“It was a white wax bag stamped ‘American Gangster.’ I dumped it into a water bottle cap, mixed it up and loaded the rig. My seatbelt hugged my arm; the prick of that needle I would chase with every breath thereafter. Immediately I felt an elusive, perfect feeling sweep through me up my spine, into my neck; I coughed and the warmth set in. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want this to end.’ I knew I was screwed. Thus began my descent into the Darkness. Oh how pretty and inviting it looked in the beginning. I was soon to know terror as I’ve never known.
I was born and raised in Syracuse, New York. I was an only child for the first 19 years of my life. I’m the product of a badass, tough love, Irish catholic single mother who broke her back raising me. I am blessed to have a huge extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles. Growing up was highlighted with family celebrations of birthdays and holidays that were never complete without backyard football. There was always a fighting, laughter and injuries. I’ll be forever grateful for those moments.
I was always active. I had zeal for playing football. I can recall being very straight-edge. I was against drugs, cigarettes and the like. Oh, how the Darkness has other plans. I really don’t want to be cliché. However, I can remember having a low-level of fear in my life as a young buck – frightened for no reason; especially of other guys. See, I never had a pops growing up. He was/is a Marine and constructed a life on the west coast absent of me. I never had the ‘dad left me syndrome.’ How can you miss or resent a stranger? As age continues to gallop upon me, I see now I had to figure out how to be ‘one of the guys’ on my own. I wasn’t completely absent of male role models, but the consistency wasn’t there. So seeing the fear acutely around others guys makes a little more sense; but, I could be reaching. Drugs and alcohol fixed it all.
You think it would be easy to tell your story. It’s not. It is like trying to explain a vivid dream. As soon as you start to explain it, it gets muddled. Swim through the ashes we will…
The heavy hand of heroin clutched my throat firmly for many years. It took me a few years to truly admit I was being choked. A pale complexion pushed around by a feeble frame; you could say I looked hallow, and I felt it even more. There’s an invisible barrier within the realm of addiction. Once crossed, your waking hours are filled with the conviction of terror – a terror that whispers, ‘There is no return.’ To everyone else this barrier is invisible. To the addict, this barrier is infinitely real… that, my friends, is the crux.
Yet, here I stand. Resurrected from the grave. New breath. New life. An opened Spirit – all has changed, the Darkness has withered into an old movie I can hardly recall. This Juggernaut had its way with terror upon my soul; squeezed me dry, skin and bones. The afflicted are strangely comfortable there. Oh, how God has other plans. There is a power for good that has been yearning to keep me from the grave for many years. How rebellious I am. Left alone to my own devices I will insist the Darkness be my companion. These eyes have seen the darkness of the grave. I’ve heard the silence that few will hear. Oh, how God has other plans!
The Power of this disease you simply cannot comprehend. It baffles the afflicted. Doing drugs and drinking stopped being ‘fun’ when I was 17. After 17 I was saying, ‘yes Master’ to the disease – to the mind. I’d cry myself to sleep swearing to the high Heavens ‘I am done.’ When my eyes opened, I’d recall my weeping the night prior with complete apathy. I knew my hands were tied. I didn’t want to keep going. I had no choice. It made me an uninhabited slave. I fled Syracuse to South Florida for treatment. I could barley hold together 60 days clean in Florida. The street was my pillow. That was okay with me. After living ‘motel hell’ bouncing around South Florida, I got in a bad way with some worse people and high tailed it up to Nashville, Tennessee. I was to pull myself up by my bootstraps! Nashville was the answer! Little was I aware, I was about to fall through a floor of the Darkness I didn’t know existed. Horror, panic, defeat, and misery; how hideous were these companions. Hideous, yet, loyal; they never left me… always by my side. No matter where you go. No matter what state you flee; if you have this disease, the Darkness will rear its ugly head until you either get sober or die! I’ve done both.
I walked into a pizza shop in Nashville where this dude was flipping pies behind the counter. He was wrecked! I nodded and went about my day. The next day I stumbled into the same pizza shop. Dude was working. He wasted no time, ‘Hey man, you do bars? (Xanax bars)’, I answered, ‘you bet your ass I do.’ Dude replied, ‘I knew you were solid. I was wrecked yesterday and you didn’t say a word.’ That, my friend, is how organically threatening this disease is. How it yearns to have you trample its dark halls. In all my use, Xanax is the only drug that makes me blackout. Immediately, I chewed up the two bars he gave me; instant blackout. I came to in a hotel room with a Russian named… well, let’s stick with ‘D’; we’ll call him D for the sake of the story. D was just arriving back to the hotel room with Heroin. I said, ‘Alright cool D, where’s the rig?’ – Needles are regulated in Tennessee, not easy to come by – ‘sh*t man, I don’t shoot up. Give me some money. I’ll go get one.’ Twenty minutes later D arrives with the needle. He puts a used rig on the table. I hung my head knowing a used needle wouldn’t stop me… and it didn’t.
The next 7-8 months are ineffable. Truly unable to put into words and to be honest, I’d rather not. The money was running out. The streets comforted me. At this point I’m shooting speedballs into my neck. One night in particular I missed a shot in my neck. The next day driving around with D I could feel a little lump. I paid it no mind… had to grind to get the next shot. A few days passed; I woke with a softball size lump on my neck. The problem at this point is the abscess is constricting the airways; I was having trouble breathing. At the hospital in this condition they look at you like you have three heads. You’re literally the victim of slow suicide. They pull your sleeves up to take blood… the bloody scars on your arms demands silence. I tell them, ‘I’m going into treatment tomorrow,’ so they don’t force me into emergency services. Under the knife, the Doctor cuts out my abscess – without saying a word to me – packs the wound with gauze and sends me on my way. Later that night I fell out on a futon. Well, the blood from the gauze had dried to the pillow I was sleeping on. When I rolled in my sleep it pulled the gauze out of the fresh wound. I woke bleeding. I don’t know why, but I was convinced there was gauze still in my neck! I was struck with panic. I had to get the gauze out. I went into the bathroom with a razor and tweezers in hand. I proceeded to dig into my neck with the tweezers and blade trying to get the imaginary gauze out of my neck. To this day I cannot tell you what I was pulling out of my neck. This was the most insane moment of my existence. I was in full flight from reality; straight outright mental defective. It’s bizarre to even write this.
By the Grace of God I was sponsored into a program called ‘Through the Archway with Peter Marinelli,’ in South Florida. I was 29 years old, no money, deteriorating health, bleeding from the neck and arms; God saw fit it was time for a new life. And so it was. I was separated from alcohol/drugs June 13, 2016. Life in recovery looks polar opposite to what ‘I thought’ it was ‘supposed’ to look like. I pray it is the same for everyone else. I’ve come to realize God is keen on giving you the secret desires of your heart. The courage lies in surrendering the heart to Him. Thus, is the process of the 12 steps concerned. The vine must be trimmed of dead branches – that are drawing useless energy – in order to bear the fruit that will recreate the life we crave.
Spiritual experience continually unfolds an individual’s personal awakening. Identically so, the continuous fall through the ‘experience’ of addiction led to the ‘awakening’ of my utter defeat. The thing is, I always had the right idea, but the wrong higher power. I turned my life over to the care and concern of Prince Heroin and King Alcohol. In return, the King and his faithful Prince took and took and took more and more from me. Yielding nothing in return, my body, mind and spirit lay in warped ruin and waste. Now, if I was to expect recovery, it was required that I turn 180 degrees from the King and his Prince to a Higher Power and/or a spiritual way of life. I had to learn to turn my life over to the care of a Power that doesn’t take, but rather, gives and gives and gives. I’ve found that this Power’s function is to breathe life back into my mind, body and spirit—breath that I denied myself. Being convinced of this vital issue: suffering from a spiritual disease that requires a spiritual awakening in order to recover, I was ready to propel myself into a life of spiritual action.
Here I am, spit out in the middle of the program of recovery yet again; I’ve been tumbling around in the rooms since 19 years of age – I’m 31 now. Overnight everything seemed to change. I always thought you could communicate surrender. Simply, you cannot. This verb is indescribable. I began to wake with the conviction that ‘I was going to be okay.’ Three days in a row this thought rose with me. It was my morning companion. In prior experience I was always trying to make myself ‘okay.’ Now was different. I was okay. By the Grace of God this conviction has never left. With this newfound clarity my thought-life commenced to change rapidly. A zeal for life galloped with me through my days. It sat with me for quiet nights. I am a knucklehead saved my Grace. Now, my vocation is to learn how to cooperate with this Grace that’s keeping me above ground from the grave.
Cooperating with Grace is what makes life worth living. A couple of years ago the thought came; a spiritual centered clothing company. A brand with a purpose. A brand that screamed the spiritual message of recovery. Not shirts with ‘recovery slogans’ printed on them. Not the ‘I am a Christian’ shirts. A brand to bridge the gap. I have NO business experience. I have zero idea what a clothing company would look like or where to start. However, the thought would not leave! More than that; it gave me passion. Ideas were flowing in! 2 years later, I said, ‘Okay God, lets rock”. From the Grave Clothing, Co. was born July 2018. Each shirt has a message. Each customer walks with a purpose. Each person creates a community. Community spurs the movement. 10% of all revenue is used to sponsor addicts/alcoholics into sober living. These funds are specifically for those who have zero financial support and no insurance; circumstances many of us face. From the Grave Clothing aspires to be the catalyst of thoughts that hold depth and weight. We yearn to propel thoughts and actions that chip away all the crap that keeps us from living a life of freedom from the grave. We want all people to wear something that matters.
Many find their graves far too soon. We must learn what it means to cooperate with the Power that keeps us above ground! If I can give some advice to those beginning their journey in recovery: humility, humility, humility – we are in the action business. God is in the outcome business. There is nothing to figure out. You are not unique. Simply follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before you. Life resurrected. Roll away your stone. This is life lived From the Grave.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Scott Russell of Florida. He is the founder and CEO of From The Grave Clothing, Co. You can follow his journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
Read more inspiring stories of recovering addicts:
‘The day of my wedding, I thought I deserved a treat. I picked up a needle and got loaded before I got married. I thought I could do it once, and not again. I was wrong.’
‘Our daughter has been placed in protective custody,’ my husband said. ‘We will deal with that later,’ I remember replying. Because first, I needed to get high.’
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