Employee Success Story: Curtis Young

“You Gotta Give It Away to Keep It”


by Savannah Lee

At Houston Recovery Center, Curtis shares his story with clients, planting seeds of hope. 


Employee Success Story: Curtis Young 1Growing Up in Houston

Curtis was born on New Year’s Day in Houston, Texas as the youngest of six boys. Each boy was 11 months apart, making for a close knit brotherhood – and what can be imagined as a rambunctious household. Curtis tells me that being the youngest came with its own challenges, fighting the older boys for the last bit in the cereal box or what to put on the television. There were much more pervasive challenges too. From Curtis’ oldest memory, there was intimate partner violence in the home. His father would beat his mother and the boys — until one day his mother left. Shortly after, when Curtis was just 7 years old, a neighbor saw bruises on the boys, prompting her to call the police. Curtis tells the story in his signature way — with a half smile and a little sarcasm. “The police came to the door, my brother had told us all to hide, but I wanted to see his shiny gun.” The police spoke with Curtis, and he told them the truth, that his father had been beating them all.

A Life in the Army

From there, the boys were separated into various foster and group homes. When Curtis has the chance to go back to his father, he declines, he tells me it’s because he didn’t want to fight over food anymore. Instead, he is taken in at 12 years old by a family in the community. There, he goes to school and is well taken care of. At 18, he joins the military — taken in by the idea of travel and discipline. He excels in the Army, first placed in Korea, until he has his first drink at 20 years old. “I fell in love,” he tells me. For Curtis, the drinking quickly turned into cocaine and crack, the two holding each other up in an endless cycle. Even in active addiction, he continues to travel with the Army — from Korea, to Germany, to Denmark, even getting married in Denmark, a ceremony he remembers fondly. He returns home to Fort Hood, where the substance use disorder intensifies. He describes a moment to me that many people with substance use disorder know well. “We were all sitting in a circle – and I remember looking at the guy holding the pipe, angry that he was taking too long. Isn’t that funny?” To Curtis now, on the other side of recovery, it is.

Finding Recovery

Fort Hood is where Curtis’ life would change, after he was arrested on felony charges, due to a violent fight over drug paraphernalia. He’s discharged from the Army, with his superiors testifying to his good nature, confused as to how this happened. Following his discharge, he’s sentenced to 15 years in prison, where he stays sober.  Though he explains to me that his addiction was simply doing pushups in the corner all those years, as on the day of his release, his first outing was to a drug dealer. He laughs with me, about how most men would have made a trip to get some chicken or visit their mother. “I went in with a 3-year addiction, and came out with an 18-year addiction,” he says. And this is how we know substance use disorder works, defying logic in favor of satiating a need that feels just as pertinent as hunger. He explains that from there, he was in and out of treatment centers for several years. Finally, he reaches the VA, where he is provided with specific resources for all of his needs, not just addiction. There, they address his health holistically — physical health, mental health, recovery, and life skills. From those days forward, Curtis stays sober. Now, 14 years later, he sits next to me and smiles. He spends almost all his time working with those in recovery, and at Houston Recovery Center I watch him speak to clients with compassion, empathy, and grace. He knows where they’ve been, and he knows where they can go. He tells me, “You’ve gotta give it away to keep it.” Here at Houston Recovery Center, he does just that, sharing his story with our clients, planting the seeds of hope. Curtis is proof that not only is recovery possible, but on the other side of it you can find joy, peace, and service.