We had the unique opportunity to sit down with a former client of ours for an in-depth interview. This candid conversation explores the transformative journey of navigating the challenges of addiction and resilience. Through the lens of his experiences, we aim to shed light on the broader themes of recovery and offer hope to those who may find inspiration in his compelling story. The name “Matt” has been used in this interview to maintain the anonymity of the individual.
Matt’s journey from a troubled childhood to early involvement in a dangerous world unfolded rapidly. Growing up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Matt’s family-owned a bar in Doylestown, though financial struggles persisted despite their business. “Even though we owned the bar, we were on government assistance,” Matt says. “I remember looking at the cabinets and seeing a bag of flour, a bag of sugar, and an old-school flour sifter.” Matt’s early memories include moments of poverty and eating simple meals like mac and cheese and peanut butter and jelly.
His family’s fortunes changed when his mother strategically transformed the bar’s menu, turning it into a profitable venture. However, behind the scenes, Matt witnessed his father’s troubling behavior – moments of domestic violence that left indelible marks on his childhood. “It didn’t really register because my mother always overprotected me and tried to keep me away from the physical abuse from my father,” says Matt. Despite these challenges, there were periods of seeming normalcy and family outings, like planning trip to Hershey Park.
The pivotal moment came when Matt’s mother left the family, moving to Florida with a bass player from the bar’s band. This left Matt and his siblings bewildered, struggling to understand the sudden upheaval. His mother eventually returned, presenting a proposal to relocate the kids to Florida. “They came to pick us kids up. We packed what we had, and we moved to Florida.” Little did Matt know that this move would expose him to a world drastically different from his Pennsylvania roots.
In Florida, Matt faced culture shock at school, where he encountered racial dynamics he hadn’t experienced before. “My new school was 98% black. There were two white kids. I got jumped and stabbed pencils on the very first day I went to school, I still have lead in my hands today from it.” His struggles to fit in intensified, leading him to find solace in substances. The introduction to marijuana in fifth grade marked the beginning of his turbulent relationship with drugs. By seventh grade, Matt was indulging in more potent substances like PCP, mushrooms, and alcohol.
As he entered high school, the cocaine epidemic of the late ’70s and early ’80s swept through Fort Lauderdale, altering the landscape of Matt’s adolescence. “Heading into ninth grade, we’d always go out. Skip school, hit the beaches, do pool hopping. Especially with the friends that had more money, boats, and yachts. I was introduced to a lifestyle that was nothing of my nature or that I could afford.” Cocaine became a prevalent part of his social circle, eventually escalating to freebasing. Matt found himself immersed in a lifestyle fueled by drugs, black-out drinking, parties, and criminal activities.
A life-altering incident occurred when Matt, still a teenager, was hit by a car driven by someone under the influence. The aftermath of the accident resulted in physical injuries that haunted him throughout his life, leading to surgeries and health complications. Despite these challenges, Matt’s journey continued down a dangerous path, involving heavy drinking and participating in the seedy underbelly of the drug trade before he even turned 16.
Matt received an invitation from a close high school friend to retrieve a yacht from the Dominican Republic and sail it back up to Florida. After accepting the invitation, they found themselves landing in the Dominican Republic, greeted not by the warm embrace of a tropical paradise, but by bayonet-wielding police officers. “As soon as we left the plane and started walking towards the door, we were backed by 30 or 40 military fatigues with bayonets who only spoke Creole. I’m hungover, just recovering from flipping my truck the night before and we’re like, ‘What’s going on?’” Under the suspicion of international smuggling, Matt and his friend faced a grim reality—detained in a foreign land.
Caught in the political crossfire of a U.S. embargo, Matt and James became pawns in a dangerous game of extortion. The price for their freedom? A staggering $17,000 in bribes was paid to judges and the Sergeant Comandante. Returning to the States, Matt’s life continued its downward spiral. Cocaine, parties, and a world teetering on the edge of chaos became the norm.
As the tendrils of addiction tightened, Matt found himself in increasingly dire straits. A grim chapter unfolded in a squalid trailer amidst a junkyard, devoid of water and air conditioning. The cocaine-driven culture around him descended into violence, with acquaintances turning to murder to seize drug stash houses. Yet, the gravity of the situation eluded Matt as he grappled with his own demons. “Something was going wrong inside. There was not only a void but a despair of being lost. Darkness. I don’t know the words to accurately put the description to it. It was not good. I got to the point of substance abuse. I could not feel emotion. I couldn’t be happy. I couldn’t be sad. I became a zombie and it used to disturb me. The only thing that mattered was getting drugs and that led to some of the worst areas.”
A moment of reckoning emerged when Matt, reduced to a shell of his former self, contemplated a heinous act—murder for drugs. In a chilling revelation, he saw himself as a monster, devoid of emotion and humanity. It was a breaking point, a moment of profound despair that led him to cry out to a higher power.
Guided by an inexplicable force, Matt called a cocaine hotline, setting in motion a chain of events that would alter the course of his life. The House of Hope in Fort Lauderdale became a beacon of salvation—an AA-based refuge where Matt began the arduous journey of recovery.
Amidst the gruff environment of the House of Hope, a former vice president of a well-known fast-food chain emerged as Matt’s mentor. This unlikely guide played a pivotal role, inviting Matt to live with him and his wife and do work for them around the property. Matt’s journey toward redemption gained momentum as he grappled with sobriety, seeking solace in faith and the support of those who had walked the path of recovery. The journey to sobriety started to gain traction, but he couldn’t stay away from his old habits. “I wound up with his car and selling his golf clubs. He found me on the street somewhere. I have to give this guy credit. He said, ‘You need more help than what I can give you. I know a holy roller. He lives in Palm Bay Florida. He owns a furniture company and he’s selling the company to go into the ministry. Go up there and be around him.’”
Matt makes his way down to Melbourn, Florida with a one-way ticket from his mentor. “I want to change and I’m trying, but I can’t,” he explains to his new mentor, Dale. As Matt continues to struggle with sobriety, Dale suggests an interview at the Broken Glass Rehabilitation Center, a 12-step program. However, Matt faces an unexpected twist when the director, despite acknowledging his spiritual awakening, declines his admission. This paradoxical moment leaves Matt at a crossroads, torn between newfound faith and the reality of needing more comprehensive help.
Returning to Dale’s abode, Matt dives into the intricacies of trying to live a virtuous life amid his battle with addiction. Navigating the complexities of social interactions and dating within the Church community becomes a perplexing challenge. Despite sincere attempts, Matt finds himself slipping back into the clutches of his old habits.
The turning point arrives with an intervention from the associate pastor and Dale, who acknowledge Matt’s need for more intensive support. The mention of Teen Challenge, a discipleship program, sets the stage for a profound shift in Matt’s journey. With an interview and approval secured, Matt embarks on a transformative chapter, albeit in Muskegon, Michigan, far from familiar surroundings.
The move to Teen Challenge proves to be a daunting yet miraculous experience for Matt. Stripped of worldly distractions, Matt says “I was like a baby bird in the nest. You know, a bird would open its mouth and be fed. That’s how I was spiritually.” The program’s structure and discipline become the catalyst for Matt’s growth, revealing untapped administrative and organizational capabilities within him.
As Matt evolves, so does Teen Challenge, expanding from 35 male residents to over 200 men and 60 women in a year and a half. Matt’s involvement in food service and fundraising propelled the organization to unprecedented heights. The success story reaches its pinnacle with a record-breaking fundraising event that surpasses all previous efforts combined.
Yet, success begets its own set of challenges. The program director attempts to orchestrate Matt’s personal life, even offering to find him a wife and a home. However, the fear of success, ingrained in Matt from years of self-sabotage, rears its head. In a moment of vulnerability, he succumbs to the familiar allure of substance use, leading to a devastating relapse after five years of sobriety. “What I had known was always being hard on myself and sabotaging myself, telling myself I’m no good. I’m not worthy. That fueled my addiction. Even if I made progress, that destructive habit was formed. Fear of success started and then sabotage hit. It took me 20 years to learn that looking at my life.”
His relapse took a turn in Muskegon, Michigan. Having sold off his belongings to feed his addiction, he found himself in the midst of a raid. Matt, once again in the clutches of substance abuse, was now caught in a legal web that would lead him back to incarceration.
In the late 1990s, cocaine laws determined a minimum mandatory one-year prison sentence or five years of probation. Despite lacking a felony history, Matt faced a judge who, for political motivations, sentenced him to the maximum term of 3 to 20 years. A legal battle ensued, overturning the initial sentence but extending his time behind bars.
Upon release, Matt’s attempt at reintegration led to a familiar pattern: moments of progress followed by swift relapses. A perpetual cycle unfolded, characterized by periods of hard work and positive strides abruptly disrupted by drastic falls into addiction. Matt’s journey through substance use and recovery spans over two decades, marked by innumerable entries and exits from the prison system.
Even with legal victories, Matt struggled to break free from the cycle. A stint in a Christian transitional environment in Grand Rapids County initially seemed promising, with Matt immersing himself in Christian support, local church activities, and meetings. However, the patterns of relapse and recovery continued to haunt him.
Over the span of two to three decades, Matt highlights the legal battles, the cycle of incarceration, and the persistent attempts at rehabilitation. Matt’s life becomes a series of well-intentioned efforts to break free, only to be ensnared again in the clutches of addiction.
2017 marked Matt’s last offense, a moment that encapsulates the heart-wrenching reality of addiction. Despite knowing the perilous path he walked, the familiarity of his surroundings and the connections he couldn’t cut loose led him back to the drugs he desperately sought to escape. Matt describes it as a “horrible, horrible cycle” where failure propelled him further into the abyss.
In 2021, with a renewed determination, Matt enrolled in a program to obtain his CDL license, recognizing that physical labor was no longer a sustainable path with his numerous health issues and age. However, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a relapse, and Matt found himself back in the clutches of addiction. A near-catastrophic incident while using and driving forced him to call Network 180, seeking help to break the cycle.
Violence and desperation in a drug house pushed him to a breaking point. At this juncture, Matt’s perspective shifted. He realized that true recovery involves doing the next right thing, a principle that saved his life even in the direst circumstances. Matt’s journey led him to Reach for Recovery’s Chester A. Ray Residential facility, taking a pivotal step toward recovery.
Matt attests to the transformative power of spiritual and personal growth. Coming to Holland for rehab marked the beginning of a new chapter. “I went through Chester Ray in 2021 and it was an awesome experience. I got a job while I was there. And everybody, Jim Stark, Dave Teater. Dave actually came to my graduation.”
Matt’s unwavering commitment to change led him to Ladder Homes, where he served as a house manager. Matt’s reflections on his past regrets, aging, and the learning process evoke a deep sense of humility and self-awareness. His commitment to financial accountability, budgeting, and paying off debts showcased a newfound sense of responsibility while continuing his sobriety with the help of God’s word and meetings. “Today, God’s actions transform my heart and my thinking, and I see the value of the 12 steps. It’s a very hard, lonely spot, but it’s a very good, healthy one. Now I take full and total responsibility for all things, which is beautiful.”
Matt’s journey is a testament to the power of resilience, faith, and a determination to break free from the chains of addiction. Through Chester Ray, Ladder Homes, and other powerful programs, Matt has become a beacon of hope for others on similar journeys. His story emphasizes that change is possible, no matter how entrenched one is in the depths of addiction, offering inspiration to those who may find solace and guidance in Matt’s remarkable journey of transformation.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, remember that help is available. Reach out for information on our residential facilities and other programs designed to support individuals on their journey to recovery. Your willingness to seek assistance is a powerful step towards transformation. Don’t hesitate to contact us; together, we can pave the way for a brighter, sober future.