From the Depths of Addiction to Running a Marathon

By Seth Ferranti 06/28/15

Who says that a recovering drug addict can’t run a marathon? Or create a recovery app? Or run for city hall?

Image: 
Jack Kelly
Jack Kelly

Who says that a recovering drug addict can’t run a marathon? Or create a recovery app? Or run for city hall? The only thing that restricts a person in recovery are the restrictions that they put on themselves. If you have the right mindset, then the sky is the limit. It's all about focusing, admitting you have a problem and overcoming the addiction. People in recovery come from all walks of life and success is not a given, but with hard work and the clarity that comes from living sober, anything within reason is achievable. 

Jack Kelly, a Charlestown, Boston native, knows the dark recesses of addiction. He fought them for many years, but now he’s been clean and sober for 11 years, since October 12, 2003, and his life has taken him on a most amazing and intriguing journey. No one would have ever thought that the kid from Charlestown, strung out on OxyContin, would have turned his life around, but Jack didn’t take life for granted and now he has a wonderful life and remarkable story that he’s decided to share with The Fix. 

“Recovery is the most amazing state to be in,” Jack tells The Fix. “It has peaks and valleys and life isn't always easy, but life isn't easy for anyone.” That is the old-fashioned truth, plainly spoken. Life is full of wrong turns and detours, something an addict knows firsthand. But when an addict gets on the right road and stays balanced, life can be both exciting and enjoyable.

“Recovery has given me many gifts,” Jack says. “I ran the Boston marathon, I worked for former Boston Mayor Tom Menino, and was an elected President Obama delegate to the National Democratic Convention in Denver in 2008. I received a college degree, ran for Boston City Council At Large and received the endorsement of Boston's biggest paper—The Boston Globe.” Tremendous accomplishments for anyone, but especially for a former addict.

“And more recently, I created a mobile app called iRecover that will connect people in recovery to meetings and others in recovery based off of their location,” Jack says. “But more importantly than the material success has been finding myself and being able to be a good person again. I see life in a much more spiritual light. I try and live today like an asteroid is coming; meaning, enjoy everyday and be good to people.” Simple keys to success and a solution to a life that could have ended in tragedy.

“I never used drugs and only drank beer a few times at or around the age of 15,” Jack tells The Fix. “It wasn't until I suffered a major injury to my shoulder that required surgery that my drug use began. I was prescribed opiate pain medicine and within several months was using the painkiller OxyContin on a regular basis. From there it progressed to sniffing heroin and then injecting it. By the age of 19, I was a full-blown heroin addict.” The shoulder injury and subsequent addiction derailed a once promising hockey career. Jack was on a downward spiral and dove into drug use headfirst. In sync with his addiction, he didn’t look back.

“At 17, after several months of taking OxyContin ‘recreationally,’ I knew almost immediately that this particular drug was dangerous,” Jack says. “After several months of regular use, I would suffer withdrawal symptoms. I was 17 years old and I knew I was in trouble. I didn't know the exact extent and still could never envision turning to heroin and being homeless years later, but instinctually, I understood I was in trouble.” Like many addicts, Jack recognized the grip that the disease had on him, but he couldn’t do anything about it. 

“On one particular night, my skin was crawling and I couldn't sit still. My stomach was upset and I was compulsively sweating. I was unaware of what was happening to me. I called an individual who told me I was ‘dope sick.’ I was perplexed. I never viewed myself as a heroin addict, or an addict in any form. But this person made it very clear that I was addicted to OxyContin and if I took more, I would feel better. That night, I sniffed an Oxy and immediately felt better. From that moment forward, I knew internally, I was an addict.” Jack relates to The Fix. He came to the conclusion that many addicts come to, but at that point he wasn’t ready to do anything about it, except take more drugs. In retrospect, he has come to other conclusions.

“I believe I had a predisposition to addiction,” Jack says. “My father is a recovering alcoholic as well as other family members. So when I hurt my shoulder playing hockey and was prescribed a powerful pill such as OxyContin, I was instantly ‘hooked’ before I truly understood what being ‘hooked’ was. Articulating an exact reason ‘why’ I became a heroin addict is complex and varies with each individual. In my case, I believe it was a perfect combination of nature and environment.” And the science backs that assessment up, environment and a genetic predisposition to addiction determines the course of many drug users as they delve into drug abuse.

Addiction leads to rampant drug use where the addict doesn’t have a care in the world about the consequences of his actions. The only thing that matters is getting that next hit. And this singleminded recklessness leads to many problems. Jack had his share of dilemmas created from his addiction to drugs. 

“The more pertinent question would be: what problems did they not cause me?” Jack tells The Fix. “I lost a potential hockey scholarship, got arrested several times and have a three-page criminal record. I was kicked out of my parents' house. I caught hepatitis C as a result of being an IV drug user. I lived on the streets and was officially homeless. Essentially, I lost every material fiber within my life and lost ‘myself’ completely, in every way one can lose themselves.”

In the recovery world, they call it hitting rock bottom. Many addicts like Jack hit rock bottom several times before they decide it's time to quit drugs, if they even get that far. Some addicts never admit that they're powerless over the drug, or they just don’t care. But Jack finally got to the point where enough was enough. “I hit ‘rock bottom’ many times. I lost all contact with my family and every possible friend. Heroin took it all away,” Jack tells us. “Rock bottom seemed to keep transpiring. But sleeping outside on a cold night in October in Boston was the last ‘rock bottom’ I have had.”

Jack Kelly (right) with his mother and father. Photo via Jack Kelly.

From that point on, Jack has been drug free. In recovery, he’s had time to think back and realize things that he never knew before. We asked him what advice he would give to his younger self to avoid the pitfalls of drugs and addiction. “A very loaded question,” Jack surmises. “I think the question should not be directed towards a younger me, but more of a policy statement to prevent younger people like me, or a younger version of me, a preventative tool that would halt the inception of addiction.” Remember, this is the man that created the recovery app, he is always thinking about society’s ills, instead of his own personal demons.

“It's a complex and varied answer that combines both medical and community reforms to give the appropriate answer or policy shift,” Jack continues. “I believe pediatricians should ask parents detailed questions about their family history concerning substance abuse and provide a guide, based on those results, [on] how to address experimentation with drugs and alcohol. If someone has the predisposition I had, then prescribing opiate pain medicine as a default after surgery should be reformed. My doctor would have understood, if such policies were in place, that based on my family history, I have a higher possibility of addiction and should not be prescribed addictive pain medicine. Simple reforms like this would improve prevention tactics.” An admirable and reasonable solution that should be effective immediately. But Jack offers more.

“I want people to understand that experimenting with drugs can be a dangerous game,” he tells The Fix. “However, I understand part of the allure is to do things adults deem dangerous. I'm not now, nor will I ever tell a young person what to do in their life. I would simply ask them to be honest with themselves when engaging in experimentation with drugs and alcohol. If you believe your actions are being negatively affected because of drugs or alcohol, listen to that inner voice and seek help or simply stop and engage in other activities.” Another wise solution from Jack, but where is he now? On a personal level? With his life and his recovery?

“I have been blessed to have an opportunity to have a second chance at life,” Jack answers. “I have known thousands upon thousands of people who have been lost because of addiction. I lost my cousin Meaghan to a heroin overdose. This disease has deeply troubled me. I believe I have a purpose. Not many people can be clean from heroin for over 11 years and did it at 22 like I did. As I contemplate my past, I know my purpose is to try and make the world a better place and that starts with me, on a daily basis.” To facilitate all this, and his recovery, Jack uses the tools at his disposal to keep a balanced lifestyle.

“I attend 12-step meetings regularly and have from my inception to recovery,” Jack relates. “Additionally, I have periodically sought outside help for my underlying depression issues. I attend therapy for my depression and exercise to combat more negative moments in my recovery.” The strategies are there for addicts to recover. What works for Jack might not work for you, but how do you know until you try. Success can be achieved by living sober, that much has been proved. An addict can turn his life around.

“As I've previously stated, I have had tremendous professional success,” Jack says. “I own property in Boston, drive a nice car, and have met actors and other celebrities and have worked for, or with, high-profile politicians. Additionally, as already stated, I created a mobile app to help connect those in recovery.” But all those successes mean nothing if Jack doesn’t stay off drugs and he realizes this.

“I don't quantify my success solely in terms of professional endeavors,” he tells The Fix. “It is certainly a part of what I conceive to be ‘success.’ However, success is a balanced approach of both personal and professional. Finding balance in life is how I interpret true success. When I'm balanced, I’m successful.” And that, in reality, is what recovery is about. It's about finding balance and staying on kilter. As addicts, our extreme natures knock us out of balance daily. It’s our job to seek perspective by getting our lives in check. Finding balance is the key. That’s the solution to true success in recovery as Jack has shown.

Seth Ferranti has been a regular contributor to The Fix since 2012. He most recently wrote about his relapse. He also writes for Vice. He has a book out—The Supreme Team.

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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