The Addict Who Became a Poet and a Counselor

By Seth Ferranti 11/17/15

Felix Sirls, a recovering addict, now works as a substance abuse counselor and former facilitator for the JEMADARI Program of the Detroit Health Department. He tells us his story.

Felix Sirls
via Author

Felix Sirls is a recovering addict, substance abuse counselor and former facilitator for the JEMADARI Program of the Detroit Health Department in conduction with the University of Michigan. Before retirement, Felix was employed by the Detroit Health and Wellness Promotions and the Institute for Public Health. He has worked as an HIV and substance abuse counselor for over 30 years in three states: California, Texas and Michigan. He is now a performing poet, who publishes anthologies of verse and stories, including an autobiography. He now works with Gospel Against AIDS alongside his wife, Paula. Their goal is to equip houses of worship with HIV education, dispel myths and to eliminate the stigma associated with people living with HIV. But that is what he does now, once upon a time Felix was an addict. He has chosen to share his story of addiction and recovery with The Fix.

“I started using drugs back in the day when I was told to clean the ashtrays, clear the beer cans, and go to the store with a note and pick up cigarettes,” Felix says. “Cigarettes and beer and drugs, for me, they were the gateway to fun and laughter. I starting drinking around six years old. That would have been around 1953. Although alcohol was not an issue for me over the years, it was the idea of what made a party, what made a man and what it took to have fun. As the ingredients of having a good time changed so did my lifestyle and addictions.” Like many addicts, Felix’s journey started out with a party and having fun but turned into more than he expected.

“At 12 or 13, I was introduced to Black Beauties, whites and reds, uppers and downers. Dexedrine and Benzedrine were the main drugs back then with a little marijuana,” Felix tells The Fix. “Living on the streets at that age in Los Angeles, I was able to see the effects of heroin, black tar and opium, which was readily available. I smoked very little weed, due to the fact that I could sell it to make money. Until I was 18, I only did pills and a little weed. Around 21, I was introduced to cocaine, it was thought to be a high-class drug.” There are addicts in all socio and economic levels. Felix found out that the disease didn’t discriminate.

“I started noticing how drugs affected me and impacted my life from the very beginning,” he says. “I would get high, steal a car and drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco non-stop on Black Beauties to stay awake. I would stay up for days on reds and sleep like the dead by taking downers. I would take drugs to heighten the effects of sex, or to be the life of the party. Over the years the effects of my drug use changed. From stealing to get the drugs, to lying, to putting my life at risk or someone else’s. To not being able to manage my life and risking my freedom, to making decisions that affected my health, family and reality.” Like most addicts, once the disease gripped him, Felix fell hard—but he was in denial, too.

“I was under the impression at the time that my drug use was affecting no one other than myself,” Felix tells The Fix. “My sister tells me how she would sit in her car down the street from my drug house and cry for hours, watching people coming in-and-out of the house. Relationships with several women were lost not because I used, but because they were not my main relationship, drugs were. I stayed away from friends and family, I became a loner, I became loveless.” An addict only loves the high he gets from his drug of choice. Everything else is immaterial.

“The largest problem that drugs caused me was the loss of my health,” Felix says. “But also the fact that I hurt other people by my use. The mental and emotional pain I gave others who loved and cared for me.” Everything else is only collateral damage to a drug abuser. They are so singleminded in their pursuit of their high that they don’t even notice the pain they cause to those close to them.

“That reality came in many ways. It came about while I was dealing drugs, knowing my freedom could be taken at any moment. It came when I would rather use drugs than talk to my girlfriend or go on a vacation. It came when I could not function or talk because I was so high. It came when I came to the conclusion that I was killing people by selling them drugs and pimping out their bodies. It came when I was put in the position of harming people to protect my drugs or when I had to lie to my family,” Felix tells The Fix. Immersing yourself in the world of drugs changes you into someone who you don’t really want to be. But chasing that ever elusive high blinds you to everyday reality.

“One day I got so high, I was in my house and thought the cops had surrounded me. I got my guns, still doing drugs, by this time crack,” Felix says. “I kept smoking, ready to die, ready to shoot the first thing that moved. When I did look out the window, I saw school children, coming home from school and life outside my door was normal, I was the only thing that was not.” Felix became delusional on crack. That could have been his rock bottom but he would go to experience that in recovery.

“I hit rock bottom after I got clean,” Felix tells The Fix. “I brought a female who was in early recovery into my house and into my early recovery. I had so many things to recover from, but most of all my lifestyle and the reality that drugs were wrong, period. One night, I came home from work and she had crack rocks lined up on the nightstand after my shower. She offered me heaven but for the first time I saw it as hell. I put her out and cried the whole night.” Temptation can be viewed as the devil in an addict's mind. A devil always lurking and ready to tempt you at your weakest moment. But Felix preserved and stayed in recovery.

“Getting clean to me, at the time, was the idea of not using drugs,” Felix says. “I did not use for five days after that. I sat on my front porch in the warm sunlight and read a book, when it was finished I got up, left my house keys and car keys in the house and walked away. I walked for five miles to a hospital, went into the ER. I wanted to understand why I had given away almost all of my humanity. I asked for help, something I never had asked for.” Admitting that you have a problem is the first step in recovery. Without acknowledging the fact that you are an addict and seeking help, treatment recovery will always be a pipe dream.

“For over 35 years I have been drug free,” Felix tells The Fix. “Being drug free is not being in recovery, being drug free was my start back to life. Recovering is returning to a place of cleanness, which would be my childhood. To stay clean, I had to move beyond recovery to a place I had never been. A reality without the need for drugs or anything that would cause me harm when I had the ability to reject it. I had to go to meetings long enough until I could have a meeting with myself. Through each movement of my life, I had to have a meeting of truth, of direction and focus. My issues had to do with me loving me so that I could love life.” Like many addicts, Felix grew to hate himself and who he was. He saw the drugs as part of him. Recognizing that the drug use is a part of the disease is a critical part of moving forward in recovery.

“I had to fend for myself at an early age,” Felix realizes. “Drugs were introduced to me as a way to make money and a mental escape from pain, fear and being alone. Drugs were a lifestyle that I accepted as a way of life. Drugs were presented as a cure, as a help mate, as a door to greater things. I have never seen an ugly devil yet and drugs were made to seem beautiful. Being a loner, being made to feel different and not deserving of love all led me to drug use. The pain I did not learn to deal with led me to a faithless lover called drug abuse.” But Felix overcame his demons and has gone on to lead a productive and healthy life. A life where he helps others and gives back so that others don’t have to take the unfortunate path that he took. A path which could have resulted in death, but which instead led to recovery and success in life. And success for Felix means 9 children and 19 grandchildren, growing old with his wife and just enjoying life and what it has to offer. Something that drugs almost took away.

Check out Felix’s website and his YouTube poetry video.

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