Anthony Alvarado still vividly recalls the fateful day his then 3-year-old son looked him in the eyes and said, “Dad, don’t die.”
It was eight years ago, and Alvarado was battling a severe drug addiction that was marked with feelings of hopelessness and suicidal temptations.
Through a series of positive, life-altering circumstances, Alvarado eventually turned his life around. Today, he heads Rise Together, a statewide outreach organization that aims to bring resources on the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction to teens.
Alvarado and other Rise Together organizers visited Brookfield Central High School last month to share personal, dramatic, tear-jerking stories on the destructive path drugs and alcohol can have when addiction is added into the mix.
When he began using drugs as a teen, Alvarado admitted the experience was fun and exciting. But, as so often goes the story, the situation eventually spiraled out of control.
“It started out as innocent. I didn’t know I came from a family that had a disease of addiction,” Alvarado said to hundreds of students in a Brookfield Central gymnasium. “But I eventually became wrapped up in my own insanity and darkness. It was hard to get out.”
Douglas Darby has a similar story. He did not mince words as he shared with local high schoolers some of his past mistakes, which included holding up pharmacists on multiple occasions to obtain such drugs as oxycontin.
Darby, who co-founded Rise Together with Alvarado, said he is no longer defined by his past and emphatically told Brookfield high-schoolers that he is living out his dreams.
“You can be whatever you want,” Darby said to the crowd. “But it won’t just be given to you. You’re going to have to fight and claw your way to achieve it.”
The road to sobriety was anything but smooth for Darby, who lost his father to suicide when he was a teenager. Darby served time in prison for his offenses and underwent an intensive, excruciating series of sobriety exercises. He also attempted suicide when he was first admitted into the prison system.
“But I stand here before you today, and I like who I am,” Darby said.
A series of interactive exercises with the Brookfield high school students revealed that the messages of Alvarado, Darby and others hit home.
When asked whether the crowd knew a peer who drank or used drugs, almost everyone raised a hand. After several additional questions, a few dozen students raised a hand when asked whether they knew someone who died of a drug overdose.
Several Brookfield Central student groups were instrumental in bringing Rise Together’s organizers to the school, including the local Students Against Drunk Driving chapter and an organization known as Peer Helpers.
Jill Michalak, a Spanish teacher at Brookfield Central, serves as co-advisor of the two student groups. Michalak said Rise Together was chosen as an organization to speak to high schoolers after an exhaustive search and review process.
In addition to the all-school assembly during the day, Alvarado, Darby and other Rise Together organizers spoke to parents and other members of the Brookfield-Elm Grove community during a separate evening session.