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November 2021

For the month of November 2021, Fellowship RCO would like to recognize Dan Perlman

My story starts in Amarillo, Texas, where I was born to a drug-addicted mother who was just a baby herself. According to the adoption agency, she was a couple of years away from turning 18, and my birth father was either on the run or already in jail. I was fortunate enough to have been adopted by a couple from New Jersey. I couldn’t tell you when I found out that I was adopted. It was just something that I always knew.

My sister Brianne was adopted 5 ½ years later, and the two of us grew up together with me as the protector and her being very fond of her big brother. My parents did everything that they could to raise us. We had a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, and food on the table. However, the environment that I grew up in was chaotic. From the neighborhoods we lived in to the discord between our parents, there always seemed to be some “issue.”
 
I also did not feel the love from my mother as it was, and still is, tough to get her to say “I love you,” although I know that she does. I attribute this to my co-dependency with females.

 

Growing up, I was the textbook definition of validating how I felt by having a female partner. Whether it was to hang out with or date – I couldn’t live without that dynamic. Still, the irony is that I also did not know how to be a part of these relationships as my life was plagued by severe emotional immaturity fueled by anger and jealousy. When I was either twelve or thirteen years old, my parents got divorced. My father had an affair with a close family friend, and that was the end of that. My dad was out of the house, and I knew that I would not be reprimanded anymore with the back of his hand or with his loud and angry screaming. I didn’t have to watch my mother provoke my father anymore and then cry wolf when he reacted. I was now the man of the house.

Being the man of the house now had two possible but very different meanings. Either respect my mother’s rules and be a good big brother or do whatever I wanted to do. I chose the latter. Rules did not apply to me, and consequences I would ignore. My addictive behaviors started as a small child. Lying for no reason, stealing stuff out of classmates’ backpacks, and not being able to have just one of anything. The need for more of anything that felt good was so overpowering and overwhelming that I would crumble every time. I also was highly insecure and was very fragile when it came to any teasing or criticism. Getting angry to instill fear, violence towards those who offended or hurt me, and constantly needing to “even the score” became my new norm. This mindset was how I operated for most of my life, and I have not been able to put this behind me for good until halfway through my sobriety. No father in the house left me also feeling a need to find a role model. I was willing to do anything to be accepted by the older guys who ran the streets. I had no shame being the loudest and riskiest kid out of any social group I was in. By my junior year of high school, I was already in a juvenile detention center following my third arrest. At this point, only marijuana and minimal alcohol consumption was a part of my story as the hard drugs had not yet been problematic. However, that was very close to being the very thing that provided me with the comfort and self-acceptance that I so desperately craved. My sister, however, started using hard drugs her Freshman year.
 
A nasty addiction shaped the next few years to heroin, benzodiazepines, and crack cocaine. This included numerous arrests and trips to jails, detoxes, and rehab stints. My sister was following her big brother and wanted to be just like him. My father was back in my life now and was not an angry individual anymore. He became a soft-spoken and happy man, and I treated him like absolute garbage. That is one of my biggest regrets. He would do anything to give me the whole wide world, and I wanted nothing to do with him. From 2008 until 2016, I did not once have the same living accommodations for more than a few months due to my constant in and out of various institutions and couch surfing. Although it all sucked, living in a maintenance shed at a golf course was where I enjoyed myself the least.
Life was terrible, and I wanted to die. My self-esteem was at an all-time low, and I could not find the dignity or self-respect to get it together. I stole from, lied to, and disrespected anyone and everyone that I could have been used as a pawn. I remember injecting as much heroin as I could fit into a needle on several occasions, knowing that I was either going to get high or die. I did not realize that these were essentially suicide attempts until a sponsor pointed this out to me. I was the victim of a rather intense sexual assault during my active addiction, and it took me a long time to tell this to another person. I feel very claustrophobic when I think about it, and ignoring it has always been the most logical course of action. The police did not follow up with me, and the people at this hospital questioned my story and insinuated that if it was “something else ” I do not need to be ashamed to tell someone about it. That all caused me just as much, if not more, pain than the assault itself. To date, I have only shared this with a handful of people but typing it right here, right now, is better than never! Hopefully, someone who dealt with something similar can find strength from reading this.
 
On May 30th, 2016, I got high for the last time. I called a helpline on May 26th or 27th, 2016, looking for someone to “talk to.” I had just been released from the hospital, where I nearly had my arm amputated due to a progressive case of cellulitis. My sister just had her second surgery to replace her heart valves due to the endocarditis that put her in a coma several months prior. Both hospital stays were a direct result of needle usage. Both hospital visits saved our lives. The gentleman on the other end of the phone was a guy named “Rob DeFelice.” Rob was living at a recovery residence called “Fellowship Recovery Community Organization,” which I was not familiar with at the time.
 
I called because I just wanted someone to talk to, yet, he convinced me to get onto a plane and come down to Florida for treatment at Ocean Breeze. I almost left treatment multiple times, but Andrew Smith and Chris Doyle (employees of the detox and then the rehab portion) convinced me to stay. I have only spoken to Andrew and Chris a handful of times since, but they saved my life by talking me off the ledge. I graduated from Ocean Breeze and moved into Fellowship.
 
My social anxiety and negative self-talk were now at an all-time high, surrounded by well over one hundred other residents. I found a job but was reluctant to do much of anything else. I forged my meeting sheets and lied about having a sponsor. It appeared that it was because I didn’t care, but that was not true. I wanted to attend meetings, build a network, and get involved in Alcoholics Anonymous more than anything. I just hated how I looked and how I felt about myself, so the idea of sitting in a room of strangers would steal my peace and consume my every thought all day, every day. I was too embarrassed to say that as a man, “I do not like what I see when I look in the mirror and think I am ugly.”

I eventually got a sponsor and took suggestions. I slowly but surely felt better about myself and got out of my comfort zone. I spoke about what bothered me, and I was brutally honest, for the most part,. Fellowship RCO was not only the best thing that ever happened to me, but it saved my life. I learned valuable life skills there, and I made lifelong friendships.

As guys, I got clean with started dying left and right; I realized that I could do this. On April 18th, 2017, my baby sister died from a heroin overdose in a hotel room in Newark, New Jersey. She was down in Florida with me but had to fly home for a court date that she never made it to. This was the final piece of evidence that I needed to know that I would never get high again.

Shortly after, I was offered a house manager job at Fellowship, Kyle jokes that a storm got me that job. Ask him what that means if you know him. I worked at Fellowship for two years and got my feet wet working in the drug and alcohol treatment field. If you have ever worked at Fellowship, you know what I mean when I say that job is one of a kind and cannot be duplicated. From the bare hands-on experience, to the countless training opportunities that Rick and Sara would put together for us; I was well-rounded and employable in the field.

I could type pages and pages about how important Fellowship is to my story and how I attribute nearly every aspect of life to that experience. I currently am a business development representative for a company that has locations in numerous states. I get to network with various professionals, attend networking events and work with families to find safe treatment options for their loved ones. Fellowship taught me the basics of everything from doing a client’s intake to holding their hand throughout the early stages of their sobriety. I have my dream job and dream life, and without that, I would not have what I have today.

My father currently has stage 4 Pancreatic cancer. He does not have much life left, and I wish I had taken the time to improve our relationship sooner. He is just happy that his son is doing so well. My advice is that if you have a sibling, parent, or friend with who you are not on good terms – call them. Tell them that you love them. I miss Brianne more than words can ever describe, and this stuff with my dad is kicking my ass. I was all over the place with this, but I hope that someone can take something from this and use it as a source of inspiration.

I love you all. I want to thank Rick Riccardi and Sara Barkley for saving my life, and I am equally as honored to have the opportunity to write this as Fellowship will always be my home away from home.
 
~Thank you for letting me share.
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