Felix Sirls, a recovering addict, now works as a substance abuse counselor and former facilitator for the JEMADARI Program of the Detroit Health Department. He tells us his story.
Felix Sirls is a recovering addict, substance abuse counselor and former facilitator for the JEMADARI Program of the Detroit Health Department in conduction with the University of Michigan. Before retirement, Felix was employed by the Detroit Health and Wellness Promotions and the Institute for Public Health. He has worked as an HIV and substance abuse counselor for over 30 years in three states: California, Texas and Michigan. He is now a performing poet, who publishes anthologies of verse and stories, including an autobiography. He now works with Gospel Against AIDS alongside his wife, Paula. Their goal is to equip houses of worship with HIV education, dispel myths and to eliminate the stigma associated with people living with HIV. But that is what he does now, once upon a time Felix was an addict. He has chosen to share his story of addiction and recovery with The Fix.
“I started using drugs back in the day when I was told to clean the ashtrays, clear the beer cans, and go to the store with a note and pick up cigarettes,” Felix says. “Cigarettes and beer and drugs, for me, they were the gateway to fun and laughter. I starting drinking around six years old. That would have been around 1953. Although alcohol was not an issue for me over the years, it was the idea of what made a party, what made a man and what it took to have fun. As the ingredients of having a good time changed so did my lifestyle and addictions.” Like many addicts, Felix’s journey started out with a party and having fun but turned into more than he expected.
“At 12 or 13, I was introduced to Black Beauties, whites and reds, uppers and downers. Dexedrine and Benzedrine were the main drugs back then with a little marijuana,” Felix tells The Fix. “Living on the streets at that age in Los Angeles, I was able to see the effects of heroin, black tar and opium, which was readily available. I smoked very little weed, due to the fact that I could sell it to make money. Until I was 18, I only did pills and a little weed. Around 21, I was introduced to cocaine, it was thought to be a high-class drug.” There are addicts in all socio and economic levels. Felix found out that the disease didn’t discriminate.
“I started noticing how drugs affected me and impacted my life from the very beginning,” he says. “I would get high, steal a car and drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco non-stop on Black Beauties to stay awake. I would stay up for days on reds and sleep like the dead by taking downers. I would take drugs to heighten the effects of sex, or to be the life of the party. Over the years the effects of my drug use changed. From stealing to get the drugs, to lying, to putting my life at risk or someone else’s. To not being able to manage my life and risking my freedom, to making decisions that affected my health, family and reality.” Like most addicts, once the disease gripped him, Felix fell hard—but he was in denial, too.
“I was under the impression at the time that my drug use was affecting no one other than myself,” Felix tells The Fix. “My sister tells me how she would sit in her car down the street from my drug house and cry for hours, watching people coming in-and-out of the house. Relationships with several women were lost not because I used, but because they were not my main relationship, drugs were. I stayed away from friends and family, I became a loner, I became loveless.” An addict only loves the high he gets from his drug of choice. Everything else is immaterial.
“The largest problem that drugs caused me was the loss of my health,” Felix says. “But also the fact that I hurt other people by my use. The mental and emotional pain I gave others who loved and cared for me.” Everything else is only collateral damage to a drug abuser. They are so singleminded in their pursuit of their high that they don’t even notice the pain they cause to those close to them.
“That reality came in many ways. It came about while I was dealing drugs, knowing my freedom could be taken at any moment. It came when I would rather use drugs than talk to my girlfriend or go on a vacation. It came when I could not function or talk because I was so high. It came when I came to the conclusion that I was killing people by selling them drugs and pimping out their bodies. It came when I was put in the position of harming people to protect my drugs or when I had to lie to my family,” Felix tells The Fix. Immersing yourself in the world of drugs changes you into someone who you don’t really want to be. But chasing that ever elusive high blinds you to everyday reality.
“One day I got so high, I was in my house and thought the cops had surrounded me. I got my guns, still doing drugs, by this time crack,” Felix says. “I kept smoking, ready to die, ready to shoot the first thing that moved. When I did look out the window, I saw school children, coming home from school and life outside my door was normal, I was the only thing that was not.” Felix became delusional on crack. That could have been his rock bottom but he would go to experience that in recovery. Read more “the fix”…