Our country is experiencing a drug epidemic. 100 people die a day from drug overdoses. Heroin is taking out entire cities. People are becoming hopelessly addicted to painkillers. Meth labs are everywhere. But all is not lost. There is hope. There is healing. Today we are sharing with you a story of one of our friends, a referral specialist at Vertava Health, Andrew. Andrew’s story is one of pain and destruction, but also hope and inspiration. This may mirror your life. This may mirror the life of your loved one. We want you to know that addiction can be treated and a fulfilling life can be had. Andrew is proof. Read on.
What is your background? When did you begin using drugs?
My drug use started when I was around 12-13 years old when I was introduced to steroids; steroids were the first drug I ever took. After that, I started getting more involved with alcohol, then marijuana. By the time I was in high school, I was doing acid and mushrooms – but nothing that really hooked me. I had extreme anxiety about drugs because my uncle was addicted to methamphetamine, and seeing everything that went on in his life scared me. During that time, I started hanging around with people in a criminal network, and I was selling and transporting marijuana. As a high school kid, at times, I was making $3,000-$4,000 per week doing that – and spending like crazy. I was into bodybuilding at a young age and spent several hours a day in the gym. I used it as a way to escape and not confront the issues that were starting to develop in my life.Looking back on it it was very similar to my drug addiction in which it was all or nothing.
Before I was even 18 years old, I had two charges of aggravated assault on my record, as well as inciting a riot in my high school. Between my stature and the company I kept, I was feared by a lot of people – which lead me into a life of criminal activity including bookkeeping, drug distribution, and anything involving drugs.
What happened after that?
My father was a highly respected police officer and in my family, it was expected that we went into the military. I was the youngest of three boys, and both of my older brothers were serving at the time. My one brother was in the Marines and guarding the President of the United States. My other brother was serving – and still does serve – in the Coast Guard.
My senior year of high school, I was set to go into the Marines to follow in my older brother’s path – after all, he had a job people respected and admired.
One night, some of my friends and I did acid. We got in my buddy’s car and were acting up and speeding.
My friend ended up hitting a pole – and I broke multiple bones – including my lower back. I also sustained a very serious head injury in which two components of my brain died, affecting my short-term memory and my decision-making. I was in a coma for several months before I woke up. While the wreck of course caused a lot of damage to me physically, I dealt with a lot of mental trauma during that time; on top of that, my mom and dad were going through a divorce and one would leave the hospital room when the other entered, and if their paths crossed, they’d argue. It didn’t help with my brain injury whatsoever. While I was at the hospital, I was given one Percocet and I got really itchy and thought I was allergic – so I didn’t take anymore. Once I was released from the hospital, I was supposed to spend at least a few months at a local mediplex. But I left against medical advice – which wasn’t a surprise to anyone since I rarely listened to anyone. About a week out of medical care, I discovered ecstasy, which I did mostly on weekends – and it wasn’t conducive to healing my brain. During my ecstasy phase, I went to a local physician and was introduced to Oxycontin, which at the time I had never even heard of. Because my mom worked in medical records, I would spend time looking through the “medical bible” of sorts to come up with what kind of drugs I wanted. The doctor was crooked; I would walk in, tell him what to get me, and he would write 15-20 prescriptions per month for me. How did your drug use progress? At 19, I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps and went into the police academy. I white-knuckled it and spent the first few weeks in the academy withdrawing from drugs. Even to this day it pains me to think about how awful it was to go through academy training while withdrawing. I was still in my probationary period when I was late a couple times; so I only served as an officer for a few months before I was kicked off the force. I immediately drove from the police academy to the the doctor’s office to get back into selling. At that time, I was selling about a quarter of my prescriptions every month, and making around $10,000 a month. A had a beautiful condo, and I was set to be engaged to the love of my life. One night, buddy of mine came over with a bundle of heroin – 10 bags. I did all 10 within a few hours.
Because I had been doing 15-20 Oxycontins a day, heroin wasn’t a big leap for me.
I remember wanting to go get more and everyone looking at me like I was insane – they could barely pick their heads up off of the floor. About two weeks later, the crooked doctor that I had been going to for 3-4 years was arrested and his shop was shut down. When I made the decision to switch to heroin, I kept it a secret from my soon-to-be-fiance. I ended up getting locked up in North Philadelphia for possession of heroin – and when I got out, she told me if I used again, she’d leave me. She felt strongly about heroin because her sister was addicted and prostituting, and she didn’t want to go through that life again. It’s interesting to note that she didn’t have a problem with me using so much Oxycontin, because it was a prescription drug – but she drew the line with heroin. I did end up using again, and she held true to her word, and left me.
What happened after that?
Throughout my wild ride of addiction, I tried to keep track of how many rehabs I went to; it was somewhere between 15-30 rehabs. I would go to treatment for a couple weeks, sometimes a couple of months, but I always went back to using. After leaving rehab for the first time, the very first thing I did was go to the car wash. As I was cleaning my car out, I found a bag of heroin under the seat that I had hidden from the cops. I wanted so badly to throw it in the trash can at the carwash, but instead – I decided to do it. And the cycle continued: I lost my girl, my house, motorcycles, my dog, my car. Despite everything, I experienced great levels of success professionally. I was always a hard worker. I got my real estate license, I bought and sold properties; I even built a few business. I would prosper, and then I would lose it all. I remember once having thousands of dollars in my pocket, ready to go buy drugs – and scraping change off of my floor to pay for gas. I ran out of gas on the way back from purchasing drugs and hustled a guy for a couple of gallons. I had my heat, cable and electric shut off, but my focus was on drugs. That’s how my addiction had me thinking. My priority at that time was drugs. Period. I started driving for a few taxi companies and my addiction grew even more intense. One day, I was shooting heroin while driving as I always did. I got done with my shift and had about $400-$500 on me. I counted my money in terms of how much drugs it was worth – I knew I could buy 40-50 bags of heroin with it. Any money I had on me was used to spend on drugs but I was hungry, so I went into a convenience store and stole a Tastykake. I got caught and lost my job. My auto-response was to call my father. He came down to stay with me while I confronted the grueling task of getting into another state-funded rehab. My father slept on the small, very uncomfortable couch in my hotel room for almost 3 weeks while I tried to get into a facility. I made countless phone calls and trips to offices trying to get in. I would call the state-funded facility at least 2 or 3 times per day before I finally pestered them enough to get in. The day my dad dropped me off, I remember looking at him like it was the last time I was going to see him. I could feel it – like I was able to tap into a different part of my brain.
The last thing he told me was, “Get well.”
Going into state-funded rehab was like going into war: trying to get off drugs while people snuck drugs in all around. Most people there were hardened criminals. I had to constantly wonder if was going to have to fight someone for looking at him the wrong way. I was dead set on getting my life together and fulfilling a promise that I had made to my mother and father. So after state-funded detox, I went to a Salvation Army program in Delaware. I did well there in large part because of the strict program; it was rigorous, we did factory work and went to meetings every night. The greatest part for me was attending church every single day. Most importantly, I was getting my soul back. Things were going great, and for the first time in a long time, I felt alive. I was put in charge of security and worked the overnight shift, and slept during the day. There are certain things in life you’ll never forget – and the morning that I was awoken by one of my peers to go talk to our captain was one of them. I went into the captain’s office and was told to shut the door. I thought I was being kicked out, but instead, the captain told me, “Your father is no longer with us.” It was hard to wrap my head around – especially because I had talked to my father the night before. I felt and still feel that my father is always with me. I attended my father’s funeral and was left a pretty sizable amount of money. I continued the program for about three more months before I returned back home. I lived in the father-in-law suite at my brother’s house where my dad once lived, but moved out shortly after and got my own place – a mile outside of Atlantic City. I wanted to fulfill a dream of becoming a professional poker player. Just like drugs, I became overly involved and overly focused on poker; I played everyday for a year straight – making $500 – $1500 a day. Sometimes I’d be there for 30-40 hours straight. At first, I was doing really well. But then, one night a man asked me to get rid of a large amount of Percocet. I went back to making some really bad decisions with my money, and even worse decisions when I went back to heroin. I lost it all, including my house… again.
How did you get into treatment?
I was homeless, living at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission. At first, I was jaded, thinking that living “on the streets” would be a cool thing – but it turned out to be anything but that. My second or third day, I watched a man in the food line fall backwards and go into seizures. People waiting in the food line were stepping over him. People had no care for him. That man ended up dying. That’s when I knew I was truly living in Hell. Being at the rescue mission reminded me of Shawshank Redemption – where they hit you with some kind of powder after taking a shower with hundreds of grown men. Looking back, I realized it was to keep the smell down in the oversized dormitories we slept in.
A “normal” person would think that would be enough to make you want to get off of drugs, but for me, it was the polar opposite: I wanted to do more drugs so I didn’t have to think about the continual failures through my challenging existence due to drug use.
The only thing I had left was a relationship with a good friend who was a computer engineer. He had stolen a script pad from a doctor’s office. He would forge the prescriptions for 120 Roxy 30’s – and I would fill them. I knew it was a federal offense that was really risky, but I just didn’t care anymore. The very last day I was on the street, I remember towing a suitcase behind me, one wheel missing. I couldn’t have been any lower. For me, that’s when everything changed: I turned to God. I remember how that moment would forever change my life. I said to Him, “I don’t think I can get any lower. Please show me guidance on how to get out of this.” It just so happened that day that my buddy and I were set to fill the last script in the pad. I walked into the pharmacy and noticed something felt wrong. It was a different pharmacist than usual. She walked up to the counter and said, “Do you know this script is fake?” I snatched it out of her hand and left. I persuaded my friend to give me $20 to buy heroin. He dropped me off in the middle of the city where I purchased two bags of heroin. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by cops. Because I had a prior arrest only a few weeks before-hand for a massive amount of heroin, a decided to swallow the bags. The police used that as a gateway to beat the hell out of me – and my jaw was broken. At that point, I had no one to call. No one would enable me anymore.
I remember being in the back of the ambulance and after being processed at the police station. I prayed the deepest, most convicted prayer: “God, this is the end and I’m asking for Your help. I’m done with drugs, no matter what.”
At the hospital, they wired my jaw shut and I was set to be released. I knew I had to think quick in order to stay away from where I had just come from, so after telling the nurse I was going to jump off Caesar’s Palace – I was taken away in a straight jacket and committed to the psych hospital for a week. On my last day, I called my mom. She came to see me. After she left the hospital, I was taken back to the homeless shelter. She later told me she was ready to make the decision whether to prepare to bury me, or to put me into treatment that would actually help. That day, I was really needing to make some money – and a guy asked me to sell for him. I agreed, but God intervened: My mom called and told me she got me into rehab in the Midwest.
What was it about that time at treatment that worked for you? First of all, it was long term. Second of all, it was far away from my home. And at that point, I was ready – and it was truly the most Goldy experience.
Before going to this last place, most places I had gone were state funded. At the state funded places, I just learned how to become a better criminal – manufacturing, doing and selling drugs. Going to a long term, private place far from home, I actually learned to get better.
What is the most important thing that you learned about yourself at treatment?
I learned that I had to take care of myself first. You know, growing up with two older brothers, I always gave everything away: You need this? Take this. I can’t fix everybody and everything. I have to fix myself. If I take care of me, everything else will be in line.
What would you tell someone about treatment and recovery?
The only thing that can be said at this point, do you want to live or do you want to die? Because that’s what it comes down to.
In my addiction, I played Russian Roulette with my life every single day.
I felt like I didn’t want to die – but I didn’t want to live either. I can’t tell you how many times I overdosed. Everyday, I thought, “Today might be the day I die.” But I didn’t care. When you stop, life does get better.
What keeps you sober each day?
Helping people. It’s that cut and dry. I believe I went through everything in life to end up where I am today. I’ve worked as a public speaker, traveling the country and talking about addiction. One of my dreams was always to be a public speaker – I love talking in front of groups. I did motivational speeches for grades K-12, spoke to Rotary groups, nursing groups, young adults. I always wanted to do public speaking, I just never knew that I’d be talking about drugs. I now work everyday to help get people into treatment. I could have never imagined after everything I went through, that something good would come out of it. But it did, and I now have purpose.
If you don’t have purpose, you will return to drugs. Period.
Is there anything else that you’d like to say?
There’s not just one way to get sober. Sometimes, it gets into people’s’ heads that they have to do it a certain way. But there’s so many different resources out there. I don’t think there’s just one way. Whatever works for that particular person, that’s what he needs to do. And if the first way you try doesn’t work, keep working to find what’s going to help. Because it is possible.