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The Radical ‘Gift’ That Changed Everything for Former Heroin Addict, Story Inspires Thousands

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This New Yorker overcame twenty years of addiction after a life-altering experience. He is now remaining motivated with the help of his son.


“Apparently I’d been dead for 2.5 minutes,” the New Yorker told photographer Brandon Stanton. “There comes a point when you’re given the gift of desperation. And that was it for me. Today is my 160th day clean.”

The HumansofNY Instagram recently shared a portrait of a New Yorker with a powerful story of overcoming heroin addiction. This father of one shared that he’s celebrating 160 days of sobriety, an incredible achievement he was able to accomplish with his son as his biggest motivation.

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“I woke up with a gasp in the back of an ambulance. They’d shot adrenaline directly into my heart. Apparently I’d been dead for 2.5 minutes. The EMT’s were freaking out. My chest hurt from the electric paddles. And I was already in acute withdrawal. At the time, it had been nearly twenty years of addiction. I weighed 128 pounds, and I’m a six foot tall man. There comes a point when you’re given the gift of desperation. And that was it for me. Today is my 160th day clean. I’ve never gone this far before. One of the first things I did after getting sober was write my son a letter. He was raised by my parents. I told him: ‘You did nothing wrong. I was an addict. I loved heroin more than you, more than your mother, more than my own mother.’ And he’s forgiven me. He’s a good hearted kid. I think more than anything he just wants his dad back. He came to visit me in November. It was the first time I’ve seen him in seven years. He’s become my biggest advocate. He knows my day count. He texts me every day for a feelings check. He’s become my biggest motivation. I just don’t want my legacy to be ‘dope fiend.’ That can’t be what’s on my headstone. That can’t be how he remembers me. I don’t want my kids telling their kids: ‘Your grandfather was a heroin addict.’ I want them to brag about my sobriety. I want them to say: ‘That’s something he was, but he beat it.’”

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The New Yorker had been addicted for nearly twenty years. “I woke up with a gasp in the back of an ambulance. They’d shot adrenaline directly into my heart,” shared the New Yorker. As a six-foot-tall man, he weighed no more than 128 pounds at the time. His near-death experience marked the starting point of a recovery journey.

“One of the first things I did after getting sober was write my son a letter. He was raised by my parents. I told him: ‘You did nothing wrong. I was an addict. I loved heroin more than you, more than your mother, more than my own mother.’”

His son forgave him and visited him in November. “I think more than anything he just wants his dad back,” said the New Yorker. “It was the first time I’ve seen him in seven years.” His son has since become his biggest champion and motivation.

“I just don’t want my legacy to be ‘dope fiend.’ That can’t be what’s on my headstone. That can’t be how he remembers me. I don’t want my kids telling their kids: ‘Your grandfather was a heroin addict.’ I want them to brag about my sobriety. I want them to say: ‘That’s something he was, but he beat it.’”

The New Yorker opened up about his powerful story to photographer Brandon Stanton. Stanton started Humans of New York over ten years ago. It all started as a photography project with the goal to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers on the street.

“Somewhere along the way, I began to interview my subjects in addition to photographing them. And alongside their portraits, I’d include quotes and short stories from their lives,” explain Stanton on his website.

Over the last decade, this photo project has grown into multiple photo books and a loyal fanbase of more than 10 million followers on social media. The raw honesty and vulnerability combined with the powerful portraits remind people of the humanity we all share.

Stories like these remind people that they’re not alone in their struggle. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 19.7 million American adults battled a substance use disorder in 2017. Seventy-four percent of these adults struggled with an alcohol use disorder, and 38 percent battled an illicit drug use disorder, according to the American Addiction Centers. Many of them have since sought help and have been able to recover from their addiction, make amends, restore family relationships and get their lives back on track.

If you or someone you know is battling a substance use disorder, know that you don’t have to do this alone. Information of thousands of state-licensed provides specialized in treating substance use disorders, addiction and mental illness can be found here.