Sometimes in meetings, I hear someone else talk about themselves and say, “Holy crap, this guy knows me. He’s talking about me. He knows my story.”
That’s the thing about being in recovery. Our stories aren’t just similar. Sometimes they can be exactly the same. Every meeting, there’s a beautiful, messy and powerful community of shared stories. Stories that I hope will help someone else.
Born in the Bronx, I grew up in the Rockaways in Queens, in a big Latino family and one with a history of substance use. My dad was a great human when he was sober, but there were some scary moments when he drank. In my early 20s, I had my first experience with painkillers after a fight; I was a victim of a gunshot wound that did major damage to four organs in my digestive system. I was in and out of the hospital and on painkillers for the next seven months. When I got home, I took more pills than I probably should have, but my sisters noticed and told me to slow down. I listened, bounced back and started working.
I would go on to build a family, a career and a home. I’ve always been athletic, and this life included basketball and baseball, which I’d routinely play on the weekends. Still, I lived with pain from the gunshot wound. I’d come home sore, and someone suggested I try some pills. I remembered what painkillers felt like and began a steady diet of pills for another five years. But they eventually would just cover the pain; the high had faded. I asked for something more. The high of Oxycontin faded even faster, and soon after I went from taking pills orally to taking them in syringes.
Drugs became the only thing I ever thought about from the moment I woke up (“When am I going to get high?”) to the time I went to bed (“Am I high enough to fall asleep?”). Days like this went on and on. They continued even as my daughter died from a Fentanyl poisoning in 2019. Her death didn’t stop me. I’d used substances because I liked them. Now I had a reason, “I have a right to feel bad.”
But in October 2021, a needle created an infection of my spine bone. Diagnosed with osteomyelitis, I was again in the hospital for weeks and weeks. The doctors took me off of my drugs and put me on theirs, weaning me from IVs back to oral medication. Looking back, I essentially went through the physical and emotional embarrassment of withdrawal in my hospital room. My family was there to support me, and when I packed my bags to go home, the social worker told me to get help. But in my mind, I’d stopped already.
The thing is, I hadn’t. Back home and readjusting to my familiar surroundings, I found and used a syringe and a bag of drugs. My tolerance was low, and I woke up with police officers in my bathroom. I’d overdosed, and I’d overdosed on Fentanyl, the same drug that had poisoned my daughter. I’d been discharged from the hospital that morning, and I was back again that night. This time, I didn’t go home again. I went to a hotel, and from there and with the support of my family, I went into treatment. I realized I couldn’t stop on my own.
Today, I’m not just in recovery, but I’m at a point in my life where I feel like a kid again. I’m still learning and new things are happening. One big thing? The 2022 TSC New York City marathon. It’s 15 days away from my recovery anniversary, and I can tell you that I’ve run a lot more than 26.2 miles to get there.
Addiction is a journey I wish on no one, but I’ve survived. My sister runs marathons all over the world as her hobby. When I overdosed, she told me, “You can’t die yet, because we have to run a marathon together.” I’m so grateful to run with her support and in support of Partnership to End Addiction. I’m running to honor my recovery, the recovery of those I love and for loved ones lost to addiction.
Help support Diego and the Partners for Hope Team in the 2022 TCS New York City Marathon.