Taking a different path | PostIndependent.com

Taking a different path

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” These days Charlie says he just puts on his headphones and hops on his bike if he’s feeling stressed or thinking about drinking or smoking marijuana.

Before he was drinking a lot, smoking pot every day, ditching class and on the verge of going to jail.

Charlie, who asked that his full name and age not be used, was born in and grew up in Glenwood Springs. He went to Glenwood Springs High School for two years before going to Bridges.

“When I was a freshman, my sister was a senior so that’s really what kicked it off,” he said. “I started partying with her friends and started smoking pot.”

Charlie said it wasn’t long before he became a “chronic user” and started smoking every day and drinking a lot. He reckons he’s got an addictive personality and said alcoholism runs in part of his family.

“I have alcohol problems in my past,” he said. “It’s in my blood.”

Things started traveling faster downhill when he was 16. He’d use almost any event to justify drinking. He even had a plan to buy and take over a bike shop with his mom to eventually own his own business. But he got fired from the job for drinking after working there for years.

He said he was getting mostly B grades in his freshman year but was lucky to get Bs by the end of his sophomore year.

“On lunch periods I’d go get stoned. A friend would bring a bottle. I’d get too drunk to go back to class and ditch,” he said.

He started going to Bridges after two years at GSHS but that didn’t work out for him either. He’d always wanted to go to an alternative school and had friends there who loved it. Plus it was close to home.

His mom wanted him to stay in the more traditional GSHS and graduate with his class, but he eventually talked his parents into it. His dad, who got divorced from his mom around three years ago, wasn’t as attached to the idea of staying at GSHS.

Charlie said he ended up often just going to school, getting his work, leaving and getting high. He dropped out during his junior year but is still working toward getting a GED.

“Really school’s not for me,” he said. “I like to be hands on rather than sitting in the classroom.”

Charlie got arrested for a DUI in Rifle in February 2007, just two weeks after pleading guilty to a drug paraphernalia charge. The paraphernalia charge plea came from a case in which he was charged also with driving under the influence of drugs and marijuana distribution, he said.

He’d had a total of about seven run-ins with the police for various alcohol and marijuana related violations leading up to the DUI, he said, acknowledging he’d gotten a number of breaks, extra chances and deferred judgments and sentences.

Before the DUI, Charlie was at a party in Rifle. They found the party was “lame” and decided to leave around 1 or 2 a.m.

Charlie stopped at a red light and saw a police vehicle across the intersection. He looked at the light, looked down and just stepped on the accelerator. He was drunk and figured the light was blinking since he was used to driving in Glenwood Springs, where the traffic lights flash after midnight, he said.

It wasn’t his first time. He even knew the laws relating to DUIs, and how he could get an automatic year’s suspension of his driver’s license for refusing to take a breathalyzer test.

“I drank and drove a lot,” he said, adding that probably over half the time he drove he was drinking or stoned.

He had to pay $300 to get his car from the impound lot plus $500 in court fines. He pleaded guilty to a DUI and received probation.

Charlie said he kept getting high and failed his first drug test on probation. They gave him an extra year and he was referred through probation to the Roaring Fork Counseling Center’s Pathways program. The program is meant to provide specialized counseling for juveniles at a high risk of going to jail or prison.

At first to talk of addiction and problems seemed crazy.

“When I actually started pathways I walked in and was like, ‘I don’t need this I can quit,'” Charlie said. “Probably a quarter of the way through it I thought, ‘Well, I’m paying for it, I might as well take it in, participate.’ One and a half years later I’m still in the classes. I haven’t drank for six months.”

He said he hasn’t smoked marijuana for even longer.

Charlie failed a drug test for alcohol around six months ago after a run in with Jack Daniels on a camping trip. He got drunk and woke up and started drinking the next day and happened to be called in for a drug test afterward. He said he had been taking the program seriously but still drank here and there.

About a year before that, he’d failed a drug test for cocaine, which he said he didn’t do as much as pot or drinking, usually just on the weekends.

He said he ended up having to pay $12 a day for two months for an ankle bracelet that monitored his sweat for alcohol. He’d have to go to jail if he drank.

“It really changed my way of looking at life,” he said. “My whole motto was ‘lets get drunk,’ but after being completely sober for two months, my mind was clear, I could remember what I did last night. … At first I thought ‘this sucks,’ but after a month I thought, ‘I really like this.'”

He felt really good seeing himself sober for two months.

Charlie said the counseling in the pathways program mostly focused on trying to identify and change beliefs that led to problematic behavior. He likes the group counseling sessions over one-on-one counseling, which he hates.

“Pathways definitely changed the way I think because of the classes,” he said. “What they really focus on is your beliefs.”

He also found support from his counselor, probation officer, family and friends helpful.

“Even when I get off probation I still want to be clean, be my regular self, and not need to use drugs,” Charlie said, adding he’s not sure yet if he’ll have to permanently quit drinking.

He said he recently moved out into an apartment and has been working at the hot springs pool. It’s nice not spending all his money on beer.

Charlie hopes to get a business degree and one day own his own business. And there’s always biking.

“I bought a road bike just to get around town, but when I got my DUI it became my main transportation everywhere,” he said. “Biking has really helped because when I feel stressed or anything like that I just put my headphones on and go.”

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