“My name is Kevin Alter, and I grew up in Long Island, New York. Growing up was fun. I mean sure, there were bad times, but for the most part I remember a happy childhood. My earliest memory of love is my grandmother fixing me a breakfast of Belgian waffles and eggs in her kitchen. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee, butter, and enough sugar to turn a human being into a diabetic filled the air. My grandmother was from Germany, and she was a holocaust survivor. We couldn’t play one on one basketball in the driveway, so we did other things to spend time together. Mainly it revolved around her fixing my meals at a young age while simultaneously smothering me in hugs and kisses the way only a Jewish grandmother could. I still remember the softness of her hands, and the scent of her highly perfumed clothing. I can still hear her German accent in my head today, ‘KEVIN, are you ready to eat?’ That was the real me – let me tell you about the person I became.
The year is 2003, it’s my first day of high school and I am absolutely terrified. I might not show it on the outside, years of living in fear have taught me how to mask this insecurity very well, but inside I am dying. I walk outside for lunch and see my friend standing there handing off packages as my classmates hand him back money. One by one they file into their cars and drive off. Thirty minutes later they pull back into the parking lot, laughing, smiling, and stoned. I wanted in, I wanted to be a part of it, but most of all, I just didn’t want to be me. My first hit of marijuana was the next day at lunch. Before I could exhale the smoke, I was hooked. The calmness that came over my body was something I hadn’t felt in years. I smoked weed every day in high school, that’s just what I did. It became my medicine, my hobby, my girlfriend, and my identity. For an addict like myself, progression came quick. It went from marijuana to Xanax, until I found my first love, cocaine. Some people snort cocaine, drink some beers, talk way too much, and stare at the ceiling until they pass out. Then they wake up, regret it, and don’t do it again. I snort cocaine, buy more, snort cocaine, buy more, and will literally go until my nose can’t ingest anymore. At the age of 16 I was pawning my belongings, robbing my classmates’ gym lockers, and spending every dollar I made on cocaine. The summer before my senior year of high school, I would find myself checking into my first inpatient rehab. I had failed, and failure literally feels likes dying to me.
That first rehab was an experience for me. I wouldn’t say I learned how to stay clean there, but I would say I learned about drugs. Needless to say, my new life of abstinence after treatment was short lived. Friends, parties, and being popular were all still very important in my young mind. Shortly after I finished treatment I would start my senior year of high school. My total period of recovery that time around was a measly 60 days. Sixteen of those days I spent inside the rehab, it was pathetic. I wasn’t prepared for the life changes I needed to make at that time. Things settled down for a bit, but I was still using. I would run away from home, go on binges, and return with my tail between my legs time after time. My parents clamped down on me, watched me, tested me, and did everything they could to stop my descent. All of their measures failed. Drugs had become my life. From the moment I woke up I would think about how, when, and where I would get high. My friends would drop off pills and bags of coke around the corner from my house. For a while I think my parents believed that if I was home, I was okay. But I wasn’t, by 17 years old using drugs was no longer a social thing, I would use alone. Hell if I cared, I didn’t want to share my drugs, and I definitely didn’t want to be around anyone. I lived to use and used to live.
Academics were never really a problem for me. In 2005 I obtained an academic scholarship to SUNY Maritime College and would enter into the Regiment of Cadets there. I went from buying cocaine to wearing a uniform every day, marching in formation, raising a flag, making my bed with hospital corners, shining the brass on doorknobs, and sweeping and mopping ‘the deck,’ AKA the floor. I loved it honestly. I loved the discipline, I loved the uniform, I loved the classes, I loved the respect I got from people, but I loved cocaine more. Like most things in my life, I was really great at starting things, but really bad at following through with them. My father used to say, ‘When things get tough, you run.’ While that may have seemed like what was happening, it really wasn’t. The truth is, I had been running my whole life. Running from myself, and by this time we were only at the first turn of a long race. A marathon of addiction, immaturity, and inability to deal with life on life’s terms.
I dropped out of college shortly after; I just walked away. Cocaine had broken me once again and my parents were done. At 18 years old they asked me to leave their home. I took hostages everywhere I went and the first one up was my grandmother. Loving, kind, and elderly made her the perfect target for my addiction. She gave me a car, a phone, and a bed to sleep in. In return I gave her lies, sleepless nights, and stole everything I possibly could without making it super obvious stuff was missing. I went to a 12 Step meeting and ran into a girl from high school. She looked like she was on the verge of death, and any normal person would have run, but I decided to talk to her. She told me she had gotten hooked on heroin, so and so was selling it, and she just does it to come down from the cocaine. She hinted that if I mixed the two drugs together, I could balance them out. I knew it was a bad idea, but all I knew was failure, and failure literally feels like dying to me.
I snorted heroin three times, and then my drug dealer convinced me I was wasting it. I watched that man break down that bag, turn it into a liquid, and load up a syringe. After that, I felt a slight prick in my arm, and watched as my blood poured back into that syringe like water breaking through a dam. By the time he pressed the plunger down, my life would never be the same. I fell to my knees, vomited, and stumbled off into a euphoric state bouncing back and forth between my nod, and the feeling of my cigarette burning through the skin on my hand. It was a night I will never forget, and by the time I woke up the next day all I could think about was the high. I wanted it again, and nothing else mattered anymore. This is the point in a movie where time fast forwards a bit. The point in a movie where they show you 5 to 10 years in 60 seconds. The point in a movie where they play a song, show a couple of quick scenes, and everything is different. This is the montage, and here’s what it looked like. Ten years of rehabs, arrests, jails, detoxes, halfway houses, bunk beds, police cars, ambulance rides, stabbings, and homelessness. Years of broken promises, missed opportunities, and failure. Like I said, all I knew was failure, and failure literally feels like dying to me.
In the essence of time, I’ve decided to bring you right to the very end. The end I never could have imagined would actually be my beginning. At 27 years old I found myself living on a stairwell inside a project building in the South Bronx. I had a $400 a day IV cocaine and heroin habit. Everything in my life had been destroyed. Family, careers, relationships, and any sense of self-worth had all been loaded into a syringe and blasted into my veins. Trying to get my life together felt like trying to hold water in my hands. It just never worked. As I sat on that stairwell wondering why I was still alive, I remember asking God for help. An hour or two later my phone rang, and God sent me an angel. It was my friend Lou who I had not seen in over three years. Lou and I grew up together, shot heroin together, and one day he just disappeared. Well he didn’t really disappear, he had gotten sober. Lou asked me if I wanted help and 24 hours later I was on an airplane checking into my 29th treatment center.
When you do something once or twice and fail, usually you’ll just quit, move on and try something else. But for me, this was a matter of life and death. There was nothing else. I don’t know how else to explain it except to clarify that I was such a severe drug addict the only way I could get any time sober was to check into an institution. So I found myself once again inside a treatment center. I was miserable to say the least. Skinny, dope sick, frustrated, lonely, and angry. When I say angry, I mean pissed. Pissed at anything and anyone who came across my line of sight. I would look at people and they would turn the other way. My teeth were rotting out of my head, my bones were aching, and every five minutes I would vomit from the heroin withdrawal. I watched as the other clients got cards, cigarettes, and packages from their family. My family didn’t even know where I was. I didn’t even think they cared to be honest. I had obliterated the relationship with my family.
As we arrived at the treatment center I began scoping out the staff. I was wondering who my therapist would be? A curly haired woman wearing cowboy boots began walking towards me with a big smile on her face. Inside my head I was thinking, ‘Oh God, please not her,’ as she extended her hand out to shake mine. She looked at me and said, ‘Hi, I’m Crystal, are you Kevin?’ I looked back at her and said, ‘Unfortunately, I am.’ She led the way to her office and the staring match ensued. She asked me questions, I gave one-word answers. She poked, I blocked. She prodded, I ran. She smiled, I frowned. She frowned, I frowned harder. Things went back and forth like this for a while. As usual, I was self-sabotaging. One day she looked up at me during our session and she said, ‘I’ll tell you your problem, Kevin Alter. You’re intelligent, you’re handsome, you’re charming, you speak well, you’re kind to people, but you don’t see any of that. Your problem is you hate yourself.’ I have been beaten, stabbed, and even knocked unconscious in my lifetime, but nothing hit me harder than those three words Crystal said to me, ‘You hate yourself.’ It was like the lights being turned back on after a 10 year blackout. She was right. I had never thought about it that way, and suddenly I had hope. I remember sitting there with this curly haired, super happy, incredibly annoying woman, and just seeing this pattern of my life suddenly make sense. It was like I was searching all over my house for the keys to my car and the whole time they were in my pocket.
The breakthrough for me was as simple as this. If I hate myself and I use drugs, then to stay clean, I must learn how to love myself. After 10 years of ruthless drug addiction, I had completely forgotten what love was. So I did something really crazy, I told Crystal I didn’t know what love was. She said, ‘What’s your earliest memory of love? Write about that moment and bring it to me tomorrow.’ As I mentioned at the beginning of my story, my earliest memory of love was my grandmother. I went back to that moment of, ‘My grandmother fixing me a breakfast of Belgian waffles and eggs in her kitchen.’ I remembered the transparency of that elderly woman’s skin. I remembered the jewelry she wore. I remembered her accent, her hugs, her kisses, and her excessive cheap perfume. I remembered how in her eyes I was perfect. I remembered how she adored me, and how I absolutely loved her more than anything in the world. She was my grandmother, and I was her grandson. The drugs had made me forget, but now I suddenly remembered. That was love. Recovery became very clear to me after that, I needed to learn how to love myself. It a perpetual process that will never end. There are days that I do very well with it, and then there are days where I regress. I am human, and I have learned it has nothing with recovery or addiction, that’s just life.
I came out of that rehab on fire for life. I was still homeless and broken on the outside, but on the inside, I was different. I wanted it all back and then some. I would not take no for an answer. I would no longer tell myself things like, ‘You’re not good enough. You can’t do it, or that will never happen.’ The good news is I got it all back. The bad news is I got it all back. My life consists of helping whoever God puts in front of me on a daily basis. It is for the most part completely insane, but I love it. I speak in schools, and universities all across the country. I write a blog about addiction everyday called ‘The Addict’s Diary.’ I live a life I never dreamed of. I have my family back today. I have everything I need and want. Yes, it was difficult, but my God it was worth it. I built a relationship with my sponsor I never thought was possible, he’s like a father to me. He has never steered me wrong, and for that I am eternally grateful. That guy Lou is still my best friend, we do everything together. The best part about my life is the gift of sobriety. For years all I knew was failure, and failure literally feels like dying to me. I learned to take that feeling and fuel my desire to change with it. I learned to love myself. My name is Kevin, and I am an addict.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kevin Alter of The Addict’s Diary. Have you overcome your addictions? We’d like to hear your journey. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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