Charlie’s Chalk Dust, a pioneering brand in the vapor market, has a story like all brands do. An idea turned into a dream and then into a goal, ultimately becoming a reality. The founders worked their asses off and hustled to do whatever it took to become known and, before everyone could catch their breath, something special had been created.
There’s just one main difference with the success story of Charlie’s Chalk Dust, though — the brand’s CEO, Brandon Stump, didn’t work his way through normal 9-to-5 jobs before, one day, proclaiming that he had had enough with corporate America and was about to venture off to start his own company. That’s because, for Stump, rather than being addicted to an office, he found himself addicted to heroin, passionately injecting himself daily to get a high that he couldn’t get elsewhere.
Somewhere along the way, Stump found himself at a crossroads: continue to live a life that would, ultimately, kill him — which, technically, it did, as he clinically died an incredible 15 times — or go down a different path and find something deep in himself to turn his life around. He chose the latter, refusing to let addiction be his ultimate fate, and becoming an entrepreneur with one hell of a journey so far.
Now, this is usually the time where, as a storyteller, there’s supposed to be some sort of glorified “holy shit” moment. When I sensationalize the story by leaving out details that suggest that what Brandon Stump did can be done by everyone. Don’t fool yourself, because that’s not the case. You’re about to read an ugly, authentic, raw-as-all-fuck history of his life.
Rather than sit here and attempt to retell Stump’s story, for fear of leaving any fine detail out, keep reading to see how the CEO of Charlie’s Chalk Dust overcame his addiction to heroin. What began by making the decision to go to an AA meeting to get a free cup of coffee and a cigarette, Stump’s journey led him down an unknown path towards a company that’s disrupting an entire industry.
Here it is in his own words.
I never woke up and said to myself, ‘you know, today’s the day I’m gonna do heroin for the first time.’
I was in high school, and even before high school, I liked to drink on the weekends and smoke and just sort of enjoy life. I liked being rebellious and breaking the rules, and figure out ways to have fun. So, in high school, I started drinking a lot of alcohol and smoking a lot of weed — and it just started with that. From partying on the weekend to selling pot to, eventually, growing pot, it then turned into showing up to school with orange juice bottles filled with vodka and drinking them in class.
Shortly into my alcohol and weed endeavors, if you will, I began to dabble in other drugs.
Psychedelics. Mushrooms. Acid. Starting taking some pills like ecstasy and things like that. I was just taking part in the drug culture, hanging out with people who were smart, but also liked to do drugs. I was just experimental.
My drinking got to be a little out of control, you know? I kind of became known as the guy who would just get blacked out all the time and drink a lot. And I remember during my senior year in high school, I used to take a lot of pills — Percocets and other painkillers — and I also started dabbling in cocaine. Once I started using coke, that’s when I really got to be familiar with the drug community. That’s where my life really started to turn.
I barely graduated high school and got into an open enrollment university; where you can basically get in with any grades you want. And I showed up to college already taking Percocets on a daily basis, and, from there, I got into Oxycontin; which is the natural progression. You know, you can only take so many Percocets to get that opioids high before you need something stronger.
When I ran out of Oxycontin, somebody had heroin, and, sure, I was scared to try it, but I said ‘fuck it’ and decided to do it anyway. I snorted it.
After that first time, I thought I would never touch heroin again. Man, I was throwing up for hours; I did too much. And I didn’t touch it for like two months. But then I found myself in a room with a guy who was shooting it up, I gave him my arm and said “fuck it,” just go ahead and do it. So I turned my head, gave him my arm and he shot me up.
That high, that I got that day, was something that I chased everyday until the day I, ultimately, got sober in 2010. And I never got that high again during my chase for five, six, seven, eight years, however long it was. Once you get addicted to heroin… it’s got you, and it dictates your decisions and your actions.
People might tell you differently, but in order to wake up every morning and completely destroy your life to shoot up a drug into your vein that almost kills you, you have to have passion for that. You have to love that more than anything.
That’s the unfortunate thing about addiction, because you love them.
It’s why you push your family away. It’s why you push everyone in your life away. It’s because that drug is your ultimate love. When you take that away, you’re left with a guy who doesn’t know what the fuck to do.
I went in and out of rehabs, detox centers, trying to get clean and sober. I would always leave figuring I could always just do it on my own. And, even when I wasn’t in a rehab center, I would think, ‘I’m not going to use heroin today. I’m going to do every possible thing not to use it today.’ Within a matter of hours, I had a needle in my arm.
Stump’s Heroin Addiction Left A Major Impact On His Family
It changed their lives forever. It was an awful experience for them to go through. Once drug addiction took a hold of me and took a grip on my life, my family was affected big time. I mean, complete disarray, where I was a nightmare to be around and wouldn’t show up for days or weeks. Anytime I was around, I was just… well, I was an asshole.
My mom and dad told me they used to stay up at night and wonder when I was going to die. My brother and sisters didn’t have an older brother to lean on, and they were worried about me.
I remember the third or fourth time I went to treatment, they had a family weekend, and it was three days after my brother’s college roommate had died of a heroin overdose; and this was a guy who he was really close with. So, yeah, three days after his college roommate dies of a heroin overdose, he needs to visit his older brother in rehab for heroin addiction.
In that meeting, I had to sit hand-to-hand, eye-to-eye with my brother and ask him how my heroin addiction affected him. My brother’s response was pretty clear:
“It’s destroying our family. If you ever use heroin again, I’ll never talk to you.”
That was in 2007. I didn’t get sober until the end of 2010. So, for another three years, I continued to do what I was doing, and it took a lot to rebuild those wounds and rebuild a relationship with my family to where we are today; which is completely life-changing.
Today, my brother’s my business partner. I bought my parents a house on the beach in Newport Beach. My sisters are super close. But that took a lot of time to repair that relationship.
Stump’s Inspiration To Get Clean Came From A Simple Cup Of Coffee
The inspiration to get off heroin and clean up was a combination of my entire life’s actions. It wasn’t just the fact that my family was worried sick. It wasn’t the fact that I didn’t have any money, or a job, or a place to live. It wasn’t the fact that nobody wanted to be around me. It wasn’t the fact that I owed a lot of dangerous people a lot of money.
It was when I wrote down my thoughts on a notepad in my car about how much my life sucked. How nobody called me for my birthday two months prior. How I was 25 years old and was living in a car. How I had a no driver’s license, and I had a bunch of potential felonies inside the trunk of a car registered to someone in Ohio. How my younger brother and younger sister are college grads with adult jobs. My friends from high school are getting married and having kids and have good jobs. And there I was, sitting in a car, by myself, like a failure.
Prior to that, I was in and out of hospitals for overdoses; I had clinically died 15 times. I lost my faith, and was looking for an answer, because I thought I was going to die.
In the hotel parking lot where I used to park my car, I went into the hotel to get a cup of coffee and they asked me for $2, and I told them to charge it to room 235. They told me they didn’t do that, and, at that moment, I realized that I was defeated. All the hustling to get drugs. All the hustling and lies to feed my addiction; it hit a low point when I couldn’t even afford a cup of coffee.
I walked out of the hotel in a pair of sweatpants, got in my car, and thought that I could get a free cup of coffee and a cigarette if I went to an AA meeting.
So I drove my car to this AA meeting and, before I got out of my car, I pulled the rearview mirror down, looked myself in the eyes and said, ‘Brandon, let’s do something different today and let’s try to stay sober for just one day.’ And I got out of that car and I’ve never had a drink or done drugs since.
What happened that day was that my faith was restored. I focused on one day of sobriety, and that was my answer. I did everything in my power that day to stay sober. As hard as it was, I fell asleep sober. And then I did it again… and again… and again. I started to reach out for help, and I started to have this restored faith, which led me to try and help other people.
Before Charlie’s Chalk Dust, Stump Built The ‘Ohio House’, A Sober Environment For Men
When people started asking for help, people saw the light in my eyes and how I had changed in so many aspects of my life, so I started helping people.
I founded the Ohio House after a couple guys from Ohio had asked for help, and I told them to come out to California. I brought them into my house and showed them what I was doing and how I was doing it.
It wasn’t called the Ohio House, but people jokingly called it that after a few months because three guys from Ohio were hosting sober barbecues and stuff like that. People who needed help started calling me asking if they could come to the Ohio House and, next thing I knew, I just started moving strangers in. I was having fun, helping a lot of guys and I had a passion for it. I just kind of organically grew it into two houses and then three houses and, eventually, I was able to quit my job in aviation to pursue this full-time — but I wasn’t making money at the time, I was just paying my bills and helping other guys.
I called my Pops up and told him I was focusing on the Ohio House full time, and he told me I better make it work. I asked him if I could borrow $20,000 since I only had $1,200 in my account; and he said no. But I was able to hustle and make it work, and, with just $1,200, grew it to four and five houses… but I needed some help.
That’s why I reached out to my brother, Ryan, and, after he worked in medical sales for about a year-in-a-half, I kept pulling on him to come work in this sober living house with me. He kept saying, “yeah right.” But, finally, I hit him up one day and asked him how much he had saved in his account after working the job he had. He told me he had $12,000. And, at that time, the Ohio House had $12,000 in the account. So, with everything I had in the account, I told him I’d give him everything I had if he came out and helped me. Within two hours, he was packing up his car and driving across the country from D.C. to California.
That’s when the Ohio House really started to take shape, because we now had two brothers together to grow this thing, and we really started to help a lot more people.
Today, we have an outpatient facility called the Buckeye Recovery Network, and we have a female center called the Chadwick House. We’re known as the gold standard throughout the country for aftercare. We help those who come out of rehab and achieve long-term sobriety; and we’re really good at it.
But The Itch To Sell Led To Charlie’s Chalk Dust Being Formed
In about 2014, I was still smoking about a pack of cigarettes each day. One of the guys who went through the Ohio House program said he knew how to make this stuff, and we had been going in and out of vape shops around Southern California, so we thought, ‘OK, cool, we’ll quit smoking.’
At that time, vaping was getting really popular. I didn’t really see anything that I liked in the market, so I went into the vaping industry as a way to help me quit smoking. I spent about $2,000 to get some materials to start making stuff at home in my kitchen late-night, and we ended up quitting smoking.
So I started handing some of the products out to a few guys in the Ohio House, and people really liked them. One of the guys took it into a local vape shop, who contacted me because they liked it so much, which led me going down there and talking to the guy.
I went down with no business card, no website, no samples, no product, no price guide. And he asked me what my MOQ was. I had no idea that meant Minimum Order Quantity, but I pulled out a number from my head that made sense for me to go back and make this stuff; and I came up with 300 bottles. The guy laughed at me, telling me that the MOQ in this industry was 100 bottles. I told him, ‘not today. If you want this product, you’re going to have to buy 300 bottles.’
I ended up selling him 300 bottles, and I went back to my office, and I was fired up. I had been in sales my entire life; I think it’s the greatest job on planet earth. With the Ohio House, it was great, but I was providing a service, and that salesman inside of me was dormant for three years. During those three years, I was building who I was as a human being; my character, my integrity and my professionalism. When I sold those 300 bottles that day, I told my brother that I was starting a vape company and asked if he wanted in, and he said yeah.
I took $40,000 to put into Charlie’s Chalk Dust, and within weeks it paid back. And now, we just closed out 2018 with over $21 million worth of sales.
Even With All He’s Been Through, Brandon Stump Has No Regrets
I wouldn’t trade my life experiences for anything. The mistakes that I made in the past have given me the opportunities to become the man that I am today.
I get choked up and inspired when I tell my story, because I don’t often do it. But when I get a chance to share with others, I get to look at myself and think about how bad I really was. Like, that’s my story? And to see what it all led to now? That’s fucking cool.