I grew up in Montclair, NJ. I have two loving parents who showered me with love throughout my entire upbringing. I have two brothers, one is 21 and the other is 16. While I was growing up I was always nervous and had confidence issues. I never liked the way I looked, the way my voice sounded, or the way I acted around other people. Because of these tendencies I kept to myself only and only had a tight group of close friends. I was not outgoing because fear always surrounded me. This fear kept from trying new things and learning about other cultures and activities.
I drank for the first time when I was thirteen. I do not really the remember the experience, all I remembered was that I hated the taste and the hangover was unbearable. I swore off the stuff for another year. The first I tried smoking weed was when I was fourteen. My friend Sammy and I had bought some bud and smoked it out of an apple in his backyard. My reaction to getting high was indescribable. All of the self-conscious feelings that been pulling me down for fourteen years were finally lifted. I felt free. I could do anything and talk to anyone with no inhibitions. I had now found the answer to all my problems in life. As long as I got lifted, things were going to be ok.
The exact day I first got high was April 11th, 2009. I was nearing the end of eighth grade and was looking forward to the start of high school. Over the summer I gradually started to smoke more, about once a week. It didn’t affect me in a negative manner yet; I was still able to control my life.
Once I got to high school things changed. My middle school had around 500 students, whereas my high school had near 2000. Smoking weed allowed me to connect with all of these new people. Since practically everyone at my old school smoked, it became an easier was to meet and then bond with new people. I still kept in contact with a few my friends from middle school, but the people I was meeting were more outgoing and did more interesting things.
My confidence was growing rapidly. I thought I was king. I was going to parties, I was getting high 5 times a week, I had a lot of friends, and felt like I was on the right path. My grades began to steadily drop though. I had straight A’s throughout middle school, but by November of freshman year they dropped to straight B’s. I just chalked it up to the fact that I was taking difficult classes.
In December of 2009 my parents caught me for the first time. They sat me down and told me that they weren’t going to condone this behavior and that they were going to drug test on New Years. Because I had only been drinking and doing drugs for a short time, I didn’t find it very difficult to stay sober. But throughout the entire month all I was thinking about was the moment I got high again. I planned it all out in my head; how much I was going to get, who I was going to get it from, who I was going to use it with. I passed the test on January 1st 2010 and put it behind me.
January throughout April of 2010 was mostly the same. I got high during the week three or four times and 5 or 6 times on the weekend, and then got drunk Friday and Saturday night. My confidence continued to rise but so did my dependence on the drugs.
Throughout freshman year I didn’t cut any classes. And at my old high school you could receive twenty absences for each class before losing credit. With the seven classes that I was taking that meant I had 140 absences I could use. I started cashing in all these saved up absences. In the fourth cycle, I went to each class either two or three times a week, and when I wasn’t in class I was on the train tracks smoking blunts. My priorities in life were starting to get blurred.
In May of 2010 my parents had caught me for the second time. This time they grounded me for 3 weeks and forced me to take a drug test at the end of the month. This devastated me. I wasn’t able to stay away from drugs for that long, so I decided that I’ll just sell weed all month instead. I bought two ounces at the start of the month and made it three days before getting high. In hindsight, I should’ve realized by now that I had a problem, but no. I just ignored it and continued to get blunted.
I finished freshman year with 4 B’s, an A in gym, and 2 C’s. I failed three of my finals. The summer going into to sophomore year was a turning point for me. I had crossed that border from abusing drugs and alcohol to being fully addicted. Everything became an occasion to get high. If I felt good I wanted to feel even better, if I felt bad I would console myself by getting drunk or high, and if I’m bored than screw it, why not get high? Each day became a competition to see if I could get higher or drunker than the day before. A typical day in the month of June started out with myself and friend smoking a joint and grabbing breakfast, to playing beer pong and passing out at noon. I’d regain consciousness in the late afternoon and then I go out and get high and drunk again and wobble home.
The people I hung around with began to change too. I no longer spent time with anyone I knew in middle school. I only wanted to be around people who could keep up with my lifestyle. If you didn’t drink or do drugs than I didn’t want to have anything to do with you.
When the first day of school came around I was very ill prepared. I couldn’t get out of my summer mindset. I thought I would be able to bounce back, but that wasn’t the case. In the first week of school I had 3 absences in each class. The pressures of school and the constant disapproval of my parents and brothers were getting to me. I created a new routine for myself to cope. On my walk to school I’d smoke a joint and three cigarettes to keep me going for my first 4 classes. Then at lunch I’d go out and grab some lunch with my friend and on the way there we’d smoke a blunt. Finally at night after I’d finished my homework (which I rarely did) I’d head to my basement and get lifted while I watch TV.
Living like this can wear on you like you can’t believe. I wasn’t passing a single class of mine, my parents were constantly suspicious, and to top it off my own little brother who I once was so close to refused to talk to me because he was a shamed of the way I was living and how I treated my parents. All of these factors resulted in my self-confidence being incredibly low. I started to truly despise who I was.
My habit was starting to get expensive. I had piled up a couple of debts that I had to pay back, so I started to steal. From everyone. A year ago I would feel guilty about taking a twenty out of my mom’s wallet, but by this time I would take out 400 dollars and feel no remorse. Whenever I went to a party the first place I’d head to was their parents’ bedroom so that I could take some of their parents’ jewelry and pawn it off later. I even stole from my friends. My mind had been so corrupted that I was able to justify my behavior with ease. I would think, “If a kid is dumb enough to throw a party then they deserve to get something stolen.” Or “My mom doesn’t need all this money anyways.” I’d believe anything that would justify my use.
In early October of 2010 my parents left for two weeks to go to Japan. The first weekend they were gone I threw a party and had a great time. But the second week I had my 21 year old cousin there babysitting. I tried to throw another party, but after half an hour my cousin called the cops. Everybody scattered right away and I was left alone with my cousin. She began screaming at me; calling me a bum, a loathsome piece of trash, and a lot of other things similar to that. But it didn’t really bother me because that’s already how I thought about myself. Later that night continued to drink by myself so that I would pass out and not have to feel the pain I was experiencing.
When I woke up I found my parents waiting for me in the living room. They held up a sheet of paper that revealed my transcript and my attendance record. As a punishment they sent me to see a therapist for drug counseling twice a week. I had no problem with this. I had become so comfortable at lying to myself that it was no problem lying to someone else.
My downward spiral continued with no end in sight. Even though I had started seeing this shrink my lifestyle didn’t change in the slightest. I forgot how to live without drugs or alcohol in my system. I lost the ability to enjoy the comfort of other people. My brain had only one focus: getting high. It constantly consumed my thoughts. “How am I going to get the money to pay for it? Who am I going to get it from? When am I going to be able to spark? How long will it last me?” I became a quiet person, but my thoughts were louder than ever.
By February of 2011 I was barely hanging on by a thread. My attendance record was as poor as ever along with my grades. I started to hear quiet voices inside my head. On the night of the super bowl my parents decided to try another one of their “mini-interventions”. This time they said that I would have to go to an Out-Patient named High Focus. An Out-Patient is a rehab where you get to live at home, but you spend 6 hours of your day there and you receive a daily drug-test. When I heard this I freaked out. I was in such deep denial about my using and so unwilling to give up this lifestyle that I went downstairs and got blackout drunk to deal with this news. My father found me passed out and rushed me over to a hospital to try and get me into a detox. A detox is basically a hospital where drug addicts and alcoholics go to clean out their systems. Unlike rehabs, you can only be emitted into a detox if you decide to go; no one can force you there. So when they asked me if I wanted a bed there I looked the nurse in the eyes and told her to go screw herself.
The next day my parents got me to visit High focus. When I arrived at High Focus they gave me a questionnaire to fill out. It asked questions like, “Do you drink or drug to feel better? Do you drink or drug even when you don’t want to? Do you only have fun when you’re drinking or drugging?” I secretly wanted to write YES in big block letters for every question, but I knew what that would do. I’d be stuck going there for 3 months, so instead I just wrote NO down for each questions. After a quick interview the man running High Focus told me that I was a prime candidate for this facility, but I ignored him and told my parents that I was unwilling to go there.
By now I stopped going to school. I didn’t know how to cope with school. I didn’t know how to cope with life. I spent all my time crawled up in either my basement or my attic. I had lost all hope for my future. If I wasn’t able to survive high school, how could I survive adulthood?
I became hopeless. I knew I was going to die any day, either by drinking myself to death or by killing myself. I was smoking weed five or six times a day, getting drunk every night, and I started to snort oxycontin, which is a pain medication that’s essentially synthetic heroin. The only emotions I was able to feel were sadness and rage. I numbed myself into an emotionless shell of a man. I could no longer enjoy the company of my friends or family. I’d become physically dependent on the smoking and drinking to the point where I wasn’t able to fall asleep without a blunt or some vodka. I was completely and utterly alone.
I stayed in this state of depression and isolation from February til May of 2011. On May 28th, 2011 I had my last smoke. I scrounged up whatever cash I was able to find in my house and bought a dime of some quality cali and got high in my basement. I was awake for 2 days straight before I was finally able to get some rest. After going three days without drinks or drugs I figured that life wasn’t worth living any more. Without drugs or alcohol, what’s the point? I thought that they were the only things keeping me going, when it turns it’s what was destroying me. I stayed up all night on the morning of June 2nd writing my suicide note. I had it all planned out; I was having a gallon of vodka delivered to my house so that I could drink myself to death.
When I woke up the next morning I waddled downstairs to the living room and began watching some tennis on TV. My parents stepped into the room with somebody with them. It’s this kid I used to cop weed from about a year and a half back. My parents leave and he sits down next to me. He introduces himself and begins to start telling me his life story. He tells me of how he spent his days constantly getting high, having to deal with the shame he was bringing down upon himself, and how he used the drugs and the drinking to mask the insecurities he had been feeling ever since he was young. He asked me if this sounded anything like my life and after a minute of thinking I meekly responded YES. He told me that there was an answer to my problems. He told me that there was a room reserved for me at the Caron Treatment Center if I wanted it. I obliged and went in a car that had all my clothes already packed.
When I got to Caron I was scared out of my mind. An entirely different type of life awaited me. At first I didn’t even know where I was. I assumed I was at some mental clinic or something. When I found out it was rehab I flew right back into my old denial. I told everyone there that this wasn’t the place for, that I didn’t have a problem. They’d all heard it a million times before. After they talked to me for 5 minutes they knew instantly that I needed this place. It took about a week before I finally came to the conclusion that I’m and alcoholic and a drug addict. My body does not handle drugs and alcohol like a normal person. I have a very addictive personality. With this realization, my time in rehab went a lot smoother. I connected with the other kids, I made some deep personal discoveries and I reestablished a relationship with my parents when they came up to visit me. After 31 days at the Caron Treatment Center I was sent back home.
Living in sobriety is not an easy task. I was sent right back into the world I had just left. I was back home with my family. Temptations surrounded me. I’d see my friends around and they’d ask me where I’d been. I’d tell them that I just got out of rehab and then they’d pause for a second and ask “Do you wanna smoke?” When I left rehab I had to sign a contract with my parents. Among a number of things, it told me that I had to attend 90 A.A meetings, Alcoholics Anonymous, in 90 days. I was really nervous at first but after two meetings I realized that all of these people were exactly like me. When I heard them share it seemed as if they were able to read my thoughts. These were my people. I now knew that I was not alone.
I threw myself into A.A and started going to two maybe three meetings a day. I used A.A as if it were a drug, but rather than killing me, A.A was bringing me back to life. I listened to the other members share on their life experiences and how they found their paths to sobriety. I took the suggestions people offered me on how to stay clean at home. One of the suggestions was to get a sponsor and go through the twelve steps of sobriety. A sponsor is man or woman who has already gone through the twelve steps and teaches you how to go through them yourself. I got a sponsor, his name was Derek, and started working the twelve steps.
With all of this time on my hands I found it hard to stay busy. This was a period of time where I was finding out who I was because for 3 years I had turned myself into “that kid who likes to get drunk”. It had become my entire personality and now I had to figure out who Ben Selesnick really was without drugs in his system. I had stopped playing tennis during my addiction, but over the summer I met a group of guys who I played with five or six times a week. I even competed in a couple tournaments; I didn’t do very well but that’s besides the point. I felt invigorated. I sparked a passion that I had ignored for so long. I also began reading that summer to fill my time when I wasn’t working. And slowly but surely I was regaining my confidence.
In the fall of 2011 I came to Millbrook. A week before school started Mrs. Morrison invited me up to talk to her. My mom and I sat down with Mrs. Morrison, Mrs. Matthews, Mr. Downs, and my advisor Mr. Connolly. They let me know that my circumstances were very unique; they never had anyone come to Millbrook after going to rehab. I was told what life was going to be like and how I wasn’t going to be able to attend as many meetings as I did back in Montclair. I was nervous, but I was excited to go with this new chapter of my life.
I came to Millbrook the following week and fit right in. I was extremely nervous the first day, but after going to camp Jewel I had already bonded with Billy. I was no longer alone. I finally had friends around me who cared about my wellbeing. My friends who I used to use drugs with didn’t give a damn about me; if I didn’t have any weed they wouldn’t even bother calling. Luckily my classes weren’t very challenging, so I didn’t feel overwhelmed. I received the support I needed by attending A.A meetings a couple of times a week. Sophomore year round two went very smoothly. I made a lot of good friends and had a great time.
On November 28th I celebrated a year and a half sober. Over that time I’ve learned a lot about myself and life. I acquired a deep serenity within myself. I stay calm and don’t let outside issues phase me. I’ve learned that I’m not as important as I’d like to think I am, which takes exceeding amounts of pressure off me. My parents have learned to trust me again. I wouldn’t give this trust up for all of the money in the world. I’ve reestablished a relationship with my brother and now we’re closer than ever. I’ve made peace with what I’ve done in the past. I don’t feel nearly as self-conscious as I used to. I’ve began exploring new interests, such as playing guitar. The life I live now is so much more satisfying and useful than it ever was when I was out there. My life no longer consists of burying one lie after another.
But most importantly I’ve learned to live life on life’s terms. I’ve been taught to accept the things that I cannot change, and spend my energy and making the most out of the opportunities I’ve been given.
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