By Josh Davis Associate Editor
(Nov. 8, 2018) A year ago Brandon O’Brien was sleeping in his car on back roads and in parking lots near Ocean Pines, thinking about taking his own life after struggling with drug addiction for close to a decade.
Today, he’s turned his life around and was recently named the house manager at the newly opened Hope4Recovery center in Berlin, the first recovery house in Worcester County.
O’Brien, 32, was born in Baltimore but has lived in the Berlin/Ocean Pines area since he was about five. He graduated from Stephen Decatur High School and briefly attended college at Wor-Wic, but he struggled to find direction.
“I’d experimented with drugs and got hooked on opiates, and I went to rehab in 2011 for painkillers. And then I met a girl in rehab, which is not a good idea,” he said. “We were going to get clean together and then she started using, and she introduced me to heroin.”
That went on for about a year, O’Brien said, and he ended up back in rehab in 2012.
“It was not even a year later and, this time, it was for shooting heroin,” he said.
He got out again and, again, he met a girl. This time it lasted five years, but O’Brien had became “pretty miserable” by the end of the relationship.
“She broke it off with me and I moved in with my grandmother, because I didn’t have anywhere else to go,” he said. “I was attempting to get my life on track and to figure out how to be OK with being on my own, with being single. I was running 15 miles a week, because I was so mad at myself for ruining this relationship that I just wanted to kick my own ass.”
He also started using benzodiazepines like Klonopin and Xanax. At first, the lack of a solid connection meant high prices and low supply, “so it kept me from doing them too much,” he said.
“Then, I met somebody who had them all the time and wasn’t charging a ridiculous amount, so I bought a lot,” O’Brien said. “And it was such a short amount of time before my family noticed, my grandmother noticed, my work noticed. A week later my grandmother and everybody had an intervention – and I was not in the mood for that.”
O’Brien said he became combative and “said some really terrible things” to family members. He was kicked out of his grandmother’s house and didn’t have anywhere else to go, so he slept in his car, parking near Manklin Creek in Ocean Pines.
One night, sleeping with the car running because of the cold, police were called and asked to do a field sobriety test, but O’Brien refused.
“I didn’t have anything on me, but I got in trouble and it really snowballed,” he said. “I was already really depressed over this situation with this girl and I felt like I had nowhere to go … I really just wanted something different and I didn’t know what to do to get that, so the only solution in my mind at that point was, I’m going to kill myself. I don’t want to do this anymore.”
He tried to slit his wrist. O’Brien said at the time he was sitting in the car, listening to his favorite song and wearing his favorite outfit.
“It was like some stupid, tragic thing in my mind – very cinematic,” he said.
He remembers being parked near Whiskers Bar & Grill and bleeding into a collectible popcorn tin from a local movie theater.
“My father later said, ‘I knew you weren’t serious, because they told me that you were cutting your wrists over a popcorn bucket because you didn’t want to ruin your upholstery.’ I really liked that car,” O’Brien said with an uneasy laugh.
Then, without warning, a man handing out religious pamphlets appeared at the driver’s side window. He saw what O’Brien was doing and offered to help.
“Nobody is ever in that shopping center. To have somebody handling out pamphlets [there] is kind of strange. I’ve never seen it before or since,” O’Brien said. “I feel like maybe that was God trying to delay me.”
O’Brien moved to a different spot but, five minutes later, police arrived. He was taken to Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury and wound up in the psych ward there, and was later forced into detox from benzos and Suboxone.
“It ended up being a great opportunity, because I don’t think I would have ever gotten off of those,” he said. “When I was in the hospital I thought, ‘How did I get here? I am so much smarter than being in this situation.’ It kind of blew my mind: Here I am in a psych ward and I have nowhere to go … what am I doing? What can I do?”
O’Brien’s mother helped him get into a recovery house in Salisbury run by Ocean Pines Police Det. Patrice Ottey. He was told it was “not an option” to go back to his grandmother’s house.
“I was scared. I didn’t want to do it. But, it was my only option,” he said. “I had a moment in the hospital where I was at my wit’s end with everything and I was just desperate to do anything to change my life.
“My mom told me, ‘You can look at this in a negative light or you can look at it as an opportunity,’” O’Brien continued. “I’ve always had problems trying to see the good in bad situations.”
Once he got into the recovery house, O’Brien started attending regular meetings. He got a sponsor and starting working the steps. He said it was actually nice to be around other addicts in recovery.
“Looking back, if I would have gone back to my grandmother’s house, I don’t think I would be sober a year later,” he said. Monday, Nov. 5 was the one-year anniversary of his sobriety.
About seven months into his treatment, Ottey approached O’Brien about becoming the house manager for her new center in Berlin and helping to shepherd clients through the recovery process there. He was surprised and, initially, somewhat skeptical.
“I might not be a natural leader, but if I can at least lead by example maybe some other guys will follow,” he said. “That she trusted me enough to even put me in that position – it just went to show people around me … they noticed how different I was and how much things like the steps, my sponsor and getting involved with church started changing me.
“It’s crazy for me to think I went from not wanting to do this to, here I am in Berlin with a brand new house – the first of it’s kind in Worcester County – in my hometown. Somebody gave me the opportunity to be here at this point and it’s been amazing,” O’Brien continued. “I can’t describe how overwhelmed I am, but in the most positive way that you can use the word.”
In Berlin, O’Brien will help guide a new group of clients through the recovery process. He’ll be there to set rules and boundaries, make sure they’re clean and going to regular meetings and, eventually, help them find work and integrate back into society. It’s a role he now relishes.
“To see my mom, she tells me how proud she is, but she doesn’t have to because it shows all over her face and in our interactions now,” he said. “And the same thing with my grandmother, who was trying to help me put the pieces back together after that last relationship. I know she felt like she failed me, because I acted the way that I did.
“The change that they’ve all seen in me since then – it’s amazing. It’s exciting, really. I’m excited for life,” O’Brien continued. “I never was excited for what’s around the corner, because I didn’t know. Now, because there’s hope for the future, anytime that I’m feeling down I now know these feelings are temporary and will pass. It’s all in how I chose to respond to them.”
O’Brien said he wants to be an uplifting presence for others. Knowing how low he was just a year ago, he hopes to be able to relate to people who are in similar situations.
“I feel like my responsibility to somebody who’s coming in here is to show them that this program and this recovery house environment, it can work and it can be a positive change in your life – if you’re willing to do the work,” he said. “When it comes down to it, the ones that really want it – they’ll take it. And the ones that don’t will always fall off. It’s the sad truth.
“I just want to be a part of something where it’s just recovery – we’re about recovery and we’re about changing our lives,” O’Brien continued. “If you’re not here to change your life, then you’re taking up space for somebody who maybe is ready for that. And I don’t know where I would be today if there hadn’t been a bed open for me.”
To contact Ottey about space in the home, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 443-523-4459.