A former addict was introduced to steroids by a high school football coach.
By Lionel Ramos
The road to recovery is a bumpy ride, two former substance users explained during the first Recovery Speaker Smash hosted Dec. 5 by the Human Services Club in the student advocacy center.
“Change doesn’t come in the way you want it, but it does come if you work for it,” Michael “Mickey” Benitez, intake director and counselor at Nuhope, said to a crowd of about 50 students, staff and community members who are either already on or looking for a path to recovery.
Benitez has been sober for more than 22 years, but his journey to sobriety was anything but easy, he explained.
The tendencies to find an “escape” from his difficult early life are the ones he said led him to suffer from addiction.
He was 5 years old when his mother, who had been involved in the sex trade and was sold at 19 to Benitez’s father, abandoned him at a supermarket in Mexico.
A man found Benitez alone in the tandem bike section and recognized him because he had been working as the cashier when Benitez’s family walked into the store.
The cashier mounted him on his bike and rode to the border, eventually finding his family’s van and hitting the side with an open hand.
“I remember my mom saying, ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe I forgot you!’”
“Yeah right,” Benitez said he thought to himself at the time.
His mother gave birth to him as a result of her involvement in the sex trade and did not want to keep him, and he knew it.
“I decided then and there that I was going to make life a living hell for my family,” he said.
“I started drinking at age 12,” he said, mentioning his involvement in what started out as petty gangs he created with his friends.
The gangs quickly become more sophisticated and violent, and the alcohol became more numbing.
“I liked to drink; I didn’t like the taste, but I loved the feel,” he said.
He found himself managing small teams of young boys who burglarized for the gang’s profit, and one night, he decided to go with them.
After breaking into a vehicle and running from the police on foot, Benitez got struck by a police cruiser during his getaway, and he dislocated his hipbone.
The police officer wrestled him to the floor, and in resistance, Benitez struck him, breaking one of his orbital bones.
He called being arrested that night his “saving grace” as it was a turning point for his life as a substance user.
After a series of highly unlikely events during his two-year jail sentence, he was led to a man he referred to only as Pastor Lucio at a church a friend recommended.
“You’re not in charge of changing … changing is out of your control. Changing is a huge task, a mountain, but you can come here, you can show up,” he said Lucio told him once.
Whether it’s to destinations such as church, Alcoholics Anonymous or appointments with a counselor, showing up to a place where help is available is one of the three most important things those who suffer from addiction need to focus on during recovery, Benitez explained.
The other two are putting in the work and creating a vision.
Addiction counseling sophomore Dustin Williams has been sober for 1 ½ years and shared a similar story.
“I almost died getting here,” Williams said.
He said he tried everything to recover, from going to church, to showing up at various clinics to tapering down in dosage with less potent drugs, but nothing seemed to work.
“I even went to vacation with the state of Texas,” he said, referring to jail and prison sentences he earned because of crimes he committed to get drugs.
Williams, like many people who suffer from addiction, had his first taste of drugs in high school.
In fact, it was his high school coach who introduced him to steroids.
“Do you want to play football after high school?” his coached asked him.
Seventeen-year-old Williams said yes.
“He was actually the one who shot me up,” he said.
The improved performance on the field made him feel “a part of” his community and opened doors for him to drink obsessively at parties and other social functions, he said.
He said he often found himself finishing drinks other people couldn’t.
“My addiction wasn’t a problem at the start. … I thought I could control it,” he said.
But he admitted to himself shortly after that “you don’t control addiction; addiction controls you.”
Williams, after a divorce from his wife of 15 years, substantial prison time, and multiple failed attempts to recover, walked into San Antonio Recovery Center, where he finally found his path to recovery under the guidance of a counselor there.
The event on campus drew people from various walks of life.
There were young people, such as the president of the Human Services Club, Roy Perez, who is early on a path to recovery, and older people, such as Rosie Hardeman, 49, who was addicted to crack cocaine and was evaluated by Judge Melisa Skinner of the 290th Criminal District Court, for Felony Drug Court.
“I went to drug court under Judge Ernie Glenn and it saved my life,” Hardeman said in an interview at the event.
According to the National Institute of Justice website, www.nij.gov, “Drug courts are specialized court docket programs that target criminal defendants and offenders, juvenile offenders, and parents with pending child welfare cases who have alcohol and other drug dependency problems.”
The speakers not only touched on their journey to recovery but never let pass the opportunity to give advice.
“One of the things about recovery is we keep it, then we give it off, we don’t hoard,” Benitez said.
The next Recovery Speaker Smash will be in January, though the event is not yet scheduled.
For more information regarding the event or the Human Services Club, contact Perez at 210-489-9394.