Still Fighting-From Boxing Champion to Mental Health Champion
I was a five-time World Boxing Champion and became addicted to opioids.
Long ago, at the age of 21, I made a commitment that I would never let my children see me use. I had pride in my sobriety. Instead of celebrating 30 years of sobriety on August 6th—I’m trying to wrap my head around what happened—how it happened.
After graduating with a BA in Psychology, I turned my longtime passion for fighting into a career.
Growing up, I had always believed that I could conquer anything—I easily manifested my desires. I trained hard and focused my thoughts on signing with the worlds biggest promoter, Don King. I would dream of becoming champion of the world. And in 1997, just how I planned it in my mind, is how it all happened.
In 1997, I was living my dream. I married a man I had always envisioned I would. He was a successful actor, good-looking, charismatic. It was my fairytale. I had my Cinderella wedding, planned perfectly. We had 2 beautiful kids, a girl, and a boy. It was all written like a movie script.
26 years would pass before it all came crashing down. After two decades of fighting and five titles later, my body was suffering. The injuries were debilitating, and I could barely walk anymore, every single step was excruciating.
However, that pain and suffering would pale in comparison to what was about to happen. November 23rd, 2014, I lost my beloved son, Julian, by suicide. Julian was an artist, a very talented one. His work was displayed in galleries, some pieces selling for $1,000 on up—and that was just for replicas. He was beautiful, tall, dark, handsome, mysterious, a deep thinker, eccentric, and always compassionate.
At 17 years old, Julian was diagnosed with schizophrenia. A devastating illness and no known cure. With addiction already in his genes, he began to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.
In 2014 we placed him in a dual diagnosis mental health facility in hopes of getting him sober and back on his meds. We had plans for Thanksgiving the following week and he was looking forward to his December 7th gallery showing. It would never come to be. Without being given his vital meds and in psychosis, he took his life in the bathroom of his room.
The facility would later be found guilty of neglect and falsifying records by the California Department of Health Care Services.
Life became unbearable. Even breathing became difficult and exhausting. Not only was I in mental distress, but physically as well.
The training for boxing can destroy your hips with the constant jarring of hip rotation and heavy weightlifting. Two and a half years after Julian’s passing, I had my hips replaced. I was put on OxyContin for the pain. This was it. This is what I had been searching for, a reprieve from my grief, even if only for a few minutes, to me it was worth it.
There was only one problem to OxyContin, coming down. It left me anxious, paranoid and irritable, but it was a fair trade for the heaven I felt for those first few minutes. What I didn’t know was that it would require more and more to feel that intoxicating bliss, despite only using it a few times.
I loved it so much that the thought of going off of it was unthinkable. I started telling my doctor I was in pain when I was perfectly fine. So I got refill after refill until he finally cut me off. I then started going to other doctors to get it. Eventually, everyone caught on and I was completely cut off.
By this time, If I didn’t have it I would feel miserable. The slightest thing would set me off. One night I did so much, that when I laid down to sleep I saw my son laying next to me. I thought I had died and I didn’t care.
Having been cut off by my doctors, I began getting it from other sources.
What had become of my life? How did it go from living my dream to living a nightmare? What happened to me creating my world? This isn’t what I envisioned. I blamed the universe for not cooperating as it had before.
Then one night, I had a brief reprieve from my pain and had a moment of clarity. I thought of my daughter, Paris. Julian’s beloved sister. If I died, what would become of her? How could I leave her alone? I had to fight as if I were in a championship fight, giving it all I had. I literally crawled out of bed and made my way downstairs, shaky, nauseated, and ridden with anxiety. All the symptoms of withdrawal.
After I managed to bring myself off of the toilet from vomiting, I drove to our local hospital, to chemical dependency, walked in and said, “I’m addicted to opioids and I need help”. I had gone from being a 5-time world champion to the lowest point in my life.
I detoxed and started my life over, a new birth. I had accepted my fall from grace after 30 years of sobriety. I continue to work with others who suffer from addiction and mental illness through my foundation “El Saber es Poder/ Knowledge is Power”.
The road is not easy, but it is well worth it. And although I will always mourn the loss of my son, I know he is always beside me, cheering me on. I now opt for meditation instead of opioids. It is a high that is far better than any drug.
Sometimes in the still, calm night, my son continues to come to me. He looks at me and smiles and in a faint whisper, I hear, “I love you, momma”.