I Found Recovery At 19-Years Old. And Live Far Beyond What I Ever Thought Was Possible.

My name is Chris Reed and I am a person in long-term recovery who lives a life far beyond what I ever thought was possible. I got sober on September 20, 2009 when I was 19 years old.

I lived a normal childhood: good friends, excelled at sports, did well at school, great loving family, and had everything I could have ever needed. There was nothing that could have directly pointed me towards a life of addiction other than when I was offered my first drink I took it. I loved the effect produced with alcohol, I simply just felt okay. Worries, insecurities, and problems in general just seemed completely insignificant. Days after my first drink I was smoking weed, and days after that I was taking prescription pills. With everything that was tried, a similar effect was produced. I progressed quickly to daily opiate use, it blocked everything out and I just felt okay.

My opiate use became my only priority. Prescription drugs became harder to get and more and more expensive. I knew some guys who were doing heroin – and I knew at this point that heroin would do the same thing as the pills. I reached out, and a few hours later I was in front of my first bag. My daily use started by snorting it, but in about a month started using the needle. This went on for 2 years of which the amount of use went-up, the risky behaviors went-up, and the things I said I wouldn’t do went out the window. My parents kicked me out after turning 18, jails were a frequent place to visit, charges piled up, and the people I loved were leaving.

My use ultimately brought me to a place where life was becoming impossible. And in September of 2009, it entered a new level. I overdosed for the first time, which became the single most terrifying moment of my life. After being administered naloxone at an immediate care clinic, I woke up on the pavement struggling to catch my breath and panicked. Two days later my use resumed, and I overdosed again and again reversed by naloxone – this time waking up in an ambulance. Swearing I would never use again, I could not get myself to not want to use, even after knowing what would happen. I knew I had to use. Two days following the second overdose, I tried to commit suicide by intentionally overdosing. At this point in my life, there wasn’t any part of me that really wanted to die, I simply did not want to feel and live the way I was living. With every fiber of my being, I could not see a way to live with drugs and alcohol or live without drugs and alcohol, this just seemed easier. I was found that night, overdose reversed again – landing me a stay in the psychiatric unit. I feel lucky to have made it out of that week because today I live a life so full of love, purpose, hope, service, and gratitude that most days is truly hard to even comprehend.

I left the psych ward with a willingness to try something new after meeting with a friend of mine that had already found recovery. I began going to the program he was going to and found a group of people that had lived and felt the same way that I did. I was willing to do what they had done to stay sober and set aside everything that I knew about life and was beginning to follow a new path with new principles guiding my life. Being brought into this new way of life, remarkable things began to happen. I honestly felt that I found a family within this group of people unlike anything I had ever experienced and there was a strong group of guys that were guiding me in the right direction because they knew me better than I knew myself. I felt freedom from the obsessive thoughts that come with addiction and for the first time felt confident in my ability to live in recovery. From that moment, I don’t believe that looking back has ever been an option.

There is so much that goes into my recovery today that couldn’t possibly fit it into this short story. I ended up starting a construction company in my first year of sobriety, I leased a warehouse which ended up becoming this sober hang out for a large group of people in recovery. We would go there after meetings, hang out on the weekends, and we started having one sober party each month in which over 100 people would show up on a regular basis. We created our 501(c)3 non-profit which is called New Directions Addiction Recovery Services and we now run several programs within our organization. The construction warehouse has now fully been converted to The Other Side sober bar which is open Thursday – Sunday and holds recovery meeting throughout the week. The bar received national support, appeared in Jimmy Kimmel’s monolog, and was on the front page of major newspapers across the country. Our advocacy program, Wake The Nation, has trained most of the police departments and many community members to administer the life-saving drug Naloxone. In April 2016, our organization received a $600,000 donation to open-up sober living homes in our community and now we operate both a men’s and women’s recovery home. The organization is constantly placed in a position to serve the recovery community and has become the bright spot of my life.

Today I live a life in a way that I couldn’t have even dreamed possible. At 26 years-old, I have two beautiful children, own my own home, have a reliable vehicle, attained financial stability, am able to participate and show up for my family, be an employer – and most importantly serve those in my community. Today, I live freely with peace of mind and I owe everything I have to the process of recovery and a spiritual life. Anyone reading this – just know that recovery is possible and recovery is worth it. A life beyond your wildest dreams is out there for you if you work for it. Anyone can reach out to me through my Facebook or through our organization. I would be honored to be of service to you and your recovery in any way I can.

People In Recovery Can Change The World

Why am I here?

That’s a good question. I will never forget when a student asked me something quite similar a couple years ago. He posed the unexpected question “what is the meaning of life?” As silence rang out over the auditorium, I remember trying to assemble my thoughts and piece an answer together.

Has anybody here ever asked themselves something similar? Like “what is my purpose?” or “who am I?”

For me, it’s because I have a story to tell. We all do actually and it’s an honor to share it with all of you, in hopes that this can help to make a difference in at least one person’s life.

Today, the world is a much different place than what I remember growing up.  I used to just want to make people smile, laugh, and I believe I often tried to appreciate the simple things in life. I was pretty content with just being alive. Sure, I loved playing with my toys, riding my bike, and running around with my brothers and my friends; just like any other kid. I remember running around playing kick-the-can or staying out until the street lights came on. Growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, I would have to say things were pretty great. Early in my life, I honestly believed that I was one day going to do something big. I believed that I was going to change the world somehow. Unfortunately, I lost sight of that somewhere along the way and that fire slowly burned out.

Have you ever lost your passion before? Maybe you have in a project, a job, a relationship, or in that belief you once had in yourself. Maybe life got tough and it made you feel drained, tired, and exhausted. Maybe there have been points that you even have felt like giving up. I know I have.

Some of us go through things that seem unfair. Some of us have seen things we should have never seen. Some of us have tried to wash our sins away only to find ourselves at the bottom of a bottle night after night. Maybe something else gripped you in those difficult times and you discovered a perceived way out. Many of us aren’t really addicted to the drugs but instead we are addicted to the escape; unable to handle the circumstances that surround us. Let’s be honest, each and every one of us probably knows what it feels like to get our ass kicked in that arena of life; too tired to just want to jump back up again. The world we live in today can feel damn near impossible sometimes. I know what it feels like to feel broken. To really feel physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually broken. By age 24, as I was drowning in my own addiction, I wanted nothing more than for the pain to stop where death seemed like the only answer. Sadly, I am not the only one that has felt this way.

Take a look around and ask yourself what you see. Do you more often see a world filled with love, compassion, empathy, and human connection? Or do you more often see a world of judgment, selfishness, and hatred. Can you say “I love all my neighbors” and not just the ones you choose?

It has been said that we live in the most addicted, the most overweight, and the most disconnected place in history. Teen suicide rates are through the roof and over 40 million people are dealing with addiction today where we are losing our loved ones at an epidemic level. Families are being torn apart and our next generation is at risk. When are we going to put a stop to this?

I am here to tell you now more than ever we must unite and empower those who are struggling. Together, we must encourage each other to reach beyond our shame and the guilt that we carry. We must let everyone know that it is more than ok to ask for help. We must create an environment that when people ask for help they also receive it. We must set our differences aside and bond in our similarities; recognize that we are all human.

We must teach our young ones that our pasts do not define us and that we can choose what we become. We must give those in recovery and young people everywhere a greater voice.

We must rise together, be heard, love more, and inspire others to live in hope. We must demand change as we stand united with banded arms.

Please don’t do it for us, but instead do it for our next generation of leaders.

This is a great call to action. It’s about creating a world where everyone is treated equal and can move forward with no judgment; where men and women of all ages can feel empowered to stand up and speak out on the issues they care most about; and that our people, no matter where they come from, will no longer feel ashamed to come forward and ask for the help they need. Your actions do truly matter. Your story matters! Share your voice. I assure you that it will be heard! It will help to save someone’s life!

Anthony Alvarado, president & co-founder
Rise Together

I’m A 34-Year-Old Mother Of Three. And It’s True – We Do Recover.

I’m a 34-year-old mother of 3. I’m also a woman living in recovery from addiction. I’d like to share my story with you.

I was born in California to a single mom. When I was a baby, my mom and I moved to Maryland – which is home. That’s where my entire family is. I had a good childhood. I was loved. My mom, grandmother, aunt, uncle and my great grandparents…that was my family. I went to private school, had family vacations, and spent every summer at my Mimi and Pop’s beach house. My mom married my stepfather when I was 11 and I called him dad. I think I was a lot like other young teens – because at the age of 13, I was curious about drugs and alcohol.

By this time, I was in public school trying to find my identity and where I fit in, and just maybe I was seeking attention. Why, I don’t know. I found a group of kids – and I think like every teenager you want to experiment, which I did.  My problem was that I liked it way too much even at a young age. I finally found “IT,” – I was comfortable in my own skin, I was funny, and people loved me (so I thought). I quit high school in 10th grade because I wanted to party and hang out. In 2005, I got married and had my daughter. My marriage – just like everything else in my life – was centered around drugs.

I had two more kids in 2006 and 2009. My marriage was filled with a lot of abuse: physical, mental, and emotional. My marriage ended in 2013, but let me back it up by one year. In 2012, my husband and I lost custody of our children as a direct result of our addiction. So, at that time I felt that my world had ended. My addiction took off from there and did not end until May 3, 2016.  Like I said, my marriage ended – April 13, 2013 to be exact. My marriage ended after he was arrested for domestic violence yet again. This time he went to prison. I felt like I was finally free from him. I was left all alone. No kids, no husband, and my family was not speaking to me because I was a thieving, manipulating shell of a person. All they wanted was for me to get help. I wanted it too but did not know how to go about getting it.

I spent the next two years living in houses with no running water or electricity – stealing, robbing people, in and out of jail, being homeless on the street and prostituting myself for drugs. I would not eat, sleep or bathe for days. I was at my bottom. I would make enough money just to get a room for the night in the slummiest motel around.

I remember sitting on the edge of the bed one night crying and screaming to God. Asking him why he even kept me on this earth. I begged for his help. I walked outside the next morning and was surrounded by police. I had a warrant for violation of probation. There was my help.

That is not what I expected, but that is what God saw fit, HE answered my prayers because without that, I would be dead.  I spent 6 months in jail and knew I wanted a different life. I got out of jail on 12/25 15 – Merry Christmas to me.  I would like to say I stayed clean since then, but I did not. I thought because I was a drug addict, I could use alcohol normally. I didn’t have an issue with alcohol, or so I thought.  I spent the next 5 months drinking. Then, one day I made the decision to take one pain pill.  I knew at that very moment, that if I did not get honest with myself and everyone around me, I would be going back to the needle or dead very soon.  So, my sobriety date is now 5/3/2016 and I have been drug and alcohol free since then.

In August of 2016, I started the B.E.S.T. program (Building Employment Success training) at the Lighthouse Homeless Prevention Center, in Annapolis MD. This cause is very close to my heart, since I have been homeless myself. The class I took was a culinary arts class. They gave me a chance when no one else would. It’s hard finding employment with multiple felonies on my record. I graduated from that class on 12/14/16 with all my family present. I am a cook at their restaurant now. I attend 5-7 recovery meetings a week. I have an amazing network of sober people in my life. I thought life would be boring being sober. Boy, was I wrong. I don’t think I have ever been happier. I go into rehabs to share my experience, strength, and hope. To let others know, there is another way of life. I live a life today beyond my wildest dreams.

My kids are back in my life, and my middle son tells me, “mom I am so proud of you, and I am so happy you go to those meetings because I got my mom back.” I work every day on my recovery. And I fight with a fire inside me because to hear those words come from that little boy’s mouth, lets me know that this fight I am fighting is beyond worth it. I can live life on life’s terms today and not self-medicate. I can sit with my feelings and work through them today, all because I am sober. If you are reading this and struggling, it is okay. Please reach out for help, the blessings are amazing. It’s true – we do recover.

April 4, 2015: The Hardest, Most Beautiful Day Of My Entire Life

April 4, 2015. The absolute hardest, but most beautiful day of my entire life. The day I got clean and sober.

How the hell did that happen? Well, it all happened so fast. I always thought I wasn’t an alcoholic because I wasn’t your everyday drinker. I would drink here and there, but my motto was black out or go home, and I would do just that. The first time I got arrested I was 15 – and it was for underage drinking. The second time I got arrested for underage drinking I was 17. I wasn’t an alcoholic I thought, I was just having fun in high school. At 21, my best friend’s parents sat me down and recommended rehab. But I wasn’t an alcoholic. I just had a rough night. At 23, my sister barely wanted me in her wedding because she just pictured me being like Sandra Bullock in 28 days.

My friends started hiding bottles from me, and stopped inviting me places. I was over everyone, I needed a change. I never did feel like I fit in, even as a child. So, I pulled my first geographic change and moved to California to pursue my dreams of acting where I didn’t know anyone. I’d be so focused on school and work, drinking wouldn’t be an issue. That lasted about 6 months.

One night I went on a date to a bar (where else would you go on a first date) and I was beaten, raped, and left on the side of the road with my heels left in the car. I then became the victim and began drinking my pain away. But it was never going away.  I’d spend the next two years moving from roommate-to-roommate because my drinking became intolerable. Until I lived at a house with all guys – where my drinking was finally accepted. For the first few months, at least.

I was always the life of the party, or at least I thought I was until I got too drunk and became a sloppy. BUT I still wasn’t an alcoholic. I just needed to drink beer instead of hard liquor, or maybe I just didn’t know how to pour drinks and should have someone else pour them. Yeah, well we all know how that works… it doesn’t. Then I found my soulmate, my happiness, the love of my life, and she was alright she was alright she was alright, cocaine. No amount of weed or alcohol would make me feel the way I did when I would use cocaine. Shortly after, I was sold meth instead of cocaine and all bets were off. I said I’d never do meth because it wasn’t classy like cocaine. But little did I know it was another thing I became addicted to just as easy as it was for the drug dealer to tell me it was cocaine. My disease was in full effect. I started shipping drugs from the west coast to the east coast, and the people I hung out with thought I was crazy, but the money was so good and I was practically doing any and everything I could to get my hands on drugs. So, what if it could lead me to federal charges? I was on top of the world, until my world came crashing down on me.

My rock bottom happened so fast. My relationship with my family was chaotic and all my mother could do was cry. I couldn’t go to acting school anymore. I was going to get kicked out if anyone smelled how bad I reeked of booze or saw my jaw jerking. I had lost my dreams, all ambition, all self-worth, all self-love, but more importantly, I had lost myself. I knew I was going to die this way, and I was okay with that. I honestly didn’t plan on living past 25. I hated the person I saw in the mirror. She was so sad and so broken. I was so sick of chasing the high. I was sick of being suicidal. I was sick of abusive relationships. I was sick of fake friends. I was sick of life. I began to think, maybe there is a way out. I mean my dad has been clean and sober for 34 years, and he told me what I needed to do. For the first time in my life, I listened.

On April 4, 2015, I decided it was time for a change. I needed recovery more than anything. I posted on Facebook how broken I was, and an acting teacher from the acting school I went to reached out to me. She became my sponsor and has loved me until I learned to love myself. Everything she suggested, I did – ten times over. She helped save my life and still does to this day. I did everything that was suggested of me and more. I would carry a notebook around with me, taking notes on how this whole recovery thing worked. All I wanted was to be happy and find out who this girl was that I had been killing for so many years.

The first person I met in my recovery was a guy named Greg, who lit up the room with his presence. He became very influential to me and helped get me into a sober living home two days after meeting him. He came to see me everyday, just to make sure I was okay. He introduced me to his two other friends in recovery. They were all smiling and joking and always happy. I wanted that. I wanted that more than the air that I breathed. They became my brothers. Sadly, seven months into my recovery, that first friend I ever had in recovery, Greg, died from an overdose. I couldn’t get to the guys soon enough. This was when I began to learn that this disease was no joke. That was the first of many friends I would lose that year and unfortunately, continue to lose. It made me work so much harder and recovery became my way of life. People kept telling me there was a light in my eyes. I didn’t understand that until I was able to begin helping people find their own way, which has been the greatest gift of recovery: watching and helping people transform their lives.

Today, I am living an amazing life. I have the best relationship with my family, a boyfriend who I met in recovery, I’m the godmother to my sister’s baby (the one who thought I might ruin her wedding), I moved to the beach and live on the water, I’m graduating from beauty school next month, will be a licensed aesthetician, and I’m becoming very successful at the salon I work at. Most importantly, I am sober and I wouldn’t have any of these blessings without my recovery. I have a peace of mind. I smile and laugh more than I cry. My mother only cries happy tears now because she is so proud. And that’s an amazing feeling. I have a God of my own understanding who takes very good care of me as long as I suit up, show up, and put in the work. I’m no longer the victim. I can look in the mirror at the girl I used to hate, and ask myself how I can help another person today. That’s the best part about recovery, helping other people.

Recovery is hard work and it’s a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. If it were easy everyone would be doing it. Some days I get so much anxiety thinking I will never drink again, but then I realize I only need to live in this moment right now. And today I’m going to remain sober and that seems to work for me. I just know I never want to feel the way I felt the week of April 4, 2015 ever again in my entire life. The pain was enough to make me never want to drink or do drugs again. I’ve come so far to ever go back. I’m so grateful I was blessed with the gift of desperation and blessed with the people I’ve met to help support me along the way. I will always be an alcoholic/addict, but today I’m a woman living in long-term recovery.  I’m so very grateful I am one of the lucky ones who made it out alive and after 25 years, I finally found where I fit in. Life ain’t always beautiful, but it is a beautiful ride. So just for today, I will remain clean and sober.

Life After Losing My Son Nick

When you lose a child everything changes. You become very forgetful and walk around in a constant fog. There is no name for a parent who lost a child. Not widowed. Not orphaned. The magnitude of the pain is too large. As parents are not supposed to outlive their children.

Every aspect of our life has a memory. Every hockey rink, ride in the car, rooms in your house, and songs being played on the radio. You find yourself secretly wishing all the holidays would go away. You sing happy birthday with cake and candles. But the birthday boy is not there to blow out the candles. You continue to hang his stocking every Christmas only to find the handmade snowflake his little sister put in there the first Christmas he was not there. Only to pull it out every year yourself. Half your heart is gone and can never be whole again.

You search for answers you just can’t get. You save his clothing. You walk into a room and smell your child and know that scent can’t possibly be there. But you smile anyway and talk out loud. You talk. You talk to the dead. You go to church and find yourself staring at the space where his casket was. Fighting back tears, knowing that was the last place you were together. You focus on your religion because you have to believe that there is a better place. A place where angels play hockey and there is no more struggling and pain.

People talk about what’s new with their children. You get to repeat the same old stories because that’s all you have. You want to talk about your child. You need to talk about your child. You want people to mention your child’s name more than ever.

It means so much to hear anything, anything at all about Nick. It tells us, you remember…

You listen to people complain about their kids driving them crazy or how hard it is when they go away. You want to scream out loud. What you wouldn’t give for your child to just be away. You go to the grocery store, walk by his favorite snack, tears begin to well up. Meanwhile everybody else has no idea that somebody so important is missing. So, you buy the damn snack anyway.

Losing a child to addiction means you didn’t get to say goodbye. You look for where you went wrong. You look back over the years looking for clues, questioning every decision and everything you said and didn’t say. You ask all the what ifs. You blame yourself. You find other mothers just like yourself.

We read life after death and near death experiences. Trying to find any information available to make sense out of what has happened. You try to educate others to try to save the life of others. You may smile and stand straight but you will feel drained and crooked for the rest of your life.

This is for my beloved angel Nick. May you rest in paradise my beautiful angel.

Mommy loves you!

Sue Kruczek, forever Nick Kruczek’s mom
Guilford, Connecticut

I’m 8 Months Pregnant & Will Give Birth As A Woman In Recovery

My name is Tiffani and I’m a grateful woman in sustained recovery from addiction.

Growing up people always ask that one big question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Many kids answer “an astronaut”, a “movie star” or other endless possibilities. My will to do and become something more was the greatest strength I believe I ever had. Never knowing that the same will that pushed me to want to strive for much more would also be what would lead me to my demise.

From the beginning, I always felt uncomfortable, less then, different than others. I moved around more times than one could count and remembered living in this constant state of anxiety and deepening doom. My parents and I never saw eye-to-eye. They divorced when I was young and one was an addict himself, the other was a nursing student who barely had time to eat or drink coffee. So, I took initiative and began distracting myself and suppressing my feelings to prove my worth to my teachers, my peers, my parents, but most of all to myself.

As the years went on I started experimenting with other ways to fill the abyss that laid deep within my core. When sports and school activities didn’t work anymore, I began more drastic forms of experimentation. From middle through high school, I began hanging out with older people. Endless nights of staying up late, drinking to other forms of recreational drugs became a daily incentive for me.

Things took a turn for the worst when I was 19. I got into a car accident and shattered my entire collar bone. I had surgery and they placed two metal plates with rods into my chest. I remember feeling like my life was over, that life had been a waste of time to end up this useless being who couldn’t even lift her left arm. I took my pain medicine as prescribed only to find myself wanting more, when the pills weren’t enough I found the love of my life and my soul. Finally, I didn’t have to hide this pain that I tried to cover for so long. It became my lover, my best friend, my numbing medication to the world around me – or so I thought. Heroin became not my lover, but my master ending me in countless trips to the hospital, multiple jail trips, not to mention thirteen different attempts at rehab, countless overdoses, and the loss of every bridge I had ever made and family member I had ever loved. My life became a tornado of destruction and despair. I wanted to stop so bad. I remember crying and begging to the heavens to take this away. I didn’t want to live anymore. The very substance I used to hide my pain became the very thing that created it.

The last time I used I went out for twenty-four hours and overdosed because I needed it one more time. After being dark inside for so many years, and 6 years of battling addiction, a light turned on and I realized I needed help. After being in a program for nearly five months along with other self-help groups, my obsession finally ceased to exist. I was given the second chance at life I needed. In exchange for a needle and a spoon, I was given the keys to a life worth living. No longer did I feel the need to hide my emotions, but instead embrace them for what they were and learn how to live with them as life played out. Recovery not only gave me my family back and the ability to rebuild and create new relationships, but for me to finally love who I am and look at myself in the mirror with pride and not some ninety-two-pound junky with no life behind their eyes. I have a new sense of purpose and feeling of serenity no drug or drink could ever possibly give me.

After nearly a year of sobriety my life is beyond anything of my wildest dreams. I’m eight months pregnant and get to put an end to a cycle, having my son never see his mom loaded.  I’m going to school to become a drug and alcohol counselor to help other addicts achieve sustainable recovery. If you asked me if I would be where I am now a year ago, I would have laughed in your face. I was the one counselors say that would never ever make it, that people expected dead within the next six months. And here I am before you today clean and sober. And a life that has depth and weight and not frothy emotional appeal. I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything in the world. Living in recovery has made me find the pathway to a life I want to be present for today. I am now free of the bondage of self and free of my own captivity. Life’s possibilities remain endless as they once were when I was a child. Not only do I get to share my experience with my fellow recovering addicts, but I get to show my son the endless possibilities this life can offer. The greatest gift I could have ever been given is this new relationship with myself today. I am a grateful and hopeful woman in sustained recovery.

I Love Someone In Recovery, My Big Brother

My brother Garrett and I grew up in a “nice” family. We were taught about having good morals and values, about the “golden rule” and that family was the most important thing. We looked like the perfect family from the outside, but on the inside we were very dysfunctional. My parents sheltered me, or tried to, from what was going on with my brother – that his heroin and opioid addiction wasn’t affecting our family. I was 16 when our father passed away, and my mother needed me to help her deal with my brother, as if I was supposed to have already known that he was having problems with opioids and heroin but at such a young age I didn’t know how to do that. Plenty of people offered suggestions – such as joining al-anon, but I ignored them and essentially ignored that there was a problem at all.

Freshman year of college, I was only two towns away from home but rarely spoke to my brother except for a few quick phone calls. “Hi, are you alive? You are? Ok, good,” was the extent of our conversations., I had distanced myself from my brother’s health crisis and felt very much alone. After one semester, I left school and moved around the state of Florida for a while but eventually ended up back in South Florida. I moved into an apartment and at some point, still not knowing how bad things had gotten for my brother amid his opioid and heroin addiction, I invited him to come stay with me and that’s when I finally saw how bad things really had become. He was so thin and emaciated, his face was sunken in, he would steal my cash to support his heroin and opioid addiction, stay out for several days and come back when he was hungry or needed to steal some more cash. Our mother kept telling me to cut him off, that I was enabling him but I didn’t listen. I had lost my dad and needed my big brother, but at that time he wasn’t in a place to be that for me and it was selfish of me to expect that of him rather than helping him with his health issues. Eventually my brother left for another try at rehab and I realized that I needed to get my own life back on track. I left town again but this time to do better for myself and get an education.

I never cut off communication with my brother and after several attempts at treatment, he eventually started to get his life on track. When he told me about meeting his now best friend and business partner at treatment and how he had started his own business, I was skeptical but I wanted to be supportive. When I was 23, he asked me if I would help jumpstart his business by driving them up the DC and they would take me to the presidential inauguration and the inaugural ball. I couldn’t even believe how focused and driven he had become. It was surreal to me that I had a big brother that I could look up to again. For the next few years, he became my best friend. He had moved out to California but we would call each other almost every day and have real conversations. Seems like a normal brother-sister relationship, but for us, that wasn’t the normal we were used to. That fact that my brother could fly back to Florida to watch me walk the stage and graduate college, that he even gave a speech at my graduation party that moved everyone to tears, was hard to comprehend. Without a plan after graduation, he suggested that I move out to California as well and invited me to stay with him while I come up with a plan for grad school or anything that I would like to do next. He is such a pleasure to be around, so calm and just an inspiration to so many other young men in recovery.

This week, he celebrated 2 years in recovery from heroin. Recovery is possible and it’s given me my brother back. Garrett’s found his purpose through helping others achieve sobriety and it is such an inspiring experience for me. I can’t wait to see what happens next, he’s going to change the world.

My Judge Sentenced Me To Recovery, Not Jail

My Name is Herb. And I’m a person in long-term recovery from addiction.

The first time I used, it was alcohol and I was right around fifteen years old. I had no idea what was in store for me when I took my first drink. Addiction is a progressive disease, and mine was no different; within a few short years I experienced the bitter ends. I was addicted – not so much to one specific drug at first, but to altering my mood. I didn’t like the way I felt, I avoided discomfort, I used to cope. I used to increase pleasure or decrease pain.

I always felt like an outsider, and drugs and alcohol helped me feel like I finally fit into this world – until they stopped working. Eventually, it was all about decreasing pain, and running from the chaos the drugs were causing in my life. By the time I was twenty-one, I was homeless and on the run from the law – living in the woods. From there, it only got worse. Multiple arrests, overdoses, and deeper and deeper bottoms. I reached a point in my life where suicide became the only option.

Once I got to prison, I laid in a jail cell contemplating how I was going to take my own life. I was going to go out of this life as a statistic. I was willing to let addiction win. Suicide by overdose. But then I was shown grace and mercy.

My judge thought that recovery would be more appropriate, a long-term therapeutic solution to my problem. He sentenced me to a year in a local sober living home, the Respite House in Valparaiso. The judge was right! We cannot incarcerate our way out of this battle with addiction; adequate treatment and long-term after care are the answer.

You see, I’ve been to many different jails throughout the country and the only thing they’ve ever done is introduce me to more connections. They surrounded me with people with no desire to be there or get well. Jails and prisons are just a holding tank for addicts, and they’re flooded with drugs. They’re a crime school. No wonder our recidivism rate is so high in this country. But I digress.

That year in the sober living home was exactly what I needed. It was a great place for me to transition through during early recovery. It introduced me to recovery-minded people with an honest desire to live in recovery. I jumped in with both feet.

Since my sentencing to the house, I’ve graduated successfully; gotten my son back in my life; established healthy, supportive relationships in the community; made amends with my entire family; moved into my own home; published a book; and found a career. I share my story every opportunity I have – on behalf of numerous agencies in our area with hopes of combating the heroin epidemic in my region. I am not ashamed of who I am.

I’m an intervention coordinator and have the distinct honor of helping addicts and their families find recovery. I have a new puppy, amazing friends, integrity, peace of mind, and a brand-new place in this world. All things I wouldn’t have if I were still using or sitting in prison.

The world needs more places to give addicts opportunities to turn things around. I wouldn’t be here – in recovery – if I hadn’t gotten that second chance. I’m truly blessed and humbled beyond belief – we do recover!

I’m An HIV Positive Woman In Long-Term Recovery From Addiction. And Damn Proud Of It.

My name is Erin and I’m a woman in long-term recovery from addiction. My recovery date is February 21, 2010. The day that I started this journey, I had no intention of getting sober. I entered treatment to get everyone off my back and just take a break. I had a string of bad luck and just needed to figure out how to put things back together, not get sober. I now know that God was doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself and my “first step” experience or “surrender” had started a long time before I actually felt it.

You see, God showed up at my house on January 28, 2010. God showed up disguised as the SWAT team. Standing outside my house in handcuffs, two detectives came up and said “we don’t want to embarrass you, but is this you?” They were holding several 8×10 glossy autograph photos of me…Miss Arizona 1996, Erin Ashley Gingrich. There I was in my crown and evening gown. “What happened to you,” they asked. My only fitting response – ”drugs”. What was once a driven, poised young woman with meaning and purpose, was now a shell of a human that sold herself to stay well, and as far away from that once beautiful girl as possible. Left with no way out of the mess I had become, I went to treatment.

In my third week of treatment, I got the news that would shift my plans forever. I had some blood work done and found out that I was HIV positive as a direct result of my addiction and for the first time in thirteen years, I no longer wanted to die. I wanted to live and I would do whatever necessary to see that happen.

Shortly thereafter, I was charged with aggravated identity theft carried a presumptive of 7-12 years in prison. I started showing up for court knowing that my future was at the mercy of the judge. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and 9 months later, I got a plea. I was absolved of the identity theft charges. I served 30 days in county jail with 2 years probation. I self-surrendered to jail December of 2010 and spent my first Christmas and New Year’s sober in jail. It was my first sober holiday in 13 years.

Just after my one year recovery birthday, I found out I was co-infected with Hepatitis C. Just another bit of proof that if I ever went back to the life I was living, I was on a path to death. As a result, I have become an advocate for HIV and Hepatitis. I’ve had the opportunity to share my story in various media outlets and work through the shame and stigma that is associated with those health conditions.

So much life has happened. The last 5 years of my recovery journey have been the biggest lesson for me. I’ve learned that anything I put in front of my recovery can and will be taken away. I’ve learned that that power, which I call both God and Love, will use whatever means necessary to draw me back to a reliance upon it.

I fell fast in love in November 2012 and was engaged and pregnant in February 2013.  We went through our first miscarriage in April. That was the closest I had been to relapse but somehow we pulled through and started planning our wedding. We planned the wedding for October that year because I knew my father would stop fighting to live after my parent’s 50th anniversary which was in December of that year.

My father entered hospice on October 10th. My husband and I exchanged vows at his bedside October 11. I got the opportunity to make a full and proper amends to him, my husband celebrated 1 year of sobriety on October 15 at the Hospice center, and my father passed away on October 16 and I got to be with my family, in his room, when he took his last breath. My husband and I were married on October 20. I was faced with the decision to leave my job when I returned to work the following week.

God continued to hang out on the back burner for the next 8 months. During that time, I looked for everything else to fill that void. I was pregnant again the following January, had another miscarriage a couple months later and during this time, my husband started to relapse. There was lots of harm caused. I found myself back at that place of powerlessness and hopelessness that I experienced when I first got sober. I had to regain that connection. I found myself finally asking for help. 

I did the work. I was finally okay with myself, even if I didn’t ever get to become a mom, my husband and I finally got God back into the middle of our relationship and found a stronger love than ever before. And next thing I knew…I was pregnant. We welcomed Rowyn into our family January 8, 2016.  She is nothing short of a miracle.

I’m a 41 year-old HIV positive, Hep-C positive, recovering addict mother who has recreated her life. Because I’ve been sober the last 7 years, I can say I’m all of those things with pride. That is pretty freaking cool if you ask me. I had no idea that my life would look like this but I’ll be damned if I would want it any other way. I absolutely love my life today. All the pain, all the fear, all of it…absolutely beautiful…and part of God’s awesome plan for my life.

Ryan Riggs is working to end the prison-for-profit movement and open recovery

End The Prison-For-Profit Movement & Offer Recovery Solutions Now

My name is Ryan Riggs and I am a person in long-term recovery from addiction. What that means to me, is that I have not found it necessary to use any mood or mind-altering substances since April 20, 2015. This journey has been the most amazing experience that I have ever had, and it only continues to get better. My story, in large part, involves the criminal justice system.  As result of my addiction and lack of resources, I fell into a vicious cycle of drug use, incarceration, and dereliction. Nine overdoses and fifteen or more jail sentences later, I found a way out. Jail and prison are not the solution to addiction. My life today is beyond my wildest dreams, but let me tell you a little bit about the journey.

I was raised in a lower-middle class family in Richmond, VA. I began using drugs around the age of 14 and it quickly progressed. I went from marijuana and alcohol, to pills and crack, then to heroin – in 2.5 five seconds. My drug use began to have consequences early, and those consequences never stopped me. Incarcerated at 14 years old for drug possession, I quickly dispelled my fear of “doing time.” I quickly learned how to adapt to the institutional environment, thus relieving incarceration as a deterrent for me.

The following years were marked by numerous juvenile detention home visits which turned into jail stays as the years progressed. Jail is not a place that someone should learn life lessons in becoming a man. The rules that are adhered to, and the principles one lives by, in jail are more tools of survival than tools for living a productive life. I learned that weakness was not tolerated. Any form of weakness that was perceived would be exploited. I began to develop a sub-personality that was more of a mask than anything else. The problem came when I began to identify with that mask and started to believe that’s who I truly was. The morals and values of prison life are not applicable to life on the outside. I was not only locked up physically, but locked up mentally as well.

Jail programs for addiction were virtually non-existent throughout the majority of my incarceration. When programs did become available, I took advantage of the opportunity. In 2008, I was introduced to recovery in a program inside the Richmond City Jail. It was here that my journey in recovery began. I would like to say that I stayed clean after that and that I lived happily ever after, but that’s not the case. I gained a ton of information but still had no idea how to apply it. I was released. And when the door shut behind me, I was on my own. I proceeded to do what I always did, and ended up with the results that I always got.

The turning point for me was when I was released for the last time and got involved with a Recovery Residence by the name of Libbie Avenue Recovery. From there I began to live in a community that had experience living life on the outside of institutions, free from drugs. I began to do some volunteer work for the McShin Foundation, a recovery community organization (RCO) in the area. I wanted to help people who were incarcerated find a path to freedom, just as I had. I was offered a job working with inmates, at the Richmond City Jail, where I was once housed. In this arena, I learned how to use my experience as a teaching tool to help those who suffer from the same problems I did, addiction and criminal thinking. I then became the program coordinator for a new program in the Chesterfield County jail called HARP (Heroin Addiction Recovery Program), a multi-faceted approach at tackling substance use disorder, with a heavy focus on peer-to-peer recovery.

Chesterfield Jail's HARP Program

Chesterfield Jail’s Heroin Addiction Recovery Program (HARP)

My life would be drastically different if I had never found the recovery community.  It has been the foundation of my new life. This community taught me how to live life as a productive member of society, free from the bondage of addiction. No jail time or consequence ever kept me from using drugs. The term “it takes a village” is the best way I can describe this.  It took the recovery community and a lot of hard work to raise me into the man I am today.

I’m coming up on 2 years clean.  I’m married to the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.  My children look up to me and think I’m the strongest man in the world. I recently regained full custody of my daughters. I work or volunteer in three different jails in the Richmond metro area, doing something that I love to do – helping others. I’m a loyal friend, faithful servant, caring son, and a faithful and loving husband and father.  I’m going to college in pursuit of a degree in social sciences. These accomplishments are not mine. They are OURS. And they belong to the recovery community! Had it not been for the love, support, and guidance of those who travel this journey with me, I would undoubtedly be dead or in jail.

Addiction touches almost every family at some level. The people serving time in jail and prison because of their addiction are someone’s mother, father, son, or daughter.  They all deserve the same opportunity I had. We need to stop building more prisons, and build more bridges to recovery. Stop the prison-for-profit movement that has crippled our country and start providing real solutions to this problem. These private businesses are getting rich while our communities are suffering. Prison profits soar, while social capital declines. There is much more that needs to be done and it all starts with talking about it. The more we talk about it and the more people we get involved, the more minds we’ll have to create better solutions. As long as stigma is attached to addiction, there will continue to be an “us” and “them” mentality. The American people are strong, innovative, and courageous. Combine that with an unparalleled spirit of unity and patriotism – that creates the greatest of hopes, hope that this country will one day refuse to sacrifice life for livelihood, that it will refuse to accept the success of few on the backs of many, and hope that one day there will be no “us” and “them”, but only US.