“I would look across the street into the Boston Common and I would say to myself, ‘How do people live like this? Why are they doing this? Don’t they know they have families that love them?’ I used to look across the street into that Boston Common, and then two years later I was right there doing the same thing.”
My name is Patrick Cronin. I am a person that’s in long term recovery. I actually am the Program Coordinator for an organization called the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery. I’ve been in recovery since September 23rd, 2005, so God willing, I’m coming up on ten years.
I came from a good family. I definitely came from a family that taught me morals and values. I knew growing up as a kid, I was insecure, but I didn’t want anybody to know that. I had this false bravado for a while. I grew up in a very, very strict Irish Catholic family. I know that’s not surprising in the recovery world, but [it had] nothing to do with my family. They brought me up the way that they were brought up, and it was tough, and it was strict, but I was given so many opportunities to succeed in life, probably maybe too many. Things were handed to me, and at some point in my life, I took that stuff for granted. When you get handed stuff and you get handed stuff, and you have traits of an alcoholic and an addict, which I know I did before I even picked up, you start to become arrogant early, so I became arrogant, and I started to think that I was entitled for everything now, just because of my family upbringing. That’s not a good place to be in when you’re on your way into alcoholism before you even know it.
High school and elementary, everything was I guess, I don’t want to say normal, because who knows what normal is, but I played a lot of sports. A lot of pressure though playing sports in my household. A lot I guess different from me when I first started getting into recovery, or going to meetings, or anything like that, was that I started late as opposed to a lot of stories that I heard. I think that was just due to the fact that my brother had his bouts with drinking. What I saw was he was just young, and that’s what people did, but that’s not how my families are. My family, though both of my parents are from Ireland, they don’t drink, and I know that seems to be odd, but my brother, we’re four years apart. He’s four years older than me, so when I was ten he was fourteen. He started doing that, and I saw a lot of confrontations with my brother and my father because of his drinking.
I stayed away from it and I had a little bit of fear. When you have an Irish mother or father, and you hear their brogue, it puts a little bit of fear in you, so I stayed away from it in the beginning. In high school, I just basically focused on sports, and chasing girls, and all that kind of stuff, because that’s the crowd I put myself around. I was hanging around with people, that’s what they did. At some point, I started dating a girl, and she hung out with more people that drank than me, and I started hanging around with her friends. I almost just felt like I don’t do this kind of stuff, and I’m just playing sports, but then I really … I would like to tell you that I didn’t care what anybody thought of me, but, deep down inside, I cared about what everyone thought about me, and I thought everyone was looking at me, and everyone had something to say about me. Little did I know until I got into recovery, I wasn’t that important. To find out that people sit around in groups talking about me, I’m just not that important. When you’re young, you’re worried about everybody, and what they’ll think, and so forth.
At some point, I did drink, very late. Maybe experienced it maybe once when I was seventeen or eighteen maybe, and it was a pretty bad experience, not that I hurt people, but I just did a lot of stupid stuff that night. My friends, at that point, knew that I was the only person that really wasn’t drinking in this crew now, and they knew … It was almost like they had a plan that night for me. They were going to get me so banged up and what was going to happen. I was hung over for I felt like a month, so I didn’t drink after that.
Then when I got into college, once again, I wanted to play basketball in college, and I had all these dreams and aspirations. I went to a very good Catholic high school in Massachusetts, and then I went on to college in Boston at Suffolk. I’d like to say that I wasn’t in the disease, but I was on my way. I was starting to drink here and there more, because I was just seeing way more people do it, and, like I said, that experience from when I was in high school, just seeing everyone doing it but me, I almost didn’t want to feel that insecurity and all that anxiety when I was in college, because I wanted college to be fun, and I just figured everybody in college does it, so I started to. I started to doing the spring break thing, and I started my freshmen year in college, sophomore year, freshman year, on the Dean’s List, and then by the time I was about to leave, I was barely graduating. That was definitely directly due to drinking and starting to get involved in drugs, and wanting to play basketball, that was gone.
Another girl that I started dating for a few years, who I thought would probably be the one, she now had left me, just because of what was going on, drinking and I started smoking cigarettes. I never thought I’d do that, and I was basically turning into this person that I always thought I wasn’t going to be, like I was going to try to be like someone else. I always considered myself a leader. My parents always tried to teach me to be someone positive and be a role model, and now basically I was just following what everybody else was doing, and getting into my senior year, it started to get really bad.
When I saw people do drugs in college, I just always just remembered … My parents weren’t, I wouldn’t say per se … They weren’t running around and calling people junkies or anything like that. They’ve never been like that. That’s not their way, but I didn’t really get any education. That’s why I’m so glad I do what I do for work, because when I was in school I just got, “Don’t do drugs.” That’s it. The DARE programs, and it was like finding out being an addict, when I see people that said just don’t do something, I almost want to do it, but I didn’t get any education, and basically my mother and father were like, “If you do certain things, there’s going to be severe consequences,” and that’s really all there was. There was no education. There was no nothing, especially with opiates. That was foreign, but I think that was foreign to everyone.
I just got into stuff that, like I said, I never thought I would. Where I went to school in Boston, is right across the street from the Boston Common, so most people know that there’s no secret, what goes on in the Boston Common. It’s fueled by addiction, and I would look across the street into the Boston Common and I would say to myself, “How do people live like this? Why are they doing this? Don’t they know they have families that love them,” and this was me on my way to addiction, but the arrogance of the alcoholic and the drug addict, I thought that it wasn’t going to happen to me. I always want to tell that in my story about where I went to school, because I used to look across the street into that Boston Common, and then two years later I was right there doing the same thing.
Where I graduated from the college, in the end, I was walking around the streets where my school is begging for money to get high, and that’s how fast my spiral went down. All those drugs that I used to look down at people for, I ended up trying pretty much every single one by my senior year in college. I had people fooled. I had myself fooled, which is obviously the most important piece to it, but in my mind, I was still showing up for school. I hadn’t gotten involved in any opiates at that point. I was doing so many drugs, so much cocaine, so much ecstasy at that point, but I was showing up for classes here and there, and I started cheating and buying papers online, stealing my mother’s credit card to buy papers online. That loss of spiritual values was starting to come in, but I had no idea about recovery, or meetings, and I didn’t know anything about addiction. I just knew that I was severely, severely sick, and I just didn’t know it.
I graduated by the skin of my teeth, and then at my graduation party from Suffolk, I made the near fatal mistake of trying OxyContin. It’s almost the same story for everyone that I hear now. My story is just not unique. Working in this field now, too, and just hearing the same story as mine, OxyContin and heroin, OxyContin and heroin. It’s sad. I was graduating from undergrad, and my brother, Rhett, was graduating from law school. We thought that we were having the best time of our lives. I was probably the only one out of any of my friends that was graduating college, and just thought we were having the best time of our lives. I was twenty-one or twenty-two years old.
When I took that pill that night, it wasn’t from a drug dealer. It wasn’t from a friend of mine that was trying to get me hooked on drugs like he was. It was just a bunch of us under the influence of alcohol. I always want to say that, because I think that because the opiate epidemic and the heroin epidemic is so bad right now, people undermine alcohol abuse. I’m telling you right now, I don’t even know if I would have done that OxyContin if I wasn’t drunk out of my mind at my graduation party, but I was drunk. When I’m drunk I’ll do anything. It doesn’t even matter what it is, because my life becomes unmanageable when I drink.
Like I said, it wasn’t a drug dealer or anything like that. It was a bunch of us just taking pills, because they were there. We had no idea what they were, and it took every single one of my friends out. None of my friends grew up in these … Everyone had different families, but it wasn’t like traumatic experiences in their households. Pretty much everyone came from pretty good families. This pill just ripped people apart, but I think it ripped me apart faster than them. They did it at their pace, but I went down immediately. I didn’t do it the next day after I did it at my graduation party.
I threw up, which most people do when they first try that pill, and that to normal people would tell them you don’t do this again, because obviously something’s wrong. You’re allergic, whatever the case may be, but that wasn’t my case, but I had no idea about addiction. I had no education. I thought about it all week, and I had done plenty of drugs, and though I know I was addicted to them at some point, I never had a mental obsession like I did for this drug. It was almost like all those insecurities and those anxieties I had about graduating from college, and, oh my God, this is the real world now. I have to pay rent, and I have to take the trash out. I was so sheltered, even when I was in college, and all those anxieties that probably were just created by my own delusion, this pill just made everything go away. Little did I know that those issues were still going to be there. This was just a temporary solution that was going to make me suffer some severe, severe consequences.
Then I did it again, and then I did it again. I didn’t know about pills and opiates, and if I take them day by day. I didn’t know what I was doing. No one had a clue. When the OxyContin came into Boston, no one had a clue what was going on at that point. They hit our area in 2000, 2001, and they had just came out in ’96, ’97, so there really wasn’t much time for Boston to know what these pills were. They just came onto the scene, and I’m sure if you’ve done the research on OxyContin in Purdue, you’ll probably have resentments if you’re an addict, because you know how mismarketed that pill was, but, in the end, I made my own decision, and I tried drugs, and I probably shouldn’t have, but I did.
I did keep it secret for a while, but once I started getting withdrawals, and I had no idea what withdrawals were. Like I said, I didn’t know anything about addiction and drugs. I thought I had the flu or I thought I had a cold, but, as you know, when you start doing drugs, and you start getting worse, you start putting yourself around people that are just like you, so I started putting myself around people that were doing what I was doing, and they had a lot more knowledge about drugs than I did. Once someone told me what I was going through and what that sickness was, that was it, because once you know, you can’t say you don’t know. I knew that I had to do this drug every day or I was going to feel this sick, and that’s when the stealing started happening, and taking from my family, and cashing checks.
It was so fast. It was so fast. I was graduating from Suffolk in May of 2001, and by the end of the summer of 2001, which was four or five months later, I was in my first treatment center. I took me five months to go from getting handed a degree at the Boston Garden, which is where our ceremony was, to being in a treatment center for drugs.
I remember when I went into that treatment center, I was like, “Oh my God, the shame and the stigma.” Like, “I can’t let anybody know what’s going on.” My parents didn’t even really know what was going on. They just thought I had a mental breakdown, and it’s almost like they would rather me have a mental breakdown than be a drug addict. They didn’t want to deal with that stigma, and I didn’t either.
I walked into that treatment center not thinking I was a drug addict. I just went in there because I’m sick. I need some medicine. I just thought you walk in there, you get medicine and you’re cured. The arrogance that I had in there, I didn’t know it at that point when I was there, but the looks that I got from counselors, the stuff that they said to me in retrospect now being sober, they knew I didn’t have a shot, because I just really didn’t think that I had to do any work to stay clean and sober, and I said I’m not going to stop drinking. Drinking’s not my problem. I laugh because I know I can’t even tell you how many people that are addicted to opiates, and heroin, and drugs that go back go back out thinking that alcohol is not an issue, and I found out myself drug addicts can’t drink in safety, but I’ve tried. I’ve tried so many times, and the counselors tried to tell me numerous times.
I thought that that would be my first detox, and I was back in that treatment center six times in a twelve month span. Things just got bad. Everything they told me in that treatment center, everything they told me was going to happen to me did. I always just kept saying, “Not me. Not me.” I come from a big family. I have a bachelors. All this nonsense. I was just riddled with false pride and ego, and I know that false pride and ago almost killed me when I was out there. Thinking that I was different, thinking that I wasn’t like other people, it kept me out there for as long as it did.
Like I said, everything that they said was going to happen to me, happened to me. Graduating from a good school in 2001, to becoming homeless before 2002. It was very quick, and my parents just suffered, and my family suffered so much from this. You always hurt the people that love you the most, and they just couldn’t believe what was happening.
Like I said, they told me I would do heroin. They told me I would IV use heroin. They told me I would basically sell my soul for this disease, and if I was lucky, if I was lucky I would end up in jail, and they were right. They were right. Heroin came next, and IV heroin. Just once you start going down that road, nothing matters anymore. It was almost like the fact that I went to school and I had all these dreams, it was almost like that never existed. I just became a full blown drug addict that needed to rob, and steal, and do whatever I needed to do every second of the day, and I happened just like that. It was so quick. It was just like in the blink of an eye, what happened to my life, and I was young. I was probably very close to dying, and in and out of treatment centers.
Someone very smart, thank God, told my family to go to a meeting for themselves, and they went to that meeting for themselves, and they came home, and they told me that I’m no longer welcome in their house. I said, “I wonder who told them to go to that meeting?” But it was the best thing they could have ever done for me. If they allowed me to continue to stay in their household, I wouldn’t be alive. I made decision after decision after decision, and I had no business living in their household, because I was ripping apart that family.
Then sleeping in cars, and sleeping on people’s couches, and institutionalized, and just all that kind of stuff was a part of my life for the next five years. Half of those five years was probably in recovery, because I was in and out of treatment centers, but I never took anything serious. I just never took anything serious, and I couldn’t accept the fact that I was an alcoholic. I just said, “I’m going to fight for my right to drink,” forgetting about all the times when I was in college that I blacked out. When you get involved in opiates, sometimes the booze goes away for a bit, and it did for me, and that can be dangerous. This disease is very cunning and baffling, and my disease tells me I don’t have a disease. It tells me that something’s wrong with me when nothing’s wrong with me. It tells me nothing’s wrong with me when something’s wrong with me. It’s a brain disease, and I have a mental obsession over alcohol and drugs, and I can’t put them in my body, but I just had no idea that was the case. I didn’t know that when I picked up a drink. I had no idea where it was going to take me.
It took me down this road. It was going to be a matter of now what was I going to do about it? Was I going to start listening to what these treatment centers were telling me? Was I going to keep fighting this disease and end up in a box, because my parents were getting worse and worse, very close to getting divorced. They were planning my funeral, which is sad. It really is. My family are the most important people in my life, and what I did to them was tough, but I’ve been able to make amends, and I’ve done a lot of work around here. They’ll never forget. I don’t expect them to, but I’ve done the necessary work that I needed to do to make things right with them.
I went to, hopefully, the last treatment center I had to. Like I said, I’ve been sober since September of 2005, and I went to that treatment center after detox in October of 2005. Six month treatment center. Six months out of recovery home. That’s what they call them in Massachusetts. I don’t know. I was just done. I was twenty-six years old, and I had been so beaten up. I started using drugs because of how I felt, and I put them down because of how I felt. I honestly can tell you that heroin wasn’t doing anything. Wasn’t even making me just not sick. It was doing nothing for me.
When I looked at myself in the mirror before I went away, I just said, “Listen, I don’t want to live like this anymore,” and I know I had said that before, and I don’t know why this time, why this time would be different, but I just gave it a shot. At some point, you got to buy into this recovery thing when you go into a program, and you’re not going to buy into it overnight. You’re not going to buy into it the first week, because you’re going to still probably be sick.
But I knew everything I was doing was getting me back in a treatment center, so I said, “What am I going to lose by listening to what these people have to say in recovery? What am I going to lose?” I just said, “All right. Let’s try it your way.” You know me. Of course, the arrogance. Whatever you tell other people to do, I’m not going to have to do all of that. I’m me, so I can do … Just so arrogant, and that arrogance almost got me killed.
Things got better. This place was unbelievable. They’re very strict. Some people need different aspects of programs. Everyone’s story is different, but I needed to be basically broken down and built back up, and I needed to be taught how to live life all over again, because I was not living at all. No responsibility. That’s what they did. They got me involved in meetings and all that kind of stuff, and the fellowship. It was an amazing process, and I’ve been sober ever since that day. I’ve just had to put a lot of hard work in.
Not that I didn’t think about using at all ever in the beginning, but I was just fortunate enough that we have recovery homes. I’m very fortunate that we have places like this, and that’s another reason why I do what I do for a job, because I want to continue to fight for treatment, because people need treatment. This is such a vicious disease, and if I didn’t have treatment for as long as I did, I don’t know if I’d be here. I stayed right in the middle of my recovery network, and I just went to meeting, after meeting, after meeting, and just always surrounded myself with people in recovery, and almost ten years later I still do it. I’ve seen so many people, sad as it sounds, that are falling off. Very close friends of mine, people in my recovery network.
When you get into recovery, life gets busy, and that’s a great thing. I can’t honestly say that I have one thing in my life that’s not because of recovery. I would be totally giving myself some credit if I said that, and I don’t deserve the credit. I believe in a higher power and all that kind of stuff, and I just believe that recovery has just given me the house that I have. It’s given me the life that I have. It’s given me the job that I have. The fact that I wake up every single day and take a breath, and get to have a coffee out on my deck. That is only due to recovery, because heroin addicts that continue to use don’t live. If you continue to use, you don’t get to have the life that I have without recovery, and it’s just been an amazing process.
What I found out though, which is a great thing, is everything is not just perfect in recovery either. I’ve had a lot of peaks and valleys in recovery over the past ten years, but that’s a good thing, and I listen to what people say at meetings, because if I wasn’t feeling these feelings in the past ten years, then I’m not living. I’ve had heartache. I’ve had joy, but when you’re getting high and you’re drinking, you don’t feel any of those feelings. They’re happening, and you don’t think they’re happening, but they’re happening, and you just don’t feel anything. I’m just so grateful that I’ve been able to feel even sadness and not pick up.
When you’re in recovery, and you can go through trials and tribulations, and you can go through heartache, and you can go through death, and you can make it to the other side without picking up, you can’t put a price on that. You really can’t. It’s the best feeling in the word. Then, as my process has gone on in recovery, I’ve just stayed right in the middle of this whole process, whether it be … I worked for a while. I went to school for business, and I worked for a long time in the financial world, but I have always had a knack for helping people.
The only way I’m going to stay sober is if I continue to help people. I don’t get this thing messed up. That’s a fact. If I stop helping people, I will not stay sober, so I worked in a treatment center for a bit, too. I loved it. I’m still there technically once in a while, but that’s been almost seven years. I had a chance to just do something different in my life and walk away from the financial, and it’s not that it was an awful field to be in, but I’ve had a chance to work for an organization like MORE. It was almost like it’s a no brainer. I’ve talked to so many people in recovery, and they said, “This is what you were meant to do,” and just because I’ve volunteered with so many organizations, like Learn To Cope, and just all these organizations, because I’m not hiding. I’m not hiding my face, and that’s why I’m doing this interview as well, and that’s why I do what I do for work, because I was so ashamed of being an addict for so long, and it was because that’s what people told me I was supposed to be.
Now that I see this recovery movement is getting so big … Listen, there was no secret that I was a drug addict. Everyone knew, so who am I trying to kid trying to pretend like I’m not a drug addict? I still highly respect all traditions, and different organizations, and fellowships, and meetings, and those type of places save my life every day, but I’ve gotten a lot of knowledge and education over the past three or four years, since this recovery movement has started, and I know that I can share my story, and I know that I can share my story on TV. I can do a lot of things.
A lot of what we hear is the mess, especially in the media these days, and just not enough people are coming out about their recovery, and I think that when it comes to making change, and making change in policy, and making changes in the state and legislation, they want to hear that our lives are transformed. They don’t want to continue to hear about our mess. We know what our mess is. We can talk to each other about that, and that’s what keeps us sober, but when we’re talking to other people, we just need to talk more about what’s going on in our lives. That I pay taxes. I don’t commit crime anymore. I don’t lie. I don’t do that kind of stuff. I show up for my mother’s birthday. I show up for my father’s birthday. My nieces are the most important people in my life, and that’s the kind of stuff I do on a daily basis. I try to go through a day without hurting anybody. That’s strictly due to recovery.
This job that I have now has put me in another unbelievable position to fight for treatment every single day, and meet policy makers, and work with so many great people, so many great advocates, traveling, going to different places, and just making sure people know that this is a public health crisis, and it should be treated like a public health crisis, and we should not be treated like we have any other disease that’s different than any other one. I just know that being in recovery is just the best thing that’s ever happened in my life. It’s put my family back together. It’s given me every opportunity to succeed in life. Like I said, I think probably the biggest reason why I’m still here is that I don’t not associate myself in recovery anymore, just because I have a few years sober. I stay right in the middle of this recovery, and now that the recovery movement is getting so big, I’m even more excited, and I’m just trying to be involved as much as I can with everything.
Photographs taken in Patrick’s office at the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery (MOAR) in downtown Boston, Massachusetts.