“They Gave Me My Life Back”

How Luis found a brand new start at David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health (DLC)

Luis started experimenting with drugs and alcohol at age 14 and was regularly using by the time he was 16 – which would continue for the next 15 years.

“I have an addictive personality,” says Luis. “If I put any substance into my body, I can’t use it safely. And I have this brain that obsesses over anything.”

Today, at 31, Luis says his struggles really began when his parents split when he was 9 years old.

While divorce is usually hard on children, things got much worse for Luis soon after when his mom began dating someone.

“He wasn’t the best person,” says Luis. “By the time I was 11, I had experienced physical, mental, emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse, both from this man and his brother.”

It was too much trauma for a child to deal with, but Luis tried . . . by turning to substances that would help him escape his pain. By the time he was in his early 20s, he was doing whatever he could to support himself financially and continue his regular use of substances.

Over the years, Luis overdosed a number of times, including a few times that were suicide attempts. He had several bouts with homelessness, brushes with the law, and a few jail sentences. But he never seriously considered turning things around.

That is, until he went on a five-day binge of drugs and alcohol, awake the entire time as he consumed about $800 worth of heroin, methamphetamine, fentanyl, and other pills.

Afterward, he had a sudden realization: “I was lucky to be alive. It was nothing short of a miracle.”

He also realized that he wanted help. He contacted a former high school girlfriend, who had overcome a substance use disorder and wanted to help Luis get well. She recommended DLC, and he went right away, “because I wanted to take advantage of the window of opportunity, before I changed my mind.”

Jumping in with both feet

At DLC, Luis first went through Detox, followed by the Crossroads residential recovery program. “I jumped in with both feet, 110 percent.”

While in Crossroads, Luis says he learned valuable coping skills and mechanisms. He particularly latched onto something called “SOBER breathing,” a technique involving these five steps:

S = Stop and do this exercise when in a stressful situation, or even at random times.

O = Observe the thoughts in your mind, and put them into words.

B = Breathe in gently through the nose, hold a few seconds, then gently exhale, 5 to 10 times.

E = Expand your awareness to your body, your environment, the present moment.

R = Respond mindfully, aware of what is truly needed in the moment.

“It’s all about taking refuge in the moment,” he says, “because right here, right now is the only thing that’s real. The past is done, the future hasn’t happened yet. But in the present, I can affect change.”

It’s working. Luis now lives in a recovery house with other men who are also in recovery. He is working a steady job, and is in the process of pursuing certification to help youth and their families who have mental health and/or substance use challenges.

“I want to help guide them down the right path,” he says. “I can show them where to go for help, because I’ve been there. I want to minimize their suffering.”

He’s also engaged — to the high school girlfriend who pointed him to DLC.

“I’m very grateful for DLC and all they’ve done for me, how they helped give me my life back,” says Luis. “I don’t know how I could ever really repay that. It’s priceless.”

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