Brandon Novak could’ve had it all. At only 14 years old, the chance to become the next great professional skateboarder was right in front of him. He was one of the youngest competitors to be sponsored by Gatorade and by 15, was traveling the world with his mentor, Tony Hawk.
From the outside, it seemed like the perfect life. It was everything he had dreamed of from the age of 7 when he insisted on bringing his first-ever skateboard to bed with him.
“If I died, I wanted it to come with me,” Novak said.
But behind-the-scenes, things weren’t so glamorous. Novak was rapidly experiencing the downward spiral of addiction. When Hawk gave him an ultimatum — quit drugs or quit skateboarding — his answer was instantaneous. For 21 years, Novak was in and out of 12 inpatient and countless outpatient treatment centers. Turns out, the 13th time’s the charm.
At Today Inc. in Langhorne, Novak made the decision to turn his life around and is celebrating three years of sobriety. Now, he serves as a spokesman for Banyan Treatment Center, which is slated to open this month at 100 N. Buckstown Road in Langhorne, to let people know it’s never too late.
According to Novak, the decision to walk into Today Inc. on May 13, 2015, was the best and craziest choice of his life. It was the beginning of a fresh start, a clean slate. He had hit rock bottom and his only remaining choices were to get sober or get in the casket his mother purchased while he was stuck in a coma after a massive overdose.
“Addiction is not a death sentence,” Novak said. “As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late.”
In his first New York Times best-selling book, Dreamseller, Novak chronicles his years of addiction. It all started at a high school party when a girl he liked gave him a drink. Novak didn’t want it, but had to impress his crush. As the night continued, his classmates transitioned from alcohol to snorting lines of coke. Novak joined them, ignoring his gut instinct so as not to seem uncool.
That first experience turned into a second and then a third. Soon, the thrill of getting high and mentally escaping the world surpassed any sort of ambition to be a professional skateboarder, and Novak willingly kissed that dream goodbye.
Over the next several years, Novak achieved celebrity status after starring in MTV’s Jackass series and the film Haggard alongside his friend Bam Margera. Little did fans know, he was high for the majority of the scenes.
By this point, Novak had an impressive amount in his bank account most of us can only dream of, but it was blown on lavish trips to places such as Helsinki, Finland. Novak insisted a different environment would help him get clean, but one glass of wine led to multiple bags of heroin, and by the time he returned to the states, he was even deeper into his addiction.
Eventually, Novak had two jackets, three socks and one stick of deodorant to his name as he resided in a filthy Baltimore garage with fellow addicts. Reflecting on these years, Novak said he had reached an all-time low, selling his body to strange men in exchange for heroin money and relying on life support for a week after an attempted suicide.
Never in Novak’s wildest dreams did he think he’d get clean, let alone be a role model. But when he stepped foot in Today Inc., he had a different mindset. No one forced him to go, no one gave him an ultimatum. He was there of his own free will and ready to accept help.
“When you know, you know,” Novak said. “I was beaten into a state of reason.”
After a hard but successful 90 days at the treatment facility, Novak transitioned to a sober house in Levittown before reentering the community a changed man. He began working at Maryanne’s Diner in Levittown to earn a living, taking things one day at a time.
Today, Novak travels to colleges, bookstores and other public spots as part of the “One Community, One Concern” series, a joint venture between him, Banyan and the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission.
For the young people and parents who come out to hear him speak, Novak is an open book about his story. He doesn’t try to hide his struggles, but instead lays them out for the world to see. He wants people to know how hard he fell and what it took to pick himself back up again. Novak said if he can prevent just one mother from burying her child, just as his was prepared to do, it’s all worth it.
Novak welcomes anyone struggling with addiction to call him personally at 610–635–9092. For more information on Banyan Treatment Center, visit banyanphiladelphia.com. Keep up with Brandon Novak at facebook.com/brandonovak. ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org