Rafael Looks To Promising Future After Graduation
Rafael has been getting in trouble for as long as he can remember, starting with being suspended and then expelled from his elementary school. “In fifth grade I would be smoking in the bathroom or cussing at my teachers or fighting. I acted out a lot, and I still have trouble figuring out why I behaved that way. I’ve been in trouble with the law or with school for most of my life.”
Rafael was born to immigrant parents and grew up in Arroyo Grande. His father was an alcoholic and wasn’t around, so Rafael’s mother raised him and his three siblings while working the fields, either picking strawberries or cutting lettuce. Two of Rafael’s siblings were born with cystic fibrosis; his sister died when she was 22 and his brother died two years ago at 45—Rafael was 33.
He started drinking at 12 and using meth at 14. “When I was young I found the criminal, gangster life attractive,” Rafael said. “I remember listening to gangster rap and thinking that was the path I wanted to go down.”
In Rafael’s early 20s, he got a job in upholstery at a furniture store. The owner served as a mentor to him. “She taught me a lot and was a good influence. I was so moved that someone would give me a chance and be so nice, just a stranger. She would tell me I was a good person when I didn’t even feel that way. I continued to work for her, and I changed a lot for the better. I tried to be a good student to her, and be a good person. She played a big role in the good qualities that I have.”
It was a back injury that set Rafael back. Despite seeing doctors, the pain was excruciating, and eventually Rafael tried heroin in an effort to numb it. He began mixing in meth and alcohol, and his work and family life suffered.
“My mom and my brother didn’t want me in the house,” Rafael said. “And I started working really weird hours. Sometimes I’d go in at night and just end up dozing off on the floor. I would wake up and find it so hard to concentrate. Every day was a struggle.”
Rafael told his boss he needed some time away from work, blaming the pain from his injury. “I found myself doing a lot of bad things—fighting, stealing—I was just sick. My mom and brother, every chance they got, would tell me to get into a program.”
Rafael started attending Everyday Church. “It was the first time I looked seriously at God and began to follow him.” Rafael came to the mission and has graduated the Life Recovery Program. He has been sober for a year and a half.
“I continue to attend church and bible studies and I have a spiritual mentor and he helps guide me,” Rafael said. Before I was really negative and angry and violent and disrespectful; I no longer see that in me anymore. I think it’s looking at the Bible and how Jesus wants us to behave—it has a lot to do with love and treating others with love.”
Rafael said he feels grateful to the donors for providing for the mission. “A lot of people who are using and have used for a long time just need a lot of love and help and support,” Rafael said. “And that’s what this place gives. I’ve gotten help with my depression. I’ve been encouraged. I have many people to go to if I have questions. I feel confident now that I’m going to be OK and I’m going to continue to stay sober and that my life will improve one step at a time.”