Staff Stories: Benji Fleischer - Director of TSL's Carla Ridge House

Drug Abuse
Mental Health
Mental Illness
Sober Living
Substance Abuse

Benji Fleischer's Story of Addiction and Recovery

Sunday evening, Feb. 5, 2006 was a night I had been waiting for my entire life.  Decades of mediocrity were about to be reversed and a life of loyalty was going to finally pay off.  My Seattle Seahawks were playing in the Super Bowl and I believed, with all my heart, we were going to win.  My roommate and I had picked up an 8-ball of Cocaine the night before and we also had a bunch of weed and little did he know I had a pocket full of Oxy’s.  

Bad planning had left us with only a gram of Coke by game time but I was still feeling really good at kick-off.  As many of you know that evenings events didn’t turn out the way I had hoped and the next morning was even worse.  Dealing with Seattle’s loss was one thing but another morning of feeling dope sick was more than I could handle.  For the previous few months I had been promising myself I was going to get sober again.  

I had been calling a friend at a detox who knew me pretty well from previous visits and every time I called there were no beds available.  I had also been toying with the idea of going to the Methadone clinic but when 6:00 A.M. Monday morning would come I would simply turn my alarm off and decide to just continue on the roller coaster ride I had been on for the last 18 months.  This Monday was different.  I had once again used up a few day’s supply of Oxys in just one night and had to figure out how to keep it going, again!  I sat in front of my computer at work just staring at the screen waiting for my connection to call back.  

This Monday, he wasn’t responding and my head began to tell my body I was beginning to withdrawal and the 2000 lb. cloak of fear that came over me made me want to jump in front of a moving bus. I picked up the phone and called Edith one more time.  This time she had a bed. I called my mom and told her that I would need to leave my car at their house for ten days because I had been getting loaded again and I was on my way to detox.  I then walked into my boss’s office and told him that I am quitting. My boss was a recovering addict and had been on this ride with me for the last six years.  

We both agreed that I needed to start my life over and begin the journey that would eventually save the life of a man who wanted and even prayed to die.  I was 31 and had surrendered on a level I never knew could even be possible...Let’s go back a few a years to paint a better picture of what led me to that beautiful day, Feb, 6 2006.  Like most if not all alcoholics/addicts, I had always felt out of place and worked harder at belonging than any other endeavor in my life.  Drinking when I was 12 was strictly a social exercise but I would always be the one who ended up throwing up and either sleeping on the bathroom floor or some other place my friends were gracious enough to carry me to. When High School came and I began stepping over lines I had told myself I never would, first  with weed, then nitrous and finally mushrooms and ecstasy.  

In College, I went on to cocaine while my weed smoking became a daily activity.  Binge drinking on weekends was great but I could always put the bottle down, I just liked drugs more.  By the time I turned 24, college was not for me, it got in the way of my partying so I dropped out with 24 units left to complete my Bachelor’s degree.  I went on to working at different sales jobs ending with a successful career with that boss I had previously mentioned.  I was making between $70-$80 thousand a year in my late twenties but I couldn’t pay my rent or bills.  When I was 27, someone introduced me to opiates and I had met the love of my life!  

It started with a couple Vicodin every day after work, to buying a hundred at a time that would last 2-3 days.  One day my dealer didn’t have any Vicodins so I called my buddy to see what he had.  He came over with an 80mg Oxycontin and I took one.  I threw up within a half hour and he told me to snort the next one instead.  He showed me how to wipe off the protective coating and from my years of experience with Cocaine I knew exactly how to chop it up.  I snorted half the pill and I was hooked.  At the height of my habit I was using 500mg’s of Oxy, Fentinyl lollipops and a gram or two of weed daily.  

On weekends I would mix in Cocaine, Ecstasy and anything I could find.My life was great, I was making enough money to support my habit and I had a new lover, best friend and solid drug connections.  One Monday I came into work and my best friend wasn’t there.  I had been calling him but he wasn’t picking up.  He finally called back that night and told me that his wife had found out about his addiction and told him that he had to quit or she would leave him.  Too bad for him, that’s what you get for being married.  I had a girlfriend but she would never call me on my shit and that was perfect for me.  I knew that I was physically addicted but really had no idea to what extent.  That quickly changed when my friend began to tell me what he was going through at home.  

He described the most physically and emotionally awful experience I had ever heard.  It would be months before I had firsthand experience of opiate withdrawal.  It was New Years, 2003 and since I really didn’t have anyone left to get high with I decided that I would quit using.  I told my girlfriend what had been going on and with her help I was going to quit.  By the second day I felt worse then I could’ve ever imagined and called my dealer begging him to please meet up with me because I was dope sick. He obliged and I would continue to get high for the next two weeks.  

I finally called another friend who had been sober for a few years and asked him what I should do.  He put me in touch with a detox and I checked in a few days later.  The first thing they gave me was Methadone.  I was still new at all this and I didn’t understand why they were giving me the same medication they give to heroin addicts?  I was a pill addict; I would never do Heroin, that’s for junkies.  I quickly learned that I was a junky and I was addicted to synthetic Heroin.  

A Jewish boy from Beverly Hills who had come from a loving, wonderful family was a Junky.  I quickly became comfortable at detox and did a great job of convincing everyone that I would be the shining star from this group and stay sober for the rest of my life.  I did everything that was asked of me and said all the right things.  I even convinced myself that I was going to be the most likely to succeed from my detox class!  When I got out of detox I went to my friend’s apartment and convinced him I deserved to smoke weed since I had made the decision to quit the hard stuff.  A few days later I was up to old my old tricks and addicted to opiates again.  

In May of the same year, I checked into a different detox and by the end of my stay was voted again most likely to succeed.  With a few days left in my stay my counselor asked me if I would be interested in moving into treatment or sober living.  I told her that I was going to move in with my brother and he would help keep me in line.  Once again, I was running the show and unwilling to take direction.  My brother really tried to work with me but after a couple of months I moved out on my own.  I was still sober, had a sponsor, and was attending meetings.  I did well for a few more months but my experience in recovery remained superficial.  I was just going through the motions and doing what I was told solely to get validation.  If you asked me if I was powerless, I would quickly say yes, but I never really understood what that meant.  

In October, I had gone with my family to see Cirque D’ Sole and on the way home I stopped at a liquor store and picked up a 22 oz. bottle of Heineken.  I don’t even like beer and I had no plans of drinking that night but suddenly I was in my studio apartment drinking.  Things remained O.K. for the next month but God tends to put pot holes in front of you when you’re living a life of indecency.  I was playing in a Turkey Bowl, an annual tackle football game that boys play when they can’t give up on the fact they didn’t make it to the NFL, when I broke my finger while making a tackle.  I was in almost no pain but when the doctor asked me if I needed anything I told him, “sure”.  He gave me Tylenol with Codeine.  I finished the bottle of thirty pills in two days and made up a story about the house keeper throwing away the bottle and he wrote me a refill for 30 more.  A couple days later I called my old dealer and off I went again.  I stayed on that run for over a year until February, 2006.Surrender, what a powerful word. For so long I had associated words like surrender, humility, open-minded and willingness with weakness.  Over the past six years I’ve learned that my beliefs couldn’t have been further from the truth.  

On that Monday I told my family I would take whatever direction I was given because nothing could be more important in my life then my sobriety.  After detox I checked into a long term treatment facility not having any ideas about where my life was headed.  I knew that at 31, I was starting my life over and a new faith in God and others was going to be all the direction I needed to live.  That first night in treatment I walked up to the counselor driving us to the A.A. meeting and told him that I needed a sponsor.  When we got to the meeting he walked me up to three gentlemen and announced to them that I was looking for a sponsor.  

To my dismay, the last guy I would’ve picked squeezed his way in and told me that he was going to be my sponsor.  Funny how God works, if it were up to me who knows who I would’ve picked as my sponsor but the guy who chose me ended up being the greatest gift I could’ve ever asked for.  He was thick headed, impatient and a stubborn; he was just like me.  For the next 18 months, we embarked on a journey through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous that saved my life and introduced me to a God of my understanding that has brought me a level of peace and faith beyond my wildest dreams.  I quickly learned that I had been a selfish, entitled, ego maniac for most of my life and that to stay sober I was going to need to have my ego smashed.  I had spent so much time and energy trying to make people believe that I was someone else because the thought of my true self made me cringe.  I was extremely insecure with low self esteem enhanced by a life of actions that continually fed those unhealthy ideals.  

I had an “Aha” moment when someone explained to me that if I began to do estimable acts my self esteem would grow stronger and my insecurities would disappear.  What a novel idea!  If I live decently and nurture a relationship with God I will begin to feel better about myself.I spent 6 months doing my first step.  My sponsor and I met weekly for 2 hours on the lawn in front of the Veteran Affairs Hospital in Westwood. After each session we would speak on a panel in their detox.  Towards the end of my first step I had an experience that, to this day, I still can’t define but has been the foundation of a spiritual relationship that is the center of my entire recovery.  

My sponsor and I had been going back and forth for months on the mental obsession part of the disease of Alcoholism.  The Big Book of AA describes the mental obsession “as a thought process over which you have no control, specifically when it comes to the next time we will drink or use”.  I had seen all the other parts of the first step clearly but I was having a difficult time admitting to myself that I was completely powerless over the mental obsession.  I was sitting in my room having another long conversation with my sponsor about this when something incredible happened.  It first felt like my brain had dropped into my chest and I had lost my breath.  It felt like I had gotten kicked in the chest.  The Big Book is littered with stories of how recovering alcoholics had drastic spiritual experiences to which they credit their sobriety.  

I had finally had mine.  For my whole life my thinking had a mind of its own.  My brain would do what it wanted and the crap that came out of my thoughts drove me to live the way I had been.  In that moment, I had the journey from my head to my heart where I have come to believe my God lives.  I immediately had a connection with my soul and with a higher level of intelligence which gave me the ability to transcend my thoughts and ideas and make holy decisions that aligned me with the purpose God had brought me here for.  For so long I was the end all.  No longer would the world revolve around me, I would begin to make decisions that were decent and not about myself.  Over the next year we did my fourth step, a moral inventory, and I received the gift of clarity.  

With the help of my sponsor I was able to see how selfish I was, especially in how I believed the world should treat me.  I learned about the fears that controlled my unhealthy responses and actions and learned how to pause.  The ability to pause changed the way I interacted with people and situations.  I use to feel like a kite in the wind.  My emotional well being would shift on a dime when the wind would change.  I had now been given the ability to no longer feel out of control.  I was no longer a puppet to my thoughts and emotions.  My relationship with God and knowledge of self changed who I was and how I acted.  The Big Book calls this the Psychic Change and I had it.  Finally, I made amends to the people I had harmed and became free of all the shame I had been living with for so long.

Before amends I was living in constant fear because I knew at any given time I could’ve been called out by any of the numerous people I had harmed.  Having made amends I was free to walk the earth knowing that my slate was clean and I was trudging a new road built on decency, honor, humility and love.Over the past six years my life has grown in ways I would’ve never imagined.  I have learned that when a door has closed other doors have opened that I didn’t even know were there.  I had been working as a counselor for the last five years at the treatment center where I got sober.  At one year sober I went back to the same college I dropped out of when I was 24 and finished the degree I had started.  At three years sober I decided to go and get a Teaching credential because I was never going to make a good living working in treatment and I had always wanted to be a teacher.  A month after I finished the schooling for the credential I was offered job as program director for Transcend Sober Living.  

A week before I started my new job I got married to the most beautiful woman I have ever met and my partner in life.  If you would’ve asked me six years ago what my life would like in 2012 I would’ve definitely short changed myself.  I could write ten pages about how much my life has changed for the better but I think you get the point.  Seven years ago I would go to sleep at night hoping I would not wake up in the morning.  I didn’t want to kill myself but living the way I was had beaten me into a state of extreme hopelessness and helplessness.  We all know that life is a constant struggle and there’s no such thing as a life without disappointment, hard work and pain.  However, my life in recovery has brought me a level of peace, gratitude and content that no matter how difficult things get I know I will always be ok.  Faith in God, program and myself has taken a man who sucked the life out of everyone and everything into a life of meaning and love that I would’ve never expected.

Transcend Recovery Community

Transcend Recovery Community family of sober living homes provides a safe place for those undergoing mental health and addiction treatment to live with like-minded peers. Our community-based approach to sober living (similarly to a halfway house) facilitates an open and welcoming environment, where members, staff and team can provide support and encouragement on the path to a sober and healthy life. Transcend's Los Angeles sober living homes are located in some of the most iconic areas of the city, filled with luxurious and upscale amenities, providing plenty to do for those in our transitional housing community.

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