“I went home and got high that night. I got high to release the anxiety of how traumatic that experience was. I think when people were like, ‘Why would you use after you overdose?’ A drug addict might say, ‘Why wouldn’t you? Of course you would.’”
My name is Harry. I’m an alcoholic. I was born in 1987 in a section of Philly called Germantown. Both my parents are teachers. My dad was a professor. My mom was a teacher at this private school in Chestnut Hill called Springside.
I had really bad asthma when I was born. I was in the emergency room a lot when I was really young. I had these nebulizers that had… It’s like a machine that you put on when you’re having an asthma attack. It has this glass thing, vials of medicine that you’d pour in. I used to really like the taste and the way that it altered my lungs—I guess some sort of chemical reaction. When I was about five years old my mom kept them on top of this shelf. I climbed up there and I broke all of them and I drank seven of them. There was broken glass everywhere. My mom came in and had to call poison control and was freaking out.
I didn’t think about that at the time, but looking back it was very similar to my drinking and drug use from the age of five. I liked the way something made me feel and I put myself in dangerous situations to get it. My mom had to call poison control, which she had to do later on as an adult for various reasons. Obviously that didn’t make me an alcoholic or not—I don’t really know what did.
My parents were really smart people. They were not in love for pretty much most of my life growing up. I think maybe the first couple of years they were trying to make it work. They held on for a long time, and I think I did pick up on that energy—that it was an unhappy household and that they were keeping it together for the kids or whatever—which now in retrospect, I really respect about them. It had this weird kind of vibe around the house for sure.
I always felt weird, but I’m sure every human feels weird. Being a human is pretty weird. I did feel apart from, but even from a young age I always remembered it being a sense of pride. Since my mom taught at this private school, I was able to go to this school that my parents definitely wouldn’t have been able to pay for if not for her teaching there. It’s a very, very rich, privileged school, like suit and tie all-boys’ school. I didn’t like it from the age where I could start thinking for myself. I was crazy and rebellious.
I found solace in music from a very early age. My dad used to play, sort of his passion like how most people would come home from work at night and maybe make a cocktail. He would come home and play the piano. They asked me if I wanted to learn an instrument, so I started playing drums maybe when I was twelve—eleven or twelve. Instantly it got me out of myself. When I would play music or listen to music, I wouldn’t remember the sadness that I’d feel or the uncomfortable-ness or the anxiety that I felt as just a normal person.
Going to school for me was torture. It was horrible. It was hard because both my parents were teachers. I mean, I took it to extremes. One time I rubbed myself in poison ivy so I didn’t have to go to school. I’d rather be in torturous, itchy pain than go to school. I don’t know what that was really about, but I felt like it was a waste of time. I always felt like I was wasting my life doing what people expected of me. I dove pretty head first into music.
I started smoking pot and drinking around the same age. I mean, growing up in the city, we got started pretty young. Maybe ten or eleven. I can’t really remember when I had my first drink. Probably at some sort of Seder, Christmas, or something. I had a sip of wine or something, but it wasn’t that aha moment that I’ve heard people talk about at least. I definitely had that moment when I first started smoking pot.
I remember the first year I really started smoking weed heavily. That Christmas came around and I couldn’t think of anything to ask for Christmas except for weed. That was the first year I didn’t make a Christmas list—and this is like age twelve. In retrospect probably most people would have other interests besides just a substance, but from that young age I smoked weed obsessively. It made me able to interact with this fantasy world that wasn’t really going on.
Things progressed. We at an early age experimented with LSD, and coke, and more drinking. Funny thing is I really used to hate drinking. We all drank forties back in that day and skateboarded around graffitiing, and I would just force myself to down this forty, almost holding my nose. I like the way it made me feel for sure. I just didn’t like the taste of it.
It was a really painful time. My mom moved out and my dad went a little crazy after she moved. There was no more rules in the house. I just was incorrigible. I would not go to school. My parents said, “If you’re not going to go to school then you can’t live here,” and I just left, I think at age thirteen.
I left and I moved in with my girlfriend at the time who was a lot older. She was eighteen or nineteen—I know she was out of high school. She was a cocktail waitress and I lived there. Smoked a lot of weed and went to school occasionally. I’d have this girl call in and pretend to be my mom. She did it to such a point that when my mom called in once, they didn’t think it was my mom calling because they knew this other voice to be my mom.
I dropped out of school. I moved back home after my mom moved out. I was living with my dad. I got really obsessive about music. I don’t even think it was so much like, “All right, I’m dropping out of school, so I have to do this thing.” It was more [that] I loved how it made me feel. I recorded this album—and I still to this day don’t really understand why my dad let me do this—but he let these grown men [into my house], these rappers from my neighborhood who were 35-year-old dudes who had been to jail for ten years.
One rapper was named Crime and one was named Felon. He let these dudes into my house and we were just recording. We just smoked weed and recorded in my basement. They would eat all my turkey sandwiches. It was a really bizarre time in our household. We made this album and I started selling it on South Street. Pretty immediately I ended up at this party, and this guy knew this other guy who hooked me up, and very quickly I was in this studio in Philly that DJ Jazzy Jeff owned.
I guess I was fifteen or sixteen at the time—I think sixteen—and I played the music I was working on. I played drums for them and they were like, “Yeah.” I basically just started devoting myself to that and very quickly it started to go pretty well. Around seventeen I started making a solid living off of music. I went on to work with… Ludacris, I think was the first big person we sold a record to. He won a Grammy for that album so we got Grammy certificates at like seventeen.
[I worked with] Chris Brown, and Kelly Clarkson, and Beanie Sigel, and a whole bunch of other pop, and R&B, and rapper artists. At this point in my life, my ego is pretty out of control because I did everything I wasn’t supposed to and I made it work. I was making as much money as my parents were that year. It gave me a lot of legroom to fuck up basically.
I imagined that I could do anything, because when you do something that everybody says you’re not supposed to—I mean, dropping out of school, and moving out of my house, and smoking weed, and not giving a fuck, basically just doing what I want to do—then it starts working for you… People can’t really [tell] you that much.
During this time, my drug addiction started to escalate slightly. It’s very subtle how all this kind of stuff works. I was smoking weed pretty regularly and I drank very occasionally. I thought that I was the furthest thing from a drug addict at that point. I remember this kid I grew up with, and I remember the first time he gave me a Percocet. That’s when I had the feeling, the electric feeling that people talk about where I was like, “I want to feel this all the time.”
I was very embedded in the high of music as well as that time because I was obsessive about music. Nothing really got me as high as music. I spent three days at the studio working on music without showering. I was crazy about it. That Percocet gave me the ability to feel that spiritual experience that I had connecting to music when I wasn’t doing music.
I could go home and relax. I could be at dinner with my family and still feel that electricity. Very quickly, I remember getting a habit because I had a lot of disposable income at that time, too. Probably two or three weeks after starting to take it, I started taking them pretty much every day after that. I remember one day my friend, his drug dealer couldn’t come, and I was like, “No. What do you mean he can’t come?” I was around seventeen or eighteen. Music played such a big role that the drug thing just seemed to the side, but I knew that I really liked these things.
It progressed from there and I kept using Percocets. I moved to stronger opiate medication or whatever like OxyContin, and Xanax, and what not. I started to feel for some reason that I wasn’t truly being myself creating this pop music or working in this kind of structured environment. Punk rock was my early love, and rock music and that rebellion that I felt in hip-hop, but I was doing a lot of stuff that I wasn’t really super passionate about.
I started a rock band with some people that I knew from around the music scene. It was so much fun because I got to basically live out my drug rock and roll fantasy early on and I still had money. I moved in with these guys and it was all just about making weird music—and for me taking opiates and having fun.
I just felt free. I did feel that freedom that I was looking for my whole life at that point, and people reacted to what we did and liked what we did. It very quickly was like, “ “Well, we’re doing it.” We played a show and people would come, and we would get more shows from that. It started building up more and more.
I had a girlfriend at the time. We met in Jamaica at this music festival. She was a drug addict, but not the opiate variety. It was weird. I knew I was in love with her at the time because I had brought all these pills with me, and I didn’t do the pills for those two days or three days I was hanging out with her until the airplane ride home. I remember taking those pills and being like, “Yeah, man. Life’s good.”
It started catching up to me. Actually before that, I had a [month] off from the big recording studio I was working [with]. Everyone went their separate ways. I did drugs every single day for that, and in the last week, I was not going to do drugs. I remember getting really anxious and sick. I didn’t really know what drug withdrawal was, although I would come to know it very well later on. I thought I was angry at my mom because she left, and she had a new boyfriend that we’re going to have Christmas dinner with. I just freaked out and I wouldn’t go. It was a mess. I was basically just being an asshole. I made my mom feel like shit.
Fast forward back to the band stuff. We start touring. I’m living with this girl who I had met in Jamaica. I have a place with the band in Philly—this huge loft. They would drink and do drugs as well. I was always taking it a little bit further and couldn’t understand why they didn’t want to do as much drugs as I did. I’d get really excited when certain people in the band would do certain drugs with me for some reason. I was living with them and we were touring a lot. I was living with my girlfriend in New York. I’d go back and forth.
I didn’t have a connect in New York, and a friend that I grew up with did heroin. I was always fascinated by heroin. Even before I started smoking weed or drinking, I was just fascinated by this drug. Sid Vicious was my hero when I was twelve. In New York there’s a park called Thompson Square Park. It’s kind of a notorious, famous park in New York. There’s all these homeless, crusty, punk kids. I was sick, coming off pills, and I spent the whole day just going around New York using whatever street smarts I had to try to get heroin. I finally got it at the very end of the day.
I should have known that I shouldn’t get into this drug. You had to get a delivery service and you had to buy a certain money amount. I had only twenty bucks to spend for whatever reason. All these people had to throw down to get this, and this homeless kid and the kid who made the phone call was like, “Oh, you guys have any needles?” The homeless kid was like, “I have this one, but I’m cool. I don’t have any diseases.” The [other] kid was just like, “Okay.” I remember him running to the McDonald’s bathroom on 14th Street to go use.
I should have been like, “I shouldn’t probably share needles with homeless people.” Anyway, I remember doing it and I remember I felt cool. I felt like a rebel, like a movie star, like something. It really let me play into that fantasy. I was snorting dope at the time and doing coke randomly when we’d have shows and stuff.
We started going on bigger tours. First tour we did that was big was two months. I bought maybe $2,000, $3,000 worth of heroin and Xanax. I would stock up. It was awesome. You play in shows with people you love and I really thought the drugs were working at the time. I thought that they made me more creative or more interesting or I liked the idea of being this fucking mess that went everywhere and that people cosigned your bullshit. It was really dangerous.
Even my parents knew that I was doing some pretty crazy drugs because I would fall asleep at random places, but they’re like, “Oh, you know, he’s kind of made this work.” Maybe they were naive. I don’t know exactly what went on in their minds with that. I was also very resentful at them for various reasons. It made a lot of sense in my head.
We would tour and I very quickly ran out of the drugs. I’d have to in various different cities around America try to get drugs. Mainly just from sound guys, other bands, girls, fans of the bands, cab drivers, just different places. It sucked, man. It started being a hassle because I was getting more and more of a habit and more and more sick when I couldn’t get what I needed.
Every tour I ever went on, I was sick at some point. Sometimes really sick. The band would have to come wake me up right before we played and I’d feel like death. Then I’d play and I’d sweat it out and then I’d get the chills and I’d feel feverish. We’d always had an open bar at any venue [we’d] play at. I would try to drink just enough where I wouldn’t feel unbelievably sick, but not too much where I couldn’t play because I was playing drums in this band. It’s a pretty physical activity.
It got messy. There was definitely messy times and messy nights. Even though my band drank and used, it was really starting to affect my performance. After a show people would be like, “Wow, that was an amazing show.” I’d be like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but can you get me drugs? You know what I mean, like hard drugs?” At the time I liked that. I felt like it was interesting or something. I felt like I was a real person because I was a drug addict. I loved drug addicts. I always have loved drug addicts.
I remember one tour we went on—the day before the tour—we had this big booking agent guy coming to tour with us. He sat next to me, and I’d always get really, really fucked up while we’re leaving thecity at the beginning of the tour. I got so high that I felt asleep on this big tour manager guy and I pissed my pants, which I had actually never done before except this day. I woke up and the band was so mad and disgusted. We played this show and I thought it went really good. We all partied afterwards, but apparently it was not the most energetic of my performances.
Then the next day, I woke up and they were all sitting in the front. I was like, “Oh shit. This is not good.” They didn’t even ask me for the drugs or anything. They were just like, “You can’t play. You’re not holding up your end of the deal.” I couldn’t function. I couldn’t just do a little bit of drugs. Music slowly started going to the back burner even though it was in my ideal, the main thing. I more looked forward to the times we were off on tour when I had drugs, and it was just me and drugs and my girlfriend. She used and I put her on to drugs that I was into.
I was a little isolated from the rest of the guys in that way. It just got worse and worse. Your mind plays a trick on you where you’re like, “I’m living my dream, but this other thing has such a pull on me that it starts making me feel like resentful. They’re out to get me. They don’t understand me. If they felt like me, they’d get high. If they knew how good drugs were, they’d understand.”
I always romanticize stuff in my mind. When something bad would happen, it would almost be like, “Oh, that happened in the movie Basketball Diaries or Trainspotting,” or something like that. I would place it in this thing where it had some sort of artistic value even though it was just sad and pathetic. I was really, really fucking delusional.
I got home from this tour and this guy had sold me a bunch of Fentanyl patches. All I remember is waking up, eating some of these patches, and then I remember… what happened was I overdosed and my girlfriend got scared. She didn’t want to call the cops at first so she called my whole band. My whole band lived down the street and they came over and I was dead. Blue dead, dead. She had tried to pick me up. She had dropped me and I hit my head. My head was bleeding a little bit.
I remember going to a black world and then waking up with EMTs basically slapping me back to life. They had to give me two shots of Narcan. I really couldn’t see who people were. I was almost like if you’ve ever been knocked unconscious, it was like that times ten. I didn’t know what my name was. I didn’t really know where I was or what had happened. I was definitely out of consciousness for a bit.
I remember projectile vomiting. Harder than I ever had in my life to the point where it hurt in my muscles how hard I was doing up. I went to the hospital and that’s when I think my mom and my family realized that I had issues and I had a real serious problem. They asked me if I wanted help and the band was there and the tour manager was there. My mom was there and I was like, “Yeah. I want some help.” I went to the psych ward at the hospital and very quickly it was like, “This is not for me. I need to get the fuck out of here.”
I left after an hour. I went home and got high that night. I got high to release the anxiety of how traumatic that experience was. I think when people were like, “Why would you use after you overdose?” A drug addict might say, “Why wouldn’t you? Of course you would.”
[I went to] my first twelve-step meeting at that point. It was funny because the earlier girl who I was telling you about when I moved out when I was thirteen and moved in with, that older girl, she was telling her story in that meeting. I didn’t think I was a full drug addict. Honestly, I don’t even know what I thought. I just didn’t want to stop. I kept using. Things are a little bit gray in this area, the number of events.
We moved out of the place in New York, moved to the place in Philly. I’m starting to shoot heroin at this point. I loved shooting heroin. Once you start using intravenous drugs, you want to use all drugs intravenously. I’d shoot coke and heroin, and pills, and whatever else. There was nights where I’d shot alcohol just because I like shooting up. It took some time to get to that place, I guess, but I think that’s when I was saying, “Oh, things got a little foggy here.” That’s probably why things got a little foggy.
I was pretty out of control at this point. There was a lot of extreme fall from grace moments during this period, I guess. I don’t know what grace would be, but really embarrassing shameful stuff. Stuff with the band where I would be around important people and I just would be a mess. I just couldn’t play and I stopped writing music.
I had this experience with another big band that I had produced. I went to one of their shows and it was like a disaster and I was blacked out but still somewhat conscious. Really what happened is I started running out of money and I started stealing drugs. I’d go through people’s purses to find pills or their medicine cabinets. I became a person I did not want to become.
I distinctively remember the day that the band kicked me out of the band that I had started. I was at one of the friend’s houses and they were playing me some music that they had written and they played me a song. I was like, “Ah, I don’t like that song.” Then they played me the same song and I was like, “Yeah. This song is good.” I was so high. I didn’t even have an opinion anymore. I remembered that they kicked me out of the band. I can’t remember how exactly. I think they wrote about it on social media and I remember thinking, “Great. Now I can use how I want to use.”
This dream that I had worked towards, I was super happy that it was over because I could just get high. Around that same time, my girlfriend who I was living with she had a melt down and she went back to Cleveland to get clean. My mom took me back in because my mom, she just realized I could not make life work. I moved back in with her and we went through… it was terrible because I didn’t want to get clean at all at this time.
I remember going off the deep end at one point where I just made a decision in my mind where I said, ”Fuck everybody. Fuck society. I’m going to take as much as I can.” I was a very self-centered person. I would just steal from my mom. She would go to work and she’d make me leave the house because I started stealing from her and really weird sick shit.
One time, I had this rosary that I still wear to this day and I woke up with it. I was hanging from the side of the sink with the rosary around my neck and it had gone so deep that my neck was bleeding. Very easily I passed out or OD’d, whatever. Stuff like that. I’d wake up on bathroom floors a lot of time not knowing how I got there. The barista being like, you have to leave or whatever, freaked out.
I started stealing stuff from my mom. My mom said she really realized how deep it was when I stole her shoes. I tried to sell her shoes at a consignment store. It got really dark. I pawned her wedding ring. Eventually she kicked me out of the house and I was homeless and I was buying drugs in this area called Kensington. I would go around Center City. Certain girls would let me sleep at their house and maybe thought I was interesting or had some sort of whatever.
It was bad. I just started going to Kensington more and more, and staying down there more and more, and really knowing the ins and outs of that scene. I started breaking into houses. I wouldn’t break in per se. What I would do is I’d go to a street and I tried different doorknobs and people would leave their doors open. I’d just go in and grab what I could and pawned it.
I didn’t want to hurt people. I was more interested in getting what I needed than caring about other people’s stuff or safety or feelings. I started sleeping rough a little bit then, too. I would sleep in the park every now and then. If I had enough drugs, I could be homeless. It was pretty terrible and it was sad. I remember I’d see people who had known me for my past on the street and they would just look like horrified, really disturbed by how I looked.
I started thinking that people really hated me and then I was a bad person. I was really just a sad guy at this point. I took my first trip to rehab around that time. This place Girard Medical Center. I tried to stay clean because I really was just destroying my mom specifically at this point. My dad had moved to Puerto Rico.
I ended up getting high in there because I was hanging out with the wrong people. Leaving there and instantly being homeless and using again. I really thought that Philly was the problem. I just couldn’t stay clean in Philly. There’s no way. Since my dad lived in Puerto Rico, he had me come down there. Puerto Rico is a beautiful place. I would go to meetings down there.
I convinced my dad very wholeheartedly… I put out this whole thing about why I can’t do drugs but I can drink. I’m allowed to drink. I should drink. That’s really where I discovered the alcoholism. I’d been trying to turn alcohol into this opiate high, so I just always blacked out because I’d be trying to get as drunk as possible.
I remember my dad would make me work on this fence in the morning and then he’d give me five bucks. I’d go to the local bar, which was this beautiful bar in the beach, and I’d drink with these old Puerto Rican men and tell them all these crazy stories and whatever. I’d always be with that $5 and stuff is cheap down there. It’s a quarter a shot. I would always run out of that $5 and have to get people to buy me drinks. I could never tip the bartender.
Still at that time, I didn’t think I was an alcoholic. I don’t know what I thought I was. Obviously that didn’t work. I came back to Philly and instantly relapsed because I had no interest in staying clean. I started slowly dipping my feet I think into the twelve-step programs more because people would listen to me. It seemed like the more messed up I was when I go to meetings, the more people would pay attention to me. I think I just really was lonely at that point of my life. I was just a mess. I was just really lonely and sad. Just creating more chaos wherever I went.
My mom would try to set me up with an apartment and instantly it would just be terrible. I’d move in with some people and I just stole. In my mind, it just made more sense for me to be high right at that moment if I cared about this relationship or this thing. I pawned all my music equipment. I pawned anything that was worth it. I spent a lot of time at pawnshops and doing hustles and whatever. It got pretty dark. I basically did the trip back to Puerto Rico and then back, and back, and back and forth maybe four or five times in the year-and-a-half, two years.
At one point, I had a good five, six months put together in Puerto Rico. My step mom is from Puerto Rico, so I would be at our aunt’s house and I would be in their bathroom at Thanksgiving or something and be like, “Oh, they have Percocets,” so I’d take them. Any opportunity I had.
I didn’t have any real recovery. I was just, I don’t know, existing. I came back to Philly. I relapsed. I went back to Puerto Rico. I really took a turn for… just, insane, because I never used drugs in Puerto Rico and I realized that they have insanely cheap drugs in Puerto Rico. I started using down there and it was like out of a dream or nightmare.
The deal in Puerto Rico was they cut their heroin with this thing called Xylazine. It’s a horse anesthetic. It’s what they give horses to castrate them, to put them down. When I went to the barrio to cop there, they’d be like, “Do you want to sleep or the no sleep?” I’d be like, “Oh, I want the sleep.” Not knowing it was cut with this stuff. This drug would put you on your ass. I mean, it was extreme.
I had a huge beard and I was filthy. I slept on a beach in Puerto Rico. I would just basically hit tourists up for money for drugs. I woke up in the hospital. I had overdosed and I remember the first thought I had was, “I’m not done.” I pulled the lines out of my arms and plugs everywhere. I walked out of the hospital and I went back.
I got fronted because I had relationships with the drug dealers and got high more. My dad came to pick me up this one day. I called him from a payphone. The look on his face when he saw me really high… It really disturbed him and [my parents] realized they had to make a quick move because I was unapproachable. I feel bad for people who are in Puerto Rico on this drug because they can’t really even approach them to try to twelve-step them. It’s a scary, scary thing and there’s not a lot of help down there.
I was at my mom’s and my dad had to lock me in a room where I was kicking the door. It was like some movie stuff. I was insane. I was kicking the door and I somehow convinced them that I wouldn’t go on the airplane to this rehab in San Diego unless he would take me to the projects to buy Xanax. I convinced him and he took me. I distinctively remember him saying, “If you go and buy heroin, I’ll never speak to you again.” The way he looked at me in my face when he said it like he was 100%. Anyway, that got me to the trip.
My mom met me in San Diego. I checked in to this rehab out there and it was called Practical Recovery. It’s SMART recovery stuff. It was interesting. I learned something. It was a nice place. It was in San Diego. I was fried and they didn’t really know how to deal with me exactly because they’re not used to that kind of drug. They didn’t really know what I was putting in my body.
I was really scared that I had some disease or whatever. In a weird way, I wished at the time that I did have some terminal illness because I felt like if I was dying then people would let me do my drugs and they’d accept it and still love me and support me, which is all I really wanted and probably what most drug addicts want. It wasn’t happening.
I remember being so delusional that going to San Diego, I was telling my mom before we go to rehab I need to go Hollywood to become an actor, something like that. It was scary. I was insane. I was in this rehab and I learned it was a very non-twelve step based rehab. They taught you about cognitive behavioral therapy. We did some yoga and it was pretty good, but I still didn’t really buy into the thing because there was never the spiritual component. I think [that] is what was missing in that kind of recovery. It was very intellectually based.
Two days, three days before I was about to get out of rehab, this guy came into the rehab from Chicago. I remember distinctly him sitting down at the piano and playing The Pogues song. I was like, “Oh, man. You like The Pogues.” He was this cool guy. We just spoke for those two days. Then I left. I was clean. I was going to meetings and was clean.
I was on Suboxone and I think Klonopin as well. I was clean though—quotes around that. Anyway, I relapsed to bigger and better things after that. It was messy again, super messy. It got really dark. I was sleeping on this guy’s floor in a apartment building that was just meth and heroin central. This guy, Will, who I met in rehab, the guy who played this song in the piano, we hung out a little bit and used. Then he went back to Chicago to live with his family again.
We talked every now and then and for some reason, he had convinced his parents that I should come out and stay with them. I think because he was just lonely and we really hit it off because he was really brilliant. He was smart. We shared intelligence and love for music as well as our love for drugs. It’s a good thing I got out of San Diego at the time. I could tell things were getting really bad. I was around Mexican mafia guys and I was around really shady people.
I got arrested for possession. I had it in my sock and it was I think a week before I was supposed to go to Chicago and I got arrested. I’m in the back of the cop car and the officer knocks on the window and she’s like, “We forgot to read you your Miranda rights. You’re free to go.” I got caught with a lot of drugs. It was like three, four hundred dollars worth of drugs. I walked out of the police station like, “Wow. I don’t know what that was about.”
I left for Chicago. I was messed up on the plane. Will’s parents were quite wealthy, so I ended up being basically homeless in San Diego to live in this huge mansion. I started doing music again there. I recorded this really weird, crazy, desperate album there at his place. We would try to keep ourselves together. We would be taking Xanax. We would just drink a little bit. We’d go to the occasional meeting to appease his parents.
Then we both got jobs and he started going back to school. His parents very quickly realized I was not a good influence on him. They basically asked me politely to leave, but they did save my life. They had me there for four, five, six months. I was in a dark, dark place before I left San Diego. I was considering killing myself. That started looking like an option when I was in San Diego.
Thanksgiving that year when I was in San Diego, I was sick. My roommate was an alcoholic so he would take Naltrexone for his, whatever, but he was drinking on top [of it]. I found it and I thought it was Suboxone. I took a bunch of it and it made me unbelievably ill because I still had opiates in my system. Then I ate this chocolate bar that turned out to have two ounces of hash oil or something. I’m hallucinating, tripping face. Probably the most dope sick I’ve ever been. It was awful. I was considering killing myself because the pain was so crazy. It was torturous. I was having crazy panic attacks. It was awful. It still freaks me out. It gives me chills thinking about it.
Anyway, I come back to Philly. I come back to Philly from Chicago. I’m still using. My mom is still somehow supporting me, emotionally speaking. She’d still talk to me. She would leave me food in her mail slot and I would sleep in parks and she helped get me this apartment. It went pretty good, all things considered, but this guy overdosed in my apartment and the ambulance was called. He didn’t die. I started going to meetings more around this time and I kept getting maybe two, three weeks and then I relapsed. I really couldn’t get a month. I was high in a lot of meetings and people were really kind to me.
I would try to manipulate them and they wouldn’t let me manipulate them the way I wanted to. They wouldn’t give me cash but they would buy me food or they’d take me to meetings. In my mind, I felt like the world owed me something. I felt like twelve-step meetings owed me something in a weird way. I‘d meet people and I’d be a mess. I was very honest, so I think maybe people related to that or liked me because of that. I would just be brutally honest about, “I don’t know if I’d be ready to stop.” I’d be high or drunk in meetings, but people were nice to me.
I remember the last days that I used. I was in this apartment that my mom was paying for at the time. No furniture, no nothing. I was sleeping on an air mattress that had a hole in it. It was plastic on the ground. I remember distinctly going and buying my last bag of heroin. I remember putting on Nick Cave to try to get in the mood of like, “Yeah.” I just was like, “This is bullshit.” I just felt something like, “This is bullshit and I’m pathetic.” I felt it deep down.
My mom is emotionally not even invested anymore. She put me in this apartment. I was either going to die by myself or I was going to go back to meetings. I went back. I don’t know. It’s weird. It’s like you make a decision in a weird way. Maybe that’s why I like the word grace. I feel like maybe that explains it in the best terms. I jumped in and this girl that I know was like, “I’ll drive you to every meeting for a week.”
I went to tons of meetings. I slowly started going on the uphill trajectory. I finally got a sponsor. I remember trying to manipulate him like I’ve manipulated every other sponsor that I would have in the past, and he was like, “What you’re talking about has nothing to do with what we’re doing here.”
I remember I started praying, which is huge. Just praying to not get high today, praying to not be completely depressed or sad today. I had very little expectations, so in a lot of ways I was pretty happy. I just had to simplify things. I started doing step work. A huge thing that really played a big role in early sobriety for me too was mindfulness stuff. There’s a book at Barnes and Nobles and I’d go and read it every day. I remember maybe a month into being sober walking around and being happy and looking at trees and being like, “Wow.” I wasn’t thinking about drugs and I just felt connected again. I liked that. I think that got me through the next two weeks.
I got this job as a security guard very quickly at a Halloween store like a popup Halloween store on Walnut Street. It was funny because when I went in for the interview with them, they’re like, “You have a neck tattoo. You probably know when people are stealing or whatever.” I would stand in this doorway and just, I don’t know, be a security guard. I had this experience where I saw this guy who I know from way back when I was a teenager, this big producer guy. I saw him outside the store. I was on my smoke break and I was like, fronting my life was all right. I was a month clean. I was working in the Halloween store. I was like, “Yeah, man. Just working on music, stuff like that.” Then we had to wear these funny hats like a witch hat. I had a witch hat on and an apron on. He said peace, but I was just in my regular gear.
Then he walked back by and I’m at the front in the store with this witch hat, security guarded out, and I just remember the look on his face. It was so fucking humbling that I just started laughing. I just stopped caring as much. I started wanting to be clean for myself, which was the biggest thing. I always just knew I should be clean because other people told me to or whatever.
I just started wanting to be clean for myself. It was really hard. The hardest part was probably that I had done all these bad shit. I just couldn’t conceptualize how I’ve been these many different people throughout my life. I’ve been this really nice guy and I’ve been this big successful music guy and I’ve broken into houses. I didn’t know how to compartmentalize all this information. I’d beat myself up. I felt really guilty, and shameful, and confused.
That’s where the program really helped me with that kind of stuff. I start working the steps like going back and making amends at stores that I had stolen from and paying them back, and paying people back and just doing the next right thing. It’s like, “What would the universe want me to do?” I just keep beating myself up and keep stealing more shit and keep hurting more people or help people. I just got plugged in to that different perspective change, I guess.
I know that the best thing to do for certain stuff that I can’t make amends for because I don’t know who those people were or how I’ll find them or this kind of stuff, is to help maybe another drug addict get clean so that they don’t continue doing that stuff and doing that harm. It’s a really amazing process. The higher power thing has been incredible, especially with meditation. That’s one of my main things, just being able to sit with stuff and sit with cravings.
A little bit before I had a year clean that guy Will, who I had lived with in Chicago, he had gotten clean maybe when I had six months clean. He was around six months clean when I was coming up on a year and we had talked. We had really connected on a very spiritual level. I realized I really love this guy even more so than just the drugs and everything else. Him and his family helped me so much. He didn’t really like twelve-step programs in Chicago but he liked the ones he came to on Philly. He liked the ones he came to in Philly, so he was going to move here. He was going to start his career and was finishing up grad school to get his masters in journalism.
My mom called me this one day and she was like, “Where are you? I have something to tell you.” I thought my dad had died. She came there and I was all prepared for my dad to be dead for some reason. She came there and she told me that Will had relapsed and had died. I mean, I think he used for two or three days and he had died.
I’ll never forget, it hit me like a lightning bolt. A lot of times I feel like I’m not an emotionally connected person or maybe my heart is a little cold or something. I would think sometimes, “If my mom dies, I think I’ll cry or whatever.” You can’t really conceptualize grief like that, but I remember I felt like a lightning bolt hit for sure. It just killed me. It just killed me. I felt a lot of survivor guilt.
My teeth had gotten really screwed up from using drugs for so long and I was getting my teeth fixed for this year that was clean. I just got my molars removed in the back. You’re not supposed to smoke. The day that I found out Will died, I got these removed but of course I was smoking cigarettes because I was grieving.
I got a dry socket infection, but I had to fly out to Chicago to go to his funeral. I’m in immense tooth pain, incredible tooth pain, incredible emotional pain, and I went to his funeral and I spoke at this funeral and I broke down and cried. I was there for his family. Oh, man It was rough. That was when the Pope was in town too, so with all these people coming in.
I didn’t drink, and the craziest thing is I didn’t want to drink or use. Watching his little sister, who is mentally disabled, talking about, “Who’s going to take care of me now when my parents die now that Will is not here?” His little brother killed himself. Watching that that is the reality of drug addiction and not all this interesting romantic bullshit that I thought it was, just seemed that that is it.
In a weird way he gave me such a gift in his death because he really took the last bit of whatever out of me. It was really painful and it’s still painful. I just try to do stuff. He’s not alive anymore so he doesn’t get to do stuff. I try to enjoy every sandwich or whatever. It’s great.
I have so many people on my life that I care about. I have real purpose today. I wake up so excited for the day because I have purpose. I used to wake up and be like, “I have to be alive for twelve hours and I have to be conscious. I want to disrupt and destroy my consciousness as quickly as possible.” It’s quite the opposite today. I relish life. I really love life. I know I can’t be a good person [and] I can’t really enjoy life if I’m using.
I’ve gotten into service. That rehab that I went to that I got kicked out of, I brought them a meeting for about a year now. I do all this stuff that is suggested to me and then other stuff in my life has started showing up. I thought I had burned every bridge in the music industry. I thought that no one wanted anything to do with me and it turned out that people just were sad… Sad about my situation and just wanted to see me do better and weren’t angry with me .
Over time you start putting your head back above, like a groundhog, above the ground and start seeing what life is again. People have accepted me back. This guy who I had worked with back when I was a teenager, he reached out and was like, “I’ve heard you’ve been clean for twenty months or whatever” and was like, “I need you back in my life,” and brought me to this thing where I’m like working at this crazy, huge studio again.
The cool thing about being a drug addict is that I really get to enjoy stuff. When I was a teenager, I couldn’t really enjoy. I took it for granted about how lucky I am and how much my family has been there through thick and thin and loved me unconditionally. I just took all that stuff for granted. I just don’t take it for granted anymore. I’ve been dead before. I’ve been homeless before. It gives you this thing where you can just really appreciate life and it’s cool, man. I think that’s probably it for me for today.
Photographs taken at Harry’s recording studio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.