Connor D’s life was out of control.
He was stealing money from his family, going through other people’s medicine cabinets, taking Xanax by the handful and hanging out all night with his “user friends.”
When his mother forbade him to go out late at night, he jumped out of his second-story bedroom window. He aimed for a trampoline below, but missed the target and broke his tailbone. Despite the injury, he still met up with his friends that night and went to the ER the next day.
“I was so desperate to get high I jumped out of a window,” he recalls.
After Connor tried to break into a safe where his family kept its medications, his mother had had enough and started researching mental health facilities. In Connor’s words, he “freaked out,” took her laptop and threw it in the pool.
“I was acting like a monster and just being a bad person,” he says, reflecting on his late teens and early 20s. “I feel so badly about some of the things I’ve done. I mean, I threw my mother’s laptop in the pool. That’s a terrible thing to do. My mother is my favorite person in the entire world. She didn’t deserve that.”
Shortly after the pool incident, Connor realized how dangerous and destructive his behavior was. Looking back, he wonders how much longer he would have survived had his mother not pushed him to get help.
They turned to Silver Hill Hospital.
“I felt safe at Silver Hill,” he recalls. “Safety is a big issue for a lot of people, and you’re taken care of every day there. You get valuable lessons and open up in therapy. Silver Hill has the best staff; they are unbelievable. They go above and beyond. Everyone wants the best for us.”
Fast forward nine years. Connor is now 29, has a serious girlfriend, a job as an assistant teacher and is taking courses to get his teaching degree. He also volunteers at a substance abuse prevention organization in New York.
He has been sober for eight years and still uses strategies he learned at Silver Hill Hospital when things get tough.
“I love the life I live,” he says. “The journey started at Silver Hill Hospital. Getting sober was a good choice.”
Following Silver Hill, Connor moved to California. He produced music and played in a band. All of his band members were sober as well, otherwise “it would have been almost impossible to be sober in that scene.”
Then his father was diagnosed with cancer and Connor came back to New York to help care for him. His father is in remission and doing well now, but news like that is a potential pitfall for recovering addicts.
“Stuff like that is triggering, to be honest, but I was able to handle it, thanks to the tools I was given at Silver Hill,” he says. “I was able to handle that and that’s pretty big.”
The COVID pandemic and associated quarantines, lockdowns and other restrictions also posed a serious threat to Connor’s sobriety. The pandemic broke down structure in people’s lives and support groups stopped meeting in person. Connor rarely attended the Zoom meetings because, to him, they were impersonal and lacked the camaraderie of in-person meetings.
“When the pandemic hit, that’s when my sobriety got rocky,” he says. “You get cabin fever and when addicts get bored, that’s not the best situation. The pandemic had an effect on a lot of recovering addicts.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use just a few months into the pandemic. Opioid use in the U.S., which had begun to slowly recede before COVID, became an even bigger crisis in the country with more than 90,000 people dying of a drug overdose in the U.S. in 2020, according to the CDC.
Connor made it through, largely through his two main outlets: fitness and music.
“I talk to a lot of people, and everyone was going through the same thing. I know people who died; people I grew up with,” he says. “You have to ride the wave, but it was tough. I thought about using a few times, but you have to focus on your outlets. I really concentrated on things like that, and my girlfriend helped a ton. At one point, I was quarantined for 10 days, I hated that. I was grumpy; I was an (expletive). I wasn’t the best version of me that I could be, but that was tough.”
Connor looks back fondly and gratefully on his time at Silver Hill Hospital. He remembers the camaraderie at Scavetta House, the breakthroughs during therapy and the clinicians with whom he connected. He recalls the friendly but “tough when he needed to be” style of social worker Wallace Stacy, who is now a Senior Clinical Social Worker at Silver Hill.
“He was a sweetheart of a kid, and I was happy to be part of his recovery,” Wallace says. “It’s amazing when a patient remembers the impact you made on them.”
After Silver Hill, Connor lived in sober houses and faithfully attended 12-step meetings. He now serves as a sponsor for other addicts.
“Long-term sobriety is possible. I’m 29 and I got sober in my young 20s. I think it’s important to share stories for hope. It shows people can change. I used to use and abuse alcohol and other substances. My life is so different now. It’s beautiful. People need to know there’s a light on the other side, you just have to keep at it and put in the work,” he says. “I want people to know that it’s worth it to have that feeling of safety in your life; to know that a loved one is not staying up all night thinking you might be dead. I want people to know there is hope and Silver Hill is a great community to start. There really is hope out there.”