(The following interview is with Chris Magana, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. Chris is currently the manager of the Community Bridges facilities in Globe and Payson. His story is compelling and poignant. The Gila County Meth Coalition is fortunate he does personal appearances at schools around the county. When he speaks, students listen. He is willing to share his life story in hopes just one person will get the help they need or say no to drug and alcohol abuse.)
Meth Messenger: In your presentation to students you tell them you took your first drink of alcohol at 5 years old. How did that happen?
Chris: I grew up in a large family. There was always a celebration or some kind of party going on. There was always a lot of alcohol. It was common practice to give the kids a taste. I had lots of aunts and uncles so I would go to each one and ask for a drink of beer. I liked the flavor. A couple of cousins also liked it, but none of them followed what I did. By the age of 8, I just helped myself to the coolers.
MM: Then you took drugs at age 8. Why were you interested and who gave them to you?
C: My next door neighbor’s sister had pot. He took it from her and we would smoke it. I don’t remember getting high, we just did it. I used it until a month before I went into the service. (He’d been using about 10 years by that time.)
MM: What was the draw that you continued to use and abuse drugs and alcohol? At what point did you realize you were addicted?
C: The draw at the time was that I just liked doing it, not necessarily the way it made me feel. I was molested at 5 and it continued until I was 8. One of my female caretakers did it. I couldn’t tell anyone until I was in my 20s. My dad was an alcoholic, he left when I was 4, so I felt abandoned. It was easier not to feel than to feel anything. The babysitter (who molested me) was my mother figure, father figure, lover and the person who held me. After I told the family I went through counseling. I still go through therapy each week.
MM: Do you remember your high school days? What were they like?
C: In eighth-grade I got busted for selling speed at school. I played basketball at Boullion Plaza and before the game we were all in the bathroom throwing up because we were drunk. In high school I smoked pot daily, drank every weekend and took pills. I stole the pills from my parents and grandparents and kept them in a large baggie. They were all mixed up. Now they have what’s called “skittles” parties. (A skittles party is where various pills are thrown into a baggie or bowl. Participants reach in, grab a handful and ingest them with no thought to what they are swallowing.) I was caught at one point so I told them I’d been doing it since eighth-grade. I got grounded, but I was able to get my hands on Nyquil. It’s got lots of alcohol in it.
MM: Basically you were using drugs and alcohol for how many years?
C: 25 or thereabouts.
MM: What finally made you realize you were in trouble and needed help?
C: The first time was when I was 19 while I was sitting in a Spanish prison. (Chris was arrested by the Spanish police for possession of drugs while he was serving in the military in Spain.) That didn’t last long, because as soon as I got, out I started in again. Then when I realized I was hurting my family and knew I wasn’t being a good father. I thought there was only one way to fix it and that was committing suicide. So I took 3 grams of meth. At that moment when I took the drugs I realized I wanted to live.
MM: Who did you turn to and how long did it take?
C: I turned to my Mom and told her what I’d done and that I needed help. If she couldn’t have helped I would have taken more. I couldn’t stop. I went through $68,000 in six months time. That is the problem with drugs and alcohol, when the want becomes excessive. I didn’t know it at the time, but she already had a plan in place at Community Bridges. She was just waiting for me to admit I needed help. At that time I weighed only 135 pounds. My daughter, who was 5, happened to be there at the time. She helped me get into the ambulance. I told her I was going to the “good daddy’s” school.
MM: Tell me what Community Bridges does to help the addicted?
C: The No. 1 thing we do is give the patient hope through our peer support program. I was once a patient, but will always be “in recovery.” I haven’t had alcohol in 14 years. But if something traumatic happened, I don’t know that I could stay off drugs, but this time it would result in my death.
MM: How has being associated with Community Bridges help turn your life around?
C: It allows me to give back to other addicts and alcoholics. Giving someone else the chance I was given. Giving them HOPE.
MM: What would you tell the casual user? At what point should they seek help?
C: When they lose control, they can call me. But they have to WANT it, not need it. When a person’s ready, they know. It is an individual decision.
MM: Is there anything you’d like to stress especially to students and young adults?
C: Being addicted to drugs and alcohol is very powerful. The addiction wants to destroy you, control you. Ultimately it will take your life, but first it will hurt everyone around you.
The best thing you can do is never use in the first place. That is the only thing that will guarantee you don’t get addicted.
(If you or someone you know needs help, please get in touch with Community Bridges. Chris currently works in the Payson facility. That number is: (928) 468-0022. If you would like to talk to Chris, he can be contacted there. The Gila County Meth Coalition is willing give a presentation to groups of all sizes on the dangers of using/abusing alcohol and/or drugs. Please feel free to contact any of the members listed below.)
For questions or more information on the Gila County Meth Coalition, contact chair, Claudia DalMolin at the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, (928) 425-4440; co-chair, Bianca DalMolin, (928) 701-1790; facilitator, Misty Cisneros, (928) 425-1879; or media liaison, Lu DuBois, (928) 425-4440.