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Closing on Sobriety

Realtor Robert Radcliffe went from dealing drugs to gang members to selling Malibu mansions to millionaires. He just had to get sober along the way.

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Does this look like a former drug dealer to you?

By McCarton Ackerman

07/17/12

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It’s been a long way down—and back up—for Robert Radcliffe. The 41-year-old real estate agent from Los Angeles specializes in selling mansions in the posh Malibu area, averaging $2.2 million on each home sold and closing on an average of 21 properties each year. This makes him one of the most successful agents in the country. But Radcliffe gives just as much as gets too—he’s organized numerous charity golf and tennis tournaments and speaks at drug and alcohol abuse classes throughout the region. Whatever remaining time is left is devoted to his wife and two sons.

According to Radcliffe, none of this would be possible without his 20-plus years of sobriety (a journey he documents in his new self-published memoir). The formerly homeless drug dealer chats with The Fix about fleeing the feds in Miami Beach, being kidnapped at gunpoint by an LA gang, and how a drug-fueled encounter with a prostitute motivated him to get clean. 

How did your drug use first begin?

When I was 15, there were girls that I was attracted to who were smoking pot out at the stump near where I lived in Los Angeles. I was considered the square in school and thought this was a way to fit in and spend time with them. But the funny thing was that I got into the punk rock scene before I ever did drugs and my mom accused of me being on them simply because of that. She claimed I was doing drugs because anyone who dressed the way I did at the time had to be on something.

From the moment I started using, I didn’t have the shut off valve to even turn it down a notch or two. It was just like, “I do drugs now.” Within a couple of months, I was taking mushrooms and acid and, within a year, I was shooting dope. 

Anyone who’s ever smoked crack or freebased knows that after doing it for a number of days, you’re not even getting high anymore. It’s just keeping you from coming down. 

If your parents were worried when you weren’t even using, how did they take it once you actually started using drugs?

They put me into a lockdown drug rehab the day I turned 17 because they thought I would accidentally kill myself. I normally weighed around 160 or 170 pounds but was around 110 at that time. I had sunken eyes and my skin was gray. I ran into an ex-girlfriend at the time that I hadn’t seen in months and she literally just started crying when she looked at me. And the worst part was that I thought I was looking fairly together that day. [Laughs].

The day I turned 18, I moved out and crashed on the floor of a friend and his mom. I was working as a busboy and not making anywhere near enough to live, so I called my grandmother in Miami Beach and asked for help. I ended up moving out there; my aunt and uncle, who were both drug smugglers, picked me up at the airport. Before we’d even left the airport parking lot, they’d rolled me a joint. 

How did you end up coming back to Los Angeles?

I literally had to leave Miami. I had stolen prescriptions from a doctor and my uncle said the feds were out for me so they put me on a plane back home. And that meant I dodged yet another bullet because less than a year later, my aunt and uncle got popped and were sentenced to 10 years for drug smuggling.

When I got back to LA, I started drug dealing straight away. But there was never any consistency with it because of my own drug use: sometimes I’d have quarter pounds and ounces on me and limos and hookers in a hotel room. Then there would be times where I was hawking a watch to just get a hit off a crack pipe.

What was the worst point of your addiction?

One time, a local gang kidnapped me [when I was dealing them drugs]. The guy had a gun in my mouth and was pistol slapping me. I just prayed to God, saying that if He got me out of that situation, I would never do drugs again. But when I escaped and my friend picked me up in his car, I immediately reached into the glove compartment and rolled a joint. I was like, “Okay God, I’ll never deal again, but I’m still going to use.” 

I moved from doing these fake Quaaludes called gorilla biscuits to shooting up with morphine. It got to the point where the only way I was going to be able to continue getting drugs at the level I needed was to deal again. Anyone who’s ever smoked crack or freebased knows that after doing it for a number of days, you’re not even getting high anymore. It’s just keeping you from coming down. 

What ultimately made you decide to get sober? 

The drugs just weren’t working like they once had and my body was shutting down in a way that’s not proper for a 20-year-old. One night, I called a buddy after getting a quarter ounce of blow. He had 100 CC’s of morphine. We used those and then ordered some hookers. When they came over, I was out of my mind. I was yelling at this one girl and she was just sitting there, calmly smoking a cigarette. Then she got on the phone with her pimp and said, “You need to come pick me up right away. This guy has lost his mind.” And I just thought, “How did things get this bad?” [Laughs] I knew something had to change. I went to an NA meeting the next night and have been clean and sober for 21 years now.

What advice would you give to people who are trying to maintain their sobriety?

Really, everything that has been taught to me in the Big Book: go to meetings and stay humble. I have my spirituality and quest for higher levels of consciousness and that has skyrocketed drastically in the last year. And the lessons I’ve learned from my 12 step programs are to always remain in gratitude and that things happen for a reason. No matter what my struggles might be at the time, at least I’m sober. At least I have the fellowship. And it’s only going to get better.

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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