On July 24, 2014, I ended my ten-year career with Carolina Ballet, where I reached the rank as a soloist. The director of the company listened to me ramble on about how “this (ballet) wasn’t for me” and finally said, “If you need to get help and come back, do so.”
Growing up, I viewed an addict as the beggars, vagabonds, the outcasts that no one wanted to deal with. People who I ignored while walking on a street. I never saw an addict as the famous dancers, actors or athletes I idolized, and I never thought in my wildest dreams I would consider myself one. I have quickly learned that I am one “yet” away from a tragedy.
At 18, I was hired to dance for Carolina Ballet. Extremely optimistic and eager to learn and yet full of fear, I didn’t know what it truly meant to be a professional dancer. Although I was full of fear, I was a hard worker and in the middle of my first year, I was promoted from an apprentice to the corps de ballet. Even though my hard work was being recognized from the Artistic Staff, I was desperately trying to gain the approval of my peers. At the beginning of my career, I was faced with negative comments such as, “You’re dancing like a woman. Why don’t you try doing that step a little more masculine?” Feeling less than in the dance studio, I found that the way I gained the approval of my colleagues was through social drinking.
I had never tried any substances of any type before my professional career. Growing up in a Preacher’s home, we didn’t drink. I also come from a home that was broken because of addiction, so I guess it was never on my radar. Free from my family’s rules, I found myself at a company party and willing to fit in – by any means necessary. That’s where I had my very first taste of alcohol, my very first taste of social acceptability, enjoying my company. From that moment, I continued to chase that same feeling. That led me to experimentation of other drugs; none of those drugs led me to the sensation of freedom that cocaine did. Each year I was in the company, I started to dance more, more principal roles and promotions started to come my way, as well as the desire to be known. My focus began to shift from becoming the best artist I could be to how popular I could be. Pretty soon, I stopped hanging out with company dancers and became a frequent staple in the city’s social scene. I found myself dancing on stage eager to go out, several times texting my dealer(s) during performances for me to get my next fix. As the years went on, I was not getting rest or eating well, and my body started to decline. Things were rapidly spiraling out of control and then injuries started to come.
Each time I was injured, I used drugs to cope with the pain. I mainly used drugs to cope with my depression, anxiety, and fear. In all honesty, I had no fear of losing my roles, status in the company or even employment. My fear was that I would lose my social life. At this time, the director of the Carolina Ballet and some of my colleagues expressed their concerns. I was defensive even though I was at a point of no return. I knew I was a slave to the drugs. I didn’t know how to stop using, I was scared to stop using. In 2014, I was a full-blown addict, my reputation was hanging on by a thread, as was my body. At this point in my life, my love for the drug overpowered my love for ballet. I left.
Substance abuse is not so uncommon in the ballet world.
Leaving this ballet company, I was full of guilt and shame. To make myself feel better about my decision, it became my mission to prove to everyone that the company was the problem and that I could have a fulfilling life away from ballet and use successfully. The truth is, once I left the ballet, I realized that the only skills I acquired from my career were dancing and socializing, and because of this my resentment of the company grew bigger, and my depression, anxiety, and fear went through the roof. Shortly after I left the ballet, I moved to the Dallas area to be closer to my family, to get back to the values that I once knew as a child. Even in Texas and creating a new life, I found myself in the same cycle that I was in right before I left the ballet. Two years after I left Carolina Ballet, I found myself in a rehabilitation center.
In rehab, isolated from my drugs of choice, I finally started to see clearly. I started to realize that my obsession with being liked almost took my life. I started to see my part played (in all situations); I started to see that the problem of my past wasn’t the ballet, it wasn’t my old colleagues, it wasn’t my director, it was me. After coming to this realization, a new-found peace began to take over my life. I began to focus on my sobriety, and I watched my life change for the better. A year after I left the treatment center, I found myself again in a ballet class. It was a freedom I have ever felt before. That first ballet class led me back to the stage.
In early December 2018, I retired (for good) from my ballet career. I had spent a year dancing again professionally and I am so grateful I got to experience my final year sober. This past year, I experienced the same fears that I had at the beginning of my career, but this time around I could see my fears for what they were – irrational. I started to enjoy each step and connect with my partners on a deeper level. I never knew that this could be possible.
At this very moment, I am a little over two and a half years clean and sober. I am still working on becoming a better me. In all honesty, there are still days that I want to give up and then I remember the pain and misery I went through during my days in active addiction and that has been my motivation to keep fighting the good fight. If I could tell twenty-two-year-old Eugene anything, I would remind him that he is special, different, and has so much to share; to remember to speak up, to share your truth because your pain could help someone else and free yourself in the process, and to not be too proud to ask for help.
Featured Photo for Substance Abuse by Ballet Dancers by The Ballet Herald