I am a crack addict. I stopped using about 10 years ago in a crack house in South Philly. I remember that day just as clearly as the day that I realized that I was nothing more than an addict. The day that I just got tired of charging up the hill and quit the race. It was that kind of day when you lose your job, your car breaks down and you can’t pay the bills and I just gave up and gave in.
The day I quit using, my car had been stolen by a guy who’d promised me some drugs if he could use my car. I sat there in that house, the house of a dealer that I worked for so that I could get my drugs at a discount, the brother of the man in my car. I sat there feeling sorry for myself and feeling like no matter what I did I couldn’t seem to win. The same kind of feeling I’d had that day at my own kitchen table, when I first realized that the problem was no longer a burden it was my new way of life; I gave up.
A few years had passed at this point and nothing had really changed. I struggled every day to find drugs or find the cash to buy them. I have skills and I would work as a carpenter during the days so that I could get high at night. I had long ago cut off all contact with friends and family, too ashamed to talk to anyone I knew. People thought I had died.
I sat there that day at another kitchen table looking at the pipers and the prostitutes and the weekenders from Jersey and my whole perspective shifted, changed from one moment to the next, it was an epiphany. I thought to myself that this was all my own doing, that I was not here because of some cruel twist of fate but because I chose to be there. The choices I made were what got me there. I had made my own bad luck and in reality, I didn’t have to be there if I didn’t want to. I could choose to live a better life. I knew in that moment that I was going to stop using, that any day is a good day to start and today was that day for me.
It was not easy, and it took a lot of help from a lot of people but I am clean and sober now because I took responsibility for my choices. I have also learned to forgive myself for my mistakes and to take some credit for the things that I do right — but all of these big lessons came at a price. I lost some years out of my life but I have learned one thing: that we are where we are because we choose to be.
I don’t lie, cheat or steal any more because I don’t want to live with the consequences and frankly I did enough of that for a lifetime. Now, I look for redemption, I look for ways to make things right, to pay back into the pot that I took from for so long.
I still struggle with that feeling of bad luck and bad fortune but it doesn’t make me give up, it makes me try harder. I took responsibility for myself and my own life first and then for my family and now a little bit at a time for the people in my community and in my work.
It is not a bad thing to be a responsible man — to give more than you receive, to contribute more than you accumulate; it is a life that I can be proud of, a life well lived. It is a good life.
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