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BEAT THE STIGMA | Toledo man shares journey from addiction to sobriety

Juan Duarte has been sober for six years. As we work to beat the stigma, he asks others for grace.

TOLEDO, Ohio — "I'm the guy who used every day for 14 years," Juan Duarte said.

He first started experimenting with drugs and alcohol when he was in high school.

"First time I tried an opiate was when I was 15 years old. I had my wisdom teeth pulled and they gave me some Percocets and I knew that I liked them a lot right away," Duarte said.

By senior year, he was seeking out pain medications wherever he could, taking them every day. He says at this point, addiction hadn't ruled his life but eventually, by his mid-20s, it would.

"I was homeless. Had no friends, no family that could tolerate having me in their life. I would steal from them. I was really lost," Duarte said.

It was also around this time he became a father with a long-term girlfriend. Drugs would take his son away from him. 

"He was sleeping at about seven in the morning in the back seat. We got high with him in the car and she overdosed. When she overdosed, I was driving and racing to the hospital and calling family members. I was scared. I thought she was going to die and my family found out and called CSB (Children Services). CSB got involved and I ended up signing over my rights to my mother," Duarte said.

But it was also Juan's mother who would help him get his life back. 

She went to a local Team Recovery support group meeting to learn about her son's addiction and what she can do to help him. 

She gave him some choices and he joined her at a meeting.

"I had a moment of clarity. I really felt like something happened in that room and I made a serious choice that I wanted to live a better life," Duarte said.

He's been sober for six years. It mean he had to part ways with his son's mother.

RELATED: Toledo City Council grants unanimous approval for 1st special use permit for long-term recovery center

He now works for Team Recovery. The local recovery program, started here in Toledo, is opening a new space for clients to get the continued support they need after detox.

Duarte is a happy guy. He has custody of his son again. 

"He's my best friend. He's my world. I tuck him in every night. I wake him up every day," Duarte said.

He's focused on positivity and being kind to others. 

He's asking people who may have no experience with addiction to save their judgment.

RELATED: 'Now I feel like I have a chance' | Wauseon woman shares path to sobriety

"We're all important to somebody. Everybody that you see that's struggling with something, with addiction, that's somebody's son, somebody's brother, somebody's niece, somebody's nephew. The truth is whoever it is that you're looking down upon or disgruntled with, that's a human behind that's cared about, that's valuable," Duarte said.

"If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Duarte wants you to know that help is available. Click here or call Team Recovery at 419-561-LIFE (5433.)

You can also call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.

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