I received my Master's degree in secondary education and became a teacher. God blessed me again with a second Masters degree in educational leadership, and I became a leader. I was on the fast track to becoming Superintendent of Schools in Rochester, New York. That was my goal. I had a big head and a big attitude to go along with it. I had the house, cars, the boat - the middle-class dream. All of a sudden I started making some real bad choices. One of the choices that I made was starting to hang out in nightclubs. I had done this when I was in college and when I was right out of college, but I started doing it again. This was a time when my wife was pregnant. I should have been home being responsible, but no, I’m out on Thursday and Friday and Saturday nights hanging out.
One of the nights I meet this really cute little barmaid. She becomes my best friend and my lover. Suddenly I have VIP status in this nightclub. I’m there all the time. It’s open bar for me. I’m having a grand old time. One night I was asked to go outside. I knew what “go outside” meant. It meant we were going to smoke some weed. This is something else I had done earlier in my life, and now I was revisiting it again, but this night I went out and experienced something that changed my life forever. I tried crack cocaine. It was almost like I became a star in my own horror flick. I watched as my life began to change, as it began to go into a downward spiral. It became completely out of control.
It started off as just a weekend high on a Thursday or Friday night, and then it was Friday and Saturday night. Then it became Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and then I was getting high during the week. Remember, I am an administrator now in the Rochester New York City school district. I’ve run for political office. I’ve run for Teachers Union Presidency, so my face was on television, on signs, and posters. There were not many places in Rochester where I could go that someone didn’t know me as Mr. Sanders. Even in high school, I was a pretty good ballplayer, so my face was popular all around the city.
So now I’m getting high on Friday and Saturday and Sunday night and into the week. Things begin to get uncomfortable. Now I’m getting high every day, and I don’t know why. I know I have an issue. It really became clear that I had an issue when I started losing things. I lost a car because of my crack cocaine addiction, and then I lost my boat. Then I started losing things much more important to me. I lost my home, and finally my wife, Camile, and my infant child. I watched her walk out the door. The crazy thing about this drug is that when they walked out the door I wasn’t feeling all that remorseful. In my addicted mind, I was thinking, “Now I can get high in my own freedom, and do whatever I want to do.” The last thing I watched leave was my career, because now I’m calling in to work every day because I’ve been up all night long. I’ve been up two and three nights doing crack cocaine. I can’t get to work, so I’m calling in.
I watched my career, all the work, all the degrees, all that stuff, go down the drain. I think, “Man, I’m in trouble. The sensible thing to do is get some help.” In my mind, getting help meant going to rehab, so I sign myself into a thirty-day rehab center, where I learn about the twelve-step program, about who I am, and that I have this disease. I was feeling pretty good about myself because I’m not a loser, but I have a disease of addiction, and that’s why I’ve done the things I’ve done.
After thirty days I get out, and I’m feeling like I’m okay. I’m on top of things and get back in the rat race. Within two hours after being out of rehab, I was back in a crack house. That really blew my mind. I was like, “Man, I was really trying.” This happened three times. I went to three rehabs, and every time I came back I would go back to the crack houses. The second time I was there one week. The third time it was two weeks. In addition to that, I went to multiple detox centers just to get the drug out of me and try to get back on my feet. Every time I’d go in and come back out the result was the same. I’d fall right back on my butt again. I’d go right back out there again hustling to try to fill that *stem with another hit. That becomes my life, trying to hustle seven dollars to go buy a ten dollar **dime bag. I get to the place where there is nothing left for me.
I remember one particular day like it was yesterday. I’m standing in this room, and I say these words, “God, If you’re not going to save me then I need you to let me die because I’m nothing, and I have nothing. I don’t understand why you let me stay on this earth and be this person that I have become.” It was then that something happened to me that is indescribable. It’s completely unbelievable. I found out that day that all through my life I knew about Jesus. I knew about this man, Jesus, but on that day, I got to know him as my personal savior. I watched Jesus come into my life and do something that I could not do for myself. I watched Jesus do something the rehabs couldn’t do, the doctors couldn’t. I watched Jesus take crack cocaine away from me. I know he took it away because it’s been ten years now, and I’ve never touched another drug in all my life.
It was supernatural. Even to this day I really don’t understand it. An addict would know exactly what I’m talking about because one day you can’t do without this thing, this thing that would talk to me, this thing that would wake me up. It would speak to me. I know now that it was a demon, a spirit that was talking to me, directing everything I did. One day this demon is directing everything I do. The next day Jesus is directing everything I do. The contrast is so amazing. When I think about it, I can hardly believe it. I mean, what power can do that? I mean, just take something away that was your life. Crack cocaine had become my life.
I believe with all my heart that the twelve steps were inspired by God, but if the power of the Holy Spirit is absent, they’re just empty steps. I think that’s why so many people are out there on these so-called dry drunks. They give up alcohol, but they still have an emptiness in their lives because that spiritual component of Jesus Christ is not there.
*cylinder used to smoke crack cocaine
**$10 worth of crack