After overcoming a polydrug use disorder in his early 20s, Lonny Mead has built a successful life for himself and has never looked back. Today, Lonny’s recovery group and sober living houses are supporting others who want to do the same.
Lonny Mead has been interested in extreme sports his entire life. His obsession began with BMX riding and skateboarding at a young age. Skateboarding and BMX were common pastimes he enjoyed with his brothers and friends.
“Big halfpipes and all that stuff,” Lonny told DrugRehab.com. “My brother is still a pro vert skater.”
Lonny grew up in Orlando, Florida. He was born in 1964 and has three younger brothers. He developed an interest in water sports and surfing as he got older — activities he is still incredibly passionate about today. He also participated in conventional sports and played baseball, soccer and wrestled in high school.
Lonny‘s parents got divorced when he was young, but he never saw it as abnormal or anything that caused him distress. He was raised by his mother and his stepfather.
During his adolescence, Lonny began experimenting with drugs and alcohol with friends. They started smoking cigarettes and raiding their parents’ liquor cabinets before Lonny was 12.
“My using started as a very social thing with kids down the street. Smoking cigarettes as a kid, that turned into smoking joints,” said Lonny.
“My using started as a very social thing with kids down the street. Smoking cigarettes as a kid, that turned into smoking joints.”
His substance use with his friends quickly progressed. Pretty soon they were riding around the neighborhood on bikes with coolers full of grain alcohol mounted to the back.
Drugs and alcohol made Lonny feel comfortable and content.
“It made you comfortable in your own skin. You could be whoever you wanted to be,” he said. “Whether or not that perpetuated my using or not I don’t know, but it just rapidly became a way of life.”
Lonny was still in junior high school when he began experimenting with harder drugs such as amphetamines and Quaaludes.
All of Lonny’s friends and the people in his social circle used drugs and drank with him. Lonny viewed partying, drinking and using drugs as normal behavior. In this group of friends, he was accepted.
“I thought everybody did it. There wasn’t people that didn’t use or didn’t party,” said Lonny. “Little did I know that that was really the minority.”
During high school, Lonny began experimenting with cocaine and LSD. He never faced any repercussions from his substance abuse, so he never thought it was a problem.
“I didn’t have any major consequences, physically, spiritually or emotionally, until I turned 17 or 18 years old,” he said. “That’s when things started to go downhill.”
After high school, Lonny began using cocaine regularly. He quickly became addicted and was using it every day.
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He used all the money he had to buy cocaine. When he ran out of money, he started stealing money to pay for it.
It was around this time that Lonny began to see the adverse effects of his cocaine use disorder.
“I got into a really bad car wreck when I was 22, and they found weed in my car,” said Lonny. “I got charged with a misdemeanor possession charge under 20 grams.”
Lonny pleaded no contest to the charge. He still has the charge on his record — which serves as a reminder of his reckless behavior for him today.
Lonny says that during this time in his life, from the ages of 20 to 23, he was living in a haze of bars, club hopping and substance abuse. It was his way of life.
“It ran me; I didn’t run it at that point,” he said. “It got to the point where … I could not envision going through the day without using cocaine.”
Lonny did whatever he needed to fund his cocaine use disorder. He was stealing money from where he worked and moving from job to job.
Pretty soon after that, he reached rock bottom.
When Lonny was 23, he was using cocaine every day. He was living with his girlfriend but hid the fact that he used cocaine at all — let alone daily.
Eventually, his girlfriend found out about his cocaine use disorder and kicked him out of her place. Lonny became homeless.
His car was repossessed a week later. He was staying with his friend and had nothing but a skateboard and a bag of clothes. After his friend grew tired of housing him, he was back on the streets.
While Lonny’s mom was away on vacation, he broke into her apartment so that he could have a place to sleep and shower. A book of checks came in the mail while he was squatting there.
“I started writing those like they were mine, and that was the beginning of the end,” he said. “I wrote about $3,000 worth of checks that my mom did not have any money to pay and waited for her to come home from vacation to tell her what I did.”
When Lonny told his mom what he had done, she gave him two choices. “She said, ‘You can check into a rehab or detox place, or I’m going to prosecute you for fraud.’”
Lonny, realizing that one option was clearly better than the other, decided to give treatment a chance.
On March 22, 1988, he checked into a state-run treatment facility in Orlando. It was $50 to be admitted to the medical detox center.
While sitting in the parking lot, Lonny’s mom handed him $50 to pay for the detox admission. He made his mom go in with him and give the money to treatment staff to make sure he did not take it and run off to buy drugs.
Lonny says that it was a blessing he did not have any money when he went into treatment. “I think if I’d had more money, I would have probably died.”
“I made the decision that no matter what happened in my life, I was going to do whatever they told me to do.”
He says he had not slept for almost 10 days leading up to his admission. After a few days adjusting to the treatment facility, Lonny realized that being there was not just something he needed to do because his mom wanted him to be there.
“I realized that all the stuff that they were talking about in the detox place was me,” he said. “I knew that everything we were reading in the Big Book and reading in the NA text … was me. There was no denial left at that point. It was the Lonny book.”
Lonny says that the directors and staff at the treatment center were remarkable people who were truly helping those with substance use disorders turn their lives around. He says he owes his life to those individuals today.
They made it clear to Lonny that the treatment he was receiving was a privilege, not a right. He made sure to do what they told him while he was recovering from his substance use disorder.
“They had a zero-tolerance policy there. I was there on their dime,” said Lonny. “They would put your stuff in a bag, and you were right back to where you came in [if you didn’t listen to them].”
Lonny put his trust in the staff at the facility. He knew they were there for him and would support him as long as he was willing to work on his recovery.
“I made the decision that no matter what happened in my life, I was going to do whatever they told me to do,” said Lonny.
Nine months later, Lonny left the treatment center’s halfway house. Since March 22, 1988, Lonny never used a drug or drank again.
Sobriety brought Lonny clarity. He was able to reflect on his actions while he was using and see his behavior with open eyes. More importantly, sobriety showed Lonny his own character.
“The biggest thing I realized was that I was a sick person trying to get well, not a bad person trying to get good,” said Lonny.
He saw that drugs and alcohol made him do things that were out of his character. His choices to steal and break into his mom’s home stemmed from his substance abuse.
“The first two weeks that I was in detox and treatment, they would take us in a van to go meetings, and I would cry the whole way to the meeting and the whole way home knowing the shit I had done to my mom and the hell that I had put my family through,” he said.
He vowed to never go back to that way of life.
“The biggest thing I realized was that I was a sick person trying to get well, not a bad person trying to get good.”
For the first five years of his recovery, Lonny worked on himself. He did not spend time with his brothers or friends because they all used drugs or alcohol.
Lonny knew he needed to distance himself from that environment, so he created a lifestyle for himself that was supportive of his recovery.
During that time, the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous became critical to Lonny. Going through the steps kept him honest. The steps provided a strong foundation for him to build his recovery on.
In his first two years of recovery, Lonny chaired an NA meeting during his lunch break every Tuesday and Thursday. The consistency of that meeting was crucial for Lonny and created a support system for him.
He still practices the steps today and says that no matter where he is, NA always provides the support he needs for his recovery.
“I’ve been to sunrise meetings in Hawaii on the beach. I’ve been to Indonesia and Costa Rica and Mexico. I’ve been to meetings in languages that I didn’t have any idea what they were talking about, but I was right where I needed to be,” he said. “I was right at home.”
NA showed him that no matter what happened in his life, there was never going to be a reason to use drugs or alcohol. Lonny saw that his emotions did not determine whether he used or not.
“Dog left; I got high. Dog came home; I got high,” he said. “I felt great and felt bad and used both times.”
He knows that life is not always perfect. He knows some days are not great. He also knows that no matter how well or bad his life is going, using drugs or alcohol is not an option.
Lonny has built success for himself in recovery — both personally and professionally.
He became a computer expert and built a graphics company that specializes in presentation materials for law firms and other clients. After 22 years his business is still going strong.
He married the same girlfriend that kicked him out of her home when she found out he had hidden his cocaine use disorder from her. They spent more than 20 years together before they separated a few years ago.
Lonny has also continued to pursue extreme sports throughout his recovery.
“I’ve done a lot of crazy fun things in recovery,” said Lonny. “I’ve made 600 skydives. I’ve surfed all over the planet on gigantic tow-in waves, taken helicopters in the mountains snowboarding.”
“One of the single biggest things in my recovery has been the ability to have comradery with other men in the program. The surfing community is a big, big part of that.”
He is admittedly an adrenaline junkie but says that his life is based on balance. He is just as comfortable sitting at a table in Orlando talking to friend or working at his office as he is inside the barrel of a 15-foot wave or jumping of out a plane.
He has always stayed with his true passion throughout recovery: surfing.
“One of the single biggest things in my recovery has been the ability to have comradery with other men in the program,” he said. “The surfing community is a big, big part of that.”
He says he’s fortunate to have surfing in his life. Many of his friends who he grew up surfing and partying with are now sober.
“It’s an absolute blessing to spend the time that I spend in the water with my friends that are all clean,” he said. “It shows you don’t have to be a drug addict or a criminal to be a surfer of skater anymore.”
He says that surfing has taken him all over the world to amazing places, including Costa Rica.
“My first trip to Costa Rica came from my desire to go and surf somewhere else,” said Lonny.
He fell in love with the country on the first trip he took there in the 1990s. He knew immediately that for the rest of his life, he wanted to spend as much time there as he could.
During his second trip to Costa Rica in 1998, he and a friend bought their first piece of property there together, a tiny lot right across from the beach.
Two years later he bought a loft, sold it for a profit and invested in a larger piece of property. He flipped that property two years later for a larger profit.
After building and selling a larger home and two apartments, Lonny and a group of his close friends bought acreage on top of a mountain outside of Jaco, Costa Rica, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. They built two big homes on the purchased land and use them as much as possible.
Lonny even started a travel agency and a tour company in Costa Rica and started working out of the offices there much of the time.
“I kind of got lucky there and bought and sold at the right time, then bought and sold at the right time and now we have a nice place there,” said Lonny.
Lonny tries to go to Costa Rica at least once a month and spends about six to 12 days there each visit.
The country has become a part of Lonny’s identity. He learned how to speak Spanish there and says that Costa Rica has taught him a lot about being grateful.
It has also become a part of his recovery story.
“I went to the very first NA meeting that was in my beach town,” said Lonny. “We now have an NA/AA clubhouse that meets every day, twice a day in Jaco.”
Lonny helped develop the recovery community in Jaco. He established meetings in English and Spanish in his town.
Lonny was even one of the first people to take NA literature written in Spanish to Costa Rica. His work in the Costa Rican recovery community was some of the first of its kind in the entire country.
Costa Rica was the first place that showed Lonny that addiction knows no border, no age, no race. “Addiction doesn’t care who you are or where you’re from, and I learned that from Costa Rica,” he said.
In addition to the work he has done to develop a recovery community in Costa Rica, Lonny has also worked to strengthen the recovery community in his hometown of Orlando.
In 2013, Lonny’s friend John Foster lost his son John Wayne Foster Jr., who relapsed and overdosed on drugs at the age of 23. Before John’s loss, he and his son surfed together as a way to bond and to help the younger Foster through his recovery.
John recognized the balance surfing brought to people’s lives. In 2010, he helped launch the Mind, Body & Soul Surfing Club, a group dedicated to mental, physical and spiritual health through surfing. It allows surfers to come together, to support each other, to be healthy and to use surfing as a method for learning about life.
John and a few friends who were also surfers in recovery wanted to honor John Wayne. Together, they formed MBS Recovery. This club initiative focuses on providing support and resources to people who need help overcoming addiction.
Lonny, John and a few other partners with MBS decided to take the concept a step further. Lonny owned a couple rental properties just south of downtown Orlando, and he and his partners decided they wanted to provide sober housing to people in recovery.
“We decided we were going to use the contacts we had in the surfing community and all the people we’re associated with to try and do some things in Central Florida to benefit the recovery community,” said Lonny.
Building on that idea, they started Mind, Body & Soul Recovery Housing in 2014. Today, MBS Recovery Housing operates four sober-living houses with 24 beds total.
“We decided we were going to break it down and try and give people a place to stay after coming out of treatment and a chance to be more successful,” he said.
MBS developed recovery requirements for its residents, such as going through the 12 Steps, having a sponsor and adhering to house rules. The goal of MBS Recovery Housing is to support individuals as they develop skills to be responsible for their own recovery.
“Over the first year, we realized we were making a huge impact on some guys’ lives,” Lonny said.
“If we save one life, it was worth every bit of time we ever put into it.”
MBS kept building from there and bought additional houses to turn into sober-living homes. In addition to providing transitional housing, MBS focuses on making a difference in the Orlando and Costa Rica recovery communities. MBS Recovery holds two events each year, one in Costa Rica and one in Orlando.
“We do a recovery retreat every year in Costa Rica through MBS,” said Lonny. “We bring people from [Orlando] and the recovery community in Costa Rica.”
The retreat teaches individuals about NA, the 12 Steps and how to start down the path to recovery.
MBS also holds an annual 5k and 10k run in Orlando called the Mind, Body & Soul Recovery Run. The run benefits a local outpatient treatment facility and raises awareness about addiction.
Lonny takes pride in the fact that MBS is able to support individuals through the first year of sobriety and hopes to expand MBS’s reach in the future.
“If we save one life, it was worth every bit of time we ever put into it,” said Lonny.
He wants to bring peace to people in recovery, peace to their minds, bodies and souls.