Cleveland State has been second chance for Don Martinez
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG Banner Staff Writer
Apr 06, 2014 | 1247 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Don Martinez
Don Martinez
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Don Martinez knows what it’s like to be overcome with addiction and to also overcome an addiction.

The 44-year-old Cleveland State Community College student once found himself alone on the road dealing with the crushing weight of what he had done.

He said his addiction to methamphetamine 13 years ago ruined his life. Now, he is studying psychology so he can be a substance abuse counselor and help people like the person he used to be.

Martinez said people recovering from substance abuse problems often come to the realization their drug use meant they had spent much of their time taking from society instead of working to better it.

“Now, it’s time to give back,” he said.

He said he used meth for about two or three years. A few months in, he began manufacturing and selling it from his home.

Every day was about him getting his fix and making money so he could make more of the drug so he could continue the cycle again and again. The drug ruled his life.

“There’s no such thing as sanity when it comes to meth,” Martinez said. “There’s really no other way except total insanity.” 

At one point, everything “completely fell apart.” 

He found himself on the side of the highway with nothing but a duffle bag after his obsession had been discovered.

There was no gentle drug rehabilitation program — just the open highway with cars rushing by and the reality of having to quit cold turkey and deal with all the painful withdrawal symptoms.

He later ended up living surrounded by other drug users. He recalled at times being awaken in the middle of the night by them just to do drugs before going back to sleep. Then, “something bad went down one night,” and he had to hit the road again.

“The only direction I had left was home,” Martinez said.

The Miami, Fla., native went to live with his parents who had moved to Tennessee, which he said motivated him to quit for good.

He knew law enforcement officials finding meth on his parents’ property would mean serious legal trouble for them, and it would be his fault. Going home meant having to quit for good.

The following 10 years were what he described as the “most difficult and arduous journey” of his life. On meth, he thought he was invincible. Sober, he came to the realization he was not.

Along the way, Martinez had burned many proverbial bridges, and those who knew him before he became addicted to meth had grown distant because he had lost their trust.

“I didn’t even have the trust of my family. And [that feeling] was deserved,” he said.

He explained the easy part of getting over a meth addiction is actually getting off the meth; the hard part is realizing you have to deal with the consequences of what you did.

Even after he had served some jail time, there was still guilt and the realization there was not much left to go back to career-wise.

Somewhere along the way, he realized he could use his experiences to help others.

Now married for two years to a registered nurse and on good terms with a daughter from the first of his two marriages, he is working toward being the person he wants to be.

To help him celebrate his 10-year sobriety anniversary, his wife signed him up for a placement test as part of his application to Cleveland State.

Today, he is a second-year student getting ready to graduate in March.

“It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” Martinez said.

After being doubted by everyone who knew how he was while dealing with the addiction, he found the faculty and staff at Cleveland State treated him with a kind of respect he had not often received and encouraged him as he got the hang of being a college student.

“I have clawed my way back tooth and nail to get back that respect,” he said. “I’m extremely aggressive when it comes to education. I don’t play with my sobriety.”

Martinez said he now finds himself in a stage of life in which he never thought he would be. After all, he had never even graduated from high school.

Not only is he surviving college, he is doing well. He currently has a 3.8 GPA and is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society on campus.

Now, he attends the same college as his daughter, and his parents who are in their 60s will get to attend his graduation this May.

“They’re going to see their son graduate for the very first time,” Martinez said.

Though college hasn’t always been an easy journey, he said he now deals with stress in healthy ways instead of taking meth. For example, he might go on a bicycle ride to blow off some steam.

Martinez said the faculty and staff at the Cleveland State have been great about helping him when he has needed it. After all, it had been a long time since he had attended school.

He said he once told his academic adviser at Cleveland State that he counted going to college as a great privilege; most of the people he had known while he was dealing with an addiction to meth were “dead or in prison.” 

His experience is different from that of many students because he has had a career, thrown it away, gone to jail and is now working his way into a new career.

Studying at Cleveland State has been a second chance.

“I take my education with a different perspective,” Martinez said. “I’m just having a blast. It’s almost as if I’m reliving my childhood or my career. I have stepped into a world that I never thought I would have.”

After he graduates, he plans to attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to pursue both bachelor’s and master’s degrees so he can become a licensed substance abuse counselor.

While some people might not be as willing to share the mistakes of their past, he said he is candid about sharing his story because it is part of who he is, and it shows what he has overcome.

He said he wants to be a counselor to let people know it is never too late to make positive changes in their lives.

One piece of advice he received while dealing with the after-effects of his own addiction was to make a plan for the future. For him, the plan ended up to get an education and a new career. He was determined to continue to overcome.

“You have to be able to figure out something,” Martinez said. “No matter what you think you’ve done, it’s always fixable.”