An Immigrant's Story

By Pawel Chmielewski • October 19, 2016

When coming to this Country 23 years ago, I imagined it being full of great opportunities to shape my future and my financial desires. The goal was very simple: manage my own business, obtain financial freedom, and help my family and others at the same time.

I moved to the small town of Webster, MA where I worked as a machine operator in a local textile factory. At that time, I learned that if I worked hard enough, then I could accomplish what I came here to do. I worked a lot of overtime, almost 30 extra hours each week. I was only 22 years old, very intelligent and very ambitious. I spent around three years there, working very hard, saving my money, and financially helping my family overseas. I was working my plan slowly, saving as much as possible for future investment opportunities. Until the day that changed my life forever.

I was introduced to drugs, specifically cocaine. At first I started using socially however, over 6 months this became a daily habit and my life became unimaginable. Cocaine became more important than anything or anyone else, it was taking over my life piece by piece. I started messing up at work, coming to work late and tired after a long night of using drugs and drinking alcohol. I noticed that I started losing motivation, control, and most of all confidence. Within the next 5 months I lost my job. Management got tired of my excuses, lies, and stories that did not make any sense.

Loss of my job quickly lead to financial bankruptcy. My bank account was overdrawn and quickly closed. I started selling my possessions, including my car and furniture. Not because the rent was due, but because I needed to get my fix. In three months I was kicked out of my apartment and ended up on the street. I lost contact with my family completely. What was there left to do? I was too ashamed to admit that I had a drug problem and too proud to ask for help.

I hung out in bars with people that I considered friends at the time, and relied on their goodwill to let me stay at their places overnight; when the reality was that they were complete strangers to me. I was hopeless, no income and a language barrier. This caused a lot of misunderstandings, that lead to a lot of fights in which I had to defend myself.

I remember winter came and I did not have a place to stay. I found an old school bus and made myself at home in the bus. I fixed broken windows with card board and used newspapers for a blanket to keep myself warm. I cleaned and shaved myself in a nearby river, which was very difficult to do in the middle of winter. I still remember how cold the water was! I lost a lot of weight during this time from not eating enough, or not at all. Drugs took over every aspect of my life, and I did not see any reason to change my situation. I did not care. I lost faith and was in desperate need of drugs. That became the most important thing in my life. I was completely powerless over my addiction. I stole food to feed myself and stole possessions to exchange them for drugs. I had not yet realized what was going on. I hopelessly lost all of my possessions, as well as self-esteem and honor. This disease affected me physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. I did not see rig! ht or wrong. I became arrogant, self-centered, manipulative. I was nobody and nobody wanted to have anything to do with me. I remained this way for about two years, the worst time of my life.

One day I saw someone I knew, he pulled over and asked me to go with him. I was on my way to a bar to deliver some drugs for a local drug dealer. Instead, I went to that Richard’s house. His wife offered to let me stay on their property in their trailer, as long as I didn’t use drugs. I got rid of all my drugs and decided to stay there. I had food and a warm shower, and I started working with Richard in his construction business. I am very thankful for this man and his wife.

When his construction business slowed down I took a job as a housekeeper for a large national company based in Massachusetts and very quickly started to climb up on my new career ladder. I became account manager and successfully ran housekeeping and laundry operations at a local nursing home.

What happened to my addiction? The problem resurfaced shortly after I left Richard’s house, except this time I learned how to manage my addiction. I took care of basic needs first (paid rent and bought some food), and the rest of the money I spent on buying drugs. I have estimated having spent around $300,000 over 15 years of using. I learned how to successfully hide my addiction from my bosses and to some extent my family, until one day I was hit by a car. I don't remember too much, that is how drunk and high I was. I ended up with a fractured neck and I was out from work for 6 months. I relied on a friend to take care of me.

When I got back to work I was promoted and relocated. Now I was operating the largest account the company had. I taught myself more English and improved my management skills. Still, my addiction was with me the entire way. Wherever I was, drugs seemed to find me right away, or I found them. I put myself at risk by having unprotected sex with women that I hardly knew or just met. Everything relating back to the fact that I was high and did not care. I gave up on the possibility of being clean and I taught myself that this was the only way. The company sent me to New Mexico a few years later. I quickly discovered that the drugs here were even easier to find. I started using more frequently once again, and shortly ended up changing employers.

I struggled with my addiction for a long time, manipulating my coworkers and my employer. It was my lifestyle, and I was in a deep stage of denial. Drugs were my purpose. There was a hole inside of me and I did not know how to fill it. There was something missing and I did not know what it was, drugs were the only thing that could fill the void.

Eight years ago on July 7th my life changed again. It was the beginning of my recovery (I did not know it at this time) – I was holding a newborn child, my daughter! I fell in love with little Kandra immediately. I even wanted to take her home that day, but the nurse stopped me. I made her a promise, that daddy would take care of her. I’ve loved this child from the time she was born. Kandra became my partner, my love, my everything. If I went to the store she would go with me, if I went to the gas station, she went with me. I was happy now, with a new purpose in my life. Until I broke the promise I had made to Kandra. I reached out to drugs, I went down fast and hard once again. I hit rock bottom. I had trouble at work, lied to my family, misused money. Except this time, I was taken away from my Kandra, and that was killing me slowly. I became powerless over my addiction again, and I was getting close to losing my Kandra completely. Her mother had enough, she felt insecure and scared. My addiction was getting bad again. I realized that the only way to change my life was to ask for help. If not for me, then for Kandra. I was willing to surrender. For the first time I admitted that I was powerless over my addiction, that my life had become unmanageable. I received 4.5 months of counseling from a local rehab. I was introduced to Narcotics Anonymous. I found my God, a power greater than myself.

“Clean & Serene for Multiple Years of Recovery” – that is what it says on the keychain attached to my car key. Yes, I am clean today. I am a member of Narcotics Anonymous, I surrendered to a new way of life. I admitted that I am an addict and I don’t have to hide it anymore. I have what I’ve wanted the most, I have my Kandra and I have my life back.

I want to give credit here to NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and God, but also friends that I have in my life that supported me when I needed it the most: Ed – my previous boss, my sponsor Doug, and many more. Also Pizza 9 owners Hass and Rod, who supported my recovery then and continue to do so today. Also, Kandra's mother, my ex-girlfriend Marcela.

Not too long ago, a woman named Jennifer called me on a Sunday morning. She was crying hysterically. She needed a way out. It was her 10-year-old daughter’s birthday. She said that she had wanted to talk to me a month before when I was giving my testimony to a large group of people at the local courthouse. I was asked to do so by a local Judge, to help other people come forward with their addictions. She didn’t talk to me that day because she was too ashamed to admit her addiction. She was just about to lose her child, her truck, and everything else in her life. She used heroin that same morning, shortly before talking to me. She wanted to get clean. I stayed on the phone with her for the next 30 minutes. Another female addict, also a member of NA reached out to her as well. The next morning, she was in a detox program.

Soon after, I walked into an NA meeting room and someone reached out to me, hugged me, and said: “You saved my life that Sunday by talking to me, you convinced me what to do.” It was Jennifer back from detox, straight to the recovery rooms of NA.

This is what we do, this is what I do! I am at the service of the recovery process. I go to recovery meetings to help myself and to reach out to others. I am here to listen and to help, but first you have to be willing to help yourself. You have to be willing to admit your addiction.

To finish my story, today I am working for Pizza 9 Franchise System as a General Manager. I am working on my dream, the dream that I had when I came to this country, and I am getting closer and closer every day! I am dating a beautiful woman, Angela, and I don't have to keep secrets from her about my past. I am blessed with love, and with people who love me.

Hopefully you learn from my story, hopefully you will not make the same mistakes. However, if you do, I will be here.

Recovery is possible, and I am a living example of it!

Thank you, my name is Pawel and I am a recovered addict.

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