At the ripe old age of 17, I found myself on my way to fatherhood. Fears set in as my entire life was about to change. I mean I was still a kid myself. Unable to finish school due to early addict behaviors I found myself in a very dark place. A once honor roll student now skipping school, racking up detention hours and fist fighting anyone that looked at me wrong. I could see myself going nowhere fast.
Constructing a New Life for His FamilyThat was until my opportunity to join Carpenters Local 626 presented itself. Having seen a tape measure half a dozen times, my fear set in as to how I was going to excel in this career, how was I going to provide for my daughter if I wasn’t made for this industry. That fear quickly diminished as my apprenticeship of four years taught me more than any college or tech school ever could. I didn’t only learn how to build with my hands, I learned to construct with pride and quality. For the first time in my life I felt essential and accomplished. I felt a part of something big, yet small enough to feel important. Within a few short years all that will have changed.
Sky High and Getting HigherAfter I completed my apprenticeship I found myself sky high building scaffold in oil refineries throughout the North East. The danger was a high for me, the sudden gas leaks and fires gave me a rush, hanging off a 2.5” bar 100+ feet off the ground was exhilarating. I excelled and quickly found myself managing a few dozen men most almost twice my age. I was accountable and hardworking, I was a UNION MAN. This was my life and I was going to retire a proud member. Or so I thought!
Wrecked On The Way to Work
On my way to work one day I was suddenly cut off on the highway. It was 5 am, my coffee hadn’t kicked in yet and the fog was heavy. All I can remember was hearing a bang followed by a white light. I hit the barrier at 70 mph head on. I awoke a few hours later covered in blood as my father stood at my bedside. After a few short weeks I found myself ready to work. My daughter had to eat and I needed to keep a roof over our heads. My first morning back the rain was coming down hard. I didn’t see the red light up ahead. Suddenly I broad sided a large blue figure, later to find out was a full size ford F250. I thought to myself “This is it, I’m going to die!” My body landed a few feet from the scene, as I awoke I remember thanking God for yet again sparing me from an early death. Little did I know it would spark the beginning of a very slow one.
Opiates and Painkillers Everywhere
The accidents I was involved in will forever change the course of my life. Even with minor injuries the amount of pain pills I was prescribed was enough to waken a demon. I began withdrawing as my prescription quickly ran out, I found myself buying pills off the streets. It wasn’t but a few months later I was in complete addiction and my life was turning into a horror story. Missed days at work, there was domestic violence at home, and I was robbing and stealing from my family and friends. All the things this once Catholic altar boy was taught never to do. As hard as my Union members tried helping me I was at the point of no return.
The Ultimate and Final BetrayalMy last day as a union member, the day I was banned from every refinery in the country was one of the most painful days of my life. I walked in to work, ready to climb with my whiskey filled coffee container. 8 a.m. and I was already seeing double. The difficulty of strapping on a harness, hiding your breath and maintaining balance was hard work. I remember feeling severe withdraw that morning, the alcohol wasn’t helping and no one would give me pills anymore. I remember this really nice man who could barely climb a ladder due to his injured back. My addict mind quickly came up with a plan.
I broke into the trailer where they held our lunches. I prayed so hard I’d find either money or pills, and I did. I took this man’s entire prescription and I got caught. A federal offense to which I agreed to a lifetime ban rather than prison. These are the same men I looked up to, I learned from. This was the same place I became someone, and now I walk away with shame and a pain Percocet could no longer manage, my money was down to nothing, I owed everyone. I found myself alone, my family had left me due to my addiction and a deep depression set in. I found myself in an empty home, a loaded needle and the willingness to die.
A Long Fall from Grace
I spent 13 years as a proud union member. I was taught how to be a man, how to work hard with honor and take care of my family. I was taught the true meaning of brotherhood. All this wasn’t enough for me to get clean and carry out my duties as a man, father, husband and son. I had to move 1200 miles away to escape the burning bridges long enough to get sober. I went to countless facilities in my surrounding states, only to face the damage I caused just weeks before. I needed to get away and focus on myself, I needed a fresh start.
Transformed and Out of TreatmentI am now approaching 3 years of continuous sobriety. The opportunity to go to Florida for treatment and the brotherhood distilled in my blood saved my life. Today I work in the field of addiction. I have the opportunity to help as many people as I can who suffer just as I did. My union pride will forever be a part of my life and it is my mission to share a message of hope, to share my story to the men and women struggling so they don’t have to lose everything. I know the progression of this disease, the media will always be the first to educate on the epidemic, I am here to give hope and educate on the solution.
The Brotherhood and the FellowshipWe need our Unions, we need our members to be at their best. The deadliest path to take is no path at all. Today I am grateful for everything Carpenters Local 626 as well as International has given me and my family, courage, dignity and pride. This has forever changed my life. Today I want to open the doors to members across the nation. I want to give them the opportunity to discover themselves and return home a better employee, father, mother and spouse.
Seek to Fulfill Your PurposeToday I believe in two things, we are all born with a purpose and we are all capable of being extraordinary human beings. No one should be embarrassed to say they need help, as union members we walk with our heads held high. Today my purpose is to carry hope. Yes my career was cut short after 13 years. I may not carry a hammer and belt anymore but I do carry the principles distilled in me through those years. Morals and ethics I could never put into place due to my disease of addiction. If you’re struggling or know someone that is please don’t stay silent, trust me when I say it only gets worse.
Retired Carpenters Local 626, 8 (Delaware, Philadelphia)
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