Nigel’s Story - United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County
Nigel’s Story - United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County

Nigel’s Story

A Youth in Recovery Transforms His Life
  • July 28, 2021
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Growing up, Nigel had a loving and supportive family. He grew up on an Air Force base with both parents solidly involved in his life and on his side. They didn’t miss a Little League game; they didn’t miss a single flag football game he played in.

Externally, Nigel had all the things necessary to have a happy childhood and to be extremely happy and productive, with education as a huge priority to his parents.

“Internally, though, I just felt broken apart. It was like I didn’t fit in with anybody. I couldn’t pinpoint what it is – being one of the only Black children in my school. I was chubby and nerdy back then. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was that made me so different, but I knew that I felt that I couldn’t quite fit in with anybody.”

Once puberty kicked in and he had the means to react differently, Nigel took a different path.

“I wasn’t the short kid you could pick on anymore. I got a lot bigger and that immediately turned into violence. Before I dabbled with substances, I was just so full of rage.”

Rise Recovery, a United Way nonprofit partner participating in the Successful Students Impact Council, shares that the average age of first substance use in Bexar County is 13 years old.

Nigel was 12.

“I would go to those drug awareness things in school, and they told you watch out for the guy on the corner. If there’s some shady guy on the corner, and they’re hanging out in a hoody even though it’s summer in Texas, stay away from him. Unfortunately, that guy doesn’t really exist. The way we portray substances isn’t the way it comes across in the movies or even some of the information packets.”

The first person who introduced Nigel to substances was a friend at band camp. And after that, it was a guy he met in math class.

“They strengthened that muscle to say no to a stranger, but they never really strengthened that muscle to say no to a friend or to someone you looked up to.”

In his teenage years, it took him six high schools to graduate. He was a good student with good grades, but with his violent tendencies and later drug use, he was often moved from school district to school district. By the time he graduated, early, he’d already been in two or three treatment centers.

Nigel’s adolescence was peppered with negative consequences and him trying his best to remedy what was going on in his head. Rise Recovery was the answer – where teens, young adults and families overcome the effects of drugs and alcohol and partner with the community in education and prevention.

“Getting into recovery was so beneficial to me. When I did, and I could finally see how my brain operated, free of substances and free of all the crazy things that happen in a teenager’s brain, I realized I had bi-polar disorder.”

Once diagnosed, Nigel began getting a better handle on his feelings, learning how to express himself and cope healthily.

“A huge aspect about sobriety is that mental health component saying ‘how do I find a way to get all the things I got from substances? How do I find more things than I got from substances?’ without relying on those things.”

There were a number of times that Nigel thought about quitting.

“I’d gotten in trouble and my parents thought that military school was the way to go. When you wind up in Harlingen, Texas, getting a buzz cut in the middle of summer instead of having summer vacation, you think, well maybe this isn’t the right path for me.

My parents were incredible, and I saw the pain watching them watch what I was going through. They couldn’t help feeling like they were to blame. They weren’t, but society is constantly telling us when your kid ends up using substances, it’s the result of poor parenting, and that’ so not the case.”

It took someone succumbing to their addiction that made him realize it was time to get help. He was 20 years old. In treatment for the sixth time, and he’d come to the end of his rope. A former acquaintance took his own life. Picking him up from the treatment center, his mom took him to the funeral.

“So, I’m sitting there and looking around the church, at the people I’d grown up with, and seeing where we had landed and where our lives had brought us. Facing the fact that I was only here on a day pass from treatment – again.

I was looking at his mother. And seeing him up there, no longer alive. When I tried to make a list of reasons why that wouldn’t be me, laying in that box up there, I kept coming up short. Living the life I was living and the way that my life was headed, I couldn’t come up with five reasons why that wouldn’t be me outside of a year.”

Nigel has now been in recovery for 7 years. When he first arrived at Rise Recovery, he had no intention of stopping or getting sober. None. But he recognized the importance of the family component. His parents were receiving services, too, getting support and figuring out how to parent him.

When offered the opportunity to work at Rise Recovery as a Youth Peer Recovery Coach, Nigel said he wanted to give it a shot.

“Rise hired me and that helped save my life. It helped keep me tied to the program. Being 20-21 years old, and having been through addiction, my confidence and self-worth was not that high. Immediately being able to do life changing work and to help people and my community—help young people try to avoid what I’ve been through, that was a huge saving grace.

It’s definitely saved my life a few times that people needed me and counted on me.”

Nigel describes his future as being beyond his wildest dreams.

“I made a list of what I wanted to do as I got sober, what I was capable of, and I have surpassed that I don’t know how many times over now — and way quicker than I thought.

Now, whether it’s [my girlfriend], my best friends, my family — everyone in my life that I hang out with, are all hardworking and driving and supporting me to follow through on my goals. I’ve gotten to go further with my career than I ever thought possible, and I have my whole family back. My parents are there. My addiction took a huge toll on the family. Everyone felt it. I was the only one getting high, but everyone felt it in the household. My sister will call now and text me stupid jokes that are ridiculous, but there was a time when she didn’t want to talk to me at all. I got back everything that I had lost, and then I gained some.

I’m happy today. When I go to bed at night and when I wake up in the morning, I like myself. I love myself. And I can’t really put a price on that, but I know that I wouldn’t have that if it wasn’t for getting sober and for Rise Recovery.”

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