In my past is a 20-year history of substance use addiction, from the age of 14 until 34, when I finally sought treatment to stop abusing substances. Yet recovery is so much more than just getting clean. True recovery involves working on all aspects of your life, and I had not yet taken those deeper steps.
Ignoring the underlying issues of my substance abuse and addiction led to a string of poor decisions with serious consequences to myself and my loved ones. My choices led to a two-year sentence in federal prison for mail fraud (which is a fancy way of saying that I stole money from the company I was working for).
Making poor decisions doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a conscience. In fact, I was aware that my actions were wrong, and stealing the money was eating me alive. But at the time I didn’t have the strength to turn myself in. Instead, I did what many alcoholics or addicts would do, and just moved on, hoping that walking away would be the secret to curbing my behavior. I was tired of living a double life and didn’t really care if I got caught.
The good news is that I did get caught, several months later. This brought me to the point of total surrender.
My intensive recovery journey restarted the day that everything came crashing down. Because I already had previous experience in AA and with counseling, I knew what I had to do. It took nearly two years to begin my prison sentence and by that time I was living out a renewed life of recovery. Yet recovery is a process, not a moment, and even though I had made many changes, it wasn’t until two years later when a friend in prison challenged me over a seemingly small decision that I saw the depths of what my recovery required.
We were leaving the mess hall, where I had accepted another inmate’s unwanted piece of fruit. As we headed to our cells, my friend stopped me. The prison’s rule was that each inmate may only take one piece of uncut fruit. I had two. But it was no big deal--everybody did it--I reminded him. He looked at me and asked, why are you here? I stopped cold. Stealing. I was in prison for stealing.
My friend reminded me that I of all people should know that breaking this rule was a slippery slope to justifying my choices. His words had a lasting impact on me. That day I made a decision to live by the motto: one piece of uncut fruit. I knew I wouldn’t be perfect, but I wanted to start with a guiding premise that would lead me to complete honesty and truly learning from my mistakes.
The second chance I have been given to overcome my obstacles and walk the path of long-term recovery into a new life is a gift, which I strive to pay forward to others. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to use the lessons I’ve learned to help others who need a second chance after a life of addiction or criminal convictions stemming from past mistakes.
Addiction is not a short story. It’s not just the period of time when you are using. It’s also the before, during, and after. The roots of my addiction to drugs and alcohol started young, and my recovery shapes every aspect of who I am today.
From a young age, I remember believing that I was not good enough. I always felt worthless in school—like a dirtbag. My mother was on welfare her entire life and my father was not in the picture. The first of two times that my mother tried to commit suicide, I was only four or five and we were living in a shelter with my sisters. I remember them coming in to get her, and I remember being taken to foster care in Massachusetts. I remember waiting for a year, but nobody came and got us. Just a few years later, at age seven or eight, I was sexually assaulted by a neighbor, contributing to my feelings of worthlessness.
At age 12, I had my first drink and got drunk. By 14, my mother had moved but I stayed with a friend. I continued to drink and do drugs throughout high school. At 17, I married an alcoholic and found myself in an extremely abusive relationship. Though I was able to take my daughter and leave, alcohol and drugs came with me as I spent the next years working in bars
Despite struggling with self-respect, I knew early on that I had business management skills. In my mid-20s, I landed a job with a multi-national financial services business and was very successful—even flying to other branches to speak about my success. Yet though I was confident on the outside, I was always haunted by fears of what people might think if they really knew me.
My drug frenzy really took hold when I was 32. Though I was making $200,000 a year, it wasn’t enough to cover my lifestyle and a $200-a-day addiction. I began writing checks to fictitious customers and depositing the money in my own account to pay for drugs. I was arrested and sentenced to time in prison for a federal crime.
My recovery began while awaiting trial. A neck and shoulder injury sent me to a doctor who prescribed pain medication. At that moment, I told myself If I do this, I am going to die. I admitted my addiction to my probation officer and asked for help. My sister took my children. Three days later I was in rehab out of state. That is where my journey to recovery began.
I spent five months in federal prison followed by three months in a recovery house. Just before my sentence began, I was offered a ray of hope--a possibility of employment when I was released--that sustained me and gave me hope that my life was not over. When I returned, I was fortunate to be hired by a company that employs individuals in recovery from substance use disorders—a position that ultimately led me to my role at Working Fields.
There were many things that brought me to this point in my recovery journey and continue to help me. It wasn't AA or NA or counseling alone. It was doing all the work. And admitting that I was defeated, and needed to understand why my life was so crazy. It was learning to be more selfless. To be humbler. It was being offered a ray of hope during my darkest days. It’s volunteering and working in a job that is surrounded by recovery.
Today I am ten times happier than ever before. I am often asked if I believe I am better off having gone through recovery, and I can say that I am fortunate to have gone through every bit of it—including prison—and all the work since then.