Sierra Castedo recalls drinking kahlua with milk as early as age 10. She grew up outside of the U.S. in an environment that was more permissive when it came to youth alcohol use. Having a drink at a young age under parental supervision “wasn’t a big deal.” She drank every day in college, but she was making good grades so she didn’t believe she was an addict – at least not a typical addict.
Nigel Cunningham Williams began getting high every single day when he started attending a public high school. His grades and attendance dropped, his group of friends changed – and his parents decided military school was the answer. (It wasn’t.) After barely graduating from high school, he transitioned from marijuana to mushrooms to methamphetamines. It was only after attending the funeral of a friend who had overdosed that he realized the body in the casket could have been his own.
In one of our plenary sessions at our recent Statewide Summit, Cynthia Schiebel – a licensed professional counselor, trainer, and life coach who has been sober and in recovery for more than 30 years – led a conversation with Sierra and Nigel, who shared their stories of recovery and hope with our Statewide Summit attendees.
Today, Sierra and Nigel are both in long-term recovery, and they are dedicating their lives to helping others who are struggling with addiction as well. Sierra is President of the Center for Students in Recovery at the University of Texas at Austin; Nigel works with Rise Recovery in San Antonio.
The “Stories of Hope” panel reminds us that addiction does not discriminate, that access to drugs and alcohol is easier than we realize, and that younger people are the most vulnerable.
The panelists’ stories also remind us why our prevention work is especially important – if we can make changes in our communities so that it’s harder for all youth to access substances, not only can we help prevent more young people from encountering some of the difficulties that Sierra and Nigel faced, but we can also help save lives.
We are grateful Cynthia, Sierra, and Nigel took the time to share their stories and inspire Summit attendees to keep working towards creating healthier, safer communities for all Texans.