ALAMOSA — Three former addicts along with the father of one shared moving tales at Communities That Care's substance abuse forum at Adams State University on Tuesday evening. The speakers, along with a panel of experts from around the San Luis Valley, wanted to pass on a message of hope as the country faces an opioid epidemic.
Christina Turner, who has been sober for three and a half years, told the audience that she started with meth before transitioning to pills and heroin. It gave her confidence.
"Then I didn't have any kids so I was free to do whatever I want," Turner said. “I figured I wasn't hurting anybody but myself. That was the way I justified it...I felt 10 feet tall and bullet proof."
Eventually things turned for the worse. Though she was robbed and held at gunpoint because of her addiction, she continued to use. It became her number one priority and she abandoned her goal of joining the military.
"Everyone that was important to me, if they didn't revolve around drugs, they got pushed aside," said Turner.
It wasn't until the birth of her daughter that she started self-reflection. She was able to get the help she needed and recently graduated with an associate’s degree.
"I am no longer the selfish drug using person I was," Turner said. “I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister and a friend. I have my loved ones and myself to count on... There is hope."
Center Coach Brian Ullery will be clean for three years come Nov. 13. He first started using drugs and alcohol when he was 9 years old after being molested by his brother's baseball coach. He hid his struggles well, becoming the high school quarterback for three years, a varsity wrestler for four and went to national tournaments. Because he was an athlete, his parents provided him with painkillers whenever he needed them.
"I would say I was high about 95 percent of the time," Ullery said. "I don't remember a time I was sober...I blamed everybody for everything and never took any responsibility."
He became a coach to prevent what happened to him from happening to other kids. Though he helped teams to championships he still wasn't sober. After living in Cortez he was able to stop for about five months until an injury reintroduced him to pain medicine. He moved to the Valley and met his wife of 16 years, whom he credits—along with God and Alamosa Police Sergeant Joey Spangler—for saving his life. One day Ullery was going to drive himself off of Wolf Creek Pass before Spangler called and talked him out of it.
"It was easier to think that my death would be better for them than it would be for me to actually live with them," Ullery said.
Afterwards he went to Parker Valley Hope for rehab. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy helped him with his past trauma and he has been able to remain clean.
"My life had to be put through this for me to spare other people's lives...Every addict has a reason and every addict has a purpose and they're also a human being that needs the support of the community around them. This is my calling and this is what I'm here for."
Jimmy Johnson closed the opening portion of the forum by talking about his son Zakry, who committed suicide when he was 18 in 2012. A football injury got Zak hooked on Percocet and it went downhill from there.
"He was a great kid and I didn't have to worry about him going out and getting drunk on weekends, but he made some bad choices," Johnson said.
The addiction caused Zak to steal checks from his family and commit credit card fraud. He was $10,000 in debt to his drug dealer, who threatened to hurt his family if he didn't pay.
One day he ran away with his belongings, along with a gun, because he couldn't handle it anymore. Johnson, who was in Colorado Springs at the time because his other son needed surgery, tried to calm Zak down over the phone and called dispatch so they could help him.
"At five minutes after 10 on Dec. 20, Zak stuck a .357 Magnum pistol to his chin and ended his life.
"And he was sober," Johnson said. "It doesn't always end in an overdose. Such a waste. Such a good kid...I know my son is in a better place and I know he's not hurting. After five years I have finally come to terms with it and I know I'll see him again. But we have to do something."
After Reginaldo Garcia, a researcher with University of Colorado Denver, presented an overview on the science of addiction, Melissa Tibbits shared her personal story about how she became sober for three years and nine months.
Before Tibbits was 30 she had her four kids and was married and divorced twice. Her drug abuse caused her to lose her kids, house, car and job of nine years.
"I felt like I was stuck in a cycle of guilt of losing my children and I kept using to cover up my guilt," Tibbits said. "If I wasn't using to cover up guilt I was in jail to get sober and then getting out to get high so I could keep covering up all of the shame I was having."
Tibbits credits her mom, who showed up to every court date she had, as a primary reason for getting sober.
"She didn't want to hear any of my excuses or any of the sad stories I had," said Tibbits. "All she wanted was me to admit I needed help so she could help me."
Now Tibbits has three of her children living with her, saw her oldest son graduate from high school, got married in September and will have her associates degree in addiction counseling this December. She also sits on the criminal drug court board as a peer mentor and is a patient advisor for IT MATTRs Colorado.
"I know who I am these days. I'm comfortable with me. My life isn't perfect but I'm okay with that. I know it took a community to get me sober."
The evening was an opportunity for attendants to learn about agencies in the Valley that are curbing substance abuse, network with panelists and ask questions. However, because the forum went longer than anticipated, another one will be held in the future to facilitate further discussion and planning.