I have been a police officer, detective, member of a regional drug task force, member of a DEA narcotics task force, and Chief of Police. I am also a heroin addict. This story is neither a historical justification nor a self-indictment, but rather a cautionary tale.
If in 2004 someone had told me that I was to become an addict, I would have laughed in their face. If only my loved ones and I received education in addiction, maybe things would have gone differently. Maybe my huge house and three car garage would still be mine. Maybe my professional reputation as a Chief of Police that I built over 20 years would still be intact. Could I have avoided going from pillar of the community to persona non grata in a very public and humiliating way? Perhaps.
I got hired by a local NJ police department at age 19, and though I had made the usual experimentations with drugs and alcohol in High school, the seeds of my addiction were sown as a young police officer. I rose through the ranks with rapid determination, and always had either plum or the most sought after assignments on my way to the top. I learned about street drugs by way of seeing their impact on communities, neighborhoods, families, and people. There was no shortage of lives I saw destroyed by drugs and alcohol, yet I somehow made the determination that I was above all “those people” who were obviously too weak-willed to stop when their use got out of control. Little did I know that active addiction is an existential crisis that plants itself deep in your being and destroys all that is good in your life.
I rocketed through ranks and assignments only spending about three years as a uniformed road cop. I got assigned to a regional drug task force at 21, and there began my belief that drugs were evil and thus I was doing the Lord’s work by eradicating them. Our area of responsibility included Atlantic City, and it was then that I first used prescription diet pills as a stimulant to work until early in the morning at the bars and clubs in the city which were always open. Innocent enough I thought, plus this was a legally prescribed drug, not methamphetamines. My work was top notch, and I received over 100 commendation letters and got inducted into the NJ Honor Legion, as well as the American Police Hall of Fame. I suffered from terrible insomnia and again found a pharmaceutical solution and was prescribed Ambien. The goofball effect was fun, and it helped me sleep. At one point I thought I was taking it too often and I stopped cold turkey. I was even more convinced now that I did not have addictive tendencies since I was able to finish with little effort. And I was the go to guy that given the most important tasks, which no one else was entrusted with doing. I was on the fast track and loving every minute of it.
I had suffered my share of injuries and wounds from the job, and I developed lingering back pain. I rarely took time off from work and never took good care of myself. My doctor had given me an opiate pain killer who worked wonders on the pain and I found the chemical love of my life. Keep in mind again that I was convinced albeit naively, that it was safe. I mean after all this was a legal substance that I picked up from a pharmacy, not a corner drug dealer. If I had only known or if I had not lied to myself. I was a leader of the community, a well-known and liked law enforcement official in the area I lived. No one could have imagined the descent I was on to losing everything.
By the time I was promoted to Chief of Police, I had a significant painkiller problem. I was still hiding it fairly well, but I began spinning a thousand lies a day to cover it up. Eventually, my drug seeking behavior caught up with me and I found myself on the wrong end of an official misconduct investigation. By the grace of God, I received an opportunity to retire with a pension. However, this is not the end of the story. Sadly I needed to feel much more pain, spend time in several substance abuse treatments, and lose most meaningful relationships as well as my home and just about all of my belongings before I would surrender to the suggestions given to me in treatment.
I had retired from my job and lived alone. I had an income and was firmly entrenched in addiction’ which is the perfect deadly cocktail. One day, I was unable to get painkillers on the street and was extremely dope sick. What I did next sealed my fate, and I turned a corner which I could not un-turn. I bought heroin. In the beginning, it seemed like such a bargain. Keep in mind that I had seen dozens of fatal overdoses and I often professed that I had never met a recovered heroin addict. But still, when the time came for me to use heroin or remain dope sick, I immediately chose heroin. It was like a snap call in poker when I was certain I had the best hand.
My addiction progressed quickly, and it wasn’t long before I spent every dime I had on heroin. I also sold everything I owned that had any value to purchase drugs. I had become a junkie…using to live and living to use. I couldn’t stop even though I wanted to. Sadly, my existence was reduced to hours in a day where I did whatever was necessary to get drug money. My moral compass was leading me on the road to perdition, directly to hell. I ended up in a motel room with a few bags of dope when something I can only describe as miraculous happened.
I called a cab to bring me to the ghettos of Camden NJ to buy heroin. I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that it was four am, but running out of dope was not an option. On the way, the taxi driver explained to me that he was, in fact, a recovered heroin addict, and had been clean for 14 years. I was dumbfounded and immediately thought if he could do it, so could I. I went into treatment the next day which was November 1, 2015.
I completed the program and admitted myself to another, and another. I surrendered to the concepts and the suggestions given to me. I must elaborate on the realities. First I did not become a saint. Second I am not a spiritual guru. But I am a drug addict trying to stay sober one day at a time. I work a program, not perfectly, but I work one. My character defects raise their ugly heads at the most inopportune times, but I work on them every day.
Advanced Health and Education got me sober and provided me with the tools to remain so. The facility gave me an outlet for my work induced trauma via the Frontline group. The Frontline program gave me everything traditional treatment program couldn’t, The ability to work with my fellow officers and realize I wasn’t alone. The tools and knowledge I received from the Frontline group facilitator who was a cop like me helped me put my addiction and my career in perspective. I currently live in a sober living house, and I have a sponsor in AA who knows that they are my sponsor. I continue to volunteer my time at the Frontline group to help show the newcomer that it is possible to achieve a better life.
Breaking the chains of addiction is conceivable with some work. We in recovery will all die as addicts/alcoholics, but we do not have to die an alcoholic’s/user’s death. Recovery will undoubtedly improve your life. Most relationships will improve quickly; some may take longer, and a few may not be salvageable. Physically, mentally and spiritually we are amazed how much better life is in sobriety. The self-loathing, self-destruction and self-hatred vanishes. We no longer need to spin a thousand lies a day just to cover our tracks.
God bless you and be true to yourself.