Late night phone calls, desperate pleas, thefts, bail bonds, disappearances, disappointment.
With no tattoos, barely any muscles, and a quiet, sensitive nature, I had very few credentials to suggest I would survive in prison. Yet there I was, orange jumpsuit and a shaved head. At 19 years old and 155 pounds, I wasn't much to behold. If anything, I was the poster-child for "easy prey."
How often I wished that I had never taken that first hit of crack cocaine. How many times I wondered at how different things might have been.
Like many, I grew up in a great family with plenty of opportunity. It would have been much more likely for me to go on to graduate college, embark on a career and start a family than to wind up in prison. But that wasn't at all what happened. For years, my parents had been wringing their hands in dismay.
They would say things like, "How did this happen?" "Why can't you stop?" "Can you quit for us, if not for yourself?" These were questions I sometimes had answers for, but none of them really made sense when set against the backdrop of my life in shambles.
I was fifteen years old when my addiction to crack cocaine began — a child, really, with little idea as to what was in store, and this nightmare of enslavement would continue for me and my family for the next 20 years. There would be late night phone calls, desperate pleas, thefts, bail bonds, disappearances, missing purses, missed holidays, and an assortment of promises always ending in disappointment.
As a child I had wanted to go to college and become a dentist. I loved my parents and they loved me. My younger brother was my sidekick. Together, we would spend our youth exploring the woods, fishing, going on family vacations, and making forts and tree houses. I played baseball every year and enjoyed a host of childhood friends.
From a very young age our parents taught us how to be responsible, courteous, and conscientious young men. As hard-working, middle class young adults, our parents sought to provide for us the best that they could, and all they could. They did a wonderful job! Still, in my heart, I sense that they feel blame for what happened to me.
But in reality, what happened to me happened to each of us. Addiction is a family disease and it touches all lives that come into contact with it.
Between the years of 1999 to 2009, I served about eight years in prison as a result of my drug addiction, and my family served it with me. I remember the look on my mother's face when she would come to visit.
There would be times that I would bring a black eye to the visitation room with me. She would squeeze my hand while recounting all that had happened since I'd been away. My brother had graduated high school, gone on to college, and earned his bachelor's degree. He even met the love of his life while traveling abroad.
Sometimes during these visits, when I could muster the courage, I'd look my Mom in the eye and promise her with all of my heart that things would be different next time — that I had changed. Unbeknownst to me and certainly to her, none of us had come to a full realization as to the severity of my condition.
Once released from prison, and with every good intention to live my life reformed for the sake of all my family had been through, I would relapse. Whether it took a few days or a few weeks, I always went back to it, as if asleep and unable to awake. Similar to a nightmare, I would "come to" in complete shock: "How had I gotten here again?" "What happened?"
The horror I felt would consume me. How could I do this to my family? And the thoughts would come, wouldn't it be better to kill myself now and let my family begin to heal than to go on causing harm indefinitely? Ashamed, I dared not show my face to anyone. It was the only way I knew to cover up what I felt was to go on to the bitter end, which for me, always resulted in arrest.
As my addiction progressed, I would steal for drugs, lie, and even prostitute myself. I would walk miles and miles to get my next fix, roaming the streets like a zombie. Whatever I had to do, I would do, with my conscience under siege. The pain I felt inside, the loneliness and sense of isolation, was unbearable. During these times I would fall to my knees and pray, "God please help me, please show me another way."
Then, in 2010, as though an answer to my prayers, I was presented with an opportunity to go to treatment for my addiction. With a small duffel bag of clothes in tow, I embarked on a life-changing experience that would prove to be the launching pad for a brand new life in recovery.
I haven't been back to prison since. The truths I learned in treatment are the truths I carry with me today, and they are the same truths that I share with others, with families and with those similarly afflicted.
Not too long ago I accepted the position of Outreach Coordinator for New Method Wellness, a well-known drug and alcohol treatment center in Southern Orange County, California. This role allows me the privilege to interact with other people's parents and family members on a daily basis. Together, the families and I walk hand in hand toward getting their loved ones the help that they need and deserve.
Ironically, and despite it being a big part of what fuels my passion to serve others, my own story rarely comes up any more. As time moves on, there are newer stories to share, with brand new faces and brand new names; stories of hope, and stories of redemption.
Today, when my Mom calls me, I answer the phone and we talk. We don't talk about the things we used to discuss. We talk about our gratitude; we talk about life. My father, who had been through so much — we laugh together, sometimes hysterically. There was no laughter before.
And as for my younger brother, we are best of friends again. He now has two young children of his own, and I get to be an uncle to both of them. By the Grace of God, my nieces will never know me as a drug addict, a convict or a thief.
They will only know the real me — the one that God intended me to be.
This article was originally published at Renew Everyday. Reprinted with permission from the author.