A Youth In Recovery

By Gonzalo De la Torre

Youth in Recovery

Youth in Recovery

I got sober at 23 years of age. You don’t typically choose to get sober at that age; it’s more like being forced. But when you live on the streets, spit on the floor as a continuous habit and live off panhandling at gas stations, there are very few options in your life. The insanity of waiting for the sun to rise to find a place to sleep so that it isn’t apparent you are homeless, forces your hand.

Addiction as a young adult is a hard situation. Society kindly accepts substance use and abuse as long as you manage to either study or hold a job. Thing is, occasionally there exists an individual like me who simply does not tolerate drugs or alcohol in any form or amount without losing the control to stop.

I don’t do stop. I do green light and crash pretty darn well. But once the incarcerations build up, college denies enrollment for the next semester and the family says that dreaded, “No”, one of two things becomes obvious – either the whole world is against me, or I have a serious problem with addiction.

I have scars on my body from those escapades, none of which are obvious in my brand-new polo shorts. Today I am married, with the adoration of a little bundle called “our baby”, and an entrepreneur, working in the field of recovery, specifically same-gender sober living housing. Cliché? You bet.

In recovery, I actually went back to college to study psychology. Not as a way to see if I could help others, but as a way to make sense of the clutter that danced between my ears in those early years of recovery.

Because of my depression during my early recovery, my dreams were fading and I did not want to finish school. But you know how those special people called “temporary sponsors” and “sponsors” act – they push you to do the things they wished they had done. So I did. I found out I was broken, but I actually had the capacity to learn and grow. I could place those fragmented pieces back into a life collage and create a piece of art.

Once homeless, now I have a Bachelors degree. That’s enough, right? Not for my sponsors. God bless those souls who saw what I didn’t: potential, strength, dedication and backbone.

A history teacher in my senior year of college said I had a gift for writing. Writing? Didn’t he realize I was dumping everything I had inside my mind? Didn’t he know I was just trying to survive in class? Hustling my way through another credit before I was kicked out, found out or placed in the bright light of reality – that addicts can’t amount to much and sobriety is a hard walk toward a life of endless blah?

But you see, life is full of light and love. Even though I have been to plenty of funerals of people I know had just as much desire to stop using as I did, I know there is a reason why those who are deemed to be hopeless sometimes make it.

Our stories save lives. Our paths, both in darkness and coming into the light, make sense. They are stories of redemption, stories of second chances and of grace.

Not only did I finish college, but I did so with honors. I continued to study for a Masters in Psychology and finished. A great accomplishment? Try a miracle! Once diagnosed as hopeless by psychiatrists and psychologists who had EEG and CAT scan proof, today I have two diplomas and the trust of family members who, back in the day, would not accept my calls.

Some twelve years into recovery and deep into a career in songwriting and recording (what? you thought I was a shrink?), I met my wife and realized touring and living with no schedule in Los Angeles was not a life I wanted to lead. No matter the awards and media exposure, I had become bored with playing and singing in Hollywood studios all the way until midnight, with my only enjoyment the relief of laughter from sharing my stories with newcomers and midnight Twelve Step meetings in Hollywood and the “meeting-after-the-meeting” at diners ‘til late mornings (California recovery is amazing).

Many of the newcomers I sponsor live in sober living homes, just like the one I was placed in 13 years ago: unsafe, lacking good management or structure and just as scary as the motels I lived in back in my addiction. I made a decision to begin a new journey and create an amazing environment for early recovery. I designed a place where men could become accountable, be supported in finding a job or re-entering school and be drug tested often, all within an aesthetically pleasing surrounding.

This home was to be the way I could heal all those many failed attempts at recovery. Young people need more than treatment. They need a strong group. They need to have nice things to learn how to take care of them. They thrive with good leaders. They cannot follow those who haven’t lived a life of purpose and joy.

Today I share with young people the hope that no matter how dark their lives have become, they are here to leave a legacy, to do something greater than themselves. They are here to release the voices in their minds and become attuned to their dreams as they work towards them.

That was one and a half years ago. Today at By the Sea Recovery in San Diego, we lead the field of sober housing for young adult men. My dream for all recovery houses and sober living homes is that in the not-too-distant future, they will live by the standards we have set. My dream is that when my son reaches the age of 18, it will be cool to be sober in our society. Young people will know there are options to live their dreams without succumbing to a culture of addiction, past traumas, other people’s idea of who they should be, the weightiness of life or anything against their momentum to thrive and blossom into the amazing humans they were born to be.

As you are reading this, I hope my inspiration resonates with you. Recovery is a movement that is stronger than ever. We know the Big Book inside and out, but we know we need more. We need life skills. We need motivation. We need each other. Above all, we need your story to be shared. Your story may save a life where another’s may not.

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