You see us crouched down on the sidewalks and functioning in corner offices. We are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, bosses, and employees who walk around with a painful secret that permeates through our every waking moment. We thrive on drama and pull our family members and friends into a painful abyss with our selfish obsessions and untrustworthy behaviors. There are 23 million of us in America, and even after hitting "rock bottom," only 10 percent will get the help we need.
We are addicts, and I say "we" because in addition to being an event designer, floral artist and author, I am also a former crack cocaine and alcohol addict.
This is my story of hitting rock bottom. Born in Panama, I grew up in a family with five children. We didn't have much, but my parents did their best. Knowing that education was tried and true path out of poverty, my parents encouraged us to stay in school, and work hard to make the best grades we could. My siblings followed this advice, but I dropped out at 16 and began hanging out with some very scary gangs instead of focusing on math and science.
My older sister had graduated and moved to New York a few years earlier, and in a moment of both brilliance and desperation, my parents shipped me off to America to join her in the hopes it would force me to settle down. Unfortunately, it worked out to be just the opposite. Once I was in New York, it was party time.
I immediately fell in love with the free and experimental culture of the seventies. Grass, alcohol, psychedelics and many men and eventually crack cocaine became my favorite drugs to "party" with and led to 20 years of pain, synthetic happiness and false promises to get sober. Though I did everything I could to keep these promises,the fact was that I loved the way drugs made me feel. What started off as casual use quickly became constant. and I found myself in the typical position of an addict: desperate, broke and nearly homeless.
After a particularly desperate breakdown, my dear friend, the interior designer, Vicente Wolf, had an incredible moment of insight. He suggested that I do flowers for some of his Park Avenue clients. Though I had never worked with the "ladies who lunch" set, I was thrilled to have a job. Looking back, I can tell you that my first 10 years of being a florist was a bloody nightmare. I was constantly stoned, which caused me a great deal of problems, but the good news is that being high means that I remember very little of it. My one saving grace was that, even completely out of it, I knew that I had stumbled onto something I loved, and really what's not to love? I was working with flowers, which was working with perfection. Equally helpful was the fact that the women I worked for loved whatever it was that I was doing (I had no idea at the time). One client led to another and before I knew it, my phone was ringing off of the hook and I was known as the "go to" guy for floral designs.
I was getting high (and barely getting by) all under the guise of good fortune. That all ended on May 21, 1990 when, thanks to a very hurt and angry bride, I had my "a-ha" moment. I met "Alice" in 1989 after she attended the wedding I designed for her very close friend. A lovely young woman from a very wealthy family, Alice came to visit me, and we had a love fest. At least, that's how I perceived it.
You see, addicts are always misguided in that area. We think everyone loves us when we are high. Alice and I discussed her desire for an intimate wedding at the home of her parents with 100 of her closest friends. She wanted the ceremony "covered in flowers." I was certain I could do a good job for Alice and promised her the world.
The week of her wedding, my crack intake escalated. I was completely out of it most of the time. Being the functional addict I thought I was, I went to the market and got all of the flowers for the wedding and partied on Friday night thinking I would get up and install the flowers on Saturday morning. As this was the early '90s, there were no cell phones or email addresses, just the good old home phone, which I turned off as all good addicts do.
I woke up on Saturday and turned my phone on. Remember those old answering machines? I hit play, and to my horror, there were 25 voice messages from Alice and her family. "Preston, where the !&^% are you with our flowers?"
Alice's wedding was Friday night and not Saturday.
I was devastated. There was nothing I could say or do to make the situation better. I had screwed up big time and hurt a bride by ruining one of the most important days of her life. They cursed me out and threatened to sue me, but thank God they never did.
I knew at that moment that I needed serious help. I grew up in a Baptist home and always had an on again/off again relationship with God. That night, for the first time in a long time, I got on my knees and prayed a prayer I still remember word-for-word. "God, please, I need your help. You must help me kick this habit." After 10 years of trying, and five years of therapy, I finally got sober.
It has been 25 years since Alice's wedding, and I have not touched drugs or alcohol since. I am lucky this worked for me, but I want to be clear that each person has their own ways of getting sober, and though I have only been once, I think AA is one of the most powerful ways of dealing with addiction.
Living with addiction is not easy (and I do believe that once you're an addict you will always be an addict). I still get my "high" and feel off when I don't. These days it comes by way of two- to three-hour workouts every day and binge watching TV shows. Thanks, Netflix.
I ran into Alice 15 years later and invited her to coffee and told her the truth while thanking her for saving my life. She has still not forgiven me and I do not blame her. I still have not forgiven myself for what I did to this poor woman.
Alice, if you are reading this blog, I want to say how sorry I am once more.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.