The road to recovery

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(Editor’s note: This is the first of a year-long monthly series about how alcohol and drug addiction effects the community and how those affected work to achieve a better life.)

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Standing in front of the old courthouse on Luna Avenue in Los Lunas, Alonzo Garcia is a long way from who he used to be ― a jail inmate in a blue jumpsuit who took out the trash.

He’s gone from a blue jail jumpsuit to a Bluetooth headset. From addiction to deliverance, from jailbird to jailhouse pastor.

He has lived five years longer than he or his family ever expected.

For a long time, Alonzo Garcia, now 40, never hoped to live past 35. For 18 years, his life was consumed by the need to get high, the endless hustle for drugs, the manipulation of family and friends.

Garcia was released from the Valencia County Detention Center for the last time on May 23, 2006, walking into his future clean and sober.

Now a court clerk lead worker in the 13th Judicial District Court in Los Lunas, Garcia has come full circle, but on the other side of the coin.

Where once he cleaned the courthouse bathrooms and took out the trash, now he helps members of the public and local attorneys file motions and explains to potential jurors just what is required of them.

The jumpsuit is long gone, replaced with a sports coat and tie. And a smile — a smile so constant and bright it’s nearly unreal — a smile fueled by the joy of knowing who he is.

When Garcia talks about who he was and who he is now, he eschews the word “recovery.”

“To me, recovery means it’s something you can do, mess up and do again. I have been delivered. I am free,” Garcia says. “It’s like I’ve been restored. When you restore something, you bring it back to what it was, and then you make it better.”

Born and raised in Belen, Garcia will tell you his background isn’t that of what most people expect of an addict.

“I come from a really good family. Both my parents worked all the time and taught me a really good work ethic. I learned the value of work,” he said.

But then Garcia says he experienced the phenomenon of growing up and searching for who he really was, just like every other kid in America.

“In high school, all kids are searching for their identity,” he said. “Who am I?”

That search started with cigarettes. His dad and the guys he worked with all smoked, so Garcia would steal the butts and smoke them. Maybe that’s who he was supposed to be.

“People talk about different things, like cigarettes being a gateway to other drugs. I’m not sure I would use that word,” Garcia said. “I will say, those things reduce your boundaries. Your world expands and you see everything around you as a chance.”

Those reduced boundaries led Garcia to drinking and using marijuana in high school, which he says he graduated through the grace of other people.

“I had far more chances than I should have,” he said. “Everyone said, ‘Oh, he’s a good kid, he’ll figure it out.’”

And he kind of did.

Garcia received a talent scholarship for theater to Eastern New Mexico University in Portales.

Remembering his youth, Garcia says he “never really enjoyed authority in my life.” Then he found himself on his own, outside of any real authority, free to make his own decisions while at college.

His first decision was to get high in his dorm room and immediately get in trouble with the college before classes even started.

Garcia was eventually put on academic probation because of his inability to attend classes. That finally led to academic suspension and being kicked out of ENMU.

Most people at that point might think about returning home, but Garcia did not, in his mind he could not.

“I was too proud and embarrassed to ask for help. I didn’t live up to other people’s expectations because I had no expectations of myself,” he said. “I didn’t see my own value, see the benefit of trying to do something positive.”

So he spent the next year in Albuquerque, sleeping on friends’ sofas, living in a tent and literally two different vans.

That winter, Garcia put a lit candle in a coffee can. It generated just enough heat to keep him from freezing.

During his brief stint at college, Garcia said he started using cocaine and methamphetamine.

“I used coke, but meth is a very different thing,” he said. “You get addicted really early.”

And meth dissolved boundaries for Garcia even more.

“A friend once told me, the thing with meth is, what’s not OK today is OK tomorrow,” he said. “Once you get past certain boundaries, you say, ‘I’m so far past, why go back?’”

Garcia was able to hold down different jobs, managing a restaurant, a grocery store and, he said, for all intents and purposes, things were fine.

But they weren’t

“I just got deeper and deeper into the drug lifestyle. I had gotten married, and after my first divorce, I fell into this depression,” he said. “I had no identity. You think you know, but this thing you created didn’t work — it’s stripped away.”

He married a second time, this time to a woman who had her own substance issues. She knew about his meth use, Garcia said, and drew a hard line at him shooting up.

“She told me if I did that, she would leave me. I was already shooting it,” he said.

Garcia said he looked her straight in the eyes and lied, denied it.

“I loved meth more than her,” he said.

Garcia pulled his life together enough to start his own business, cleaning repossessed houses. It was a success and every cent that wasn’t paid to employees or to operating costs was spent on drugs, mostly meth, but also pot.

“I started just snorting meth, then smoking it and everything came unraveled when I started shooting up,” Garcia said. “For the majority of 2002 and 2003, I got high all day, every day. I wasted thousands upon thousands of dollars in those two years.”

He eventually earned the nickname “Hustler,” because if he wasn’t high, he was looking to score.

“I was always hustling for drugs — chasing the dragon like they say. You’re not going to catch it,” Garcia said. “Finally I found myself in a heap of trouble, getting arrested in my own frontyard.”

That was actually the last of three times he was detained in his frontyard.

And the third time was the charm because Garcia was arrested and taken to jail that night. He had been up for days, there were people living in RVs in his yard and there were several “guests” at his house.

“I was standing in my yard with a friend getting ready to work. I and several others had just finished getting high — again — about 1 a.m.,” Garcia said. “My friend and I walked outside to look at the truck and we noticed sheriff’s department vehicles driving up and down the street.”

Within minutes, the cars converged on his house and law enforcement officers pulled in, lights flashing. Deputies asked to search the premises, and Garcia surrendered his house keys so they could go in, wake up his then-wife and conduct the search.

“By this point in my life, I wasn’t just a bad husband, I was also an absent husband. I would come home after she went to work or to sleep and would leave when she got home or went to sleep,” Garcia said.

The search turned up “various and sundry drug paraphernalia,” and Garcia was booked into the Valencia County Detention Center.

He pleaded guilty to possession charges and was put on probation. His probation officer wanted to send him to a two-year rehab program.

“I actually argued with him, ‘Hey man, my sentence isn’t even that long,’” Garcia laughs at his foolishness now. “I didn’t want to go. This was the identity I had created, and I wasn’t going to quit no matter how far down I was.

“An addict wants desperately to make something real that’s not real. You are never going to be a successful drug dealer or user. No matter how many times you go to jail, and think you figured out what you did wrong. ‘Next time I’ll do this.’ It’s just not going to happen.”

So sitting in jail, with a head full of anger, Garcia met someone — someone that would connect him to the higher power that he needed to be delivered from his addiction.

Pastor Mark Schroeder, the senior pastor at Covenant Life Community Church, was ministering to the men and women at the county jail, something Garcia didn’t think he needed.

“I knew everything about God. I thought, ‘I got this,’” he said.

Schroeder asked the men to read a passage from the Bible and contemplate its meaning.

The passage was Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end is the way of death.”

“People say you must be an addict because you hate yourself. If I really hated myself, I wouldn’t have been doing something that gave me so much pleasure,” Garcia said. “The problem is, you love yourself more than anyone else. You are incredibly selfish.”

For the next five-and-a-half months Garcia read the Bible.

“The more I studied it, the more it had importance in my life,” he said.

He was then released on parole to the Salvation Army in Albuquerque. With a plastic bag of his possessions and his Bible, Garcia and another man went to the Albuquerque facility.

“Then I made the stupidest decision I ever have,” he said. The other man, who Garcia says is free from blame, urged him to leave — his girlfriend was just down the street, waiting with a car and a chance to score.

“As I walked out that door, I looked back and saw the door close. I heard this tiny little click, but it was the slamming of a cell door,” Garcia said. “You’re not always incarcerated in jail — you’re incarcerated in your head.”

For more than two days, they were on the run and getting high.

“I felt disgusted with myself, I felt filthy,” he said.

When Garcia left the facility, a felony warrant was automatically issued for him. He knew he was in trouble. Garcia eventually convinced the man to take him back to the facility.

“I knocked on the window and the guy there just looked at me and shook his head,” Garcia said.

There was no going back.

“The last thing the judge said to me before I was released was, ‘I don’t want to see you here again. It’s not going to go well for you.’”

With no other place to go, no money for a bus, Garcia walked to a friend’s house, from Broadway to San Mateo and Montgomery in Albuquerque. While he walked, he talked to God.

“I saw all the things I’d done in my life — all the good things and all the misery I had caused,” he said. “All of a sudden it clicked — I have to be obedient. I owed the state time. I had been given conditional liberty and I broke those conditions.”

Garcia called his parole officer, admitted to his violations and was sentenced to eight-and-a-half months in the county jail.

He was assigned to the work detail of cleaning the courthouse, taking out the trash, cleaning the bathrooms.

Garcia stayed busy with his Bible studies with Schroeder.

But as his release date approached, he became more and more anxious. Garcia applied for a place in an Oklahoma rehab program, My Brother’s Keeper, but he never heard back from them.

It had been a long time since he had been out in the world not spun out of his mind on dope, Garcia says.

“The last time I got out, I couldn’t go three days,” he said.

On May 22, 2006, his last day in jail, Garcia opened his Bible at random. It opened to Peter 2, which teaches about false teachers and their destruction.

“I knew I had to make the decision to make good decisions,” he said.

Immediately after his release, Garcia says God told him to go apply for a job at the county.

“I was like, ‘Really God? I just got out of jail. You know who runs the jail, right?’”

There were no openings, so his mother took him to Albuquerque so he could stay at a homeless shelter and look for a job. A few days later, they were sitting in a fast food restaurant as Garcia filled out another application and her phone rang.

It was the county. There was an a opening for a janitor.

Six weeks after his release, Garcia was going back into the jail with Pastor Schroeder for Bible study.

“Mostly, I was talking to people I had spent years getting high with,” he said.

Garcia is now a pastor himself with the little nondenominational church in Los Lunas.

Garcia worked as a janitor for the county for five months before he heard about an opening in the assessor’s office. He worked there for a year and a half before getting the opportunity to go to work for the district court clerk’s office.

“Every single person in the courthouse knew I was the guy from jail. I was so full of life after I got saved in jail, more so after I turned myself in after leaving the Salvation Army, and it had permeated every fiber of my being by the time I was released,” Garcia said. “The experience of jail and coming to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior changed my perspective on everything and opened my eyes to the wonderful joy that we often consider our everyday lives.”

Garcia says he took that opportunity to thank the judge, the assistant district attorney and his probation officer for holding him accountable.

“I tried to thank the arresting officer, but …,” Garcia says with a laugh. “I skated by for years, dodging the responsibility and accountability in living a life in full rebellion, and it wasn’t until I was held accountable that I became interested in change.”

The change Garcia saw in his own life is one he is hoping to help others achieve. As a pastor with Schroeder’s church, Garcia leads the Freedom Night meetings. At 7 p.m., every Friday, people looking to restore themselves crowd into the tiny church for an evening of food, fellowship, testimonials and support.

“I got here not through willpower, not by Alonzo’s strength. I ran out of options,” Garcia says. “I am now serving something better, something more important, serving God. You can be free. It’s what we’re made to be.”

Recovery meetings in Valencia County

Alanon meets at 6 p.m., Tuesdays, at the Los Lunas Wellness Center. Are you in need of help for a relative or friend who is addicted to alcohol or drugs? For information, call 865-5765, or call the Alanon information service office at 262-2177.
Alcoholics Anonymous meets at 5:30 p.m. Sundays at Peralta United Methodist Church; a women’s group meets at 6 p.m. on Mondays at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church; at 7 p.m. Tuesdays at the First Baptist Church of Los Chavez, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of Belen, at 8 p.m. at Los Lunas Wellness Center; at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays at Belen Rec Center, 7 p.m. at St. Augustine Church in Isleta; at 7 p.m. Thursdays at the Peralta United Methodist Church, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of Belen and at 8 p.m. at the Los Lunas Wellness Center and at 5:30 p.m. Fridays at the First United Methodist Church of Belen. For information, call 266-1900.
DWI Support Group meets at 7 p.m. Tuesdays at the Los Lunas Community Services Department off N.M. 47 across from Albertson’s. For information, call Dorothy Hern, 869-2531. It’s for surviving victims of DWI crashes and their caregivers.
Freedom Night for those struggling with addition is at 7 p.m. Fridays at Covenant Life Community Church, 1119 N.M. 47, Los Lunas, one mile north of Main Street.
Narcotics Anonymous, a support group for those trying to stop using drugs, meets at 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and at 8 p.m. Tuesdays in Spanish at the First Baptist Church of Los Chavez, and from noon to 1 p.m. on Mondays at the Partners in Wellness Recovery Center, 750 Morris Road SW in Los Lunas. For information on the Los Chavez meeting, call 565-4043 and the recovery center at 866-2300.

 


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.