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From Heroin to Diploma

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In 2010 I’d dropped out of college for what I thought would’ve been the last time. I couldn’t manage to keep my grades up, and with all of the heroin abuse and alcoholism, I wasn’t able to attend class. When I was attending class it was usually 40 minutes late into an hour long lecture, where I was met with awkward stares and prejudgments from more than just the students. I was living in a broken down trailer 7 minutes from the best heroin dealer in Central Detroit while my parents had no bars over me at just 20 years of age. It was hard to study when the neighbor girl two doors down—after being beaten by her drunk father and thrown up on by her two-year-old—offers you a free bag of heroin in exchange for a ride to the crack house. I went from a privileged home to a youth-in-crisis who was all to adept at blacking out after a fifth of vodka and couple syringes of dog food (heroin). This was by far the worst part of my life, where heroin had held me captor in a dark dungeon with no sights of freedom for years.

Not even two years before that I’d dropped out of the best University in Michigan at 18 years old due to pill abuse. I was legally prescribed Vicodin, Flexeril, and Valium to ease the pain—not cure—of a herniated back. I’d lost my job, become a blackout king, and abused every relationship—sexual or not—in my life. It was a constant barrage of the cops barging in and shutting down the party, to someone being arrested for drug possession, my best friends going to rehab, or my dad turning off the electricity to the home he was renting me to get through classes. It’s funny how this sounds pretty freaking bad compared to what I just talked about, but I’ve only back-tracked 2 years in the story…

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Ah, how the trend had continued to escalate. It’s funny though because all throughout high school I was always a great student no matter the drug use. It was probably because I was using it to get through school rather than escape it in my later years. I would use downers to calm me through tests and focus on remembering shit. Somehow I don’t think that should be humanly possible but it worked for my body chemistry. Although my last semester my teacher asked me if I was okay after a six-month long binge on Amphetamines to get our last project done. She said it was “too perfect.” These all being different parts of my life, it only got worse…  People are right when they say this disease is progressive!

It’s extremely hard to talk about those days, and I get a bitter taste about it every single time. But when I finally did “finish” my last relapse on December 25th, 2010 (Christmas), I had some choices to make. One of those choices was whether or not I was going to go back to school to complete my education. And although I was unsure what I wanted to do at the time, it was prudent to just go so I wasn’t always focusing on all of the horrible things I’d done during my active addiction. It beat the hell out of sitting on the couch, wondering, what comes next? And although I panicked about going back to school, I panicked about everything in my life at this point of early, early recovery.

About one year into my recovery, my real recovery, I started back at the community college while struggling with abstract thought. I almost failed a few different subjects, including math which was always my strong suit! In fact, that was the one class that I’d failed and needed to. It showed me that to err is human and that some things in life needed to be earned back. In fact I went into my recovery even deeper just to earn that back and become not just one of the best math students at the community college, but rated the best math tutor among 50 other tutors.

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So, today, I tell myself that failure is what drove me to become a perfectionist with not just my grades but the way I was running my life. Without it, I wouldn’t be who I am today. And part of me still knows that drive is still instilled in me, but with more productive outcomes!

You see? When I started to run my life with a whole new set of morals, clean and sober, my grades started to pick up. It was great that other things in my life also started to come back to me too. Things that came back to me where things like my social life, my family life, even romance—or lust—here and there until finally nearing my last year of not just college but the University I was a changed man. It’s funny what a few years of recovery can give you, and then you look at people who live in the fame of it all like celebrities with 40 years clean and sober, proudly embracing it for this movement, it’s a miracle that I never thought I’d be able to share with anyone. But now, fast forwarding this article past the rest of the turmoil and struggle you’ve been accustomed to hearing, things were finally looking up! And not just for me, but for someone else very special too…

By the time my last semester had rolled around I’d developed a long distance relationship, had the courage to go through the American government’s fiancé visa process, and had now become legally married, living in, and graduating with honors. This was all on top of running a worldwide awareness organization (Substance For You) while all the while I had 15 credits to take care of per semester.

But, I didn’t just jump to that point in my recovery in the matter of one semester or even a few semesters. You may think so because I jumped to it in the article for the sake of making a point, but if my wife wasn’t by my side—or even 8000 miles away (Philippines)—helping me, my recovery would be in a completely different place. “Happy wife, sober life” couldn’t have applied truer here. And although I was still stuck in the mode of living like a college bachelor, there’s nothing like getting married to someone who wants the best for you and your recovery, to change your attitude, morals, and behaviors around. And fast!

I wasn’t always a student who would graduate with extra-curricular honors, Cum Laude (high academic honors for GPA), honors in tutoring professionally at the collegiate level, honors in both his major and minor. I wasn’t always the student who wrote three best-selling books spanning his academic career as an undergraduate. I wasn’t always the teacher’s best friend, and/or had more friends who were tenured professors than I did students. I wasn’t always giving speeches on addiction recovery, or keynotes to a filled auditorium while my classmates and (still) professors watch. I wasn’t always the kid making his parents proud when he got to call them and say, “Dad! He gave extra credit and I got 105% in the class!” I wasn’t always like that, but damn did I strive to get to that point. And if education did one thing for me, it gave me a sense of purpose in my recovery. Do you remember that failure I talked about in the beginning of this article? The math class that pushed me over the edge in recovery? This was the result of that feeling. It wasn’t a feeling of failure, it was a feeling of I want more success, instead! And with working my recovery, this became possible!

Education gave me my career choice and I decided helping people with my message of recovery was my best option! But, I would’ve never found that message without the direction of the hard working people guiding me in education to strive for more. They pushed me, and sometimes beyond my limits. But what would be the point without testing your limits in a healthy way, with a healthy outlet? Homework and assignments gave me a reason to push for deadlines and beat them, and this time I wasn’t going to let anything deter me. Being a role model to other students was something that I think came naturally, too! But, the teachers helped me engage it, too! I can safely say that education was the number one thing that molded my recovery into what it is today; besides my wife, whom has educated me on so much culture I feel like I’ve been touched by an angel! 

There was a point in my academic career that I thought I’d make it passed my past trauma of heroin abuse, boozing, and failing at things that really meant a lot to my family and I. But, if one important fact came out of going back to school for my Bachelors of Science in Sociology and Substance Abuse, it was that the routine of being held accountable pushed me past waking up late, not turning things in, or avoiding situations that I’d usually hide and go get high from because I thought they were too hard to handle or impossible for “someone like me!” Education taught me how to take care of myself each and every day, one day at a time, although it gave me a bright future to look for. It created a sense of accountability, and I was finally able to rely on myself. That’s one of the best freedoms in the world to have! You’ll hear me say it now and time and time again:

“Education was the best thing I could have ever done for my recovery!”


This whole new agenda I’d put into place in my life and school, and education, also falls into line with what I’m doing with Substance For You and other groups who join alongside me like Rise Together (national advocacy group and school speaking program). We don’t just want to gain education, although we are each moment this movement goes on. But, what we do want to do is educate others give what we have learned away to others like yourself who are reading this that recovery is possible in so many different ways. Because if we aren’t saving lives, and encouraging an active change in this world away from drugs, then what are we doing?!


My way, and many other ways recovery became possible for me was through education. There was a part of me before education that just didn’t know what I was capable of, and with programs like mine and Rise Together, we get out there into the real world, off of the internet and into your schools, homes, and treatment centers to share our voice, our story, our monumental triumphs and failures as a form of education to show what does work and what doesn’t work for recovery, so just maybe we can save a few (or many!) lives! 

Education isn’t just key to getting that degree, or a job you or I have always wanted. Education is key to awareness which leads to so many greater things in this world once your eyes are truly opened to the possibilities that come with hope. Its what awareness is bred out of. And because I’ve gone through the motions, I can now finally see a path righteous enough to stand up for and get other people to stand courageously with me! And what I need to do next is what I learned at Central Michigan University. I need to be an educator, because of the many educators and education I earned that saved my life. It created this sense of awareness that says, “Brian you can do this! You are better each and every day. Just stay accountable and learn, learn, learn. Then once you’ve done that… pass it on!” So what I do now, what I do each and every day would’ve never been possible without education, or to become an educator of lifestyles to prevent addictions. And trust me… the world needs you to speak out too! Whatever your struggle has been—we all have them—the world needs you!

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So when I graduated last week, from Heroin to Diploma, I wasn’t just getting that degree. I was getting a new chance at life to save others and possibly even prevent situations that I went through in my youth from even being an issue. How blessed I am to have gained recovery!

I may have graduated with honors, but I’m honored that I’m still alive and breathing to share my stories for the people who need to hear it, and help share others stories and breed a bigger movement. It’s not from Heroin to Diploma, it’s a lifelong process that doesn’t stop with a piece of paper. It’s a movement, and it’s rising. How will you join in?

I create awareness each and every day, because of my educational experiences, and strive for a better recovery each and every day. So I tell you, speaking out, you become that educator the world needs. The movement is NOT a revolution… yet. And that’s because there are not as many people as we need, speaking out against the drug war we’re battling. So, I ask you. Here and now. Will you stand up and fight for your life, your right, your future? It’s your choice. Make the right one…

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  • Irene Garza on

    You are amazing! Thanks for sharing your story Brian; keep fighting the good fight

  • Anne R on

    I was at your One Year Party at your parents’ house! Congratulations on your success!

  • Mom on

    Well first off, saying I’m proud beyond words is not enough! Let me try to express my feelings as well as you my son, which is a challenge, because you have a gift son with writing, you truly have found your calling. That aside, here’s what I mean.
    There was a time when I was to embarrassed to share anything in my life with anyone. Yes I have always had the best husband a woman could ask for, Who was a wonderful provider. Yes I’ve always had a wonderful roof over my head and a beautiful home to live in. But when you’re a mother the proudest things you want to talk about two others are your children and there were few years there that it wasn’t possible for me. I was embarrassed, depressed, sad. But as you found recovery I found meeting for parents in similar situations. And it helped us both. I learned not to enable you. How I had to stop blaming myself. But mostly how to live a life where I wasn’t embarrassed to say yes my son was a Herion drug addict. I hope this will help you to understand, it’s not enough to say “I’m proud of you son, beyond words.” Because I use to just be glad you were alive and not dead, like so many of the horrific story I read of the likely hood that you could overcome this horrible disease. So yes proud, happy, content, elated that is some of my feelings. Yet most importantly you are living you found the strength and support from people you decided where better for your recovery, from names I cannot mention because of confidential right from NA. But you know who you are and thank you. To family who never gave up on you! I love you son, and “Proud beyond words!”

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