Sometimes you come across a story that has the power to change minds.
One out of every seven people will struggle with drug or alcohol addiction in this country. The sad fact is the stigma associated with it can put a screeching halt to getting clean.
At one recovery home for young men in Maryland, getting real, getting honest, getting past the stigma and getting in the kitchen is delivering young men from the brink of death back to life.
It was Tuesday night at an undisclosed location in Maryland. Two top chefs came to recovery home Nick’s Place to show they care.
"We’re gonna brown off all this meat," said Chef Alex McCoy. Chef Adam Greenberg is teaching 22-year-old Mark how to chop vegetables.
The two DC chefs have been on the Food Network.
"I have a family member who’s gone through some of the same things these guys have gone through….I don’t get to see my brother enough and how can I help in this area of my life," he said.
Nick’s Place has been around for 20 years. Founder Rhea McVicker named it after her son Nick, who succumbed to the disease of addiction when he was 22. She calls the men who live here, "our guys," and she believes in them.
"Recovery is possible, for our guys, every single day demonstrate that recovery is possible," she said.
The men are learning how to cook cassoulet, McCoy’s favorite. The ingredients start out raw - just like these young men’s stories. Stories of drug addiction, being sexually molested, of families not talking to each other, homelessness, arrests and the threat of jail time.
With each carrot chopped, and each piece of meat browned, we learn a little but more about the men of Nick’s Place.
"Honestly, I’d probably be homeless or dead at this point," said 22-year-old Matt when asked where he'd be without Nick's Place.
McCoy and Greenberg have come to teach these guys the importance of being able to cook. But, after a while, it’s obvious they’ve taught them so much more: hope.
And they’ve taught the chefs as well.
"These guys are really inspiring, just to be here and see what these guys are doing, and the courage that they have, to work their way through this, I’ve got some friends and family who have been through this and its really hard," said McCoy.
By the time the meal is served, it’s obvious the ingredients have come together just like these men have. The food and the friendships combine to create something nourishing, something healing, something that will set them on their way.
McVicker says what helps these men most is the shared experience. She remembers what her son Nick told her after his last trip to rehab.
"When I asked him how it was, he said ‘it’s ok, but there’s no one here my age," she recalled.
So, she created a place for men 20 to 26 years old. The rules are strict. The guys have chores. She helps them get jobs. They have to be to dinner on time, at 5:30 p.m.
"Addiction kind of robs you of your soul, being isolated and cut off from the world and loved ones, so this is an opportunity for like-minded guys to get around the table and just be real and be honest and open and not revert to what got them in their addiction in the first place," one alumni shares.
McVicker says she’s so pleased to see this night come together.
"We want to teach them to be independent young men that someone would be really happy to have as a nice husband or something, or a kind and loving son," said McVicker.
Dimalo shares he’s been addicted to marijuana since he was 15. Friday marked his 4th month at Nick’s Place. He says the difference from when he first arrived is shocking.
"The Dimalo that came here the first day was really self centered, really didn’t know what direction he was going on - I still have a court date that I’m going to face pretty soon - I had no hope and really wanted to give up on life," he said.
He may have found his calling. He’s talking to Adam about becoming a chef. That’s what Nick’s Place is about: a new start.
"It means giving me a new shot to make up for past mistakes, kind of start to rebuild relationships, start on the journey of your life that I feel I was supposed to live," said Matt.
None of these changes are easy. Matt is 22. He says he just got real with what led him to use in the first place.
"When I was younger I was sexually abused when I was 7…..I grew up with ADD and depression, that was just in my genes and I didn’t know how to deal with it, I was always a misfit, an outcast. Throughout the years of progressively using, I carried my friend’s caskets, I’ve overdosed 3 times, some miracle kept me here and I serve a purpose," he said.
Matt shared how people seem to not understand addiction.
"People look at you and they’re like just stop, put it down, and it’s not that easy, you can’t just put down something that you’ve been doing to cope with happened in your past and you can’t open up about," he said.
The conversations can be heavy. They can also be light and there’s a lot of laughter. It helps these guys bond. In just a few short months, they’re family.
"I’ve found that the guys that I’m with right now who are convicts, felons, are some of the most amazing people in the world and the things that they’ve done in their past doesn’t dictate anything in their future at all," said Matt.
"Being that young and being able to address your problems and open up about it, there’s people that are 50 years old that can’t open up about that stuff. And it sucks that people put us down all the time, but that’s what makes us fighters, warriors," he said.
When McVicker was asked what she thinks Nick would think of this place.. She says with a laugh, "Well, Nick would say I can’t believe my freaking mother! I’m not really not surprised because Nick would say ‘ma, why don’t you just give up,’ and I would say ‘nah, as long as you’re breathing ,I’m not giving up.’"
And she’s not letting this guys give up either. No matter how tough it gets.
Matt is thankful.
"Through my using I ruined absolutely everything, I have no money, no car, I had no phone, I had no job, I was homeless, and now I have the opportunity to literally start over., make myself who I wanted to be my entire life," he said.
If you know of a young man between the ages of 20 and 26 who’s currently in recovery and might make a good fit for Nick’s Place, visit NicksPlace.org.