NEW YORK–All it takes is one experience to become addicted to cocaine. For Alan Charles, the end of his baseball career and the loss of his first love led to 24 years of addiction.
Charles grew up in Yonkers, N.Y., in a dysfunctional family. Everything seemed normal until Charles turned nine years old. After his father passed away, his mother could not handle the loss of her husband and the responsibility that came with raising two boys on her own. The family was broken and she was unemployed.
“From that point on, my life changed,” Charles said.
At age 9, Charles became the head of the household, and the family was intermittently dependent on welfare. To make the situation even more difficult, his younger brother had started to develop a mental illness and would break items in the house. He’d also manipulate their mother for whatever money she had.
Their mother spent her days smoking cigarettes and staring out the window.
“[She] was like some person I’d never seen before,” Charles recalled.
Charles and his brother started to drift apart as well. He was the athlete and good student while his brother was not. The relationships he had with his mother and brother had a significant impact on Charles.
“It was torture over time,” Charles explained.
Escaping to College
Charles left home in August 1977 at age 17 and drove down to Florida for college—it was an escape from his family and home life.
When Charles returned from his first semester of college, he knocked on the door of his apartment. His mother opened the door slightly, and he heard his brother yell and ask who was there. She told him it was Charles, and he yelled back that he wasn’t welcome to live there anymore. Weeping, she told Charles there was nothing she could do, and closed the door on him.
Charles grew up loving baseball, and would go to numerous New York Yankee games a year. In college he played the game, and dreamed of becoming a professional pitcher. Unfortunately, Charles developed bone chips and tendonitis in his arm from years of pitching. After an operation, it took eight months of rehabilitation to get back in shape. When he returned to the game, he was able to pitch again.
However, he was not drafted to play professionally, but he continued to try out for different teams. He encountered a scout for the Houston Astros who had played professionally in Cuba, and he took an interest in Charles.
The scout wasn’t able to get him a contract in the United States, but was able to get him one to play professionally in the Dominican Republic. Charles had a great season and was rookie of the year as a pitcher. Unfortunately, the prospect of playing in the Major Leagues was becoming less likely. As a result of his injuries, he was unable to pitch as fast as he used to.
“I was 24. I figured I lived the dream, I graduated college, now it’s time to go start working,” Charles explained.
Slipping Into Addiction
When Charles returned to the United States, he began working for Motorola as a salesman. He also fell in love with a woman for the first time in his life, which helped him cope with the loss of baseball. After nine months, the two became engaged. However, the engagement felt rushed and the two started having problems in their relationship. They broke up, and Charles began feeling the loss of baseball again. He started to question himself and his decision to leave the game, and eventually found solace from cocaine when a friend offered him the drug.
“I was in a place where my judgment was off. I’m going through this break-up, and now I’m also feeling the loss of baseball and I was just really in a bad place,” Charles said.
His friend, who was also a cocaine dealer, offered him a line of cocaine and he did it. He felt euphoric.
“From that point on I was addicted to cocaine,” he said.
Charles wanted that feeling all the time. He began working at a radio station, and as he got more successful he started making more income, which allowed him to afford cocaine whenever he wanted. What began as a social activity with his friend had become an addiction. Whenever he had a personal or professional problem, he turned to cocaine.
“I was locked up in my apartment doing cocaine. I would only come out when I needed to get cocaine, and I was doing it 24/7. My life had gotten very small. Cocaine took me to where it was just a matter of time until I was going to die,” Charles explained.
After working at the radio station for a year and a half, Charles decided to take a course in harness horse racing. He had gone to horse races ever since he was a kid, and would go to the track any chance he got. He moved to Long Island, New York, and learned how to train and take care of horses. After three months, he got a job at a breeding farm in Maryland. After he got his racing license, he began competing professionally.
Unfortunately, his cocaine addiction would ultimately cost him his new career. After six years of being a functional cocaine addict, he started missing races. A series of accidents and an injury in 1995 ended his racing career for good. Charles worked in a variety of sales jobs before he began working for AOL. He married his first wife, and two months into the marriage he went into treatment for his addiction. However, after 30 days of rehabilitation, he started using again.
The marriage only lasted eight months.
“That’s where things really started to fall apart,” Charles recalled.
On March 17, 2001, he married his second wife. He had been using cocaine in secret, and he went into treatment again in June of the same year in an effort to save the marriage. Almost five years later, he separated from his second wife who he had two children with. He tested positive for cocaine as he was going through the divorce, and wasn’t permitted to see his kids. He tested positive for cocaine again and lost his job. He had no money, and his friend kicked him out of his apartment after he had destroyed it.
Charles found himself living in a hotel, and he had reached his rock bottom. For seven years, he had been in and out of rehabilitation, and couldn’t maintain his sobriety for more than three months. On Dec. 8, 2007, Charles had been partying for days and passed out. When he woke up, he saw a message from his therapist on his phone. She urged him to seek help, and he called her back. She pleaded with him to go to a meeting that night, and he promised her he would. After 24 years, his cocaine addiction had cost him every relationship he ever had and his career.
“From that day on I have been sober,” Charles said.
Charles had not opened up to anyone his entire life, and his therapist begged him to share with others when he went to his last rehabilitation treatment center.
After five years of sobriety, he began thinking about how he could give back and help others struggling with addiction. He ultimately decided to write a book entitled “Walking Out the Other Side: An Addict’s Journey From Loneliness to Life” to share his story. He is also a speaker and radio show host.
Charles hopes that his book shows readers that no matter how hopeless one may be, recovery is possible. However, the only way to get better is to have the will to seek treatment and beat the addiction.
“The only way to get better from addiction is that you have to do it yourself. You have to ask for help. Without you doing it, there’s no way to get better. That’s just the way it is,” Charles said.