In June of 2013, Anthony Alvarado and Douglas Darby began talking with each other about their histories and downfalls with drugs. They decided to step up to the plate, to own up to their past mistakes and together to share their stories to help decrease drug overdoses and the use of heroin, as well as other drugs throughout Wisconsin and beyond. With that in mind, they started a movement they called Rise Together.
For both founders, the road to sobriety started about the same time. Looking back, it would be hard to say whether that was a coincidence or a miracle. These two addicts were both traveling on a path of destruction.
Darby, now 29, saw the worst come out of him. He was a liar, a manipulator and a desperate addict. There wasn’t much he wouldn’t do to get his next fix. At one point when his heroin ran out, Darby lost control of himself and robbed two drugstores; nothing could stop him from getting high. His bottom came on the day he decided he would be better off dead. “I thought my life was over,” said Darby. “I wanted to fall sleep and have the pain stop.” The pain finally stopped when he became willing to say, “I just want a new way to live.” With those words, he took his first step into recovery.
After spending almost three years in prison, Darby found himself in the worst of places, and yet he continued to find things to smile about. Drugs no longer controlled his life. He dove into sharing his story with other addicts. His life mission became giving back to the community he once hurt. He took his fight against drugs into the local schools, believing the way to curb drug abuse was through education and awareness. Darby continues his fight against drug abuse through Rise Together.
Alvarado, now 30, is no stranger to the damages caused by drug addiction. Despite living in a rural area, by the age of 14 he was already experimenting with alcohol and various drugs. For the next ten years heavy drug use in all forms filled his life. His days were riddled with lying, stealing, depression, anger, deceit, shame, bitterness and loss of self worth. Overdoses and suicidal thoughts were common during his last few years of drug use. Alvarado knew his drug abuse would most certainly lead him to death.
The using lifestyle of dealing drugs, getting into trouble with the law and spending time in jail began to lose its charm for Alvarado. Nearly seven years ago, toward the end of his drug use, Alvarado’s three-year-old son squeezed his father’s cheeks, looked into his eyes and cried, “Don’t die, Daddy. Please don’t die. I love you!” The lights finally turned on, and he started on the road to long-term recovery.
Now clean and sober, Alvarado believes his drug use made him who he is today. As a full-time father, his family and children are top priority. Much of his life has improved. “I have a new sense of motivation in life,” says Alvarado. “I truly believe I was put on earth to help others. The story I tell today may help someone make it to tomorrow. That’s beautiful; it’s what miracles are about.”
Rise Together has grown so quickly that Darby and Alvarado recently welcomed a new partner, Tyler Luedke. Luedke, age 28, notes his drug of choice was the word yes, because he had difficulty saying no to anything. On June 7, 2008, when he nearly killed two children one block from his home, his life changed. He was driving with a blood alcohol content of .41, which was nearly five times the legal limit.
Luedke also struggled with marijuana and other drugs. From an early age, he enjoyed the way substances made him feel part of the crowd. His only means of coping with the pain of losing close friends and the deaths of loved ones was found in the bottom of a bottle or with the lighting of a drug pipe.
He ended up in jails and institutions, unsure of the nature of his problem. At the age of 18, Luedke attended his first Twelve Step meeting. That day he came to understand that he had a drug and alcohol problem. He broke down and told his grandfather his troubles. Unfortunately, it took another six years before he stopped using. The progression of his disease, the pain he caused his family and his suicide attempts were not enough to stop him; but God’s plan did.
Following his third Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) arrest and subsequent jail time, he made the decision to get his life in order. Through the grace of God and with the support of family, friends and the Twelve Step fellowship, Luedke became clean and sober.
Now a substance abuse counselor with Libertas Treatment, Luedke carries the message of hope and recovery for those still suffering from addiction. Through Rise Together, he hopes to help strengthen the recovery community, as well as those affected by addiction. Hate the addiction; don’t hate the addict. Recovery does work, and Rise Together’s success proves the power of putting a face to recovery and helping end the stigma of addiction.
Today these recovering addicts enjoy sharing their mission and stories with people. Between 2011 and 2012, their home state of Wisconsin has seen a nearly 60% increase in opiate-related overdoses. There is also a rising epidemic of pain medication and other street drug abuse, together with the criminal activity directly related to this drug abuse. These problems are found in both inner cities and small towns.
These three men believe now is the time to take action. They carry their message to high schools, middle schools, prisons, rehab facilities and prevention groups throughout their community. They coined the term “social intervention”, taking their counseling and peer-to-peer mentor services to social media platforms such as their Facebook page, facebook.com/weallrisetogether, and other online platforms to reach young people in their communities and guide them to helpful resources.
By bringing awareness about the drug abuse plaguing not only Northeast Wisconsin, but the entire nation, they feel strongly that their Rise Together enterprise will educate youth and the general public. Their work also helps them stay accountable to their own sobriety as they address the important issues impacting communities all over the country. They hope to positively influence the choices made by young people facing difficult situations.
• Rise Together educates, mentors and guides local youth to appropriate resources so they may receive the help they need.
• They deliver services to public schools, residential treatment centers, private groups and numerous outpatient and inpatient programs.
• They challenge adolescents to solve social problems they often face.
• Rise Together founders share a wealth of personal experience with behavioral management, having had severe behavioral problems themselves.
• They are, in a sense, an accountability treatment program, providing a relationship-based, peer-to-peer service.
• They offer one-on-one consultation and training to public schools and families regarding substance abuse and associated mental health issues.
• They help adolescents develop the self-management and problem-solving skills necessary to be successful.
Rise Together brings a face and voice to recovery by sharing personal recovery stories and building advocacy. They actively mobilize the recovery community to help prevent youth from going down the same path they did. They bring hope to still-suffering addicts and alcoholics.