From addict to entrepreneur, how my life transformed when I began living in a state of gratitude

To: Those with a past

From: Chris Bilyk (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To those with a past,

In life, we are all faced with different obstacles and traumas. These challenges take us on a path, and at some point, we reach a crossroads, where we must decide, do we want the struggle we are wrestling to define our entire lives?

For many years, I was a drug addict.

A lot of times, people have this idea of how an addict looks. We picture in our head a toothless, homeless man on the side of the street begging for money. But that wasn’t me, Not even close.

I grew up in a town called Celebration, Florida, with my parents and younger brother. Our town was designed and created by Disney World. My childhood was normal. There was no real trauma, and my parents were and are great parents. My mother still calls me 100 times a day.  

In school, I excelled in academics and tennis. But I had a deviant side, a side that my parents, teachers, and coaches didn’t know existed.  When I was a junior in high school, I tried cocaine for the first time, and I loved it. I loved the drug and got an additional high from doing something I wasn’t supposed to do.

My parents caught me drinking and smoking a few times, and while I got in trouble, they didn’t think I had a serious problem because I was doing so well in school. For college, I got into a great school, Boston College. But I struggled there.

Every night, I went out to drink and party. My sophomore year, I came out as gay, and I started spending a lot of time at gay bars. There were nights I would wake up in random houses and apartments in the greater Boston area.  Often I missed class or showed up unprepared for tests and quizzes.

Every night, I went out to drink and party.

My lifestyle became financially draining, but I realized I could use my sexuality and looks to make money. I became an escort, having sex for money. Right away, I’d spend the money on drugs and partying. My mother kept asking me where my money was coming from, and that’s when this pattern of lying began. I’d tell her I was teaching tennis at a rec center or serving at a restaurant. I lied about jobs. I lied about my grades. I lied about everything. Even if I didn’t have to lie, I lied. It just became so hard to be truthful.

While I didn’t do very well in school, I did well enough to get by and graduate. I moved to New York, and the spiral continued. After eight months, I lost my job at Johnson and Johnson in New York because I regularly reeked of booze and fell asleep at work. Instead of blaming myself for getting fired, I pointed my finger at the company for setting unrealistic expectations. Meanwhile, in New York, I also started using crystal meth – a drug that runs rampant in the gay community.

Ultimately, I left New York to go to nursing school in Miami, but that didn’t work. It was a new city but I had the same old habits.  When I failed nursing school, I once again blamed everyone but myself, complaining that the teacher didn’t treat me fairly. I started doing more and more meth. It made me feel amazing.  Still, I couldn’t admit that I had a problem. If I could point to somebody else who was worse than me, that was confirmation that I was fine.  After losing my job in the service industry in Miami, the spiral downward continued, and I transitioned into using full time.

A restaurant offered me a maitre d’ job in Chicago. It was the only place I was offered a job anywhere. So, I picked up and went to the Windy City. Once again, it was a new city, but the same old habits. Shortly after moving, I ended up coming across a guy who didn’t have a place to live, and I didn’t know that at the time. He was very friendly, and we used the same drugs. So, that connected us. When I got an apartment in Chicago, he followed me there and wouldn’t leave. He started threatening to share personal videos and photos with my family and boss. The relationship became physically and emotionally abusive. In Chicago, I started using intravenous drugs. Somewhere along the way, I contracted HIV. And then, one day, this guy took my head and bashed it on the floor. I started to fear for my life. While I didn’t fully admit my drug use, that’s when I called my parents, and for the first time, I told them I needed help.

They came to Chicago, helped me get rid of that guy, and demanded I go to outpatient rehab. But just a few weeks later, I was back to using drugs. My parents made a surprise visit and found me completely obliterated. And that’s when my parents sent me to inpatient rehab, and  I got sober. This was where I reached my crossroad. It was where  I first admitted that I had a problem – I was an alcoholic and a drug addict. That moment in my life was a turning point, as it paved the way for what my life is today.

I began reading biographies about people who battled addiction. Gratitude seemed to be a common theme as far as a successful recovery. I started telling myself that I needed to live in a state of gratitude, which became my mantra. Gratitude is about focusing on being grateful for what I have in my life instead of giving energy to what I don’t have in my life. It is about living my life with a sound mind, body and spirit. When you live in a state of gratitude, you can take negative experiences and transform them into positive contributions to the world.  

And that’s precisely what I have done.

Check out Chris’s brand at stateofgratitudeusa.com

When the pandemic hit, I was working at a hotel in Texas. All the hotels closed in Texas. So, I kept thinking and preaching to others about remaining in a state of gratitude. One day, I drew a logo on a napkin. As I looked at this logo, I could envision a company. So, I started a clothing company called, you guessed it, State of Gratitude.

Every month, I take $500 of our proceeds and donate it to someone recovering from addiction or alcoholism to help them jump start their lives – to help them when they are at their crossroads. We work with caseworkers, homeless shelters, and treatment centers. The money has been used towards car payments, cell phone bills, groceries, and even dental care.

Today, I am sober. And truthfully, it is surreal that I am in the position I am in today. Gratitude coupled with sobriety offers me an unbelievable natural high, one that lasts a lot longer, is much more sustainable, less expensive, and doesn’t crash.

My life isn’t perfect, but I wake up happy and I go to bed happy. I am living beyond my wildest dreams. And I want you to know, regardless of what happened in your past, each day brings a new opportunity to live differently. While I may have been a drug addict for many years, yesterday won’t define my life, because today I am showing the world who I truly am. 

Your demons are not your destiny. Tomorrow starts today.

So, move forward and always live in a state of gratitude. 


P.S. Check out some of our State of Gratitude apparel


Chris Bilyk
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