All of us face issues in our lives that tell a story about who we are. It is not about what we went through, but how we decide to deal with these problems and move forward. We are all flawed in some way, and instead of hiding from the problems in our past, I think we must own them. People who know me now—as a successful wood flooring pro—might not have any idea about the journey that brought me to this point. I am sharing my story here because I hope it will inspire someone still struggling to make the change.
My story of struggle and addiction began as a teenager; I lacked respect for myself and others. I felt so much pain inside that I turned to the only things I thought would bring me a little relief: alcohol and drugs. I didn't know how to cope with everyday problems. As the years went on, I became more rebellious, and my addiction progressed. I lied, stole, cheated, used people for my own benefit, and hurt so many along the way. I was in and out of drug treatment facilities and jail. I would stay sober long enough for all those feelings to resurface, and then I was right back at it—even worse than before. I was completely lost in my own sorrow.
It was much easier to blame everyone else around me; this way I didn't have to take any responsibility. In 2013 I was sentenced to two years in state prison. Yes, the big house, like the ones you see all the horror stories about on TV and in the movies! Even in prison, my attitude didn't change right away. I still blamed everyone else: my probation officer for giving me drug tests, the judge for giving me so much time, and my lawyer for not doing his job! It wasn't until April of 2014, after my appeal was denied, that I started to take a long look at myself.
I will never forget my moment of clarity. Lying on the bottom bunk around 9:30 at night in cell 16, I realized my life was a complete disaster ... and it was all my fault! I thought about all my loved ones and how much I let them all down. I knew I had to start taking responsibility for myself. Over the next 18 months, I did all I could to work on myself. I read biographies, self-help and business books—pretty much anything I found intriguing. There isn't much else to do when you're trying to avoid all the trouble that goes on behind those walls.
The day finally came when I was released. Most people are excited; I was scared. I didn't want to let everyone down again. I wasn't sure how to live a clean, productive life. The only difference this time was my willingness to accept responsibility and my determination to turn it all into a positive. There are countless people who helped me. Some were in recovery themselves and taught me the way. Others were still struggling and made me realize I never wanted to go back. We can lean on our loved ones around us, but if we can't dig deep within ourselves to find the strength, we will never find our way.
My way turned out to be something that dates back all the way to 2002. This was also the same year my father decided he had had enough working for various flooring companies. Most people dream about this, but very few have the courage to actually follow through: With nothing but knowledge of the trade, he set out to start something that would be his own. He got a small loan to buy his first floor sanders and used the old family minivan as his very first company vehicle. It wasn't the most visually appealing, but his work spoke for itself, and he started to build a great reputation.
It took about a year until things got off the ground and business started booming. Everything was going great. He upgraded from the old minivan to a work truck and added a second crew. Business was profitable and growing. Then, in 2008, the housing market crashed. Things got bad, builders went bankrupt, contractors lost their businesses, and homeowners saw an uncertain future and held onto their money.
My father toughed it out, downsized the company and fought through the rough times. He had a family to provide for and couldn't imagine going back after all his hard work. He never lost hope to pursue his passion and dreams. After all, if it were always easy, then everyone would be doing it. I worked with my father on and off throughout the years. When I was young, I would go to the job sites with him to vacuum and scrape. He taught me, at a young age, the value of hard work.
In 2015, after I got out of prison, I decided to become fully committed to my father's company. It is not always easy working in the family business—you are always held to a higher standard than most. I am sure anyone who has ever worked with family can relate. Even though it can be tough at times, I consider myself very lucky. Not everyone has the same opportunities, and I feel indebted to my father for never losing hope and for giving me another chance. I decided this time I wasn't going to blow it; I just had to prove to him I was fully committed. I spent all my free time learning and figuring out ways that I could make things better. This was especially important because I didn't allow myself any free time to veer from the path I was pursuing. I quickly found out business isn't just about the quality of your work but all the dreaded office work. You have to know how to manage, market and sell. We have been growing tremendously, adding newer and better equipment, furthering our education and building our brand. This isn't just about making money for us, it's about pursuing our passion.
Now that I have been home, clean and sober for over two years, I have never had more hope for the future. I finally have confidence and respect for myself. I am able to look at myself in the mirror every day and not hate the person staring back. I foresee so many great opportunities for us in 2018, and I'm very excited to see what the future holds. My father noticed all my hard work and rewarded me with 40 percent of the company. It is crazy to think about how far I have come—I'm not the same person I was when I walked through those prison gates wearing shackles and an orange jumpsuit. We must never stop believing or lose hope and as long as we keep pursuing our dreams, anything is possible.
I wanted to share my story not for any praise, but to help inspire someone still struggling, and to help someone else come forward and help the next person like me. Anyone who has lived with addiction knows it doesn't just go away. It's something that we struggle with every day. It gets easier with time, but we must never become complacent, because that's when we stumble. Don't run from your past, but use it as the fuel to give you the motivation to become the person you want to be. We can do anything if we work hard enough and set our minds to it!
I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and I couldn't think of a better way to end this than with my favorite quote from Sylvester Stallone's character, Rocky Balboa, in the movie "Rocky:"
"Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place, and I don't care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!"