Right up until this exact moment in my life when I graduated college, there was always a blueprint for what path I should follow. First it was to get situated in high school and figure out where I fit in and what my strengths were. Then it was to get into a decent college and obtain a degree in some discipline that would become my career. It wasn’t that I was forced into it, but since my parents were the first to go to college in their families it seemed like the logical track to follow. At this point I was finished with both of those things, but I still had no idea what I wanted for my future and where I ultimately wanted to end up. A lot of my friends went to school for very specific careers and the fact that they seemed to have it all figured out made it even harder for me to admit I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. I moved back in with my parents and continued to work at the job I had when I was still attending college. I told myself I was just biding my time until I could figure out what my next move would be. But I was not excited about my future; instead, I was fearful and apprehensive about letting myself and those around me down again.
Within two weeks of moving home I was physically and mentally addicted to heroin again. I had no idea what the future held for me, and I was so terrified about having to make my own decisions that I just didn’t make any. I stayed working at my old job for that entire summer and couldn’t understand why people weren’t knocking on my parents’ door seeking to hire me. After all, I thought I had a very employable skill set and a likable personality. Maybe it was because of my drug addiction and my lack luster approach at taking responsibility for my own life. However, I was surviving. I had managed to save money while in college and I was still prescribed my medications, so the heroin withdrawals were not really too much of an issue at this point. Once that first summer home was over, I reached out to a friend of mine who was working in the fitness industry and I landed a position as an assistant manager for a personal training company.
At this point I was still very much in love with the gym atmosphere and not only did I fit the part, but I looked it. My hard work and dedication in the gym during my four years at college seemed to have more of a positive impact on my job opportunities than my degrees did. I was still going to the gym daily and I had these pipe dreams about competing in fitness shows. I knew I would have to stop doing drugs if I ever wanted to do that, but I knew that would be sometime down the line. I felt as if I still needed the drugs to function in society at this point. My anxiety and fear were at an all time high and the heroin became a crutch for me until I gained some confidence and self esteem. I was very nervous about assuming my new position in the personal training industry, but I became so accustomed to acting as if I had everything figured out that I just put on a facade and kept it moving. The drugs helped this immensely and I just kept telling myself that they were benefitting me for the time being.
Once I got to understand what was expected of me in this new job, I was actually pretty good at it. It was a sales job with training and some customer service mixed in. Not only did I understand fitness and the training industry through years of trial and error on myself, but I also loved and had a true passion for it. I was excited to talk to people about their training regiments and their diet, so the idea of doing this while getting paid for it was very appealing to me. The only problem at this point was that the money I had saved was running out and my addiction was only getting worse.
I was quickly promoted to full time manager because of my work ethic and sales ability. The president of the company went so far as to call me and congratulate me for helping to turn my location around and make it more profitable. I wasn't really forcing anything or pretending to be something I wasn't, I was just doing a job I had a passion for. Not only was I able to focus on my own fitness goals, but I was able to help other people obtain theirs. I had a zeal for what I was doing because it felt like I was helping other people with their fitness goals while making great money doing so. This seemed to be the best of both worlds, but as my money and responsibility increased, so did my habit. I had to use more and more heroin just to keep from getting sick, and the only way I had energy to work was if I had drugs in my system. It was a conundrum of sorts. I had to keep doing heroin to continue working, and I had to continue working so I could afford to keep doing heroin. I was really stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Things continued like this for the better part of a year until I was eventually found nodded out at my desk. The medications I was receiving through college were no longer being prescribed and the physical addiction was only getting worse. My work had been slipping for the past six months and I was no longer looked at as a promising young manager in the company. I was looked at as a liability and an unreliable employee. I was once again at the point in my life where I just wanted to pull the mask off and ask for help, but I still believed I could fix this problem myself. I willingly resigned from my position and knew that I had let a promising opportunity slip out of my grasp. I didn't know what my next move would be; so once again I just didn't make one.
I had a little bit of money in the bank because my only expense while working the past year was heroin. I was living at my parents house and working so much that my social life was nonexistent. For a few months after leaving that job I did nothing but lie around the house and do drugs. I either watched Sports Center while struggling to stay awake or I smoked cigarettes on the porch while waiting for my drug dealer to pull up. I was extremely depressed and resigned myself to the fact that this was going to be my life. I would always be just another drug addict from Malden Massachusetts - no matter how hard I tried to change that.
In fact, I was no longer going to the gym at all and my eating habits were terrible. Carbohydrates and sugar were the only two parts of my diet and I was ingesting them in large quantities at the worst times possible. I had gained a lot of unhealthy weight during this part of my life and was close to 215 pounds. I had gone from the young and undersized wrestler to an overweight drug addict with no prospects and no plan. Even with all this going on, my ego and my misguided sense of pride told me I wasn’t a real drug addict because of my college education and my ability to earn a living for myself. Both of these were lies I told myself in order to keep on living the only life I felt I was good at.
My brother was back in another drug treatment program and I figured it was time for me to do the same. I knew that I couldn't get out of this cycle on my own, so once again I asked my parents for help. My parents were fed up with my shenanigans, but they still did everything they could to find some type of help for me. I did not really want to stop doing drugs, I just knew that I was out of money and my habit was impossible to afford. I didn't want to have to keep breaking laws to get money so I figured it was time to go away. As soon as my brother returned home from his 30 day program I was shipped out to the same location. I don’t think my family or the facility wanted us under the same roof because whenever we were together it was a recipe for disaster. I can remember flying to Texas and being so full of fear and regret. I was a jobless 23 year old with no money, no girlfriend, no permanent residence and no hope. I guess the only place to go from here was up.
Upon arrival the nursing staff took my vital signs and weighed me. I was 215 pounds and my blood pressure was so high that they rushed a doctor in to do an EKG. It took two weeks of terrible withdrawals for my mind to start functioning somewhat regularly and I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit to being suicidal. I was a prisoner to drugs and my life felt like self inflicted torture. I was physically free to act how I wanted, but I was held captive in my own mind. But I had the humility to do what I was told and listen to the people around me who had my best interests in mind.
I spent the next 45 days in that treatment center in Texas surrounded by people who were just like me. We all had different substances that we were addicted to, but the feelings and emotions were always the same. It was like an intensive crash course in addiction for all the troubled students they could fit under one roof. By the time I completed my program and was ready to return home to Boston my parents told me I wasn't welcome at their home and needed to go to a halfway house. It was November at this point and I figured I might as well escape the cold, so I found a halfway house in Florida. I had all my belongings in a suitcase and I was traveling to a foreign state with no friends or family within 1,000 miles of me.
How did my life get to this point? How could I have had so many promising things going on in my life but time after time I chose drugs over my future? What am I going to do now? How will I earn a living? The questions poured into my brain relentlessly and I couldn't even imagine what this new chapter in my life was going to be like. I had no references to base it on but movies and A&E documentaries, so I assumed the worst. I guess it was time for me to grow up and take responsibility for my actions, and that is exactly what I set out to do. This was my opportunity to make it on my own and finally be the true author of my own story.
I continued to think about a quote that my wrestling coaches embedded in my brain some ten years earlier. Albert E. Gray said, “The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don't like to do. They don't like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.” It was time to pull myself up by my boot straps and afford myself the opportunity to grow. I knew what it took for my body to grow physically in the gym, but the growth I needed was more emotional, mental and spiritual. After all, I was a 23 year old with a chip on my shoulder, anger in my heart and pain in my eyes.
Addiction is everywhere...but success is also tied into this. To often do we hear in the news of an addict robbing a convenient store...what about the addict who turned his life around? Society today feel so negative towards aiding those who need it.
Always Strong has become a tag for overcoming adversities and obstacles. Health and Wellness does not just need to be about bikini posts or double bicep poses, show the ugly--- show the truth. Bring to light what you have overcome, addiction is just a small portion of this. What about bullying, domestic abuse, poor self esteem, body dysmorphia, stress, new job, loss... the list goes on.
Through Nick's story and others to come we aim to shed a positive light on a gloomy situation. Please share this with anyone that has experienced this or any of the above mentioned adversities.
We will be having a new post by our friend Jovan Miller this week as well so subscribe and stay tuned. - Ross Hardaway