You don’t have to see someone’s face to understand what they’re going through. As Contact Center Lead at Recovery Center of America’s Mission Center in Philadelphia, I don’t always know exactly who I’m talking to when I pick up the phone, but I know the feeling of needing a single place to go, a single source of hope. And in every phone conversation, I try to convey that understanding to the parents, loved ones, or individuals who have called to make it a little easier for them to see that there are options, and that there can be solutions.
I would know. It wasn’t too long ago that I was one of those voices on the other end of the line.
I was living outside of Philadelphia when I started drinking and smoking at around 12 or 13. Once I got to high school, my buddies and I began dipping into painkillers and opiates. We would use together, it felt recreational—a social thing, even. But by the time I was a junior, it had landed me in my first treatment center, which, at the time, was the last place I wanted to be. I was still a kid; I had no interest in being told what to do. So when I was released after 45 days, I went straight back to what I had been doing.
By the time I was 19, I had turned to heroin. It escalated quickly, until I was injecting almost daily. And it didn’t stop with heroin; I had also started using methamphetamines and crack on the side. It was then that I spiraled out of control, living on the street, alone, mostly because it was easier not to tell anyone where I was, or what I was doing. I didn’t want them to know. I didn’t want them to intervene.
Whenever I got tired of life on the street, I used treatment centers as crutches, staying just long enough to get some food and rest. And then, I’d leave. I floated in and out of five or six in just that year alone, inevitably coming back to the street for the next high.
One day, I remember the weight of it all just hit me. For the first time, maybe, I felt completely done with it, and didn’t know what would come next. Sitting on a train platform, I weighed my options: get high, get treatment, or jump onto the tracks.
The next day, I checked myself into the relapse unit.
This time, it wasn’t just for the food or the warmth—it was to get sober. The program was for people who had had a period of sobriety, or people like me, who had gone through several programs. People who needed a little more attention. With the help of a tight-knit, dedicated community, I walked out of the treatment center 90 days later, sober—with the intention of staying sober.
Two years later, I’ve kept true to this intention. At RCA, I help people going through what I went through to take their first steps toward recovery. I won’t always share my story with callers, but I do view it as a tool that can help people understand what they’re going through. My journey was difficult, and it’s not always what people want to hear, but it’s important to remind them that other people have gone through all of this. And, at least for the foreseeable future, many will continue to go through it. But there are people who have come out on the other side, no matter how deeply entrenched they once were in their habit. People like me.
We have to remind ourselves that addiction affects nearly everybody. I watched both of my parents, as well as my brother, go through substance abuse disorders. But I also saw them get sober. Families and peer communities can encourage addictive behaviors, but they can just as powerfully dismantle them.
Over the phone, I try to convey this to distraught loved ones and family members. There are ways out, even when it seems like all options have been exhausted. The path to recovery isn’t always easy, but it gets much easier when you reach out and let someone know what you’re working through. Chances are, whether it’s a family member or a voice on the phone, there’s someone who’s been there, too, who can share their perspective from the other end of the line.