Nick came to work with me in counseling sessions when he was 15 years-old. He was a typical New York City teenager – worldly, expressive, and fascinated by life. He had never been in counseling before so his natural hesitancy with myself and counseling in general was our initial hurdle that we needed to overcome. What 15 year-old teenager pictures their week to include counseling sessions with a substance abuse specialist? We bonded over one of our common interests, the Martial Arts, and it was a way into developing a therapeutic relationship that would allow our bond to grow and solidify. We spent the next two years working successfully together to improve Nick’s life in general. One of the main struggles identified was his tendency to smoke a lot of marijuana. Nick understood that this pattern could potentially lead to trouble but neither one of us was overly concerned that this would lead to the horrors that eventually erupted in his life. Nick completed High School and there was a tentative hope that he would be OK.
Nick went off to college and I had lost track of him for a couple of years. Eventually I received a phone call from his mother. She was very upset and relayed to me that Nick was in a lot of trouble. She requested an appointment with me and the next week they both showed up in my office. Nick told me that he was arrested at school for dealing drugs. Fueling his dealing was his full-blown addiction to drugs and alcohol, Nick was out of control. He was visibly upset as he went on to describe how an informant had been working for the local police on campus. Nick was swept up in an arranged sting designed to shake up the drug problems that were ongoing on campus. The local District Attorney was going hard to prosecute this case. Since Nick had no priors, I counseled him and his mother that chances are he would not be incarcerated and that he would be probably given probation. This prediction would prove to be wrong. After his own attorney spoke with the District Attorney he was informed that they were intending on prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law. This meant that he could face up to three years hard time in a state prison.
Usually at this point of a person’s harsh journey, they do not commit to sobriety. Circumstances such as these often serve as a permission slip to blot out these harsh facts through with drugs and alcohol. Nick was different. Our past relationship allowed us to move forward and into the unknown days ahead. I pressed him by pointing out the obvious – while awaiting trial he could not afford to have any more trouble with the law. The road to recovery had begun for Nick on this one particular day in May. Given the pressures of potential jail, I did not think that he would be able to maintain sobriety. Yet one day at a time, that is exactly what he did.
It came to be that Nick would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. He was given two years with the option to complete a 6-month boot camp while incarcerated. If he was able to complete this boot camp program he sentence would be reduced to 14 months. Our treatment sessions leading up to him leaving for prison centered upon helping Nick work through the massive amounts of anxiety he felt about his upcoming incarceration. His willingness to work on his early recovery was a testament to his work ethic and our established bond. Nick grabbed on to the necessary recovery concepts with a passion. We complimented our recovery work with weightlifting sessions designed to ‘prepare’ Nick for hard-core jail. He gained the weight and recovery necessary to face his upcoming jail term. Right before Nick left for jail, he requested to have a gathering in my office with his close friends and his mother. We all gathered and gave Nick the support he needed. We shaved his head so he would look the part. Ill never forget the look in his eye – he was both prepared and terrified. Finally, his departure day had arrived. Off he went armed with his recovery and determination to make it through the nightmare that had arrived.
I visited Nick at the Down State Correctional facility where he did his time. I will never forget the look in his eye and the feeling in my heart when I sat down at the metallic generic prison table while a serious looking Corrections Officer escorted Nick into the stripped down prison meeting room. Nick was trying his best to communicate with me but I could see how the preoccupation with survival was engulfing his whole being. We talked for about a half-hour. He spoke of how boot camp was very difficult, he did not know if he could survive the intense approach used by the COs. They took liberties. Push-ups outside during the winter in just a pair of shorts. The verbal abuse and physical punishment. Other inmates testing him. He went on to describe how the hardest part of prison time was knowing what he was putting his mother through. Yet Nick had learned that he needed to keep sobriety first in his life in order to improve as a man and make it through his ordeal. As the days, weeks and months passed, he did just that. Sobriety was indeed his main priority – not even jail would change that for Nick. The time passed and he successfully completed the boot camp program and his sentenced was reduced to 14 months. Boot camp stripped him of 40 pounds and of the desire to use drugs and alcohol, one day at a time. Nick finally left Down State Correctional as well as his old life of substance abuse. Eight years have passed since this time and Nick has reclaimed his life fully.
Nick calls me on his sober anniversary and it fills me with gratitude that we were able to work so hard together and establish a bond that will last our lifetime. We meet periodically to catch up, usually to eat good meals and drink gourmet coffee. The last time I saw him he did me a favor – he met with a young man that I was working with and shared his experience, strength and hope in order to deliver the message of recovery. Nick owns his own film and production company, he is flying in his life. Nick is close with his family and one day would like to start one of his own. Nick is a happy man and grateful for all that he has. He understands that if he would return back to the use and abuse of substances, life would return back to the insanity he once lived. Nick is a survivor and, one day at a time, he plans to continue to live as best as he knows how.