Real Conversations with Alumni
At Caron, being Real About Recovery means sharing real stories of real alumni to help other people who need to hear it and find comfort in connecting.
Here's a glimpse of Kiko's journey in an honest and insightful Q&A.
How did your life before Caron contribute to your substance abuse?
On the outside, everything looked typical. I was involved in sports. I was involved in music. I had a very supportive family. But even though on the outside things looked very, very normal, on the inside I was screaming for help. I couldn’t find that little piece of the puzzle where I belonged, and drugs and alcohol made me feel like I was a part of it all. I allowed myself to be completely isolated. If people didn't drink or use the way I did, they were out of my life.
I think the tipping point into addiction was that very rapid transition from middle school to high school. When I started having issues, my family said, "You'll find your way. Just give yourself a chance." I didn't want to wait. I just felt so alone. I switched to public school from private school, and it was a rough time. I didn't know how to make friends. I always felt like I didn’t get the rule book to life that everyone else did. By the time I reached my freshman year, I was kicked out of the public school. Then I went to an alternative school where I found people that used and drank just like me.
What role did understanding and acknowledging your gender identity play in your recovery?
I vowed before I went to Caron that I was going to die with that secret. I definitely needed someone to meet me where I was and be gentle with me because I was so fragile and hurt, done with life. I needed to be held and be safe. I initially came out as a lesbian. I identify as transgender now. I grew up going to schools where that wasn't accepted, and there were a lot of jokes made. For Caron to allow me to live that way was integral and paramount in my recovery.
The staff that helped me come out and really be my authentic self are the reason I was able to do it. I was so strongly and gently encouraged to be who I am. It was the counselor assistants that I had the most interaction with, the people that were on the front lines, dealing with my negative attitude at times. They were the reason I took that leap of faith. And I was met with more love and acceptance.
Can you describe your experiences after the Family Program at Caron?
I think the Family Education Program gave my family an idea of what they need to do, what boundaries we needed to set. I was able to formulate new friendships and new relationships and this new family of people that know and appreciate me, and I appreciate them and know them.
Before Caron, I didn't know how to be a friend, or a kid, or a child. I had no idea what to do. I was just flying by the seat of my pants and caused a lot of destruction. Fortunately, I wouldn't even say I was able to rebuild. I just completely started over in a lot of ways as a new person. I'm completely different now. It's an honor to be able to be there for people when I was not able to show up for so long. They've been through a lot. I know that it's been a long journey. We're still healing but there's that willingness there. They don't worry about where I am anymore. I'm so grateful that my parents can sleep at night now. That's really, really cool. If I call them past nine o'clock at night, they're not answering the phone in a panic. It's just amazing that I can almost hear the sigh of relief when we're all in the room together.
What’s the most important thing you learned during your time at Caron?
The most important lesson that I learned at Caron is that I'm worth it. I'm worth it. We're all worth it. I would say to someone that's struggling with addiction and wanting to get help: you're worth it. It sounds so corny. I just kind of roll back and say that again: you are alive - you have a shot at this. I think it's just giving yourself the chance, just the chance, that your life can be as you never would have imagined it.
Before Caron, I never in a million years, in an alternate dimension, I would've never ever been able to even conceive my life today. It's not the things; it's the feelings. I felt so bad when I was drinking. You could have given me a new car, and I would've been miserable. It's not the things. It's the feeling of being able to walk into a room and know that I'm welcome there. It's the feeling of being free from the anxiety and fear about where I’m going to get my next one or not feeling anxious that someone's going to find out I stole from them. It's just this genuine, authentic way of living that I never thought was even possible before Caron.