I came to an NA meeting at the Atlanta Triangle Club in 2000 utterly defeated and willing to do whatever was asked of me. CMA had not been organized yet in Atlanta but crystal meth, GHB, K and ecstasy were everywhere. It saturated Atlanta’s gay clubs like Backstreets and The Eagle, and the gay party scene. Crystal meth was casually referred to as Tina, and didn’t have the skull-and-crossbones warnings it now carries. Our pack-mother would say, “Girl, why are you so messy? Here, let me help wake you up and get you back on the dance floor,” and voila, I was off to the races.

I became addicted to crystal meth the second time I tried it. Meth was my constant companion from 1996 to 2005—with some brief intervals of sobriety, but nothing that sustained. Not using without transformation equals suffering, and boy did I suffer. Nine years of crystal meth use.

I came from a loving home of hard-working parents who married at 18 and 19 years old. They had my sister and me when they were just 20 years old. My mother was a Hungarian immigrant who came over with 12 brothers and sisters in 1956 and made a life for themselves here in the U.S. Alcoholism was a destructive force in my mom’s family and many of her siblings suffered from addiction. My grandfather was a bad alcoholic who often beat and abused his children. Mom wore the scars of that upbringing and sought a better life for herself and her children. My father was a professional chef and had become quite successful early on in his career. We had a privileged but humble upbringing. I followed his path and entered the Culinary Institute of America in New York after graduating high school at 19 years old. C.I.A. was notorious for schooling legends like Anthony Bourdain, Thomas Keller and Chez Panisse. All were my heroes in cooking.

Instantly I was hooked to the insanely grueling lifestyle of the professional chef. The drinking, smoking and frantic pace of each shift—and the rewards of comradely after on the back docks. The smell of a freshly opened bottle of Heineken and a cigarette, recounting who was in the weeds that evening and who helped them out. I loved the career choice I had made and became somewhat of a prodigy in my twenties. I worked for some of the best chefs, but soon drinking and using became a priority without me even realizing it. I had become a daily drinker but told myself that’s what chefs do.

Alcohol was a gateway drug for me because when I drank too much, my defenses would be lowered and I would do pot and cocaine. Or worst yet, freebase, which took me to a whole new level. Even though I only freebased a couple of times, I knew I would do it again if given the opportunity. I still get triggered today even thinking about that first time I used a glass pipe to get high and escape.

Often during my early career, I barely held it together at staff meetings, coming into work hungover, having others pick up my responsibilities. I was operating at 50% of my true potential.

While at a party one night after work, I met a handsome young man who would become my partner for the next five years. He introduced me to the gay club scene and circuit parties and all that came with it. We traveled around the country attending these parties and lived a fast-paced life. He was a successful marketing exec who owned his own firm and l was an executive chef for a large food manufacturer. For a while it worked; however, no gay couple who uses club drugs together remain committed to a monogamous relationship. It’s just a matter of time before that door opens and an intruder enters—and that’s exactly what happened. We committed to having a “respectful” open relationship, but soon we invited someone over to our home, with whom I started to cheat with outside of our relationship. We were through, and I was on my own left to pick up the pieces. Sex parties and the gradual descent into full-time drug use began. I thought to myself, a move to Chicago would fix things, yes! Sadly, my addiction followed, and even though faces and addresses changed, my illness didn’t and I progressed to a bottom that led me to the rooms.

From 2000 to 2005, I picked up eleven white chips, two DUIs, and wreckage comparable to the likes of Hurricane Katrina. It was clear on that rainy Tuesday afternoon in 2005 that I was either gonna die with this thing or from this thing, and the choice was mine to make. I woke up after a four-day tweak and my clock read 6:30. I wondered if the people walking by my apartment window were on their way to work or on their way home. I remember feeling utter despair and hopelessness in that moment.

My mother had passed away suddenly from cancer and came to me the night before in a vivid dream. She stood above me and asked… “What the hell are you doing, Robert?” I jolted awake and shamefully looked up at her, “Nothing,” I said, “nothing, Mom.” “Well, get your ass in gear, Son. You don’t have much longer here if you don’t get help.”

I had been saved by my mother’s love.

I was not a spiritual person, but was deeply connected to my mom. She was the only person who knew how bad things had gotten. To lose her suddenly to stomach cancer was devastating. I’ve never felt so alone or disconnected from life as I did when she passed. I now know that it was her final attempt to push through and carry the message, which I received loud and clear.

The following night at a CMA Beginner’s meeting in Chicago, I picked up my final white chip and have been clean and sober ever since. That was her final gift to me. No matter how many times I tell my truth, I tear up and am humbled. Why me? Why did I hear the message and so many other crystal meth addicts have to die?

That first year of sobriety, I worked my ass off. I went to an Early Bird meeting every morning for a year and a half, and got to know a group of guys who walked me through the Steps. On Mother’s Day in 2007, my mom came to me again in a dream, and this time I felt her love, not her shame. That maternal love has helped me stay sober since. I feel her presence today—we often walk together.

Twelve years into my sobriety, my higher power is so much more than desperation; it’s a connection to the universe that gets better and better with each sober day on Earth. I have a higher power that really works in my life; otherwise I wouldn’t still be here. The Twelve Steps of CMA have transformed my life, and brought inner peace and acceptance. It wasn’t until I accepted my addiction as a virtue that I was able to find inner peace and self-love.

Crystal Meth Anonymous has given me tools to process my fears, resentments, anxiety and critical thinking. Life is too short to be a hothead, fearful of people, places and things that cause me anxiety. We are sensitive people—we feel everything. By our very nature, we, as crystal meth addicts, are socially anxious people who have been locked in a padded room for years before we finally hear the message. CMA has helped me be a productive member of society who holds the door open for you, gives up my seat quietly, says, ”How are you?” and means it, loves deeply and lives life with a new perspective and clarity.

Today I serve as the executive chef for an embassy in New York. I have met and cooked for prime ministers, ambassadors and heads of state. I have two sober cooks on my team who are in CMA. Together, our creative artistry and love for cooking is alive thanks to you— what a blessing!

I love CMA more than ever. It is my lifeline—Mom and I both thank you for each day in recovery.