As I sit and write this, I ask myself “why has it taken so long to share my story?” The answer is simple: It’s easier to hide our past then it is to share it. The beginning of my story may not seem so special, but what makes my story worth sharing is how it ends.
Like many, I was born into an Irish/Italian Family with a serious track record of alcohol and drug abuse. The first family wedding I was old enough to remember involved my Irish family fighting another family at a local park, leading to my 70-year-old uncle breaking his arm and the police separating us as the parties were escorted out. My family’s reaction after? Laughs and more drinking as war stories were shared amongst those involved. Fortunately for us no one was seriously injured, but the event summarized the enabling nature of my family. It wasn’t the drugs or the alcohol that started the fight, it was any other reason that we could find to justify it.
My mother was born into a family of six with half of her siblings suffering from severe addiction, including herself. I grew up in a household torn apart by an addicted mother and a father who, although dedicated, could not comprehend that addiction was a disease. My parent’s relationship grew in toxicity as the years went on, while my mother’s addiction grabbed ahold of our family. I remember going through my room, closets, and backyards to try and find my mother’s “stash” to avoid my father finding them and kicking her out of the house again. One morning as I got ready to hop on the bus for school, I noticed my mother’s Black Toyota Camry wedged into a snow plow from the previous night with my mother nowhere to be found. It was another night of drinking followed by yet another disappearance as we waited for her to return. It’s difficult to put into words the feeling of a child who lived each day terrified of whether or not his mother is alive, and equally terrified for the chaos that would ensue when she eventually came home.
One day, a teacher asked me to bring in an item that meant something to my parents. I knew exactly what to grab, so I ran home and brought back my father’s karate black belt and my mother’s 30 day AA chip. I had no idea I was breaking her anonymity at the time, nor did I understand my mother was in the middle of a battle for her life against the disease of addiction. However difficult my mother made my life, it was always clear that even though she struggled, she always wanted to be the best person she could be. She just didn’t know how. I was too young to grasp the concept. I just wanted everyone to be happy. I just wanted to be happy.
Eventually my mother’s addiction and trips to local rehabilitation centers hit the point of exhaustion. Something needed to change before she turned into just another statistic of addiction-related deaths. My father told my sister and I that we needed to go visit our mother. We were too little to understand that she was currently at a detox for drugs and alcohol. They pulled us into a room and there my mother told us with tears in her eyes she would be leaving to Florida, not for a week, not for a month, but for good. All we were told was that “mommy needs to get better, she’s sick.” The next day, my mother headed to Miami, FL, where she took part in a long-term drug treatment program.
You would think this would set up her children for failure- a life of excuses due to childhood trauma and lack of a mother figure. It did the opposite. Our family fought to find happiness in our lives again, while my mother fought to save her own. Our stress levels reduced, grades increased, and the silence of screams in the kitchen allowed for sleep again.
As time went on we were eventually allowed to visit my mother, who looked nothing like the person we knew in Pennsylvania. She was smiling, healthy, and most importantly, happy. Eventually I was able to spend summers with her and at the age of 14 I decided I was going to leave my father and sister to move with my mother in Florida. Looking back now, I believe I did it so I could keep an eye on her, but it ended up being the best decision of my life. I attended High School in Miami and soon after graduated from Florida State University. Upon my return from college, I found a career in marketing and a passion for leadership.
Many of our family unfortunately did not experience the same fate. As our situation improved, we lost aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends to this disease. Eventually, enough casualties added up that my mother decided she wanted to share what saved her life. She met in the backyard of her South Florida home with the same therapist that, in my opinion, helped save her life 20 years prior. They decided they were going to open up a treatment center to help addicts and their families get their lives back. Principles Recovery Center opened to its first client in April of 2015, and in November of 2015 I quit my job to work alongside my mother. In May of 2016, my sister quit her job to work alongside the two of us. Each day we walk in to work dedicated to helping others fight this disease. We work to help gives children their parents back. We work to help individuals find their true selves again.
If you were to tell the 8-year-old me staring at the Black Toyota Camry that you and your sister were going to be running a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center together 20 years later, I would have given you a look so many Americans had this year when Trump won the presidency. I would have told you that was impossible. I’m here to tell you that nothing is impossible. Addiction is a disease that impacts every American in one way or another. What saved my mother’s life was separating from her environment and dedicating herself to treatment. It didn’t work the first, second, or third time, but eventually it worked and she’s an unbelievably amazing mother now. If you or a loved one is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, my message is KEEP FIGHTING. Who knows where you’ll be in twenty years. We sure as hell didn’t, but look where we are now.