Mike McCauley is the guy you want installing tile for your pickiest client. His estimates are unfailingly accurate, his work is perfect, and his attitude is friendly and professional. For the past three years, McCauley, 34, has been “the top employee” at his uncle’s tile contracting company in suburban Los Angeles. He’s happily married and looks forward to taking over the firm someday. But that wasn’t always the case.
“I started working there in summers during high school,” he says. “I was partying a little, but it spiraled out of control when I was on the jobsite. I ran into this painter who had some meth, and he would give me a little. I thought I was working harder, but really I was spinning in circles.”
At 19, McCauley started using heroin, casually at first, but then needing more and more of it to prevent withdrawals. He continued installing tile off and on, getting clean and relapsing, throughout his twenties.
“As people in the trades, we push our bodies to the max every day just to make an extra buck,” he says. “Sometimes it’s the opioids that will numb us so we can keep going through the aches and pains. A lot of guys hit bottom and get clean, but others keep using until they die.”
For McCauley, a turning point came when he and his wife were threatened with losing custody of their infant daughter due to drug use. Someone placed an anonymous call to child protective services, and the couple was told that in order to retain custody, they needed to complete inpatient treatment and both be working. They hurriedly arranged for their daughter to stay with a relative, and complied with the conditions. “I didn’t want to be one of those people who lose their child,” McCauley says.
When he got out of rehab, McCauley reached out to his uncle and asked for one more chance as an employee. He became active in the recovery community, and over time built a new life for himself.
“I didn’t want to be one of those people who lose their child."
“I still get offered stuff on the job,” he says, “especially alcohol. When it comes to being in the trades, opioids and alcohol go with the abuse you put on your body. I can speak from my own experience.”
Today, McCauley considers himself extremely lucky, but he also believes that everyone has the potential to get clean. “There are a lot of people in the trades who are off drugs, it can be done,” he says. “You just have to remember to give your body a rest.”