RIDGEWOOD, N.J. — Snorting heroin hourly in a friend's Ridgewood basement was how Steve Gambutti got by in 2011.
He'd long been into other drugs and alcohol, but picked up that habit after splitting from an abusive boyfriend. It wasn't long before using became a necessity.
"I was jobless, homeless and friendless," said Gambutti, a Pennsylvania native.
"I was ready to die. There was nothing left."
These days, things look much different for him.
He's landed his dream job as the owner of The Originals Salon on East Ridgewood Avenue. He has his own apartment right above it.
Last January, Gambutti celebrated his 37th birthday, which marked his fifth year sober.
While he may seem to have it all figured out, not a day goes by that he isn't putting in work. And getting started wasn't easy.
"When you first get sober, life doesn’t get better — it just gets real," said Gambutti, who moved to Ho-Ho-Kus when he was in high school.
"You take out the alcohol and drugs, so then there's no solution. You have to deal with life on life's terms."
Gambutti figured his birthday would be a good day to get clean, as it was the day his grandfather got sober and his grandmother quit smoking.
Sticking to the plan, he checked himself into rehab and eventually found a 12-step program.
"Most people are very compassionate and understanding because addiction impacts everyone's life in some way," said Gambutti, noting the widespread opiate addiction in the area.
"Maybe not personally but through a child or spouse or loved one."
On New Year's Day 2013, Gambutti joined The Originals. Work, along with body building — his form of meditation — is what Gambutti says keeps him on the straight and narrow.
That, and working out at Equinox in Paramus and sometimes Fair Lawn's Retro Fitness.
He is working with body building coach Cameron Gardner of East West Nutrition in Carlstadt to prepare for a competition in June.
"I'm more confident just because I know I'm not a bad person and I'm doing the best I can to help others, whether it be at the salon or in my recovery," Gambutti said.
Recently, one of his clients overheard two others in the salon talking about their charities. The women ended up linking up to make a greater impact together.
It was then that Gambutti realized his gift wasn't just doing hair and making people feel good about themselves, inside and out:
"My gift was to have become such an inspiring person that I'm surrounded by such great people, and bridging the lives of all these beautiful people is why God kept me here."