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Rehab's Tough Guy

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By McCarton Ackerman

10/14/12

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Were you a functioning addict?

For a little while yes but I was a bad addict in that there was no stop button and no common sense. When you do cocaine, you feel wonderful. You think, “Why should I feel wonderful on Saturday and horrible the other six days of the week?” Then you do it to justify the feelings in your head. You do it when you’re upset, you do it when you’re bored. It blows the ego out.  

Eventually, it got in the way of my work. Charles Bronson reached out to me one day to help him do a big fight scene in a movie theater. He told me to call the office and we’d start the next day. I got so loaded that night and was in such a bad state that I never called him. A year later, I ran into him again and he made me an offer to work on another movie and the same thing happened: I went out until 5:00am drinking, doing coke and benzos, and never made it to the shoot.

When did your drug use start to truly get out of control?

There are a lot of examples. There was one day I was in my apartment, smoking heroin and spinning a gun around. I fired off a bullet by accident and this huge hole went through the floor, shredding wood and smoke everywhere. I raced downstairs [to my neighbor’s apartment] and saw that the bullet was sitting where she usually rested her head so I flipped the pillow and moved it over to the other side of the couch.

But the biggest example was when I started working for a drug cartel through a limousine service. I went to a party, met some of the guys and started doing small little runs on the American side of the border. Then I went down to South America and was laundering money, learning how the business was run. I worked for them for 18 years.

I was able to live really well. Ninety percent of the money wasn’t mine but they would get me anything I needed: I had all the drugs I wanted, girls, and a four-story penthouse with an acre of land. I’d go out on my terrace and look at the traffic with everyone going to work and think, “These poor suckers.” But when I got sober, I realized that I was actually terrified of having to show up and do what those “suckers” did—to work hard. I was jealous and scared because I knew I couldn’t do it. 

What ended up convincing you to get sober?

When I was arrested on my fourth conviction—on November 4th, 2003—I was being charged with two counts of transportation and two counts of sales. I’d already been convicted of a felony with a firearm and sales and multiple possessions when I was younger. The DA offered me a bargain sentence of 15 years. Everyone I knew was going to be dead by that point and I couldn’t imagine the kind of addict I would be coming out in 15 years considering where I was then. The judge decided that recovery was the best option for me, though, and gave me a two-year sentence in a county jail, with about 18 months in a recovery program after. It truly was a miracle.

What was starting over like once you got out of jail?

The DA had seized my house and five vehicles. I had no income and went from 225 pounds when I got arrested to 290 after leaving prison. I had to look for a job with 30 days of sobriety and 30 convictions to my name. That first day of looking for work, it was 115 degrees out and I literally had nothing on me. I said to God, “If you think I’m gonna quit because I can’t afford my Sober Living, you’re wrong. I’ll die, but I’ll die sober.”

Eventually, a tow truck company hired me for $6.75 an hour, all under the table, working 90 hours a week. Within nine months, I was a dispatcher and running almost every truck they had, and staying at a Sober Living house for $450 a month. Eventually, I came to Pasadena Recovery Center, asked for a job and have been here ever since. 

How did your time on the Celebrity Rehab franchise come about?

Dr. Drew asked me personally but I had to think twice about it. I was trying to get away from studios and the industry in general but was also worried about the guys I worked for in the drug cartel finding me. I was afraid they were going to hunt me down—not to kill me but to ask me to work for them again. And I was weak so I didn’t want that to even be an option. That was a real fear for the first three seasons of the show but eventually that worry went away.

What advice would you give to people in recovery or looking to get sober?

The biggest thing to do first is to get out of yourself for 30 seconds. Think about the fact that you found a solution to your problems. Then it’s simply a matter of doing the steps and getting a sponsor. I’ve also found that helping others by going to meetings is the elixir. When you’re sober early on, you’re doing things for no reason other than that you’re scared to revert back to old ways if you don’t. The process of sobriety takes time and keeps getting better. Life does not necessarily change when you get sober. You’ll find yourself in situations but what changes is how you view them. 

McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer currently residing in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Time Out New YorkThe Huffington Post, abcnews.com and usopen.org, among others. He has also written about Carré Otis and Celebrity Rehab, among many other topics, for The Fix.

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