Throughout the entire time that I’ve been sober, I’ve heard a lot of stories about people getting sober. Although some of the most intriguing stories have always been of famous people. You hear a lot about celebrities who have struggled with addiction and lost their battles like Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Marilyn Monroe. Their tragic ends leave the world in complete shock and transcend through time. What you don’t often hear though is the story of perseverance and strength and sobriety from a celebrity standpoint. This week I wanted to share that those stories do exist.
Some of my favorite celebrities are actually in recovery! These include Eminem, Demi Lovato, Elton John and, none other than Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr. Their stories are riveting and truly inspirational but this week I wanted to focus on one celebrity story in recovery in particular. A former professional skateboarder, New York top 10 selling author, and actor Brandon Novak.
The reason why I want to focus on Brandon Novak’s story is that I think it is a perfect example of how no matter what the reward there is, that if alcoholism or drug addiction is left untreated, nothing will stop it. Brandon Novak was going to be the youngest professional skateboarder to tour with Tony Hawk. At just 14 years old he had shown such skill that he was handpicked to travel the United States and the world to showcase his abilities. Unfortunately at that time, Brandon was unable to stay sober so he was kicked off tour. A young Brandon chose drugs and alcohol over becoming the youngest professional skateboarder to tour the US with Tony Hawk. That is absolute powerlessness at its best; I guess I should say at its worst.
He went on to do thirteen different inpatient programs before staying sober. No matter what was on the line or what would stand before him he always managed to get loaded again. What I find absolutely fascinating about Brandon is that he describes his story in a way that is so relatable to other drug addicts and alcoholics. He talks about how because he had all these things that would normally equal success it made him feel like even though he was a drug addict that he was already recovered. I feel like a lot of us in recovery come into the rooms with this inflated ego that we are different than other addicts and alcoholics and that is what keeps us from relating to one another and Brandon really shows that in his story.
Brandon has shared that an old man that approached him in the first rehab that he ever went to told him not to turn another year older in a rehabilitation center and how he wished he had listened to him. He ended up not getting sober until he was 33 years old so he had been in and out of treatment centers and attempted to stay sober several times before then. Which brings me to another aspect of Brandon‘s story that really stands out and is relatable. This is the fact that he wanted to get sober and really meant it when he said it but still could not overcome his addiction. More often than not alcoholics and drug addicts say that we are going to get on the wagon and keep this sobriety and then we fail to do so because alcohol and drugs have such a stronghold over us. He talks about how it didn’t matter how badly he wanted to be sober if a drug or alcohol told him that he had to jump he was going to ask how high and that is so incredibly raw and honest. In Brandon‘s life, it seemed as though he would’ve done anything to get money for his next fix. He even went as far as to steal books from his own book release in Time Square and going to go sell them in Baltimore. His own recovery based book release. So essentially he stole from himself to be able to get money when his family and his managers knew that he was not going to be able to handle money at that time. That just shows what lengths we will go to in order to feed our addictions.
He went home after that and his girlfriend had left him. He was alone, no clothes, no furniture, and nothing that seemed comparable to the life he had once lived. He has stated that he curled up in a ball on the floor of that house and he cried not because he had lost everything but he had given it away through his actions. To Brandon that house represented him in the depths of his addictions, hollow sort to speak. An empty shell of the man he once was.
Around this time is when there were looting and crime in Baltimore due to a police shooting and fatality. Brandon’s mom was scared living so close to it all because people were lighting police cars on fire and it was becoming super intense. She had asked him to come to take care of her. So he went to do it only to be locked in a room most of the time and to come out once a day to go pick up drugs from him a dealer. Nothing seemed too extreme at this point. Not even people calling his mom to say they had him and asking for ransom money. It was all normalized like most of our alcoholic lives become.
These extremes didn’t stop Brandon just yet. There was a lot that wouldn’t make his quit using actually. Not being in a coma for 7 days or even sitting in the snow with only a t-shirt. The end started with him getting an offer from his best friend Bam Margera to go on a tour for MTV’s Jackass. They were to do 29 events in 30 days in Australia! The thing was that Brandon knew from previously being in Australia that finding his drug of choice, heroin, was nearly impossible. So naturally, he had to bring enough along with him to potentially keep him from withdrawing. He headed to his friend Bam’s house and accidentally dropped his drugs on the floor. His friend kicked him out of his house. He wouldn’t be touring with his friends anymore. At this point, he was so far into his addiction that he was actually happy to be headed back to his mom’s house where his intervention waited. His mom drew a boundary watching her son deteriorate before her eyes. She would no longer let him live with her. He was served with a restraining order and for the first time in all the times he’d hit “rock bottom” it came to him.
Desperate, alone and broke Brandon had no more options left to feed his addiction. In that desperation, he met someone online who offered him a paid trip to Florida. All he required was his drugs and when he was promised that he was off. He was to catch a red-eye to Florida that night at 11:30 pm from Baltimore. The thing was that Brandon had to meet his probation officer at 8:00 am in Philadelphia to provide a clean urinalysis. All the meanwhile he’s still high. This just shows how delusional and insane we truly become at the end of our addiction, but that is the amount of insanity sometimes required to breed willingness in a person’s heart.
He didn’t make it to his probation officers to provide a clean urinalysis. Instead, he was robbed in Florida of the suit he wore for his probation officer visit. He went to the airport to head back to Philadelphia and TSA told him he wouldn’t be able to fly for 72 hours because he was inebriated. So he called his old sponsor and that man had him take a train and stayed with people who took care of him and took him into the rehab he had been two 4 times in the past. That just shows how we as people in recovery will show up at times when no one else will because it’s what keeps us sober as well. Brandon went into his final rehab with scarves, deodorant and cigarette butts he dug out of the trash. He wore donated women’s clothes and shoes that didn’t fit him and he was humbled and desperate for the first time.
He had arrived. Brandon, this celebrity, had been broken enough to come to terms with the fact that Brandon couldn’t be his own sponsor, he couldn’t only attend “Brandon Anonymous”, he couldn’t bypass the work this time… he had an awakening. He came to that realization we all have to come to terms with that we will never be able to drink or use drugs as a normal person. He finally grasped that he had to give it up for good to give himself a fighting chance at life. He did the work for the first time and that meant putting pen to paper and working a full 12-step program. He’s been sober since March of 2015 and even strayed working in recovery in 2016. He’s a true inspiration of how the program of recovery works for those who are willing to work for it and a reminder to us all that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, addiction doesn’t discriminate and the solution is simple if you let it be.
(Novak, Brandon. “Addiction: Tomorrow is Going to be Better”).
About Camelback Recovery
Camelback Recovery provides sober living and transitional housing in Scottsdale, Phoenix, and Tucson, AZ. We provide recovery coaching in a structured and supportive environment that promotes long term transformational changes in our clients by focusing on 12-Step fundamentals, human connection, and accountability.