Enfermedad del Alma: An Illness of the Soul

Art by Yoni Perla
Writing by Maria Jose Rodriguez Velazquez

Miguel Sánchez is a distinguished 64 year-old man. He has accomplished grand things through his professional career; he led the national association of entrepreneurship in Mexico (COPARMEX), held an important position in the city hall, as well as in DuPont and his father’s company. Now, he devotes his time to caring for his cattle and farm. But Miguel has a problem, one that he describes as “incurable, progressive and deadly”: his addiction to alcohol and drugs, specifically cannabis and cocaine. 

Miguel’ first memory was of him as an infant dipping his pinky in a Don Julio 70, and having a cup of rompope, a mexican liquor, along with his brothers and sisters. In his household, it was customary to drink alcohol with every meal. His grandfather was Spanish, and mocked people who would drink water during their meals, stating “water was for the chicken in the farm.” His father had every kind of liquor in their in-home bar, and beer would never be missing from the fridge. Drinking was part of their household, embedded in their identity. 

But to Miguel, that was not the cause of his addiction. None of his siblings, he recounts, are addicts, and they were all raised in the same environment. To Miguel, the root of his addiction lies somewhere in the way he was born; “maybe I’m hypersensitive or something” he said half kidding, and half wondering. “But addiction,” he described, “is an illness of the soul. It is a grudge you hold of a moment in your childhood that inhibits you from ever feeling loved. It is an obsession and a compulsion. It is something that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.” For him, it was a moment when his father verbally abused him. Although his father regularly abused his siblings as well, for some reason it only stuck with Miguel and will forever be. 

“I started smoking weed in college, and drank way before that” Miguel graduated from a Mexican college and began working in the cattle industry, where he met people who introduced him to cocaine. “When I lived in Mexico City and worked at DUPONT, I would do cocaine daily. My wife (now ex-wife) didn’t like it, so I began to reduce how much I took but I never stopped drinking.” He told me of a time he was up all night drinking alone, and had to take a plane early in the morning for a business convention. Upon arriving at the hotel, a luxurious Sheraton, he laid on a couch and stayed there all day. When he finally woke up, he went to the bar and ordered a beer. 

His journey to heal began in a somewhat unconventional fashion. Miguel had a friend, el Güero, who was also an addict. Miguel was worried for him, and convinced el Güero’s brother to put him in rehab. Once el Güero was sober, he approached Miguel and also urged him to get help, warning him to “no molarla”, not to screw his life up. Miguel, of course, did not initially accept his addiction, but el Güero gave him an ultimatum: either he attended an AA meeting, or he would let his cattle go, which was normally kept on el Güero’s farm. “El Güero did end up letting all my cattle go into the highway, so I had to recruit some cowboys to put them back in their corral; it took hours.” After that, Miguel went to his first AA meeting with a friend (and now sponsor in AA). 

“I couldn’t believe my friend made me go. I told him ‘Bro, did you see the group? It was full of murders, and criminals. I’m not a murder!’. But my friend responded ‘You killed your wife’s hopes and dreams. You killed your children’s tranquility, making them constantly worry about you, and their tenderness. So yes, you are a killer.” After this conversation, Miguel approached the Virgin of Guadalupe statue right outside where the AA meeting took place. It was raining heavily, and the floor was muddy. “My friend told me ‘kneel, and truly ask God to give you strength, because you are about to begin a harsh but beautiful trip.” That night, Miguel slept like a baby. The next morning, when he woke up, instead of grabbing a cold beer, he opted for orange juice. 

As of today, Miguel has not had a drink or done drugs for 24 years. He enjoys the simple pleasures of soberness, like feeling fresh in the morning instead of hungover, and waking up early to go sailing and fishing. However, he did tell me he is currently going through another addiction: codependence. His son, Antonio, is also an addict and is currently in a rehab program. Miguel tells me his codependency addiction is harmful for his son, because he always solved all of his problems and protected him. He hopes to get better, for his sake and the sake of his son. 

In our conversation I brought to his attention how we have been discussing addiction’s heritability. Miguel did tell me that although through his side of his family there was no addiction he was aware of, the family of his ex-wife had many addicts. I also told him how I’ve been trying to find a way to help people with an addiction, to which he responded “the best thing we could do, as a society, would be to stop people from ever crossing that threshold that takes them to become addicts. Years ago, in my AA group you could only find 30-year-olds, and now I frequently see new 12-year-olds attending meetings.” 

Talking to Miguel was an amazing experience. I was nervous of saying something that might trigger him in some way, but Miguel was so open and honest and we ended up having an incredible chat and even traded emails. He promised to send me conferences and literature about addiction, and even agreed to have lunch in the future. At the end, I thanked him for sharing his experience, to which he answered “Majo, thank you for listening. Believe it or not, talking about all of this is tremendous help for me, so thank you.”