Delaware County, PA
My name is Michael, and this is my opioid story.
I am from Delaware County and was born in Drexel Hill. I had a good upbringing, with a hardworking father and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. I started working at a young age; I worked as an electrician’s helper on weekends and during summer vacations with my neighbor.
I remember feeling different from the other kids, fearful and like I never really fit in. School dances were difficult for me to be at ease. When I was 13, a high school friend of mine, took a bottle of Crown Royale from his father’s restaurant. After I drank some, I felt more at ease and comfortable in my skin. When I got to the dance I had the confidence to speak to the girls and go dance. Throughout high school, I drank every weekend.
After high school I went into the USAF, I was trained as an aircraft maintenance technician. I was in the Air Force for a year and a half but was released due to knee injuries. When I was discharged from the military I was in a bad place mentally, it was the late ’80s and everyone I knew was using cocaine. The first time I used cocaine my confidence surged. Cocaine was my primary drug of choice from 1989 until 2001 when I had my first experience with opiates.
My knee injury led to knee replacement surgery. I went to an orthopedic doctor in 2001 and was prescribed OxyContin and Percocet. At first, I used them for recovery for pain, but then I started abusing them; eventually, I became addicted to the painkillers. I started crushing and snorting the pills, but over time, the formula of OxyContin changed and it couldn’t be crushed and snorted. Since I could no longer snort OxyContin I started buying heroin on the street. I continued to go to pain management, so I got prescribed these drugs and then I’d buy heroin. I started off snorting, but then became an IV user. Shooting it provided a quicker more intense high. Eventually, I wasn’t even using heroin to get high, I was using just to not be physically sick.
When I was an addict I treated people unkindly. I was like a tornado, I would go through people’s lives and just take what I wanted and keep going and move onto the next person. Something that is really difficult for me to think about are the times I didn’t pay child support. There were times that I would prefer to buy drugs than to feed my son, which is really painful to think about. I’ve sold narcotics to people, because I didn’t care what I was doing to people’s lives as long as I was getting money in return to feed my habit. I had a girlfriend that overdosed and died, and I was in the room with her, which was also really difficult.
“When I was an addict I treated people unkindly. I was like a tornado, I would go through people’s lives and just take what I wanted and keep going and move onto the next person.”
Over the next 13 years, I was in eleven rehabs and fourteen detoxes. When things got bad, I would go into treatment. I would go to rehab to satisfy relationships, employers, and family but it never stuck. During this time I was arrested five times. I have a criminal record now. I was hopeless, helpless, and desperate. During the last six months of my addiction not only was I using opiates and Benzos, but I was drinking half a gallon of Vodka every other day. I was upset that I didn’t have a relationship with my son, my siblings, or my girlfriend. At 43 years old, I wanted to stop living a life of addiction.
I finally went into treatment for myself on September 8, 2013. I got out of my bed and went to my phone, and I called for help. I was on probation, and didn’t have a driver’s license or car. My father gave me a ride to that first meeting. I was accidentally sent to a women’s meeting. A woman extended her number and encouraged me to reach out if I needed help. The next day, I called her and she brought me to a meeting and I entered rehab. This time I was ready to quit entirely; I knew my life was unmanageable.
The hardest part of getting clean was the physical withdrawal, opiate addicts don’t want to feel physical or emotional pain. I spent 28 days in rehab there. During my recovery when I would think about using I’d ask God to help me, and I’d reach out for support from my peers, and the pain would pass.
“I want people to know that recovery can be amazing. I’m in recovery, and I’m a father, I’m a son, I’m a student, I’m a veteran and recovery is possible.”
Recovery has transformed my life.
Today, I volunteer with three different organizations. A Catholic mission in Kensington, a Veteran’s group in Philly, it’s a 44-bed facility for homeless vets to recover, and an organization called the Mission Continues, a national not for profit group that empowers veterans to serve the community. I’m helping individuals in Kensington, where I used to buy drugs. I was 3 years clean when I started sharing my story of recovery there. Before that I wouldn’t have been in a good place mentally and spiritually to do so. I’m a full-time student, so if I’m not in school or sleeping, I’m volunteering or hiking or going to meetings.
Recently, my mom passed away, and at the end of her life, I was able to really be there for her. This woman had done so much for me during the course of my life, she used to kick in the doors of the crack houses, come in with the Philly police, and drag me out of there and take me to rehab. For a woman that did so much for me during my life, I was able to be a man for her in the end of her life.
My advice to those trying to help family or friends dealing with addiction is don’t enable them, instead be there for them. For example, help them seek out support groups. People need to understand addiction is an illness; it is a disease; have compassion. Addicts are not bad people trying to get good, we’re sick people trying to get well. If you know someone struggling with addiction, research it and educate yourself, we need education, prevention, and treatment to combat the opioid crisis.
As a society, we need to work on getting rid of the stigma. This is why I’m sharing my opioid story, because I want people to know that recovery can be amazing. I’m in recovery, and I’m a father, I’m a son, I’m a student, I’m a veteran and recovery is possible. I want people to know that if you’re out there and you’re struggling that you’re not alone. There is help out there for everyone. There is hope for everyone struggling with addiction.