Anthony Guerra, Counselor, C|M Men’s Treatment Program

Meet Anthony. Love Changes Everything. He lived a life controlled by drugs and alcohol until he almost lost his family. Now, Anthony has over five years of continuous recovery and works in the Men’s Treatment Program at CLARE|MATRIX.

When did you begin working in treatment?

I began working at CLARE|MATRIX in March 2017. I had just celebrated two years of continuous recovery, and I started a job as an alcohol and drug counselor soon after. There was a time when I could have never imagined myself working in treatment — now I can’t see myself doing anything else. I have the opportunity to pass on the gift of a new life in the same way that it was given to me, and that is a blessing.

Tell us about yourself. What was your life like growing up?

I was born in East L.A., a fourth generation gang member. I was raised in a dangerous environment and was taught all the wrong things. I was subjected to pit fighting and criminal activity beginning at the age of five. I did not have the privilege of a childhood as I was always in survival mode.

From the third grade I was molded into the gang life of drug dealing and crime. For the majority of my life, that is all I knew. I was never taught another way until I came to CLARE|MATRIX. I did not even know there was a possibility of another way to live until I got to CLARE|MATRIX. I have been in the system since I was 11 years old, and I am still working to satisfy the courts as a result of the wreckage of my past. Today, I live by the book. I have had eight felonies expunged from my record. I work hard, pay taxes, and honestly support my family.

Was there a moment in life where you realized you needed help to stop drinking and using?

I was the type of addict that would have been considered “functional,” and since the birth of my daughters I always tried my best to be a part of their lives. One night, I called them to sing the “Night-Night” song, and they would not answer the phone. I later found out that they had matured enough to realize the harm I was causing to myself and to them, and they refused to have any contact with me until I agreed to get help. I realized in that moment that I had become everything in the world I hated most, which was my dad. I am not religious, but that night I prayed to God asking for help. I prayed for the strength to stop and get clean and made a commitment to stay clean if my prayers were answered. That was almost six years ago and my life only continues to improve.

What has been one of your most challenging experiences in recovery?

I come from a world where if something was frustrating or threatening to me, I would do whatever I could to remove the situation, no matter the cost. Now, because of the coping skills I have gained through recovery, I handle everything differently. I understand tolerance, acceptance and patience, and I am able to face challenges from the perspective that problems are merely situations that have not yet been solved.

How has your life experience led you to working in treatment?

My life experience gives me an advantage at my job by allowing me to relate to many of the people in our programs on a unique level. It gives value to my experience and allows me to meet people where they are in order to bring them up to a better place in life. Without my life experience, I don’t think I would be able to relate as well as I do. The people in our programs know they can come to me with anything, and the fact that I went through the same program gives them hope for their own futures.

What is the most fulfilling part of the work you do in the Men’s Treatment Program?

There are so many gratifying things about my job. But one of the best things is when I have a person that was in the program reach out and invite me to celebrate their recovery anniversary. To hear them thank me for the part I played in their recovery is priceless. Also, I tell all of them that if they make it to one year, I will buy them a cake — it’s the best when they come to cash in on that promise. Or when they get jobs or cars, they call me so I can be a part of their progress and growth.

What is your favorite thing about CLARE|MATRIX?

The people. The people in the programs and the people I work with. I am a product of this place, and I am living proof that this program works. I hold CLARE|MATRIX dearly in my heart. This is where it all started for me. And the fact that I actually get to work here, dedicate my life to the place that helped save it, is amazing to me. If it wasn’t for CLARE|MATRIX, I would probably be serving a 25-year-to-life sentence right now. The fact that I am a free man is evidence that I have a purpose here and I am right where I am supposed to be.

What are you grateful for today?

I am grateful for my recovery and for the gifts I receive daily from living an honest life. I am grateful for the fact that I get to wake up every morning with the ability to make healthy choices. I get to choose between plotting and praying. I’m grateful I choose to pray. I am able to be there for my children today. I get to be a husband, son, role model, and an inspiration for others who are struggling with addiction. I’m grateful that I am able to provide hope to the people that need it most. I am under no disillusion that I am in control. I know the only reason I am where I am today is because I choose to stay in faith, continue to grow in my recovery, and always focus on my primary purpose, which is helping others recover.

Is there anything else you would like for us to know?

I was an everyday drug user for 37 years, and I did not believe that I deserved any life beyond that. I had to learn that I was worthy of something better and I was capable of living a good life. Understanding and working through my emotions allowed me to keep what I have today. No matter what I’ve done in my past, I will not allow it to define who I am today. I am not the same person anymore. Today, I do what I need to do so I can do what I want to do, because I do not like being told what to do. I stay clean and sober so that my children never have to see me high again. I spent the majority of my life taking. Today, I am grateful that I get to give back and make up for some of the damage I did.