If you follow this blog, by now you are familiar with the story of my friend Chris. It is not unlike many of your stories. Chris fell into a bad cycle with drug use. The drug of choice: One of the scariest – crystal meth. He tried to kick the habit on his own, toiling in the throes of addiction for over a year and a half. He became desperate, started blowing off friends and family, and eventually hit rock bottom. Bottom for Chris was sitting for over a week in a psychiatric ward of a Pennsylvania hospital – skin lacerated by incessant scratching, rotting teeth – a shell of himself, lost both mentally and emotionally. It was a living hell for all of us.

That was his breaking point. For many, it gets worse. Some never make it back to sanity. Many see the inside of a jail cell. Too many die.

Luckily Chris has a network of friends who really care for him. He swallowed his pride and confided in some of us. We recognized the severity of his addiction and brainstormed about how we can help. We were willing to pool our resources together to do whatever was necessary for our friend, but our funds were limited. Especially when a reputable inpatient addiction program costs anywhere from $20-thousand to $60-thousand.

By the grace of a higher power, a friend in the industry read my first blog about Chris and asked how she might help. A few brief phone calls later, Chris was cleared to receive a scholarship to a wonderful program at Champion Center in Lompoc, CA for nominal costs. He worked the program for 30 days, updated us when he could and we began to recognize the friend we had temporarily lost to this disease.

But as we all know, addiction doesn’t just disappear and neither do the underlying issues that often causes someone to turn back to a drug of choice. Naturally, there was concern upon his return to the environment he left. The setting for all which turned sour in his life. The place where he lost his way and succumbed to his disease. The house which shelters so many nightmares and horrific memories.

Well the good news is that Chris is celebrating his three month anniversary today. He decided to share something with his group of friends our of gratitude.

Here it is:

On the date of three solid months of recovery, I wanted to send a comprehensive update to the group.  

Heartfelt Thanks
First and foremost, I wouldn’t have made this milestone without the love and support from each and every one of you on this distribution list. There are a few add-on’s to the list – but for this group, it doesn’t matter when you got added – all of you have showed up – every time, faithfully.   It is often heard that a run like mine makes you no better or no less than anyone else in the recovery group.

While that is true, I am reminded daily that this is a support group like no other.
In addition to making the 90 day mark, I also grateful to mark one month of my return home from California.  It has not been without it’s challenges.

When I walked into Alder Street on March 11th – it looked, and smelled exactly as I had left it in the dark days of January.  That, combined with items literally unmoved for two months left me with crippling and vivid nightmares of the past two years.  I had almost resolved myself to the fact that every time I would close my eyes, I would wake up, panicked, that I had gone on a 4 or 5 day run.   While this wasn’t unique to the house (it started the last week in California), I was prepared by the team in CA to be ready for it – and use coping skills to move through it.

The house has since been cleaned from top to bottom, pictures on the walls have been changed, and while I am still plagued by vivid recall, it has reduced considerably in the last two weeks. 

I worked with Dr. Todd, the Champion Center trauma specialist on dealing with the memories and experiences of the last two years within these four walls.  Dr. Todd was insistent that I correct the problem “the way Chris P. would correct the problem” – not run from it – but simply stand up and fix it.  It has been a struggle every day to have the courage to stand up and wade through the tornado that I allowed to almost take me out.  I am so grateful to at least have a roof over my head – and yet, these are tough days – I am rebuilding life, one step at a time – and this has been a challenge like no other. 

I was able to gain strength and clarity in California, and being the eternal planner and armed with a solid game plan, my first few days home were intentionally scheduled. 

The Return to Alder Street

Joe M. was the first person to come meet me for dinner and a night out on my return – and while I almost had him bring his bottle of backup holy water, dinner and Mass was the best possible way to come home.  If there was anything I needed to do – it was to be “of thanks” for coming out of this with my mind.   

Soon after, I invited my friends Brian and Jeff over for my first “home cooked meal” – and that was an intentional invite.  While many of you don’t know Brian and Jeff yet, you will, soon.  If anyone was going to help me make a fresh start at this kitchen table, it was going to be the two of them.   Without a doubt, we chased a lot of demons out of this kitchen that night over chicken cutlets, and it was the best possible way to reopen this kitchen to life.  

Since then, I’ve tried to see and talk to as many of you as possible. Brian, Fred, Daniel and I traveled to literally the top of Liberty One.  Kevin, Maddie and I walked through Rittenhouse.  Meg and I have gotten back into our routine of meals together. Doyle and I have shared coffee together, and I got to welcome Gonz home from California.  Most importantly, I’ve gotten lots of needed love from the Beck and Saffici girls (and a high five from John Patrick).  Next week, I’ll finally get to meet Cece, give Tosti a long overdue hug, and hopefully, find a table at Paesano’s for me and Flocco and have a long overdue “Paesano” and a very cold RC Cola. 

The days are not without strife.  While the accomplishments seem insignificant on the surface – they are exponentially hard to execute.  Not because of the complexity of task – but more so for the recognition that every time something is crossed off the list, I have to recognize and realize the dramatic devastation that I allowed into my life that brought me to my knees – and know that I have to work so much harder to secure things that I’ve had in place since I was 14.  To me, it seems almost catastrophic – and I have to allow myself a fixed time to grieve, and then simply move forward.  Not moving forward keeps me in place, and I have never been one to sit still. 

Since 14, I’ve had a checking and savings account.  I’ve had to live off of a “Greendot” card with “valued customer” on the front since January.  I walked into the PNC Bank at 10th and South on Tuesday, with 150.00 in checks and started again, from scratch.   The task to open the account was easy – the recognition that I was starting with less than what I did when I was 14 was not.
This goes for every task, every transaction, every interaction.   Without an SSRI, or tranquilizer or sedative, I have to work through this on my own, and put myself to bed at night, on my own.   When I left California, I really felt like I had gotten my groove back – but it has become abundantly clear that my groove is still a ways off.   I need to celebrate each day, rebuilding on a better foundation than when I started at 14 and continue to put one foot in front of the other. 

I laugh a lot more these days, and sometimes I even surprise myself at the tone in which the words come out.  There are days when I don’t even recognize myself – because I haven’t heard that kind of hope in my voice since late nights at St. Cassian Hall – thinking about all the things that could be.
And then there are days when you want to cry, but I’ve cried enough, so I might as well just laugh. 

Continuum of Care
I cannot express enough to this group how grateful I am that you all rallied to send me to the Champion Center. 

Someone asked me at CMA where I went to rehab.  I started telling them about my experience, and they responded:  “Wow dude.  My rehab was in Chester, and it was infested with Bed Bugs.” 

There are simply no words.  The care was and continues to be extraordinary. 

I’ve had the ability to reach out to two of my favorite counselors – Roberta (Bob) Russell and Gina Phelps and I credit them for stepping up to the plate and answering every question I asked – related to recovery and life.  I cannot adequately describe how much they have helped me through this entire ordeal. They faithfully save time for me – even with their current inpatient load.  I know that the Holy Spirit worked through them. 

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t include my friend Geoff H. in this list, who I met through the program. Bob said to me right before I left that he would be my solid link to recovery, and she was right.  Geoff and I talk weekly, and he’s making a trip out to Philly in May. I was completely broken by the time I had arrived to Lompoc, and Geoff was the first person to hear my “story” with no filter, and he didn’t blink.  If I had hoped for anyone to be in the foxhole with – it was him – and I am excited for all of you to meet him in person.  He’s an amazing and dear friend – and I know he’s a phone call away. 

Just for Today

It doesn’t really matter that I have 90 days under my belt.  What matters is today.  And today, I’m grateful. 

Today was a full day.  My friends in California would joke that I would come out of classes and proclaim “I’m DONE” and wave my hands over my head.  By the time I left, my fellow classmates would just look at me and say “DONE – I’M DONE!”.  That’s how I feel about today.
But tomorrow, God willing – I’ll start again. 

In May of 1999, I quoted Eleanor Roosevelt when she said that “we gain strength, courage, and confidence in every experience where we look fear in the face, and did something we thought we could not do.”  That’s so true – today. 

Tomorrow morning, I’m starting the day with Doyle, over coffee, and not celebrate 90 days, just celebrate today – and being one day closer to a better, more genuine, authentic me.  I have to have faith that the rest will all fall into place. 

Love you all more –

PS:  While I’m giving you a first hand account, I wanted to pass along this article that’s making the rounds.  It’s spot on, and worth the read.  https://www.poz.com/magazine/poz-aprilmay-2016/article/party

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