Many who struggle with addiction die or go to prison. Yet, sometimes miracles occur. These are the stories of those miracles
Lionel Estrada Talks About getting Sober
Hi. My name’s Lionel Estrade. I’m 55 years old. I’ve been sober for four and a half years-ish. It was just complete friggin’ insanity. My life had become so insane that I literally thought my brain was turning into Swiss cheese from the meth and the booze was before that.
I got sober in ’96; stayed sober for nine years. I don’t really remember coming in back then. I remember I wasn’t in a bad spot. I still had stuff and I popped a few bad drug tests. And so my dad said, “You need to go do this,” and I went and did that and I stayed sober for nine years. But I wasn’t in a horrible spot then and I drank after nine and a half years and it got bad so fricking fast. I got drunk that night, within a week I’m doing blow in the back of my house; I’m missing my son’s baseball games and brick, by brick, by brick, by brick. And 12 years later, I’m living on a friggin’ bicycle, riding around Phoenix gacked out of my mind and it was just insanity.
I’d have a house, I’d have a home and then I’d lose it. And then I’d get another place and then after a while I’m just bouncing motel to hotel, or I’m sleeping on my sister’s couch. But for the most part, I’m riding around Phoenix on a bicycle with a backpack full of tweaker stuff and it was terrifying. It was just this insanity. I’m laughing about it because it’s just looking back on it, I don’t see how I survived being as old as I was and the amount of drugs I was putting in my system and the chaos. It was just pure chaos. I kept trying to get ahead of it. I’d think I was getting ahead of it and then my addiction was just waiting right there. It never got better. It just kept getting worse and worse and everything compounded in such a way that I was literally losing my mind. It was that bad.
I couldn’t tell what reality was because I was never sober for years. There was something in my body and after, when the meth kicked in, that was it. I was losing my mind, literally. Yeah. I thought especially one day, one night I was riding my bike down the 51 Freeway at two o’clock in the morning whacked out of my mind. It was just a half a mile jaunt. All I had to do is get from the half a mile so I could get back on a sidewalk. I’m hauling ass down the 51 and I hit an irrigation grate, but I was going really fast because I was going downhill and I cleared it. And then the second one, my tire goes down, I flipped in the air. And I can see the cars, they’re coming. The headlights are coming at me. My bike hits me in the side of the face and I fly into the desert and the moon’s right there and the wheels going around like in a movie. The tires going around and my face is soaking wet, and that was blood.
What do I do is I reach in my backpack and pull up my meth pipe, lying there in the dirt and started getting high again. And then I get on my bike, the tires go flat just like in the movies. It could have just started raining right there and it would have been perfect, just like a sad, sad movie. And as I’m walking my bike on that last stretch off the freeway, I realized that I’m going to die out here. I’m going to get mangled, not from overdose or old age; I’m going to get mangled by a fricking grocery truck and I’m probably not even going to die. I’m just going to be this mangled old man and that’s how I’m going out. That’s what terrified mem that I’m going to get hit. I’m just going to get smashed by a fricking vegetable truck on the 51.
That’s when I knew something was really bad. Really, I was so delusional that I thought that I could outthink this thing until that night when I realized, “Mo, man, I’m going to get run over. No-one’s going to know or I’m at and my kids are not going to have a dad anymore, and I’m going to be one of those breaking statistics.” This whole ride of sobriety, showing up at a treatment center on a Sunday night, I was just done. I was so terrified when I got in to treatment. And then, when I came in this time, I had no fight left. I was an old man. My kids didn’t know where I was and I surrendered. I found a sponsor and I did… I mean, not everything he’s told me to do, but pretty much I just said, “You guys tell me what to do.” I was out. I was done, out of ideas.
It was like how my addiction took away my life brick by brick, recovery built it back up. It was just little by little I’d get a… I’m working in the… volunteering in the treatment center for a little bit and now I’m thinking about going back to school for a little bit. I got a little rock and roll band for a while. That was fun until my lovely fiance asked, “Are you going to be a musician again? Because that didn’t work count for you before.” And I’m like, “Eh, maybe I’ll go back to school.” It was all because of it every though because I realized that I didn’t know what else I was going to do with my life because I had charges, and all this other stuff, and I kept doing what the men that I was following were doing. I was just like, “I want to be like that guy or at least I want to have what he has.” And so I would do what that guy.
And then, I would go ask that guy, “Hey, what about this?” I was out of suggestions and the recovery community, I just dove into all these men. I got surrounded myself with all these dudes that were doing the deal and I don’t know how it happened. I give a lot of credit to God because I don’t do this stuff on my own. I create chaos. I cause problems. I destroy things and do things my own way. I don’t know how I got here except for I just kept taking the next right… doing the next right thing, all those cliches. But I just followed around guys that seemed like they had their shit together and weren’t doing crime, so I didn’t hang out with those guys. And, “Well, that guy seems like he has a decent relationship, maybe I’ll go talk to him.” I just did what everyone else was doing that looked like they were happy because I wanted that.
It wasn’t even the money or the job or anything, just the guys that were smiling all the time and not terrified. I wanted to be like those dudes and I just followed those guys around. I took some risks. I took some chances and I prayed my ass off. Still do, every day. I tried over and over again. I had these plans. I was going to throw away the meth, drink myself to sleep, take a bunch of downers, fill my fridge with booze and cereal and milk. I was going to get rid of all of the drugs, drink myself to sleep and then wake up, eat for two days and then call AA. That was my master plan.
I even did a GoFundMe thing because I had to pay all my bills, so I’m going to pay all my… I could not think this thing and that connection where you tell me, “Yeah, dude, I know exactly how you feel. I did the same shit you did.” Now I’m not alone anymore. Now I’m not this horrible… the worst father on the planet. I’m not some crazed old man criminal, the drug addict man, that creepy guy or whatever. I just listened to other people and they said, “Yeah, me too. You’re okay. You’re going to be okay. Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re going to be okay.”
And then, they would love me when I was unlovable. They told me I’m just like they are. And then once I realized I wasn’t the only guy doing this shit, then I don’t know. I talk to newcomers all the time and they think they’re the most horrible people on the planet. I say, “No dude, I did that. By the way, I did worse shit than you did probably.” But the human connection part, “If I can’t do this by myself…” I don’t know anyone that has done it by themselves because it was lonely out there getting loaded. You’re riding your bike around Phoenix at two o’clock in the morning, whacked out of your mind and you’ve got nowhere to go, and then you scrape up enough money for a friggin’ hotel room. And you sit in the hotel room with all your tweaker shit everywhere and your bicycle, and you wonder where your kids are.
My daughter said to me… I was two years sober. I took her to an Alice Cooper concert and she’s very open. She was always there this whole time. That human connection while I was high from my daughter helped me. My son would text me or my daughter would text me in the middle of the night, “I don’t know where you are dad, but I love you.” Those little lifelines kept me alive. I’m driving her home, I’m two years sober, we’re talking about stuff. And she said, “You know what dad? Every time you rode away on your bicycle, I never knew if I was going to see you again.” It took her two years to tell me that. I couldn’t get the words out of her mouth because it hurt her so much.
So I looked at that, at the disconnection in my own life and how I disconnected from my daughter and my son, and then I see that happening in other people’s lives, other men that haven’t seen their kids in a long time and that gets restored. My lack of connection with my family was probably the worst part of being whacked out of my mind all night. And then I come into recovery and all these dudes are connecting with me, and inviting me places, and wanting to be my friend, and bringing me into their crazy club. All these, “Come on, come with us.” Like, “Why would you want to hang out with me? I’m a horrible person.” Like, “No, you’re not. You’re just a crazy old man. Just come on with us.”
So, I don’t think… Without connection, I’m probably back on a bicycle riding down the 51. It’s got to be the thing that pulls the guy that’s hopeless out of this pit and says, “Hey man, I got you. Come with me, I’ll show you. Follow me.”
What’s life like today now that you got a foundation in recovery?
My life is amazing. People will say, “I live the life I’ve always dreamed of.” Well, I never dreamed of this life because I didn’t know that I’d be this happy. I don’t wake up in the middle of the night. Well, I do because I’m old, but I go back to sleep. I’m not terrified all the time anymore. I’m not scared hardly at all.
You get the down days, but I’ve got a job that turned into a career and I love what I do now. I get to help people. I’m in the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in, in my life, and not because I’m this great guy. It’s because the principles of recovery and she works the principles of recovery and that’s where we meet. My kids call me all the freakin’ time now. My daughter knows, she knows where I am. I text her at night all the time just to tell her I love her and she knows exactly where her dad is.
My son calls me for advice. He’s 25 and thinks he knows everything anyways, but, “Hey, pop.” That’s connection. I’m not scared shitless all the time anymore. If nothing else, I’ll just take that and not being freakin’ terrified. I can drive down the street and a cop rolls by me, I’m like… I don’t have to dig around my car, check my pockets. But I’m not afraid of what tomorrow has for me because I got a mini community of people that care about me and I care about them.
I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life. I’m in the middle of life, supposedly, according to my age, but life is amazing today because all I have is hope. There’s just more hope. There’s just more hope. In four and a half years of sobriety, I went from living on a bicycle to having a career. I got a place to live. I got a car. I got the girl and my kids call me all the time. What else? I don’t know if I need anything else.