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Darin's Story

Six years ago, I was sleeping in a stairwell in the dead of winter.  I had been on the streets of Denver for seven years.  My addiction to meth had taken me from the peak of graduating at the University of Colorado Business School, to being covered up in snow and freezing to near death in this outdoor stairwell. When I woke up, a voice inside told me to "Get up now!"  I wandered into a nearby hospital, just trying to get warm. 

A kind woman saw me. Instead of chasing me out, she brought me some hot coffee and started to talk with me in a kind, loving voice.  She asked me how I came to be in such a difficult place in my life as I began to tear up.  She suggested going home to my family, who only lived 30 miles away in Louisville, CO.  I told her I was too ashamed and hadn't contacted them in over 5 years.  They probably thought I was dead.  I then looked at the name of the hospital and it said Rose Medical Center.  I suddenly realized I had walked into the very same hospital I was born in…right then, something clicked.

I followed her advice, and like the prodigal son, I arrived at my parents doorstep on Christmas Day, 2013.  I weighed 110 lbs and was missing teeth.  I was scared and paced in front of the house for 20 minutes before I finally rang the doorbell.  They greeted me with open arms and when I walked in everyone parted ways and I saw my mom standing there with tears of joy in her eyes. A true Christmas miracle.

I told my family I would return but I had "things to take care of in Denver." I left to use that night, and continued for another week.  I simply didn't feel I was worthy of such love after I had abandoned them for so long.  Those were the darkest days of my life.

Luckily, my family kept reaching out. With some difficulty, they were able to help me find a new home, Sobriety House, here in Denver.  We didn't have the money for most treatment centers, but Sobriety House had one bed available if I was willing to give sobriety a real shot. I had no other option but to say yes. That phone call saved my life.

I graduated from Sobriety House but still had some difficulty finding work.  I hadn't had a job in over 7 years, so I started cooking at the Sobriety House during the weekends and found an organization called CrossPurpose that accepted me into their program. CrossPurpose was the start of something big for me.  They helped me pay for school at Emily Griffith where I learned Video Production.  They also helped me get a job at Colorado Public Television as a member of the production crew.  When I got my first paycheck I smiled.  I told them "You know, I used to sleep outside of this building in the alley, now you pay me to be here!", they always get a kick out of that. I continued through CrossPurpose’s career development program. After graduating, I was offered a position at Sobriety House full time as a house manager, which included an apartment and salary.  I have since worked hard to become a counselor (CACI) with this organization and I get pure joy out of helping others find their path out of addiction. 

Over the last 7 years, I have gotten to travel around the world, meet the Pope and Dalai Lama.  I’ve now been skydiving twice, and have found a host of friends that love me for who I am. Most importantly, I continue to practice my program everyday and am of service to several of my AA and CA fellowships.  I have shared my story on Colorado Public Radio and continue to share it at meetings across Denver.  I have found my purpose, and it is sharing my experience so that others may find their way.  But I still had a feeling I had more to give.

Two years into my recovery I was extremely depressed.  I was working, going to school and hitting meetings, but there was a looming darkness in my soul.  I got on my knees, asked my Higher Power for help.  There had to be something more in life.  Life just seemed like an endless treadmill of responsibility.  Where was the joy and happiness my heart yearned for?

The next day, I started noticing violin music everywhere I went.  Coffee shops, grocery stores, on my Pandora station, it was everywhere.  I went to a local meeting called Artists in Recovery and I shared my experience that day.  After the meeting, a woman approached me and said "Darin, you know, I teach violin, would you like to learn?"

My fear responded, "No… I think I’m too old to learn, and I can’t afford lessons or a violin.”

She looked in my eyes and said,"I didn't ask you that”.  “If you are willing to do what I say, I will teach you." Then, she gave me her mother’s violin.  It is the most precious gift I own.

I have been playing violin now for 5  years.  Whenever I start getting into self pity, depression, or fear, I play that violin and it helps me connect to something greater than myself.  It puts me in a state of Flow and time disappears.  All my worries and anxiety settle down and I am free.

That is the gift I have to offer others in recovery from addiction. 

So, when CrossPurpose asked its graduates if they would like to join a new dimension of leadership in the community called the Change Agency, I jumped at the opportunity. It was a 6 month incubator for ideas to create lasting social impact on our community.  I presented my idea for Colorado Artists in Recovery (CAiR), and discovered overwhelming support!  I reached out to my friend Wil Snyder, a local musician and friend in recovery, and he had a vision for our first class. Eight courageous beautiful souls joined us on an exploration of how music can inspire your creative journey.  We completed the class with a performance night, called "Speaking the Language of Music." It was the most incredible spiritual experience of my life.  To see those brave souls get up on stage and perform, with smiles on their faces, was a perfect moment.  As I looked up at the moon and stars that night, I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

There is a poem called "The Touch of the Masters Hand" that I like to turn to in times of darkness, to remind me that life is a journey, and it will be the darkest times of your life that will truly shape who you are...

The audience cheered,

But some of them cried,

"We just don't understand."

"What changed its' worth?"

Swift came the reply.

"The Touch of the Masters Hand."

"And many a man with life out of tune

All battered and bruised with hardship

Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd much like that old violin

A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,

A game and he travels on.

He is going once, he is going twice,

He is going and almost gone.

But the Master comes,

And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,

The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought

By the Touch of the Masters' Hand.

There have been so many blessings in my life over the past six years that it is difficult to share them all now.  However, I’ll leave you with this…

The greatest gift I have been given through all of this is the love and support from my family.  I am the oldest of ten children, and they all thought I was dead.  One night before I got sober, I was telling my mom about my big plans, not realizing that she had heard this so many times before.  I looked at her and she was crying, with deep tears rolling down her cheeks, unlike any I had ever seen.

"Darin, a mother is not supposed to bury her son. That is not how life is supposed to happen."

I believe my spirit shifted in that moment.  Choosing a life of sobriety has enabled me to be the son, brother, and man...I was always meant to be.  This is a gift that I wish to help others realize in their lives.

Thank you for the opportunity to share this with someone who is struggling right now... whether it’s the addict, or someone who loves them.

I love you and you can do this!

Reach out and let’s continue this journey together.

In loving service,

Darin Valdez

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