My Moment of Truth in Rehab

My Moment of Truth in Rehab

Life is about choices. Artist Danny Simmons didn’t realize the choice he would have to make.

Danny Simmons is now sober and inspired to create acclaimed works of art

It wasn’t as if this was my first time. My first time in rehab had been 16 years before. I snuck out of the place on my twenty-first birthday, promising my brother Russell I’d never use again. It all felt so familiar. The 12-step slogans on the wall: One Day at a Time, Easy Does It, Let Go and Let God.

The chairs set in a circle for the mandatory group meeting. I’d only been in Hazelden, a rehab center in Minnesota, a week. You’re supposed to count the number of days you’ve been sober. Me? I was counting down the days until I got out.

“Danny, you need to identify with these other addicts and alcoholics,” a counselor had told me. “You’re different people with the same disease.” But I’d never done any of the stuff these folks were talking about. I never robbed or lived on the streets or got my dinner out of a Dumpster.

I came from a solid background. I had a house, a good job, a master’s in public finance. I painted and wrote poetry. Yes, I broke my promise to Russ. I used heroin, and some other substances. I thought I had it under control. I did have it under control. Until suddenly I didn’t.


My mind drifted as the meeting began and people started to share. How did I get here? Back in the sixties, when I was coming of age in New York, everyone I knew was getting high. We were activists by day, hippies by night, hanging out, listening to all that great new music that seemed to define the era. Like the song said, it was the Age of Aquarius. We believed it. I thought getting high fed my creativity, helped define me as an artist. Yet there was another reason I did it too. Pain.

I was into sports as a kid and broke both hips by age 15, developing arthritis soon afterward. Pins and hip fusions didn’t work. Drugs did, though, which was one reason I went into rehab the first time. In my early thirties I had the first of several hip replacements.

Because I was an addiction risk when it came to opioid painkillers, they were doled out to me in limited quantities and for as short a time as possible. Man, I did everything I could to endure the pain. Finally it was too much. I turned to my local pharmacy—the corner. No prescription required.

Well, maybe I’m not being totally truthful. After that promise to my brother Russ, I dabbled in all kinds of drugs. More than dabbled. Even after I earned a degree and got a job in social work, even after I got married and had a son, I used—marijuana, cocaine, psychedelics. You name it, I used something almost every day.

I thought of it as recreational drug use, not drug abuse or addiction. I mean, I was choosing to use drugs. I was in charge.I still painted when I had the time, and I clung to the myth that drugs fueled my creativity.

Heroin, though, that was my downfall. That’s how I ended up here at Hazelden. I’d tried it as a teen, then quit when I made that vow to Russ. Then came the hip surgeries and the pain, and I knew exactly what to do about it. I thought I’d do heroin for one night, just to get some relief. One night turned into three years. Finally my family stepped in, but only after I lost my marriage and practically everything else.

The guy next to me was talking. “I feel like it’s impossible to stay clean. This is my fourth time in rehab and...”

Well, this was going to be my last time. This was just a little rest stop. If I played the game for another 21 days I’d get out and stay clean. Maybe mess around here and there with softer drugs. Nothing serious. I’d get my life back on track. I still had a house...barely. I still had a job in social work if I wanted it... barely. I’d give it five years. Five years clean and then I’d try heroin again, just on the weekends, here and there.

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