A page from Ruben’s diary

By Nicholas Williams, 17, Daniel Murphy HS
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Ruben Lopez seemed insecure at first about telling his story. He sat with his arms folded and spoke in very short sentences.

He said he is in his sixth month of rehabilitation for alcoholism. He was ordered by the court to enter rehab after getting into trouble while drinking. He has had three D.U.I.’s, gotten into fights and arguments, and broken windows trying to get into cars and houses—all under the influence.

Ruben entered rehab after finally getting thrown out of his family’s house in northern California. After putting up with his excessive drinking for years, his mother couldn’t take it anymore.

That night he went to a bar with some friends to get drunk. Heavily intoxicated, he got into an argument with another man at the bar. When Ruben got into his car to drive home, the same guy and his friends yanked Ruben from his car and put a gun to his head. They took all of his money and drove him into an orchard in the middle of nowhere. He woke up moments later and began to walk to find a telephone. He called his friends and asked them to come and get him.

Ruben realized at that point it had gone too far. A friend told him about the Asian American Drug Abuse Program (AADAP). "I was on the first ticket to L.A.," said Ruben.

Ruben’s childhood wasn’t too bad. He was close with his family, and they were supportive of him. "I was even spoiled at times," said Ruben.

He went to church every Sunday. He played sports, particularly football. He carried a 3.87 GPA while in high school. He got accepted to Fresno and San Diego State. Ruben would also go to parties where alcohol was common and drinking was more of a social thing. Everything seemed good for Ruben. He had his life set, right?

Early in his senior year, he injured his leg and was out for the entire season. This was the beginning of his nightmare. He couldn’t play ball, so he stayed home. "I drank because I was bored," he said. Soon, his senior year became unmanageable. Ruben fell into a depression and had to drink just to get through the day.

By 19, his drinking was severe

By 19, he was a "blackout drinker," meaning he would drink to the point where he would pass out. Many times, after he awakened, his friends would tell him all the crazy things he did while he was drunk—the fighting, yelling and other acts of incoherent behavior. Ruben said that peer pressure caused him to drink excessively. As he got older, his friends got into illegal drugs like acid and methamphetamine. "I liked it," said Ruben, "but alcohol was my drug."

One of Ruben’s main concerns in his life now is his little brother Brian, 13. He doesn’t want to see his brother go down the same road. He feels a lot of guilt and shame because he is not there for him at an important age in his life.

If his brother were to turn to drugs, Ruben said, "It would tear me up because I spent so much time telling him it’s bad for you."

When I visited the drug rehab center a month later, I found Ruben doing much better. I asked if he has accepted the fact that he needs help and is in rehab. His response was, "It’s really hard to accept. I should be graduating from college already. I can’t believe I’m here but I’m building myself up."

I also asked him what he values in life now. He said he values the love his mother has for him. "I see that my mom’s just deteriorating because of the worry I’m putting her through. I just told my father last week that I loved him." He also values life more. "Even trees and museums, you know," he said happily.

As part of the program, residents have to do a creative project. Ruben seemed as excited as a little kid to show us a picture of Jesus that he drew for his project. "Got to watch what I feed my spirit," he said.

Towards the end of our interview, as we said "goodbye" and "good luck" to each other, Ruben got very emotional after talking about his problems to me. "Keep it up at L.A. Youth," he said, tears filling his eyes. He sat down on a green couch in a corner of the recreation room and held his hands over his face, to hide the tears. After a few seconds, he pulled himself together and walked back to his room.