Anthony Alvardo, co-founder of Rise Together, has a simple message for students — don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Alvarado told students he remembered when he was their age, and how he didn’t want to attend presentations like the one they were at.
“I’d look upon the person speaking and thought, ‘I’ll never be them,'” Alvarado said.
Later he asked the New London High School students in attendance at the second Rise Together presentation Jan. 22 how many thought drugs and alcohol are a problem in their community. The majority of those in attendance raised their hand.
Alvarado asked how many knew someone who used drugs. Again, a majority of the hands went up.
He then asked how many thought drugs is a problem in the New London School District. Again, a majority of the hands went up.
The final question Alvarado asked was how many knew someone who died from a drug overdose. About half of the hands went up.
Alvarado said when he was their age, he told himself he would never become addicted to drugs.
He was wrong.
“I would give anything to be back in your seats,” Alvarado said. “To listen to somebody like me.”
He said he made bad choices in his life, and is now in long-term recover.
“I don’t have all the answers, but I’m trying to figure out a solution,” he said.
He said he gave up drugs and began telling his story to others because of his kids.
“To show them that I was something,” he said.
Six years ago he was living out of the back of his truck.
“I was going nowhere. I wanted to die,” Alvarado said.
He told the students that everyone faces challenges and things do bring people down, but people need to get back up.
“Are you going to try a little harder next time?” he asked.
“Life is filled with so much joy and happiness, yet our society, our community is having a hard time finding it,” Alvarado said.
Alvardo said he began using drugs when he was 14 years old. He was originally introduced to drugs and alcohol through his parents.
He described his dad as a “monster” with the screaming, yelling, and physical abuse that took place.
“When I would get home and see my mom nearly beaten to death, do you think I wanted to tell anybody,” he said.
He didn’t want to talk about it. Instead he stayed silent.
His life began to spiral out of control and he barely showed up for school. That was strange for him since he said he received A and B grades and liked school when he was a freshman. He said he wanted to be a graphic designer.
“When I was 17 years old I had a crappy job, I wasn’t going to school, and there was no chance for college,” he said.
Alvarado described the next seven years of his life as very difficult. He had no future, went to jail, and lost his mind.
“Do you know what it’s like to be somebody that you’re not?” he asked.
He said he didn’t think drugs and alcohol where the reason for his problems.
“I was mad at the world because of what my parents put me through,” he said.
It got so bad, that six years ago he told himself he had enough.
“I was tired and I was broken and I wanted to give up,” Alvarado said.
He overdosed on drugs three times that summer.
He said if he would have been able to ask for help, his life would have been different. But asking for help was difficult.
The turning point for Alvarado was when his three year old son walked up to him one day, put his hands on Alvarado’s cheeks and said, “Dad, I love you. Don’t die yet.”
At that moment he finally saw hope in his life because somebody was there for him.
“I got up. I brushed my shoulders off. I never gave up. I kept on going at it, even when I took two steps back and one step forward,” he said.
He added, “I did it for me first. Then I did it for them. Now I’m doing it for the many.”
He said his son and daughter now look to him as a hero.
“You will not be remembered for the car that you drive, you will be remembered for the love that you share,” Alvarado said.
He’s been sober for more than two years and said he is now living the dream. He is doing all the things that he had originally dreamed about when he was getting good grades in school.
An important aspect of achieving that was putting himself around people who wanted the same things in life.
“Are you surrounding yourself with a bunch of people who are just a bunch of flakes, or are you putting yourself around people that put you on the next level?” he asked.