“The Ability to Feel Again is My Greatest Reward”
The mountains have been one of several healers for Jose, who, by the grace of God, will be sober for 11 years on August 29, 2019. Sitting across the table from him at the XXX Diner in Issaquah, he sits with a warm smile on his face, his heart on his sleeve, and shares his story of addiction, recovery, God, his mother, and how he found Recovery Beyond.
Journey into Drugs and Alcohol
The path to drugs and alcohol was easily accessible to Jose at a young age. They provided an escape from reality and pain. He began drinking and got drunk for the first time when he was just eleven years old. That summer in Oregon, where he was born and raised, was a blur. Marijuana followed and so did the trouble. By the time Jose turned seventeen, he had three felonies, with charges ranging from minor in possession to felony gun possession and everything in between. He candidly describes the time there was a gang shoot-out down the street from him. Bullets whizzing by his head, left and right, he grabbed his niece who was playing outside in the front yard and threw her back into the house to save her.
Jose knew he was a rough kid. No person, child or adult, should ever have to endure the types of abuse, violence, poverty, and hard situations he saw and experienced. His mom did all she could to protect and provide for her children and get them involved in programs at the YWCA, but kids often have other agendas. His Grandma was a CPS director for many years and helped when she could through programs she had access to. Jose remembers food bank lines, Christmas baskets, and programs at churches. He remembers finding his mom in her bedroom closet crying because she couldn’t afford Christmas presents that year. He told her it was ok and not to worry. He remembers holding her as she wept.
Cocaine was the next drug to come along. He was introduced to it when he was 19, and initially used it to make money. It eventually became the mechanism he needed for his own use. He and other individuals would rob drug dealers at gunpoint to steal their drugs. Crack cocaine…crystal meth. They would take the cocaine and make crack to resell. The purer the cocaine they could get, the better the crack, and the more customers they would have. It was a good business plan for the situation they were in, and along with this plan came the parties, the girls, and the hotels. Money went fast. Real fast. By the time he was introduced to heroin, he realized he had stepped into territory from which he may never return.
He knew he needed to stop.
He made several attempts to stop using and get help. He graduated from Lakeside-Milam treatment ten years ago, started attending church, and ultimately got full custody of his four children, whom he shared with a woman who ran with him and his drug use.
He has been together with his current wife for nine years. He met her after he had been clean for two years, so she doesn’t know him in his addiction. He knows himself, though, and knows the warning signs and has warned her about them. He knows if he starts using again that he will run through her emotions and mental state like a hurricane and won’t think twice about it.
Jose will look you straight in the eye and tell you that he is blessed to be alive.
A Mom Who Did It All
“Leave your surfboards at home. Allow the waves to wash over you. Allow the grief to overtake you. If you know how to ride it correctly, you’ll ride it smoothly down. If not, you’ll fall off and that’s ok. When you allow those waves to take you and toss you around, you can look at them and say, ‘I survived this one, I can survive the next one.’ They build you.”
Two years ago, Jose abruptly and tragically lost his mother. A single mother, she did it all. She raised five children, was the pillar of her family, and at the time of her sudden and unexpected death, was three months sober and so proud of it.
After her death, Jose remembers looking up at the sky, begging for God to slow down. He didn’t call his sponsor. He didn’t hike. He did nothing. Jose was on a mission to get loaded, so he turned his phone off, got dressed, and left. The last thing he wanted to do was feel. His wife asked where he was going, and he said, “I’ll be back.”
Jose went to a bar.
The bartender greeted him saying, “Hey sweetie, how’s it going?” He ordered three double shots of tequila and scooted up close to the bar. Inhaling deeply, he picked up one of the shots, held it to his nose, smelled it, and then put it down.
His hands shook.
He looked to the sky.
The bartender walked by looking at him oddly. Jose hadn’t taken the shots yet and was aware that he was being watched. He asked for a Coca Cola to chase the tequila down as if to buy him time. After he realized what he was doing, a wave came over him and the tears started.
The bartender walked by, again, looked at him, and saw that he was crying. Really crying. Jose was trying to hold the tears in. Sniffling, he put his hand on his hip, and his finger felt something in his fifth pocket. He fiddled around and pulled the object out.
It was his three-year coin.
He can’t begin to tell you why that coin was there that day. Maybe he wore those pants to a meeting. But of all the pants to wear that day, of all the objects that could be in the pocket of the pants worn on that day, this was the one that was there. And it was just what he needed.
He pulled it out of his pocket and cried. He slammed the coin on the table with affirmation.
That bartender turned right around and looked. She saw the coin, looked at his tearful face, grabbed his drinks, pulled them away and said, “Sir, I need you to leave right now. You need to get out of here, honey.”
Jose grabbed the coin and stuck it in his pocket, reached into his other pocket for his wallet to pay, which the bartender refused to accept.
“You better get the hell out of here and never come back,” she said. Jose apologized for wasting the tequila and she looked at him and said, “Just GO.”
This is the one time that he felt closest to a relapse.
What did he do next? In order to counter the feelings he was having over the death of his mother, he took on a lot of extra activities to counterbalance his emotions. He didn’t want to feel but had to fight this thing within him, his addiction, with everything he had. If he went back to using, he would be useless to everyone. He knew he would pick up right where he left off.
So he started biking. Hiking. Doing Hot Yoga and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Picture this: an ex-gang member, in and out of jail, covered from head to toe in tattoos, who grew up in rough neighborhoods, can now be found doing hot yoga, breathing, wearing yoga pants and a tank top, running, and exercising.
Jose did every physical activity he could get his hands on. It was difficult for others to understand the magnitude of what was going on inside him. A lot of people said, “Slow down.”
These were his healers, however. Biking, hiking, jiu-jitsu, hot yoga, and, of course, God. These things propelled Jose into the activities he does now.
A few months ago, Jose was at work and walked past the opening of a garage, not even thinking of his mom. A breeze blew through sending along with it the smell of his mom’s perfume, a perfume she had received every Christmas as a gift from Jose. Jose said, “Mom?” and turned to look for her. He saw a woman, who was not his mother, standing by the garage opening. She must’ve been wearing that perfume. It was heartbreaking and crushing for him. As much as he didn’t want to feel the things he was feeling at that moment, he had to ride that wave. Because he has learned how to manage his feelings, he knows how to let the waves of emotions come and go.
Church, The Mountains, and Community
Church also changed for him. He remembers ten years ago leaving everything on the floor for God. Jose said, “God, take it all, strip me down to the bones, rewire me into the person I’m meant to be when I came down to this Earth.”
At an altar he recalls someone putting a hand on his shoulder, and then another hand on his other shoulder. He didn’t know who it was but knew someone was there with him. He remembers turning around after an ocean of tears, a spiritual cleansing, if you will, and seeing thirty to forty people with their hands on each other’s shoulders in prayer over him. There was this whole, powerful community, and it was amazing.
Community is so important.
Jose served in the children’s ministry, as an usher, at the welcome center, in the group for those with alcoholism and addiction, and in forgiveness classes for men ages 12-60. But after his mom’s funeral service, it was too painful for him to return. So he found church elsewhere, but this time without four walls and this time in a more intimate way with God.
For a few years, Jose had been solo hiking. He had been yearning, praying, and asking for God to meet him in some way, in some form, and God has been doing just that. Jose has been and still is drawn to the mountains and believes that God calls him where he wants to be. That’s where he goes and stays faithful. Ten out of ten times, God is right. Even though church has been very important to Jose in the past, he believes that God is now leading him into the classroom of silence; that he must enter alone to understand himself better. Yes, God is always right in that space, even if Jose doesn’t understand it right away.
On a hike to High Rock lookout, Jose went in as an emotional wreck. Once he got to the lookout and went inside, he noticed something etched into one of the walls. It said, “Greater is he who the mountains bow before”.
He felt chills. He felt like God was there with him. Without a doubt, he knew He was there.
On another hike to Thunder Lake, Jose separated from friends and was walking alone. There were beautiful wildflowers in bloom everywhere. “Touch of Heaven” by Hillsong had just played on his music playlist. He was missing his mom. All of a sudden, the clouds broke open. Jose was so overcome with emotion that he fell to his knees and let God’s spirit wash over him.
An army of butterflies propelled out of the surrounding landscape, hit, and bounced off of Jose and then flew away.
He was crying. “Ugly, baby face crying” as he so eloquently put it. He got up and passed another hiker who asked if he was alright and Jose said, “I’ve never been better.”
“I had done Mailbox earlier this year, sunset hike, 3 AM. I swear there were cougars out, so I had a machete and gun, every couple of steps stopping, did you hear that? I got up there, saw the sunrise, and it was beautiful. That was a moment between me and God. That’s my church up there. It’s very real, very raw. Me and God are on another level. God wants me in my purest form, broken, raw, alone, teachable, open. He wants the nitty gritty, he wants to do a spiritual gardening in me, yanking out weeds, in purgatory, being purged of all these things…”
Community. Jose was looking for a community of sober hikers and ways to help people in recovery when he stumbled across a post about Recovery Beyond by McKenzie Johnson on a popular Facebook hiking and climbing page called the Washington Hikers and Climbers. He reached out to McKenzie, was connected with Nate, Recovery Beyond Program Manager, and everything snowballed from there. Jose wanted to share what he’s been given with other people, and now he had the opportunity.
His first hike with Recovery Beyond was Mailbox Peak. He gravitated toward a participant named Jason who was newer in his recovery and they hiked together and shared stories. He admits that he walked into this hike with a bit of ego, but toward the end of the hike, he found himself changed and inspired by those he hiked with. He was humbled by this experience.
“In my recovery, there isn’t one thing that I haven’t asked for that God hasn’t given me. It happens In His own time though.”
Tattooed across Jose’s knuckles is a gentle reminder to “Sink or Swim”, a simple and perfect metaphor to live by.
At times, Jose admits he’s guilty of wanting to force things, manipulate things, and control things. We all do this and then we are confused as to why things don’t work out the way we want them to. It’s not until later that we may understand why things had to happen a certain way. Jose states that God has a really funny sense of humor and that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. You have to let things go and let God take control, and that’s hard, Jose says. He wonders, how do I get to where God is calling me?
He tells people in recovery that he understands the disease part. It’s in his genetics – his mom, uncles, and cousins all have addictions. He states, “I can only speak for myself. The disease is there…I have a choice, though. (He motions to the glass of water in front of him) If I choose to pick up that glass of water, put it to my mouth – that’s a choice. The moment the water enters my mouth, that’s where the disease kicks in.” And that’s where he sees the difference between choice and disease.
Addiction is a medical, psychological, social, and individual issue. It’s not easily fixable. People need people because we are social creatures and we need positive reinforcement. No one teaches us that, so it must be learned. Those with addiction are very emotional people. If they’re ready for help at 12:57 and no one shows up till 1:00, then they’re already using. By creating community, you put a person in a place where that window of opportunity is now just a little bit bigger.
Mirror in the Jungle
“So we’re doing this hike up to Mailbox… and Tyler or Jason, one of the two, said, hey man, have you ever seen the video of the dude who goes up in the jungle and puts his mirror up with a video camera and lets it run so the animals see it and react?”
Jose thought about this and then it hit him. “Wait a minute you guys”, he said, “listen to what you just said! That’s us. We’re the animal out in the wild! Imagine living your entire life never looking at yourself in the mirror. We’re out here looking at ourselves for the very first time. For 17 years I was using and never looked in a spiritual mirror. When someone gave me a mirror, I saw who I really was, who I had become, and I didn’t like it. I was confused – I didn’t use to be this person.”
“That’s why I like going out to the mountains – there’s no Facebook, wife, kids, work… it’s just me and God. In His creation, sometimes I get so overwhelmed emotionally. You see these landscapes, the beauty in them, and it’s just like, wow- how? All he did was just *poof*. And then you think to yourself, what else is out there? This is just a teeny tiny sliver of what’s out there. What’s in Colorado or the other side of the world? Makes you start thinking. It’s inspiring – I want to go see these things. We are only here for a short time…We have a bag full of excuses. At what point do we take that bag and toss it aside and actually go out and live?”
“Shake me as much as you can, [God], I’m not going to fight you.”
It wasn’t until 3 years into his recovery that something occurred to Jose that was mind-blowing. The best thing he had given himself in his sobriety was the ability to feel. Feeling was the one thing he tried to escape for seventeen years. He was finally able to feel all emotions, the good and the bad, to feel them honestly, with nothing in between, unfiltered, uncensored, and in their rawest and purest form. He has had to embrace those feelings because that’s where the healing comes from.
Why would you want to mask that?
Life isn’t good all the time, and we may ask why, why right now? But the ability to feel, the excitement, the joy, the happiness, the euphoric joy, and the darkest times, is something Jose states he would not trade for anything. When he thinks about relapse, he thinks about how he wouldn’t be able to feel anymore. He knows how to manage his feelings now. Managing feelings can be taught. If you get the tools to work your way through it, then you can use those skills over and over. Again, choices.
“There’s nothing that anyone could’ve told me when I was using that would’ve changed my mind to get sober. There’s nothing that anyone can tell me in my recovery that would convince me to start using again. It’s in the person. You can work and try and lead a horse to water, but if the person isn’t willing to do so then it won’t work for them. This is why people have to go through recovery seven times.”
Being in the mountains, on the mat, out on the trails on his bike, all of these things help him to prioritize everything in his life.
STP Ride: Seattle to Portland, 206 Miles, July 13-14, 2019
Building Healthy Lifestyles for Lasting Recovery
This is Jose’s third year participating in STP. The ride has become his annual emotional retreat. He first started this race the year his mom passed away. This year, Jose is doing the race for his mom.
He got his first bike at work: he found a bike that had been locked to a place where it shouldn’t have been locked. The manager said to clip it and get rid of it. Jose asked if he could take the bike, the manager said ok, and Jose started riding. A month later, he found out about the STP ride and entered himself to participate. He went 115 out of 206 miles but had to call it quits. Despite his mental fortitude, his legs and knees refused to do any more. He called his wife and she came and picked him up.
Even though he hardly trained for this ride, he was disappointed that he didn’t make it the whole way. The lesson? You must go through a season of preparation, as with all things in life, a lesson that Jose learned on this first ride.
The next year, he joined up with the Cascade Bicycle Club and started to train. They provided a great wealth of information for him. He also found other bikers to ride with and they committed to each other to do the STP ride. Along the ride, Jose encountered many riders who were also in recovery. On his second year of participating in this race, they made it the whole way to Portland.
Jason, who is new in recovery, who met Jose on Mailbox Peak, expressed interest in riding. They have been training together and are looking forward to the upcoming STP ride.
It’s amazing what happens when connections are made and community is created. It’s amazing how one life changes for the better and can influence and support the change in another life. Being able to support others in recovery in something Jose wants to do and now has the opportunity. He is thankful to have found the community he needed in Recovery Beyond.
Please consider a gift to Jose or Jason’s fundraising page for the STP race. All funds will go toward supporting program participants and expanding programming for Recovery Beyond. We thank you for supporting our organization and our growing community. We couldn’t do what we do without you.DONATE TO JOSE’S CAMPAIGN DONATE TO JASON’S CAMPAIGN