Guiding Others to Sobriety

After 20 years of sobriety, Steve Virkus now helps others struggling with addiction.
Jenny and Steve Virkus have built a home full of love in Woodbury with their daughters (from left), Amelia, Lydia and Sophia.

Woodbury resident Steve Virkus says that he loves his life. He’s been happily married to his wife, Jennifer, for nine years. Together, they’re the proud parents of three young daughters, 4-year-old Lydia and 3-year-old twins Sophia and Amelia. He’s also a well-established contractor in the area, having founded his own firm, New Life Contracting, in 1998. The venture evolved from his commitment to sobriety; 1998 was the same year he first got sober. Now, nearly two decades later, Virkus says he’s doing better than ever and is eager to help others facing their own struggles with addiction.

Virkus’ childhood was far from idyllic. “I never met my dad. My mom was an alcoholic, and her boyfriend was an alcoholic, so I basically grew up on bar stools and pool tables,” he says. He, his sister and his mother were physically and emotionally abused by his mother’s boyfriend. “I remember listening to fighting while I was trying to go to sleep. I used to go to the bathroom in my bedroom because I didn’t want to leave the room and run into anybody,” he says. “I went through some really crazy stuff.”

Early exposure to drugs and alcohol eventually led to his own problems. Virkus says that he drank heavily throughout his teenage years and eventually started using drugs as a coping mechanism. He remembers the moment he felt like he’d hit rock bottom—after leaving home and couch-surfing among friends’ houses while using and selling drugs, he found himself in a trailer park with a friend, unable to remember how he’d gotten there. “My buddy looked at me and said, ‘You probably don’t even know where you are right now.’ I told him that I did, but I had just been thinking, ‘I don’t even know where I am!’”

That moment proved to be the wake-up call Virkus needed. He called his sister and asked her to pick him up. Two weeks later, he was in treatment at Hazelden. He was initially denied treatment to the adult program—he was 20 and needed to be at least 21—but thanks to a family friend who worked for the county, he got in and was able to go for free. “I knew the adult program would be the only way it would work for me,” Virkus says. “I really didn’t want to be around kids and teenagers, even though I was 20. I felt pretty mature for my age—I guess because I basically raised myself.”

After leaving Hazelden, Virkus lived in sober living houses in St. Paul with fellow recovering alcoholics. He eventually became the manager of one, taking care of the house and tending to resident needs while also working in roofing and contracting (a job he had become familiar with starting at 12 years old, working for his mom’s boyfriend after school). That led to him founding New Life Contracting. “The name comes from my sobriety—after I left Hazelden, I felt like I got a brand-new life,” he says.

Thankful for his new life, Virkus is committed to helping others find theirs. He’s bought multiple houses and turned them into sober houses, financially supported struggling friends, and hires people who are newly sober and searching for work. “I try to give back as much as I can because that’s what makes me feel good. I don’t know; I might just be stupid,” he jokes. But to Virkus, the ability to help others and keep an open heart is worth the risk. “If you want to stay sober, you don’t carry around resentments. That’s the number one killer of sobriety.”

Overcoming addiction is no easy task. Virkus says that the key is admitting you need help. “I was trying to fight it and beat it on my own. You can’t do that—you’ve got to let a higher power, or even just other people, help you,” he says. “Sobriety is a huge network—I’m pretty sure that made my business what it is. If you plug into that, all kinds of good things will happen.”