news choppers in the sky. We’re looking over and on the TV, on every channel you could turn to, was this the biggest terrorist attack since Pearl Harbor. It was just totally surreal. We talked to the guy and we were like, “Dude, we’re out of here.”
We left and we’re trying to get our families on the phone because they knew we were out on business, on a trip, and they didn’t know exactly where we were but we’re just trying to let them know we’re okay, and the phone lines are all tied up and everything is all screwed up, and so we get back to the hotel. I remember talking to my buddy’s parents who I was staying with at the time, and after I hung up the phone, the driver, Dave, he hands me this piece of paper and he says, “Andrew, I really don’t mean to freak you out or anything but this was the last delivery of the day that should have been our first.”
He handed me the packet of our schedule for the day and it had progressive maps that got closer and closer, and he handed me this map, and the last delivery of the day was next door to the Millennium Hotel, which is diagonally across the street from the World Trade Center, which was on the map like 350, 400 yards away. We were supposed to be there at seven in the morning. We would have been there around seven with I think thirteen pieces of furniture, so we would have been there for at least probably close to three hours. That was supposed to be the first delivery of the day if it had proceeded like any other trip that we had been on for the last almost year. Suddenly, it clicked that the exact time that I was supposed to be diagonally across the street from the World Trade Center, I was actually in a church, on my knees, doing an adoration, saying maybe the first honest prayer that I’d prayed in my entire life and specifically saying, “When I didn’t know it.”
That hit me really hard. I had no clue how to handle it. For years, I told people that it changed me and I told people that it had this incredible impact on me and it inspired me to do all this good, and it did. I had this, if I may for a moment, this pretty hardcore Jesus experience. Which I don’t go telling everyone all the time because I’ve had a lot of experiences without Jesus and they’re pretty incredible, but I had this really intense Jesus one which scared the crap out of me. I ran. I ran from the emotions. I ran from the prospect of leading a better life, or a more wholesome life.
The idea of, “Oh yeah, you find a good person and you settle down and you do some good things and you have a good life and you’re happy.” I knew what it took to get to that, but again, it was just like, “I don’t care.” I didn’t. There was a part of me that wanted that, but the majority of me didn’t, and it scared the crap out of me, and dying young seemed more appealing than that, which is insane. A lot of the work we do, we talk about the insanity of addiction, this disease, and that was certainly one of the most obvious places where I could point my finger and say, “Yeah, that was really…” I knew, I was fully aware, again, of the consequences of my actions the majority of the time, and I still didn’t care.
I ran and ran from this. I let people know me on the surface, and then I’d run from that. There were only really a couple people that have seen me for me. It still scares me because there’s a lot of different parts to me. In some ways, I’m probably still running from some of myself in a lot of the work I do trying to redeem myself in some sort of way.
Regardless, so I’ve done almost every manual labor job that you can really think of. There are only a few select things I haven’t done. I finally, one of my good friends who I was staying with at the time of 9/11, he ended up getting me a job with this company selling fitness equipment, which was awesome. Basically, you’re your own boss. It was just me and him with the whole store. We were running the place. My family has told me since I was a young lad that I was either going to wind up as a politician or a used car salesman, so I have been known to have the gift of gab when I so choose to exploit it and did so very well in sales.
One day I was taking the trash out, slipped on some ice, and completely crushed two disks in my back, and bulged the four above it. From that moment, I mean since, actually, I’ve been in constant pain. One disk herniated to the left, one went to the right, and so both sciatica were pinched, down both legs. I was told that I was really lucky that I wasn’t completely paralyzed. Complete agony. Complete and total agony for a long time. Two back surgeries. Almost four years on disability. Years of physical therapy. A lot of opiates.
I had done plenty of pills prior to that, but once I had really legitimately hurt myself and been given access to a lot of pills, justifiably, the alcoholic tendencies I had justified themselves in my use of opiates, and awoke inside me a beast that even the alcoholic in me was terrified of. Oh, boy, I got off and running. I knew what I was doing, but again, my mental status at that point, my mental fitness was not in a position to battle cravings like that, or really, really keep me healthy. The disease really took over and the depression got worse and worse and worse. I fought it and fought it and it was just a losing battle.
I was very, very athletic. Almost overnight, I couldn’t even get to the bathroom to use the bathroom. Then once I was there, I couldn’t even use the bathroom because I was in so much pain. Never mind getting outside to enjoy the outdoors, go fishing, hiking, camping, which I did a lot of. Or get to the gym to do a little bit of exercise which at the time in my life was very important to me, and again, one of those healthy behaviors that I maintained. All of that was just kind of—the rug was just ripped out from under me.
It spiraled into depression and eventually a severe, severe IV heroin drug use and attempted overdoses. I’ve had a number of suicides in my family and I rested assured on the idea, completely insane idea, that I’d be doing the world a favor by not being on the earth anymore because of what a drain I was, and that if I OD’d myself, my mother wouldn’t have to rest with the idea—she could sleep at night—knowing that I didn’t try to kill myself. That maybe I just OD’d by accident.
For me that was enough. I thought I was doing the right thing at that point, and so I tried, and I kept waking up very blue, bleeding, pissed, confused. I got to this place where I was like, “Wow, okay, clearly I’m not doing the whole life thing very well. I’m an active heroin addict.” Something zigged when it should have zagged and, “Wow, I can’t even do this whole death thing right, either.” Like, “Wow, I even failed at that, so what the hell do I do now?”
For me, that was, I think, when I actually entered into my recovery, because it marked the turning point in my addiction path where I turned and began heading towards recovery, or heading toward abstinence, I should say. At that point, I knew there had to be something else. At that point, it was like, “Okay, as much as I hate to admit this, there must be a reason why I’m failing, at even this. All right, so what do I do now?” Again, maybe it was again one of those sincere prayers, where I was like, “All right, dude. Okay. All right, man. What the hell do I do now?”
That quickly led to a phone call with my mother. Wherein she very plainly told me, if I wanted help, to “go get some frickin’ help.” Start calling detoxes. Which I did, and reluctantly dragged my butt to and went through the horrible process of getting clean. There was still six or eight months of doing well for a little while, getting sick again, doing well for a little while, getting sick again.
I finally made the commitment to treatment and aftercare and wound up at a twelve-step retreat in New Hampshire where I started the step process. For me, it was the right time after I tried a bunch of other things that got me to the thing that really helped me stay abstinent from that point on. That was my first day there [on] 5/3 of 2012, and I’ve remained sober since.
My recovery at this point means the world to me. It is my life. It was recommended to me that I take recovery and I smush it into every facet of my life, and I strive to do that to the best of my ability daily. That, for me, looks like the way I eat, the way I speak. I can’t often control the thoughts that come but when they are there, I can use the tools that I have to befriend and meet with compassion the things in me that still come up and not combat, not fight anymore.
I remember my ride up to Portland, my mother and I. She was like, “What’s it feel like, Andrew? What does even this feel like?” I remember putting my fists up and then slowly letting them down. Since then, it is not just that I’ve put my fists down but I’ve opened my arms, too. I get to help people today, which is an incredible gift for me, and something I do not heed lightly. It’s something I cherish and seek to empower others. I frequently talk about the power of possibility that rests within all of us, and I have seen and continue to experience this power of the possible, the “What if?” It’s absolutely amazing.
By myself, I’m a third-year chemistry and mathematics student at the University of Southern Maine. Going from a vicious heroin addict to this past year being awarded with Outstanding Junior, a standout among my entire class of peers who are a group of incredible, incredible people, is amazing to me.
It’s just one of those things that I try to keep it very simple. I help whenever I can and put my recovery first. The coolest thing I’ve found is that when you put recovery into all of your life, you get to put your life first, and you get to put the experience that is your life, that is it, and then sharing that with someone and including others in that, and then coming to this realization that the separation of self and other is something that exists only in the mind.
If I may digress for a brief minute, I breathe, we all breathe, and my lungs, they harvest the oxygen out of the air. This organ that is my lungs. The trees are the organ that produces the oxygen that I then harvest, and curiously, the trees breathe by harvesting the exhale of my breath. When I sit with this simple thing that a lot of us know, and I really get with that, I suddenly realize that the trees are as important an organ to my body as my lungs. The trees, in fact, are a part of me. Then suddenly, the roots and the sun and the soil, it all becomes an extension of what I look down and see as my body. It all becomes an incredibly vital organ of my experience.
Being able to take my recovery and put it into perspective like that and then share it amongst a lot of people who are having similar experiences, and then having them share their experience with me, it is amazing. It is just amazing. The power that is contained within each of our stories is really, really incredible.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I’m but one of many incredible, incredible stories that continue to inspire me and so I hope to inspire others. In the self and other, and there being no difference, those inspired, inspire. Those who inspire, are themselves inspired. There is no separation between the two, and it’s just an incredible experience to sit and have, so I’ll kind of just leave it at that, for now.
Photographs taken near the fish market in downtown Portland, Maine.