Thanks to Robert Ortiz and Lee Horton for sharing their lived experience with recovery to honor Recovery Month.
We at WRAP celebrate everyone in recovery and those on the path toward it—whether it be from mental health issues, substance use, or some other type of recovery.
We believe recovery is possible for everyone!
Just One More
By Robert Ortiz, Certified Advanced Level WRAP Facilitator; MA-CPS; RI-CPRS; ICPR; WHAM Facilitator; Director of Peer Recovery Services, Fellowship Health Resources, Inc.
“Just one more” or “This last one,” was a thought and belief I held onto for a very long time. I remember as a young child not having stable housing, living in several tenements with my mother and stepfather. My mother stayed at home and my stepfather was a workaholic. When the weekend came, they would dance to salsa music, play dominos, and engage in frivolous conversations; by the end of the night it became a raging war. At only 8 years old, I became my family’s counselor, therapist, and interpreter.
Being an only child and first-generation white male Latino in the ’80s wasn’t easy. It was a time when street drugs were secretly and highly accessible in the lower socioeconomic communities in which I was raised. Around this time, I observed my mother get several small, multicolored baggies from a variety of strangers or friends. Several years later, her choices took a toll on both of our lives.
Additionally, prejudices toward Latinos were strongly present in the communities we lived in and most often were publicly displayed by aggressions, offensive words, or limited access to employment opportunities. According to the dominant society, my mother was identified as a “Welfare Mom” and myself a “Welfare Baby,” or even “Ave Rats.”
As a sober, clear-minded person today, I can reflect on and recognize that substance use existed for most, if not all, of my life. My personal journey with substances began at age 16 while I was still in high school to socially fit in. Substances helped me cope with what was happening at home and my own mental health. I strongly believe being an only child contributed to my disassociation and the feeling of being alone and unheard. Being a white Latino in a neighborhood of color was also a factor and made my adolescent years even more challenging. Alcohol and marijuana allowed me to build my confidence and be connected to my peers.
At 18, I witnessed my mother’s suicide, and in the years that followed, my substance use intensified. Using a variety of substances ranging from marijuana and alcohol to cocaine, unprescribed psychotropics, and other illicit street drugs, I found myself homeless, trying to keep a relationship going with the mother of my two children.
During my early adult life, my substance use and mental health led me to be involved with the criminal justice system. The challenges of housing and employment made life even more difficult. My struggle with suicidality became so intense that the change I needed in my life was beyond reach. Fearlessly, I believed and hoped that my life would be ended by “Just one more” or “This last one.”
However, in 2008, I made a very important decision to change my life. I reestablished a spiritual connection to who I believe to be God, restored my relationship and got married, worked hard to be sober, and managed my mental health through doctrinal application.
In 2014, I was exposed to the WRAP curriculum and managing my well-being became validated and my recovery became solidified. Today, I can take pride in believing that people truly can get well and stay well for long periods of time; I write this with 15 years of sobriety. My substance use recovery is easily managed by taking personal responsibility to use my WRAP wellness tools and through supporters who value who I am and to whom I am accountable. I can confidently say that my life has changed from feeling hopeless and suicidal to having a life with significant meaning and purpose.
Out of the Desert
By Lee Horton, Certified Advanced Level WRAP Facilitator
My parents didn’t know what was going on and neither did I. Excessive worrying, racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, dizziness, and emotional outbursts informed my days and nights. Sometimes it felt like I was going to fly apart any second. I’d have to grab hold of something, throw something, or scream just to feel normal or calm myself. I suffered like this all the way into my teens.
In my mid-teens, I learned that breathing exercises helped me to feel better. It was a game changer. For a while, I was good. Then my younger brother Dennis and I were arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced to life without parole for a murder we did not commit. Wow, talk about stress and pressure; prison was hard and, at times, unbearable.
In the beginning, I lost all hope, and the panic attacks returned with a vengeance, accompanied by depression. The breathing exercises didn’t work anymore and, most of the time, it felt like I was sinking into quicksand. My whole life was upended. Sadness and despair became my best friends.
For 24 years, this was my reality and, although from the outside it looked like I had it together, the truth is that I was falling apart. This changed when I signed up to take a Certified Peer Support Specialist (CPS) course and I was introduced to WRAP.
Writing and applying my WRAP felt like I had walked out of the desert into an oasis. It changed everything about me, but most of all, it gave me tools and action plans to pull myself together. Each day I lived my daily plan and healed.
The things that had triggered panic attacks in the past were neutralized by my planned responses. I was able to catch myself before slipping into depression and averted many crises.
At the same time, WRAP was helping me to step out and live my best life even though I was behind bars. Instead of floundering, I flourished, becoming a WRAP facilitator and sought-after CPS. I went from student to teacher, instructor, facilitator, and creator of programs and events.
Not only was WRAP helping me, but it was helping me help others. Once it was introduced into the institution where I was housed, it changed the mood and attitude of the prison population. Violence decreased, as well as the population of the high-level restricted area.
WRAP was a saving grace for many and ultimately guided my steps to freedom.