Blog post author header image John Makohen recovery coaching in nyc

John Makohen
Arise Recovery Coaching in NYC

“Recovery Sneaks Up on You.”

A few weeks back, I connected with a group of fantastic coaches, trainers, and advocates in our growing recovery community 

During the conference’s closing keynote, at MPRC 2019: THE National Recovery Conference, William White commented, “Recovery sneaks up on you!”

When I heard this, I chuckled to myself because, in my case, White hit the nail on the head and drove it home with one swing.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve been struggling with a memoir for as long as George RR Martin has struggled with “Winds of Winter” maybe longer.

What has held me up was not being able to define when my recovery began. Now that I have had some time to reflect upon my journey, I can safely say Street Junky: Homeless. Alone. Hungry. And Cold. has reached its final draft before edit.

Here is how Recovery snuck up on me. 

After a lapse turned into a full-blown relapse, I made a conscious decision to retreat to a nomadic lifestyle, upon the streets of NYC.

After all the dank, dark streets of New York City’s lower east side is where I always felt comfortable.

Many of the best times I had in my life I experienced while coming of age homeless in the LES.

I identified with this part of my life, living the life of a


 Street Junky: Homeless, Alone, Hungry, and Cold.


Before my relapse, I had 6 years of sobriety. During this time, I bragged about my solid plan and system for recovery. In hindsight, I figure I had a solid 18 months of how I perceive recovery today. For me, recovery is spending life in the pursuit of happiness, self-care, and fulfillment. It can mean whatever it means to you –no judgment here. Unless you’re talking about Japanese Hardcore Punk! 🙂

After I lapsed, it was futile to find my way back. I didn’t have a plan to stay sober. Therefore, a plan to deal with lapse was out of the question.

Once I sunk the needle into my arm, I knew I was home. It took about a year and some change for me to be homeless once again, so I went back to New York City.

In my case, relapse was inevitable. It woke me. It was needed for me to thrive in a lifestyle for recovery. I was lucky to find it before the deadly heroin/fentanyl combo entered the scene. For me, that would have been a sought after cocktail and death.

I was comfortable living on the fringes of our society invisible and safe from accepting my failures, faults, and shortcomings. My daily purpose in life was reduced to one goal—living life from fix to fix, in ritualized pursuit of heroin and other drugs.

I reconciled to die on the streets of NYC with a needle buried in my arm. I longed for it. I wished to fix up a shot and join my heroes -overdosed and checked out on the eternal nod. It was “a puny plan.”

When I think about it, I hear The Great Humongous, the warrior in Mad Max’s futuristic wasteland, words bouncing around in my head. However, my puny plan has yet, to manifest itself.

What do we say to death? Not today!

The universe had other plans for me.


Without prior knowledge, preparation, or forethought, these 3 events instigated cataclysmic change.

Recovery snuck up on me. 

1 – A taste of recovery

Before I escaped back to the nomadic life of trekking New York City’s streets for dope and coke, I tasted the sweetness of living life in recovery. 

I also had a puny plan for recovery, but it worked for 6 years until a table saw ripped through my hand. 

Like all events, the accident could’ve gone two ways. I could have reached out for support from the recovery community or said fuck it and start getting high. 

I was not so wise and blinded by hubris. I refused to lean into the recovery community. I would go it alone.  At the time, recovery meant distraction and exhaustive. I substituted work for dope. 

My injury forced me to sit quietly with myself. I had not yet learned how to be my best friend, so the demons of my past mixed with the old familiar scene of morphine being worked into my vein created intense cravings.

I never picked up the phone, so my ego defeated me.

Several weeks after the surgeries to repair my hand, I stepped onto the road of active use. First alcohol and marijuana, then Vicodin and cocaine, eventually methadone pills, but we all know what happens when the pills run out. It’s inevitable the pills WILL run out, but heroin is always a phone call away. Once I released the dope into my veins, I couldn’t rear back on the reigns. I was off to the races. 

In a little more than a year, I was back on the streets of New York City drinking methadone to chase the dope-sickness away and whoring, boosting, or begging for my next fix.


Let it flow, greatly grow, wide and clear.
Round and round, the cut of the plow in the furrowed field,
Seasons round, the bushels of corn and the barley meal,
Broken ground, open and beckoning to the spring,
Black dirt live again!
Let it grow, let it grow, greatly yield.
–– The Grateful Dead

A seed was planted

No matter how hopeless and desperate life became, I knew I could live without heroin or other drugs. I did in county jail, prison, during parole, and for 3 years without supervision. And that shit meant something. It planted the seed that recovery is possible. The seed created hope for something better. It didn’t matter how faint the glimmer was. It was there. 

Download a FREE workbook to identify your high-risk situations and triggers that will blindside your recovery goals by creating the urge to use heroin or other drugs.

2 – Harm reduction

I returned to the streets of NYC to get on a methadone maintenance treatment program.

Not to get sober, but to hold off the demon dope-sickness. If you hustled, you could get on methadone maintenance within 24 hours.

One morning I set out to get on a program, so I landed at LESC. I made it to the assessment by 8:00 AM. It took about 3 hours to complete the biopsychosocial.

It took brutal honesty, but it was easy because I felt safe, not judged. I could say anything I wanted and not worry about a condescending look or lecture.

After the assessment, I was given an appointment card to provide blood and urine samples. If I returned by 9:00 AM the next morning with the card signed, I could get medicated. Without a guarantee to make money, dope-sickness loomed over me, si I got the blood work done and was medicated 24 hours later. 

During my 6 year retreat from street junky life, needle exchange programs sprouted throughout the city, so using clean kits and new sterile syringes each time I fixed was guaranteed.

Another new element began to pop-up in various locations throughout Manhattan. Not only did several needle exchange programs offer the use of the restroom to inject heroin or drugs safely, but drop-in centers and other community organizations also began to provide safe, monitored spaces for drug injection.

Safe injection sites didn’t only offer safety and reduce harm, but these organizations worked to shatter stigma, especially self-stigma and shame.


3. Shattering stigma


Do you know what it is like to use a public restroom to shoot up a speedball? 

When I was in getting high, I didn’t think it bothered me, but it did.


The stigma and shame crippled me. 

It didn’t matter how quick I fixed. I had to remove layers of clothes, work up the shot, bounce of the walls from the coke, and wait for the dope to wash over me with the courage to walk out the fucking door.  It’s humiliating walking facing a crowd of angry tourists holding their insides in, especially when the cocaine psychosis is riding at full peak. It sucked. My paranoia mixed with my homeless chic convinced me everyone knew what the fuck I was doing in the toilet.

My appearance concerned me. I did my best to fit in with the masses, but some things don’t wash off. I told myself stigma didn’t bother me. Ha, I also believed I looked good weighing 119 pounds, face sunken in, and eyes pinned.

It’s frustrating trying to warm up your vein so it will pop with people pounding on the restroom door.

Knock, knock, knock -“Hurry up, junky,” someone chants. Another voice chimes in with, “There’s nothing worse than a homeless junky using the toilet before you.” “Fix-up somewhere else, dirtbag!”

Forever grateful for all those who fight to reduce the harm we are blind too!


I’m grateful for those who took it upon themselves to offer us homeless New Yorkers safe places to shoot heroin and other drugs. Their efforts helped me overcome self-stigma and shame. It was a game-changer knowing there was a safe place to go, to not be judged, and where people on the other side of the door cared for my wellbeing.

Workers monitored the time spent in the bathroom, not because other kids need to fix-up, but to make sure you were breathing, safe, alive. 

I always had clean kits and sterile syringes when I used the drop-ins toilets to fix.

The most crucial benefit of safe injection sites was knowing I didn’t have to walk out of the restroom into a sea of judgmental faces looking back at me in anger. 

A safe place to shoot drugs started to break down the wall of self-consciousness, self-hate, and to have conversations with recovery advocates not pushing in-patient treatment down my throat.

It made all the difference in the world for me to exit a restroom and see peers hanging around, smiling, chatting, staying warm while waiting to fix. These people fed us, gave us toiletries, laundry services, Hep C testing… We wanted to show up and escape the reality of life on the streets. 

You might fear safe injection sites, but it’s unwarranted fear. Recovery sneaks up on you in safe injection sites.

I have shot dope in many places, literally wherever I wanted, a public toilet, a park bench, on a set of church steps, subway cars, hospitals, while walking down the street and most of these times, I was alone with no one to help me in the event of an overdose.

A safe-injection site means you, your son, daughter, or loved one will stay alive in the event of an accidental overdose.

Having a chance to find recovery another day is proof enough to claim safe-injection sites work.

Harm reduction works. 


It screams you’re worthy of love, support, and dignity. 

The folks who work harm reduction for little to no pay go to work each day and fight society’s ignorance, stigma, and fear of addiction. 

Harm reduction saved my life. It kept me alive long enough for the seed of recovery planted long ago to grow.

Embrace harm reduction today. 

At Arise Recovery Coaching in NYC, you are in recovery when you say you are. Your recovery is defined by you. I know what it’s like to not want to stop using dope, to feel you have not one reason left to keep a needle out of your arm. Living homeless, alone, hungry, and cold was not just a result of my heroin use disorder it became a lifestyle.


Recovery sneaks up on you.

This week I spent a fantastic week with my recovery community at THE National Recovery Conference: MPRC 2019. During his closing, recovery historian and advocate William White, spoke about recovery sneaking up on you. When he said this, my ears perked up. It is true. The last monkey wrench diverting my plan of dying with a needle in my arm, on the streets of New York City was recovery – getting in my way.

I’ve been working on a memoir for quite some time. Every time I think I’m on THE final edit, I found a significant part missing.

How I Got Sober?

I found it’s easy to recollect all the stories from my past, but I could never put my finger on when the change happened. On the day I said fuck it, I don’t want to get high today.

I’ve journaled hour after hour reflecting on how I got sober. I have recently found that no matter how amazing my life has become, recovery was never my intended outcome.

When I got on methadone, I didn’t try to facilitate healing. Methadone meant survival. Like all with heroin use disorders, I feared and hated dope-sickness.

Even though I know the sickness comes in the morning, I can’t save a wake-up. I can’t rest knowing I have a 5 bag shot sitting around. Methadone kept me from being scared to wake up.


But recovery, hell I don’t know – it just happened.


After many months of journaling, self-reflection, and meditation, I can say it was many small changes that sparked one significant change. And then to paraphrase William White, the momentum kicked-in and great shit started happening.

In part, my previous taste of engaging with others from the recovery community helped.

Ultimately,  the efforts, support, and compassion of volunteers advocating for harm reduction shattered my self-stigma and shame.

I started defeating my self-limiting beliefs, disputing negative self-talk, and stopped spending all of my time with street junkies seeking the best dope in NYC 5 boroughs.


It was a gradual process.


Instead of spending all of my time hustling to shoot drugs, I only did one big speedball at the end of the day. My toxicology reports from my PG (methadone program) tell the story:

  • Toxicity levels decreased,
  • Questionable toxicology reports ended,
  • Engaging individual briefs became the norm.

One morning, my counselor told me, during a session that I had not screened positive for any illicit drugs in 3 weeks. I laughed and didn’t believe him.

*Sidenote: In recovery, you WILL learn how to take a compliment.

He went on to tell me how excited he was to see I had broken my previous 7-day record by 14 days and counting. He let me see the screen of recent toxicology reports, and I couldn’t remember the last time I shot drugs. As soon as I left, I celebrated the best way I knew how, I copped a bundle of dope, a gram of coke, and got gone.

However, a new seed was planted, and the time between my shots of heroin and cocaine grew further apart, and now I can say through the help of so many others I have had a system for recovery for 8 years.

Today I understand recovery is a process and not a destination, and I am enjoying the ride.

Yes, indeed, Mr. William White, recovery WILL sneak up on you, especially with multiple pathways guiding the way.

What is your plan for recovery today?

You are in recovery when you say you are.
Many times you don’t know when your change was initiated.
It might have been a passing thought.
A night when you felt death was knocking at your door.
Maybe when you were watching a loved one dying, pleading for the Narcan to work, hoping one more blast will be enough to work magic and reverse the accidental overdose. Ugh, 3 hits of Narcan in each nostril and still no breath. Hopefully, the fourth time is the one.

It might have happened one night when you begged your higher power to let you find the money to cop a bundle of dope, take the sickness away, and you promised to stop in the morning.

Or maybe you are like me, and recovery just snuck up on you and bit you in the ass. You didn’t want it, but now you have it, and you’re not going to let it go.
Only you know when your changes started to take place.


Recovery sneaks up on you

Recovery sneaks up on you when you stop forcing yourself to conform to what others believe recovery means and start living life in alignment with your definition of recovery.

Recovery sneaks up on you when you stop listening to what others feel is best for you and start leaning into those who want to help you get what you desire and deserve.

Recovery sneaks up on you when you start reducing the harm and consequences of your substance use.

Recovery sneaks up on you when you start learning to love, trust and value yourself and others. When you shatter how stigma, especially self-stigma block your path to happiness and fulfillment.

Arise recovery coaching in NYC wants to guide your path into a life (of your definition) of long-term recovery.

What makes Arise recovery coaching in NYC different from traditional treatment is:

  • You’re in recovery when you say you are.
  • Arise Recovery Coaching is an outcome-based coaching system.
  • You decide the outcomes you wish to achieve, and we will navigate you towards those goals.
  • I will hold you accountable to your goals.
  • Support and advocate for your process of change.
  • Your uniqueness and individuality will be your guiding light in recovery.

I look forward to the chance to speak with you about reducing harm from your substance use, what recovery means to you, and how we can work together and find a place of happiness and fulfillment for you to live in and grow.

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