“Gail and Rotaya give me accountability… someone to answer to,” he says gratefully. “They keep me on the ‘up and up.’
What fulfills Mark today is a far cry from the drugs and alcohol high for which he lived since he was 15. At age 52, he’d finally had enough of drinking and drugging and made a gut-level decision to change. The sober, clean and grateful man now living in a Maxwell Garden apartment, meeting with his case manager, attending 12-Step meetings, enjoying video games and DVDs, and caring for three cats is the result of a hard-won metamorphosis.
Mark hails from Philadelphia. His parents divorced when he was only two, with his mother remarrying four years later. As his dad had never been there for him and died of alcoholism when Mark was eight, his stepdad became his father-figure. This stepfather-son relationship was not destined to last, however, as there was another divorce when he was 15. “In a way, I lost two fathers,” Mark laments.
What impacted Mark’s youth the most, though, was the death of his grandmother when he was 13. Living in a small apartment nearby, she was always there for him while his mom worked to help support both households. He smiles with love and pride as he explains, “Most of the time, I was with my mom and nanny. Nanny helped raise me. My mother was a hustler and supported the three of us. She always supplied a roof and I knew I was loved…[but] when my nanny died, it devastated me. I lost my innocence as a kid.”
Mark started to work in restaurants when he was 15 and still in high school, the same year his parents got divorced. With the control his stepdad imposed over him gone, and having no restrictions from his mom and money in his pocket, Mark found drugs and alcohol. “Pot, drinking and working” is his description of high school. When he graduated, it was a “big deal” and the “freedom of no more school” brought on more drugs, alcohol and working in restaurants. “I always wanted to party,” he remembers.
And party he did from the age of 19 onward, living mostly with his mother until he was 40 and at times with his cousin. Moving with his cousin to Orlando in 2000, he somewhat “broke the strings,” until his mom moved down in 2004. He resumed his pattern of living between the two, still working in restaurants until his mom died in 2006. He quit his job, moved in with his cousin and squandered the money his mom had left him, mostly on crack cocaine. “Within a year, I was broke,” he admits.
Over the years, Mark’s partying had consequences, such as three arrests, two six-month stints in jail for violation of probation, stays in drug rehabilitation facilities and numerous broken relationships. “I couldn’t tell you how many times I was in rehab, how many relationships I had…”
When his cousin died in 2009, Mark realized he finally had to fend for himself. “There was no one left to save me.” He went to the streets, followed by a series of stays in Central Florida’s homeless shelters, halfway houses, and drug/alcohol rehabilitation programs. These programs may have kept him off the streets, but unfortunately not clean and sober. Even suffering from diabetes and depression, he just wasn’t ready for what they offered.
In 2016, the Health Care Center for the Homeless Hope Team referred him to Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Garden Safe Haven Program. When he moved in, “I stayed clean for a week or so. Then, in 2017, I went to the Center for Drug Free Living…and stayed clean for six months when I came back.” Thankfully, he had a place to return, as well as his Case Manager, Rotaya, to provide stability and help him obtain his disability benefits. “Miss Rotaya really hung in there.”
In August 2018, Mark transferred into Maxwell Garden’s Homes for New Beginnings Program (HNB). Still “slipping” on drugs, he decided to check into a rehabilitation facility in Sanford. “I needed time away to think. I realized no one was around to help me. I had to help myself. I graduated [the program] and came back here.” Again, Pathlight HOME was in his corner, with his apartment and HNB Case Manager, Gail, waiting to help.
Since then, Mark has been living a new life. “My mindset was different. I have a sponsor…a couple of sponsees. I do the next right thing and it pays off,” he says. “I go to meetings…every night. I’ve re-committed to 90 meetings in 90 days. This is the longest time I’ve been clean and sober since I was 15.”
“Gail and Rotaya give me accountability… someone to answer to,” he says gratefully. “They keep me on the ‘up and up.’ When I need them, they are always there to help, like my sponsor.”
Mark looks at his transformation as a big puzzle, where all the pieces must be in place: 12-Step meetings and a sponsor, Disney visits, video games, and movies, being home and off the streets, and his case manager. “I’m not losing any of the pieces of that puzzle. You’ve got to want to ‘stay stopped,’ and today I want it. As long as I keep doing the right thing, I get the right result. And it makes me feel good.”
Living “one day at a time,” Mark is proud to pay rent and have an apartment, crediting God and his program. “I’m not doing the stupid things today,” he concludes. “I have everything I need and a couple of the wants!”