Tarik Flot feels like he has been given a second chance at life following his graduation from the St. Charles Parish drug court last week.
The 33-year-old Boutte native said he began smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol at age 13 and progressed over the next few years to harder drugs.
"At the age of 15 I started occasionally doing heroin and cocaine," Flot said. "All of my friends are either dead or in jail right now. I am probably the last one standing."
At age 16 his first two children were born – twin girls. Despite the drug problem that was slowly gripping him and shaping his life decisions, Flot was able to graduate from Hahnville High School.
"After high school my addiction got worse," Flot said. "I isolated myself a lot. I remember walking in summer with long sleeve shirts on, trying to hide my track marks and sores."
Flotís body was faltering due to the drugs he was injecting into himself – his relationships also followed suit.
"My addiction, it showed. It was like I was allergic to it. It put burrows and sores all over my body," Flot said. "My life was truly unmanageable. I had low self-esteem and I was unreliable. As a father I did not make good decisions at all."
Flot was arrested a few times for misdemeanors, but was able to keep from a felony arrest for a number of years despite engaging in illegal activities to feed his drug habit
"I was a professional thief, liar and cheater," Flot said.
Despite seven stays in drug rehabilitation programs, commitment to a psychiatric hospital for threatening suicide and the birth of three more children, Flot continued to use heroin. For the eighth and final time he entered a rehabilitation program.
"I guess my eyes started opening up when I went to my last long-term treatment," he said. "I came back home. A lot of things were different about me. My eyes started opening up to a lot of things."
However, he began to use drugs again and was finally arrested for felony drug possession and was jailed.
"The streets were beating me up. Actually, I showed people pictures of me and they didnít even recognize it was me because that is just how bad I looked when I was out there," Flot said.
Instead of going through the traditional court system and likely serving time in prison, Flot opted for the drug court program.
The program requires participants to meet requirements set forth by the court, such as attending group meetings for addicts, taking frequent drug tests and showing progress in their life by either seeking a degree or keeping a steady job.
Since entering the drug court program 18 months ago, Flot has not tested positive for drugs. Now entering his 19th month of sobriety, he said he has a lot of regrets.
"If I could go back I would definitely change everything, but I was caught up in my addiction and basically out of control," he said. "Twenty years were wasted."
He said the years of addiction took a heavy toll, but in only 18 months he has begun to turn his life around.
"This program taught me new ways of responding and about my anger triggers. It also gave me new guidelines on making decisions, taking responsibility for my own actions, and taught me about honesty and humility," Flot said. "I also learned that recovery is not about just not using. Recovery is a lifestyle change."
For his past failings, Flotís future looks bright. Since being in the drug court program and being active in his addiction recovery, Flot has opened his own business, Flotís Lawn Services. He is currently seeking a permit to be eligible for commercial and government contracts.
In addition, he just enrolled in a four-year degree program with the University of Phoenix specializing in human services and management for addiction so he can eventually help other addicts. He also has a sixth child on the way and is preparing to celebrate nine years of marriage to his wife.
In addressing the court, Flot, sometimes choking up with emotion, thanked the judges and other court personnel for helping him in his recovery, but he singled his wife out.
"It took a strong a woman to stand by my side through all that mess I put you through and I love you and I thank you," he said. "I thank you all for your prayers, your support and your love. Thank you for not giving up on me. Thank you for believing in me when I did not believe in myself."
To those teenagers out there who are in the position to begin experimenting with drugs, Flot offered a few words of advice.
"Donít be a follower - be a leader. Donít hang around the wrong people. Just stay away from bad company," Flot said.