Los Angeles, CA

As young teenager, using methamphetamines and selling other drugs led Mike to a dangerous life he fought to escape.

My name is Mike. I’m a grateful recovering addict. And I have been clean since August 31, 2012. Where to begin? So my drug of choice is methamphetamines. I started using them when I was 13. The first time I ever tried a substance was actually when I was 9, when I started smoking cigarettes. I was born and raised in Inglewood, California—well, Los Angeles, California, technically. And I moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 2014.


But before all that—going to the beginning, I guess—right now, I am 25 years old, so I’m very grateful to be alive, cause the way that my life was, it definitely was not looking like it would last long.


So I’m adopted from birth. I do not know my biological parents. After I was adopted, my parents split when I was 3. My mom was a single mother and a nurse, so she wasn’t around that much. My friends in the neighborhood and stuff, they raised me, and I helped raise all my younger siblings, tried to keep them out of trouble the best I could. We definitely were not financially secure, hence the reason why we lived in the hood. It was rough, especially being the only Asian in a predominantly black neighborhood. And my adopted family being white, that was also difficult. But I guess that’s where it starts, because all the people kind of teach you how to survive. And in LA, if you’ve never been, you have to learn quick or die fast. I remember the very time I saw someone actually get killed was outside the apartment window, and I was about 10. And it was just this random guy walking and he got shot and there was a pool of blood and I just stood there, watching. Didn’t know how to process it either, cause I was so young, but that was like the first introduction to death. So I learned that early.


In California, especially the way that I used to live, drugs are just everywhere, very easy to get. And I personally—if there were no consequences of drugs, I would still probably be doing them. I love drugs. The reason I love them is because they take away all emotions and make you 100% numb. It’s amazing. But then there comes a point where those consequences far outweigh any of the benefits drugs may or may not have, whether it’s your own illusion or not.


So like I said, I started smoking meth when I was 13. Did coke that year too, and ecstasy. Did some shrooms and acid. Pretty normal, typical stuff except for the meth. A lot of people in LA experiment with, you know, party drugs and hallucinogens. I guess I just kinda fell into the meth game, because I had one guy, his name was Spider, and I still don’t actually know his legal name. But he introduced it to me, and it was just off and running from then. Luckily though, I was able to hide it pretty well. I made sure that none of my younger siblings ever saw me using that. They used to see me smoke weed, but I did my best to keep them out of the room and whatnot. It was rough, but I guess, all of the things that I did made me into a stronger, better person. I remember a lot of the things that I used—that I did do, I used to regret for a very long time. I just regretted them. And it took me a long time to get over them. Not because I regretted the fact that it had happened, but more the fact that I regretted who I was as a person. And now I don’t. There are still things that I’m ashamed of, which I don’t think will ever go away. But I guess that comes with the territory.


So being young in recovery—I guess I should go back to like, all the stories, I guess. So selling drugs was also easy too, and it just fell in my lap and I started doing that. What was really funny though is when I was selling drugs, I would always walk around with a backpack. And since I was the only Asian in the hood, any time a cop, like, would roll up next to me, I would pretend I was super, super foreign. So I would speak in a complete Asian accent and they would just usually leave me alone. And it worked really, really well, because they don’t want to talk to someone that’s like saying, ‘Hello police!’ They don’t want to talk to anyone like that. And so that’s how I got away with a lot of different things, so. And it was also funny, because I used to do that at parties, too. Got everyone to laugh.


So like I said, I started went I was 13. I started walking around with—being strapped all the time when I turned about 14 or 15, cause living where I lived, they’d do this thing called “pocket checking.” It’s when four or five guys walk up to you and pull guns out to you and then tell you to empty your pockets and take off your shoes. So I was kind of sick of that. About 14, 15, it had happened three times. So I started walking around with a gun just to protect myself. I’m glad I don’t wake up feeling cold steel against my stomach anymore, cause that feeling sucked. But it still has not taken away the fact that I do like guns. Still love guns. Just can’t own any.


What else? So I remember one time—so one of the things that I said that I used to regret a lot was when I was about 17, 18—16, 17, there was this kid named Tristan. He was a 13-year-old, complete pothead. He used to walk around with eyes bloodshot all the time, tie-dye shirts, like was a total hippie. And he was super skinny and small, but he would always buy weed from me, about everyday. But one day he came into the garage, where I used to sell, and he saw a little brown package on the table and asked what it was.


I said, “None of your business, just get your weed and get the hell out.”


He didn’t. Kept on asking and asking and asking, and I was like, “It’s not for you, not for you, just go away, get your weed.”


He wouldn’t. Wouldn’t let it go. So instead he pulls out his hundred and just like—I want some.


And I was like, “Okay, a hundred dollars, sure, whatever.”


Comes back the next day with three hundred dollars. And I asked where the hell he got it. He said that he stole it from his grandmother.


And I was like okay, whatever. And I took it.


And that same day, he overdosed on that gram of heroin that I sold him.


And that took a lot to get over. The reason was because first of all, he was 13 years old. And I have only done heroin once. I never liked it. I like uppers. But at that time—and that happened, I realized that I was just not affecting my life, but those around me. And being a drug dealer is terrible to begin with and—because you’re not just messing up your life, you’re taking other people’s lives in your hands. And no one should be able to play God. So that is definitely one of those things I’m still deeply, deeply ashamed of. And I wish I had gone to his funeral, but I was too scared and ashamed to go to his funeral. Yeah. He was a funny kid, too.


So that was one of the things that I did that I was ashamed of, not to mention all the stealing and stuff that I used to do just to survive, because, you know, at one point or another you run out of money, especially when you start doing your own stash.


I remember getting locked up for the first time when I was 16. I remember going to Del Amo Mental Hospital also. I also remember going to rehab in Utah, of all places. Damn Mormons.


And looking back on all of it, all of the things that I’ve done, all of the things that I’ve seen, I wouldn’t change any of it. The reason is because all of those things taught me a lesson. And the way that I don’t regret them is because the way that I see things is that you should never regret things as long as you learn something from them. And fortunately for me, I did. It was also really weird though like getting clean at such a young age, because it’s much harder, I feel, to get clean when you’re younger, cause most people are partying, they go to college, they go to frat parties, and all this stuff. But I did all that when I was way younger. It’s still somewhat difficult, cause like I said, I’m only 25 and yet I’m like, oh I’m never gonna do that again, never gonna do this again, oh I can’t go there because of this or the other. And—I mean, it doesn’t bother me. But it’s gotten me to where I am today, and I’m thankful for that. It just—I wish I could have learned even sooner, cause I’m definitely still paying some of the physical consequences of my use. Still have my teeth chip sometimes. That sucks. Yeah.


So I guess, talking about all the past stuff is good, but that’s not really what I want to do, because that’s kind of like glorifying it. Yes, a lot of the shit that I did was terrible. I mean, I’ve seen people get curb stomped and killed, I’ve—time I got locked up was when I beat up this guy who put hands on my younger sister and I beat him up with a baseball bat. All that stuff is like part of that life. But what the turning point was when I was in rehab, and I was just sitting in rehab. And it was like a dorm. So there’s like four people a room. And I was sitting there and all of the sudden it was like a light switch that flipped on. And that’s when I decided to never use again. And I had already been there for eight months. I got out after nine months, in April, and I have not used since then. And that’s kind of where that went. And then I got that refinery job, and moved out to Ohio. But then all of that stuff, especially moving to Ohio. After I moved to Ohio, I realized this is what I want to do with my life: be a substance abuse counselor, help people with addiction, because when I first got clean, I had NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and I was heavily committed to that. And being able to do that and always being curious about the mind, it just kinda built up into this and the ball has started rolling where I never thought I would graduate high school. I didn’t think I would graduate with a Bachelor’s degree. I never thought I’d be applying to grad school. I never thought I’d be working for different agencies helping people.


So yes, there are a lot of terrible, terrible things that we as human beings are capable of. But that’s not how I feel like especially People of Substance should be about. Yes, getting those stories out, putting a face to those statistics is very important. But being able to see where people come from and then where they are now, I feel like, is very important. Because for me, I usually, generally hate people. Usually most people just piss me off and they’re ignorant. But I love addicts. Addicts are amazing. They’re incredible. They are literally probably the best salesmen. If you ever need someone to sell a car, hire an addict. I tell you they will be able to sell the entire lot. Maybe not the most legal of ways, but they’ll sell it, I can guarantee you that. They are just—we are just amazing. The things that we’re able to do once we’re clean are endless. And I always tell my clients this: addicts are not just survivors, we’re warriors. The reason that we’re warriors is because every day we have to fight. Every day we have to fight to survive. Every day we have to fight to get our next fix. Every day we have to fight to get food in our stomachs. We fight. We are warriors. Survivors just do whatever is bare minimum just to get by, just to live, to be breathing. But addicts do so much more than that. Once they get clean, they go to school. They better their lives. They get a degree. They find a better job. They find a career. And so many different aspects of their lives change, because that’s what they do. And addicts persevere and go through all the trials and tribulations that they had to, to get to where they’re at.


And it’s amazing what addicts are capable of doing once they get clean. And that’s what I really want people who are struggling with addiction to know. That whatever they’re going through—yes, it might be rock bottom for you. You might feel like you’re down an out. You might feel like, “oh I’m way too far gone.” You might feel like giving up. And that’s not what you should do. You should never give up. Because you’re a fighter, you’re a warrior. You’re not just a survivor. You’re not going to be a victim or anything like that, as long as you fight. As long as you do what it takes to get through this, I guarantee you, you can change circumstances and become whatever it is that you want to be. It doesn’t matter how old you are when you’re using. It doesn’t matter how old you are when you stop. Any age—I’ve seen people that are 60, 70-year-olds get like Master’s degrees in Social Work or something like that. It doesn’t matter because—if you’re able to fight through all of your active addiction, as soon as you get clean, you have tremendous opportunities. That’s why they call clean—once you’re in recovery, your Second Life. It really is. The things that I’ve seen and done and been able to do, I never would have been able to do if I was still using.


And that is a message that is very important for the suffering addict, because yes, they’re suffering. They’re not monsters. They’re people that need help. Even if it’s just a hand being thrown out to them. They need a lifeline. And I do think People of Substance can be that lifeline. Because they’re gonna hear a lot of these things that we say and they’re going to be able to relate to them. We have common ground that we can stand on.

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