From the highest highs, including sponsorship deals, hit movies and a bestselling autobiography, to the lowest lows, including stints in prison, rehab, and homelessness on the streets of Baltimore, Brandon Novak has lived a life that defies easy description.
Recruited in his early teens as the nation’s next top professional skateboarder – drawing praise from icons like Tony Hawk and becoming the industry’s first athlete to be sponsored by Gatorade – Novak came to international fame as a cast member of the hit MTV series “Jackass.”
He would go on to travel to world, appearing in mainstream studio films and signing a multi-book publishing deal based on his bestselling debut autobiography “Dreamseller.” All the while, however, he was battling a crippling addiction to heroin. Over the course of 21 years, Novak’s addiction slowly cost him his career, friendships and freedom, leading to more than 12 stays in rehab, an extended prison sentence and even a restraining order filed by his mother – the one supporter he never thought he would lose.
“In theory and on paper I had been a very successful individual. I had done things in life that people equate to success or happiness, and that most even dream of doing,” said Novak, addressing a capacity crowd of students and community members gathered in the Student Life Center on Oct. 17.
“In reality I was a 35-year-old man standing on the stoop of his mother’s house, whose worldly possessions consisted of eight scarves, two jackets, three socks and a stick of deodorant, which all fit into a bag that doubled as my pillow… Addicts talk about hitting their bottom, but my bottom came up to meet me.”
Novak’s talk, sponsored by Student Life and Activities (SLA), the Counseling Department and Disability Services, offered a frank and often shocking look into the life of an addict. Novak spoke openly about grifting money from family members, repeated overdoses, resorting to prostitution and even stealing copies of his own book from his publisher in order to support his habit.
He also spoke frankly about his long road to recovery, which he said began with admitting that even someone as successful as he had been could fall prey to addiction.
“I had sat in the back of a classroom like this and stared at the guy up here and said, ‘God, that guy really needed help. But I’m ok,'” he said. “I had told [treatment professionals] that I wasn’t buying what they were selling, that I didn’t need their help… At the end of my road, though, they were the only ones who would answer my call.”
Today Novak works in the treatment industry, using his celebrity to reach out to individuals and families struggling with addiction. He is also at work on a forthcoming documentary and a series of new books, including an autobiographical graphic novel. While he can never undo the horrors of his past, Novak said he hopes to raise awareness for the disease, break down negative stigma and help prevent others from repeating his mistakes.
“I’m a big fan of second, third, fifth, tenth chances,” he said. “It was because someone answered the phone every time I called that I am here today. That’s why I do what I do, and that’s why my phone rings nonstop now.”
Following the presentation, Novak spent nearly 30 minutes answering questions from the audience and signing free copies of his new book “Dreamseller: An Addiction Memoir” for students. College representatives including interim president David Stout; counselor Brian Oland; Student Conduct and Compliance manager Christopher Jeune; Disability Services director Ernest Oversen; and SLA director Lauren Brutsman were also on hand to discuss available support services for students battling addiction.
For first-year computer science major Sonal Madhok, who witnessed a close family member struggle with the disease, Novak’s talk was both eye-opening and reassuring.
“I related a lot to it,” said Madhok. “He pointed out that addiction is not necessarily someone’s problem; it’s their solution. It’s how they are dealing with things like depression or anxiety or despair. Seeing someone else go through similar experiences and having similar feelings, it’s reassuring that there is hope for everyone and that we’re all pretty similar. It’s also nice to see someone care so much.”
Students impacted by drug or alcohol addiction can receive free, confidential assistance through Brookdale’s Office of Personal and Psychological Counseling. To learn more, please visit their website.
View more photos from Brandon Novak’s appearance here.