The first time Geno stood before the judge in charge of his child custody arrangements, he was in jail, soon to be released after yet another stint for theft.
“I was handcuffed, wearing my yellow banana suit, and I weighed 122 pounds,” remembers Geno. “I had dark bags under my eyes, and track marks all over my arms.”
The judge awarded him 3 hours per week of visitation with his baby daughter and son. But upon his release, Geno drifted back to the streets — back to heroin and meth, back to scrounging dumpsters for food — and lost contact with his kids altogether.
Five years later, Geno faced the same judge. But he was a different person — a fit, drug-free GED student with an immaculate 2-bedroom apartment.
“The judge said, ‘Congratulations on your sobriety, for getting your life back in order. It looks like you gained 60 pounds. You don’t look like hell anymore. I don’t see this happen often — this is one for the books.’ She just kept giving me props. To hear that from a judge felt really good.”
This time, the judge awarded Geno 50% custody of his kids. “She knew how committed I was, how much having my kids means to me,” says Geno, now 24 and an Ideal Option patient.
Geno himself marvels at the dramatic turn his life has taken.
Addicted to Adderall as a teenager, he dropped out of school to earn money. He detailed cars, sold Range Rovers, worked in sales at a call center and at Sears.
“I got fired from every single job for fraud or stealing money,” he says.
Once, he stole a customer’s checkbook and wrote himself a check for $500. He stole his sister’s debit card and defrauded his mom and brother, too.
“I thought I was getting away with it,” he says. “I had no idea people were filing charges against me left and right.”
Eventually, Geno was charged with 17 felony counts, and at age 18, began serving 2 years in prison.
When he got out, he drifted to the streets. Unready for recovery and estranged from his family, he spent his days shooting, smoking, and snorting meth and heroin.
“I’d be up for days and weeks at a time because of the meth,” he says, “and then I’d smoke heroin and sleep for 17 hours.”
To maintain his supply, he’d panhandle and boost drills and saws from Walmart, trading the tools for drugs. Sometimes he’d get caught and spend a few months in jail.
During these years, the only family member he ever saw was his brother.
“He’d drive me to a homeless shelter if it was freezing out,” Geno remembers. “Everyone else isolated from me. They didn’t want to enable me, so they had to completely cut me off.”
Geno tried to kick drugs several times, bouncing around inpatient rehab clinics, but he wasn’t offered Suboxone and, in retrospect, wasn’t motivated enough for recovery.
“When you’re in your addiction, you tell yourself all the time: ‘I’m just gonna stop.’ But you never do. You just get sick, and you don’t want to deal with the sickness.”
A clean and tidy person at heart — ”My tent was always spotless,” he says — Geno grew weary of the dirt and chaos of street life, of showering in bird baths and rummaging through garbage for leftover pizza.
Finally, the lifestyle wore him down. “The streets just beat me up too much. Not having anywhere to go terrified me. I wanted somewhere to call home. I told myself: I want to be done. I was just ready.”
Geno’s fifth inpatient treatment center introduced him to Suboxone. That marked the beginning of his turnaround.
“Suboxone was so amazing. Suddenly, I didn’t have cravings – nothing. Before, using drugs was all I ever thought about.”
When he completed his 30-day inpatient stay, Geno says, he was “scared to go out in that new world” but also excited to start his new life. “I was willing to put 120% into it. I was ready to bust my butt and do the meetings, the counseling, everything.”
Geno began intensive outpatient treatment, attended 90 NA meetings in 90 days, enrolled in Ideal Option, and found the first counselor he truly connected with.
“She genuinely cared about me and my feelings,” says Geno. “I could tell her anything. I never had that support, ever. She actually cared and gave me real solutions, not just, ‘Oh, get over it.’”
With his couselor’s guidance and encouragement, Geno made appointments to secure housing and financial assistance, enroll in a GED program, and deal with legal issues. “At first, it was so overwhelming,” he says. “I was changing my whole life.”
His counselor also offered ideas for avoiding the boredom and loneliness that often lead to relapse, telling Geno: “Go and try something you’ve never done. Get out of your comfort zone.”
For starters, he set a daily routine — one that he has maintained two years into recovery.
“I wake up at about 6:45, take my Suboxone, and clean my entire house — I vacuum and everything, even if it’s entirely clean. Then I hit the gym for an hour or two. Then I go to school from 10:15 to 1:15.”
Three days a week, he picks up his kids and takes them to the park before cooking dinner.
He also goes on afternoon walks. “I put my cat in a cat backpack and we go to the store and everywhere.”
Geno’s counselor also urged him to try cooking, which has turned out to be one of his greatest pleasures.
“Before, fast food was all I ever ate. I’d dumpster dive at Little Caesars after closing. Sometimes they’d throw away a pizza.”
Now, Geno owns cookbooks and searches online for recipes. “I make spaghetti and salad. I cook nachos and stuffed burgers and chicken Caesar wraps. It’s really rewarding to eat what you’ve made and enjoy how good it tastes.”
Having lived for years in a tent, Geno even finds satisfaction in making his bed.
“If you had a rough day and feel you haven’t accomplished anything, at least your bed was made and you have a clean house. You can appreciate that.”
After he earns his GED, Geno plans to study business in college and eventually own a car detailing and tinting business.
“I think I could run a business really well,” he says. “I like being around people and cars. I’ve always been a clean freak. My house is spotless, and I love cleaning cars.”
The best part of recovery, Geno says, is reconnecting with his kids, now 6 and 4 ½, and his parents and siblings.
“I love being a father and having my family back. Before, I never got phone calls and I was never invited to anything. Now, they check up on me, and I’m welcomed in family events. I go to birthday parties, barbecues, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner. I get invited to everything.”