How a cycle of substance abuse ended and true feelings revealed themselves

Matt H. as a kidOn the outside, Matt H. had a normal childhood. Growing up in the South Bay, he was the oldest of three kids with two hard-working parents, he excelled in sports, and he got decent grades. In reality, though, he said he simply knew he needed to do good enough to avoid any kind of suspicion.

That’s because at the age of 12, Matt was introduced to marijuana, and from that day forward, he was hooked until he walked through the doors of the Beacon House.

Matt H. as a teen

Coming from a long line of alcoholics, Matt said his addict-tendencies manifested at a young age: “One Halloween, I had 20 different costumes picked out, but I couldn’t decide which I wanted to wear. Plus, I had a fear of missing out. I didn’t know at the time, but all of that would later progress to substance abuse.”

By the time he turned 18, Matt had formed a prescription drug habit, in addition to smoking marijuana daily. That led to everything else you can think of, but he still maintained that façade – everything looked okay on the outside. He was in college and he had a girlfriend, but internally, he felt miserable and lost, and he didn’t have any other way to deal with those feelings.

The Cycle Begins

“Around the age of 21, the pills had stopped working and there wasn’t enough weed that I could smoke – nothing was doing it for me. Then I lost my dad to the disease and all bets were off.”

That’s when Matt set out on a binge that eventually landed him in jail, followed by a cycle in and out of treatment centers. “At that time, I felt I didn’t need anything else. Drugs were always there for me, easy to find, and they did for me what friends, family, love and money couldn’t do.”

“Drugs were always there for me, easy to find, and they did for me what friends, family, love and money couldn’t do.”

Between 2015 and 2018, Matt went through five different short-term residential treatment programs, as well as 12 stays in psych wards and detox facilities. After 90 days in treatment, his insurance would run out, and in order to stay longer, he would have to pay out of pocket, but he never had the money.

He also said that when he checked in to these facilities, he would check out mentally. He didn’t have a healthy support network, so the cycle would continue. “Every time I left one of those places, my intention was not to get loaded, but I hadn’t been given the tools to deal with things, so I went back to my old solutions. All they really provided me was 90 days of physical abstinence.”

A Change of Scenery

In 2018, Matt flew to Florida to enter another treatment facility, because he thought California was the problem. He made friends at that facility, left against medical advice, and together, he and his friends launched a landscape business. “The money was good, the friends were there, but that only lasted so long. Within three weeks, I found drugs again and they took over. Then three friends overdosed and I stopped going to work, so I ran out of money.”

That’s when he called his mom and asked for help, but he had hurt her too many times in the past. Instead of sending him a ticket to LAX, she sent him to Louisville to live with his grandmother. He said he flew the straight-and-narrow for about six months, including holding down a job, but he wasn’t going to meetings. “All it took was one guy saying he could get me something, and there I was, off and running again… from not knowing anyone to connecting with some of the worst of the worst, my disease had taken on a new low. I began stealing and doing other things I said I would never do.”

All of that culminated with an Elderly Protection Order placed by his grandmother, two arrests and an overdose. “I had nowhere left to go, I had burned every bridge, and my options were very slim. Something told me that I needed to call my mom. She had been talking to a friend who had gone through the Beacon House in the early 2000s, and he said if I was serious about changing my life, that was the only place I would get better. So my mom told me I could come home under one condition – I go to the Beacon House.”

“Something told me that I needed to call my mom. She had been talking to a friend who had gone through the Beacon House in the early 2000s, and he said if I was serious about changing my life, that was the only place I would get better.”

Matt said he had heard about the Beacon House in 2010 when he was sentenced to his first court-ordered program. “The only thing I heard the judge say was no contact with family. Right then, I knew I wasn’t going, so I was sent to an 18-month diversion program instead. There, I learned that if I stuck to myself and stayed under the radar, I could coast and no one would bother me. I later learned during recovery at the Beacon House that this was one of my character defects… staying in the shadows.”

Game Over

When Matt arrived at the Beacon House, he remembers being told that he wasn’t special and there had been hundreds of men just like him who had come through those same doors. “Basically, they saw through my BS and the game was over. Deep down, I was a scared little boy, and I learned that all of that anger and rage I had felt early in life was a manifestation of self-centered fear… I only thought of myself.”

Matt shared that it took a lot of time to cut through the delusion and finally realize something was wrong. It also required deflating his ego, which he said was off the charts. “When I got to the Beacon House, I noticed that nobody was wearing nice clothing. Nobody drove nice cars or had girlfriends. But they were all happy… they were content with what they had.”

“I noticed that nobody was wearing nice clothing. Nobody drove nice cars or had girlfriends. But they were all happy… they were content with what they had.”

He also said that at all the other facilities, he was given a case manager and was expected to check in once a week. At the Beacon House, the program manager and counselors were available to him on a daily or even hourly basis, if needed. He also said, “At every other treatment center, there was fighting and drug use. Everyone was looking for ways to get things by the staff. At the Beacon House, there was no fighting, no drug use, no women, and everyone bought into the program.”

After a lot of self-searching and hearing other men share their experiences, Matt felt safe enough to get vulnerable and tap into his insecurities. “The guys who came before me made recovery look attractive, and all the staff at the time had at one point been residents themselves.”

Meeting Calamity with Serenity

Matt H. at the new Beacon House Thrift Shop in Long BeachAfter the initial phase, Matt worked in the kitchen in one of the entry-level positions. After four months, he began working at Beacon House Thrift Shop, and he was promoted to a manager position three months later. “I loved it. It gave me a purpose and a place to practice my principals… to see how they applied to real world situations.” Two years later, Matt has gone from managing the San Pedro store to leading the team as they built and opened the new Thrift Shop in Long Beach.

In reflecting on his experiences and lessons learned through working at the Thrift Shop, Matt said, “I get put in situations now where I would’ve been really frustrated in the past. All I knew then was run or fight. There was nothing in between. Through the recovery process and step work, I’ve learned how and why that happened. Now, any time there’s a disturbance, I know I play a part in it. When it comes to the customers, I can’t change them. The only thing I can change is my response toward them.”

“Now, any time there’s a disturbance, I know I play a part in it. When it comes to the customers, I can’t change them. The only thing I can change is my response toward them.”

He said if he sees someone attempting to steal something, he is immediately able to identify how that is a reflection of him – that was him before he entered the Beacon House – and he can’t meet that type of behavior with aggression, because it only makes the situation worse. “I have to approach it with understanding. I have to be able to meet calamity with serenity and communicate effectively to minimize conflict. I pause and pray, and then I approach the individual and let them know what I’ve observed. I tell them, ‘If you need help, you can always ask. We’d be happy to help you.'”

Trusting Himself and Others

Matt H. and his mom

At the Thrift Shop with his mom in 2019

Matt says he’s also learned to trust more by serving as manager. He trusts the men working at the store to get the job done. He also helps them to understand that they’re going to make mistakes, just like he himself makes mistakes. “I can’t take things personally, because I’m not that important. No one is going to intentionally hurt me. My head just tells me that, which I now know is irrational.”

Matt’s life is very different today, and he has a good relationship with his family again. “It took time with my mom, but now she wishes she could see more of me. She visits me at the Thrift Shop every week, and she calls me almost daily. I used to steal from my two younger sisters, and now they ask me for advice.”

He is also planning to re-enroll in college in the Fall to finish his communications degree, and he eventually wants to start his own business.

“The Beacon House has given me a new lease on life. I wake up every morning and I thank God. I have friends today. I have people who care about me. But the biggest change is that I actually care for other people. I’ve come a long way from being lonely, cold and scared, hiding out in my grandma’s trailer in Kentucky.”


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