CRYSTAL LAKE – Christopher Reed started drinking and using drugs the summer before his freshman year of high school with members of the hockey team. The first few times they would get together, nothing particularly bad would happen, he said.
“When I look back on that time, I definitely made a decision to do that as much as I could,” Reed, now 25 years old, said as he reflected on his decisions more than a decade later. “It was easier to be, what I thought, was a more likable person [when using and drinking].”
Marijuana and alcohol use led to prescription painkillers and then Ecstasy and psychedelic mushrooms. He also started using cocaine.
He got his first DUI shortly after turning 16 and wasn’t showing up to school very often. He said his family, at the time, was a road block to his drinking and using.
“For me personally, it became a solution to my life,” he said. “Whether it was good, bad or indifferent, I felt like at some point I needed some type of substance in order to successfully face life.”
Nearing the end of high school, Reed started using heroin. After “barely” graduating from Harry D. Jacobs High School in Algonquin, his parents kicked him out after several attempts to get him into treatment and on a path to recovery.
Looking back, Reed knew it was something his parents had to do.
“Even just by them giving me a place to stay, or a place to shower or food to eat, it was just helping me continue to use. My parents came to the conclusion that there was literally nothing more they would be able to do to support me,” he said.
In 2009, Reed overdosed several times and eventually ended up in a psychiatric ward. The following weekend, he decided to use once more. Before he went to bed that Saturday night he said a prayer, hoping this would be the last time.
Someone he knew called him the next day and brought him to a 12-step program meeting.
He’s still not sure what made him attend the first meeting, but when he got there he realized that there were people just like him, but they had been sober for years. He noticed they had stable jobs, drove nice cars, had girlfriends and lived overall successful lives – something Reed wasn’t sure was possible to do being sober.
“They weren’t like these sober zombies I always pictured,” he said.
He’s been sober ever since.
He started his own construction company after working for someone else for a period of time and leased a space in Crystal Lake with a large warehouse in the back.
Reed and a group of his friends started hanging out in the warehouse on a daily basis and so they built a bar, brought in a few tables and chairs, and before they knew it, they had 20 people there almost every night.
Reed said the recovery community in Crystal Lake is quite large, and there aren’t many options for people to go for entertainment and social interactions. Reed and several friends, who were also involved in the endeavor, started hosting one larger event once per month, and 150-200 people would show up from all over the Chicago area.
The social aspect of getting together and being around others was a big reason why Reed said he wanted to get The Other Side up and running. He said people often drink and use drugs to be social, and so the fear of no longer having that is what keeps a lot of people in active use.
“When you’re sober, you still want to have that social aspect in your life,” he said. “This place can fill that gap.
“If you have loud music, people drinking, just not alcohol, the lights and a lot of people, you’d be amazed at how similar the effect is to a bar.”
The space was initially shutdown by the city of Crystal Lake because it was not zoned properly. In a very short amount of time, Reed was able to raise the necessary funds to renovate it through word of mouth and publicity.
Reed, now president of The Other Side and New Directions Addiction Recovery Services, has officially run the space for three years, and it’s come a long way.
The space, at 94 Berkshire Drive, Unit G, serves as a location to socialize and gather in a safe way for those in recovery or those who choose to abstain from alcohol.
The Other Side will soon have staffed hours Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, in addition to one larger event once per month. Reed said they also offer a $10 per month access card which allows guests to access the space at anytime. Those with an access card can bring whomever they want, Reed said.
All other events and staffed hours are free of charge, he said.
There is a space upstairs for those who want to do recovery work with a sponsor, with literature also available to attendees. The Other Side also hosts a Recovery Support Group meeting on Tuesday nights at 7 p.m.
Since the space has opened, Reed said the reaction overall has been overwhelmingly positive.
“There are some people in recovery who lean on this place totally,” he said, adding that there are still others in the recovery community who are less sure about the space.
Some of Reed’s short-term goals for the space include drawing consistent crowds on a regular basis and bringing in other populations of people, such as those who choose not to drink.
He also hopes to eventually find a more centralized location that’s closer to downtown and more visible to the community, and wants to be able to serve food in that space.
For more information about The Other Side or New Directions Addiction Recovery Services, or if you are interested in donating to the space, visit the-other-side.org, email email@example.com or call 779-220-0336.