God has a plan

Cathy Brownfield

“By all rights, I should be dead,” said Tomas Santiago, a recovering addict willing to speak up about the path the 54-year-old has taken and led him to become an advocate for recovery that works. He is 11 years clean. “Family Recovery saved my life.”

            Tomas speaks of his millionaire father who was ordered to pay $25 per week in child support, and then took the child’s mother back to court to remove the child support.

            He speaks of his step-dad who bought a house in the Bronx. But the man was a cheater, he said, and told his mother that she, Tomas, and his half-siblings had to leave. His mother went to family, but because of Tomas’ history as a bad boy, the family would accept all but Tomas, which his mother said was unacceptable.

            Since he was 13, he said, he had used heroin, crack, cocaine, pills. He used methamphetamine for 22 years, was in rehab 27 times, shot four times and stabbed seven times. He can tell you about making $10,000 to $15,000 a day as a drug dealer when he was 16 years old. He needed a legal job, so at 18 he went to work for the U.S. Courts and Trade Center. He was in the twin tower on 9/11 when it was hit, somewhere between the 60th and 50th floors. He was one of three people who made it out, he said. He had 13 broken bones and it was three years before he could walk again. Nothing stopped him.

            When he was broke or owed a dealer a lot of money, he went into rehab. When he felt better, he would leave and start all over again. Tomas served time in prison. He was homeless for a time. He went from one woman to another. He has two sons and a daughter. The mother of his daughter told him if he didn’t get out of New York he was going to die. He boarded a bus bound for Youngstown, Ohio, a new start. He carried with him the deaths of one hundred or more friends. When he stepped off the bus, he saw a little New York. He knew if something didn’t change, he was either going to die or kill himself.

            “God gives you things you think you can’t do to make you stronger,” he said.

            He met someone. She believed in him, something he felt he had never experienced before. They went to Florida. They married there. And then they came back to Ohio to clear a felony from his record, misuse of a credit card. It was expunged.

            “I have never failed a drug test,” he said. “Family Recovery saved my life. Laura looked at me and said she could see I was going to make it, I was going to be someone special at FRC.”

            Tomas says a lot of what he was doing was so he would die, “But God has a plan. My life is to help others.” And he said something else: People don’t like for people to be on suboxone, but suboxone allows him to survive without destroying his life. In spite of some mental health diagnoses, he perceives his life to be perfect. He’s there for those who need someone to talk to. He listens and helps them to build a life skills toolbox to get them through. He speaks of his concerns about potent drugs that are coming down the road. He speaks of what he thinks society should be investing in: rehabilitation, shelters, programs, citing that 64 percent of crime is from drug addicts.

            Tomas is optimistic that a difference can be made if we go about it the right way: mental health care, housing and rehabilitation to make people productive.

            This week, the Road of Recovery RV visited FRC offices in Lisbon and Steubenville for Season Three. On the Road of Recovery has interviewed over 250 individuals from 64 counties across Ohio. Tomas shared his story with the crew. Visit www.ontheroadofrecovery.org online to learn more about On the Road of Recovery.

Family Recovery Center has professional staff who are ready to listen when you have no one else to talk to. The goal is for the health and well-being of all. Contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or email info@familyrecovery.org. Visit the website at familyrecovery.org. You can find Family Recovery Center at Facebook. FRC is funded in part by United Way of Northern Columbiana County.

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