A Lifelong Passion for Cooking
Thriving in life, as a chef in recovery and as a father, has been the greatest gift of the journey I’ve had to walk. Cooking is what makes me come alive, ever since I was a kid. Recovery is a lot like cooking. You take something like a potato – dirty, bruised – and can turn it into something like mashed potatoes — creamy, beautiful. That’s how my life has felt. Now, I get to create experiences and give back to others through my craft.
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, there weren’t many around that shared my love for food. My neighborhood was a place that thrived on the fear of others, so you grew up learning how to hide your fear. When I was a kid, I was skin and bones because I’d pedal fast to get away from people in my neighborhood trying to get me into drugs and gangs. . I remember watching Julia Child and Jacques Pepin from a young age, over and over again. It was probably considered a little weird, but it helped me stay away from some of the stuff that was happening around me. Cooking has helped take me out of tough spots. I’ve always had a special love for seafood, because I would go fishing with my father.
A Challenging Childhood
My background wasn’t easy. As a kid, there were times I was homeless, and both of my parents struggled with addiction. I swore that I wouldn’t go down that path, because of what I’d experienced as a kid, but eventually found myself in recovery at the age of 30. I didn’t grow up wanting to use. I’d seen the violence and despair it caused. But when I was young, I frequently felt lonely, strange, different — partially because of the times being homeless. At seventeen, I started drinking for the first time and found that it helped me become someone else. I thought my parents must have just done it wrong.
The Pain Followed Me
I started working in fast-food restaurants and worked my way up to nicer places. At 17, I was accepted into the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. My daughter was born when I was 19. I began drinking in and around my work environments and was a daily drinker by age 20. But things became darker, as I was having issues with my daughter’s mother and living a double life: selling drugs, being unfaithful, and drinking to the point of periodic blackouts. An opportunity arose to move to Las Vegas. I had always believed that my problem was Chicago – the homelessness, friends dying or getting locked up — and that moving would solve the problem. I didn’t know that there was a problem within me.
When I moved to Las Vegas, I got even more caught up in the party lifestyle. My daughter’s mother left me. Vegas is the perfect place to say f*** it, and I got into using pills and worse. I wanted to stop, but I couldn’t. I was so tired and burnt out, but I realized that I could stop without feeling physically awful.
After a couple of years, I moved to Los Angeles, partially to escape the Vegas scene. Again, I didn’t have community outside of the party crew. I soon got sucked into harder substances and found myself drinking unhealthy amounts again. Things got darker. My mom was found dead on January 31st, 2013, and my father died five months later.
Community Met Me in My Low Point
I began to use more to get through the pain. At that point, the only thing that seemed okay to me was the idea of dying, because I had no vision of life without alcohol. I was depressed, skin and bones, and could barely walk and put together a sentence. I was still going to work, but basic functions were difficult. Dark thoughts filled my head, running through about what would happen if I didn’t make it. I was drinking by myself, on my couch, waiting to die.
Looking back, I can see that I was in a lot pain that brought all my thoughts into this selfish place. I had no thoughts about my daughter or my grandmother, who had lost three of her own kids by this time.
A friend that I use to party with had gotten sober around this time. When she came to check on me, she saw my living conditions and how sick and down I had become and invited me to a meeting — a support group for recovering addicts. She didn’t force me to go; she invited me. I didn’t want to go, but for some reason, I thought again of my daughter, so I went. I got clean for one week but then went back to using again because I was feeling better and thought I could. However, I couldn’t control my use at all, and things spiraled, particularly after I made a drunk fool of myself in front of some friends of mines and their kids.
Leaving Self-Pity Behind
In that very low point in time, a new friend from the support group reached out. His father had taken his own life, but he was on the recovery track and doing well. Hearing this friend’s story removed the excuse I held onto to stay in my self-pity, from the pain of losing my parents. He urged me to get home that night so that he could take me to a meeting that following day — May 25, 2015 — and everything started to change.
My recovery process was entirely through Alcoholics Anonymous. I found a community to be fully myself in, and people to do life with. Walking through the steps helped me process through my pain, particularly around what my mother had exposed me to as a child and the grief of losing my father. I had to face the pain I had caused in my relationship with my daughter, and her mother. It wasn’t easy, but, having that strong of a community and a sponsor helped. Things have gotten restored to a place that had surprised me. I’m now close to my daughter’s mother and her new husband, and they even invited me to their wedding.
I talk to my daughter and my grandma every day, and I see now how I can be present, and of service. I’m a good dude. People want me around. They know I’m helpful, and that I’m going to be the best person I can be. It’s also great to be able to help other guys going through what I’ve gone through.
I feel blessed that I know what my passion is. There are people out there who don’t know what they’re good at. Cooking helps me meditate and get out of my head — my brain shuts down in a good way. It makes my day to see people getting excited about what I create.
In recovery, I took a job that was in a sober environment that helped me get back on my feet again. But now I’m excited to take my talents to the next level, to go back to making the food that you can see in a magazine. I’m able now to step into roles where I get to create food that makes me come most alive.
Taking OneStep Forward
You are only one step away from finding help. Take one of these 5 steps towards freedom:
2. Take a step forward. Find an Alcoholics Anonymous or other form of supportive community near you.
3. Practice presence. Look for a way you can serve and love the people around you today in small or big ways.
4. Dream Again: Like Stan, do you remember what you wanted to be when you were a child? Take a few moments today to be that five year old again who wanted to grow up and be the president. Your heart will thank you for making space to dream again.