Editor's note: This is the eighth story in a series highlighting an individual's experiences on the road to substance abuse recovery on Guam. The series aims to shed light on Guam's need for resources to effectively administer its drug treatment programs.
He found it in a thrift shop — a wooden frame wrapped in a dark cloth with a Bible verse printed on top. The words are from Jeremiah 29:11 – it speaks about God's plans for prosperity and a bright future. The frame now sits on a bed stand inside Saxon Gayo's home, where he would read it in the mornings.
Tucked inside the plastic corner on the frame was a photograph of his parents, both of whom are now deceased. Outside the bedroom is a calendar, pasted onto a refrigerator, and marked for each day spent without alcohol – 253 days when Gayo spoke to The Guam Daily Post in April.
All of it — the verse, the photograph and each day marked on the calendar – served as Gayo's rewards for one more day of waking up alive and sober.
Gayo is a recovering alcoholic. He developed the addiction more than a year ago, following the death of his mother in February 2018. The two of them were close, he said, and her death impacted him greatly.
To cope, Gayo turned to vodka. For six months, he drank.
"And drank, and drank, and drank until I probably just passed out anywhere and everywhere," he said.
Gayo said he was afraid to move on, didn't know who to turn to and was confused.
"I used alcohol to hide my feelings and my suffering because I didn't think that anybody else would understand me. I was in a hole, ... I wanted to just die," Gayo said.
In May 2018, Gayo would be hospitalized. He was driving home from work. He neared a gas station in Sinajana but in an instant found himself over a concrete island on the roadway. Gayo recalls seeing a medic attend to him but not much else.
He had experienced a seizure.
The accident left him physically OK, but doctors then referred Gayo to New Beginnings, the drug and alcohol treatment branch under Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center. The referral, he said, was due to his partner believing he had an alcohol problem.
A doctor would later tell Gayo his liver was damaged and he was having seizures because he was stressed and unhealthy.
But when Gayo walked into New Beginnings, he walked out almost immediately – a product of his pride, he said.
"I was in denial. ... I did not want to be seen there. 'Why? I can handle my alcohol,'" Gayo told the Post.
But in August — about three months after the accident — Gayo would nearly face death a second time. It was this experience that would finally pave the way to treatment.
"I was driving to my mom's house in Yigo. I got into a car accident. I went across to the other lane and my car was totally smashed. God was with me, my mom was my angel. I walked out of there with no bruises, nothing at all," Gayo said.
'They love you'
He hadn't drunk that day but likely drank the night before, Gayo added. He marked that day on a calendar with the word "accident" written in large bold letters. Directly beneath that, Gayo wrote the word "died."
"After the hospital, the doctor said, 'There's nothing I can do for you, this is your second time," Gayo said. "I died already but I don't know how I was alive. ... I walked into New Beginnings on Aug. 13."
At the facility, Gayo met a case worker from Oasis Empowerment Center who spoke to him about the organization.
Gayo was several months into the outpatient program at Oasis when he met with the Post. The group treats you as family, Gayo said, and walking into that facility every Tuesday and Thursday morning always inspired excitement.
"They treat you like a human being. They love you. They hold your hand. They're angels. They prepare you. And we need more people like that to guide us. I read the newspaper all the time about the drugs. We are labeled as drug addicts, as alcoholics. But they don't know the story behind it," he said. "If I walk in that street you wouldn't even know what's going on in my mind. But if you tell the story, this is what I want to accomplish. That I am normal people. Just as much as everybody else."
Oasis is providing Gayo the tools to maintain his sobriety. His liver is even healing – another miracle, according to Gayo. But while he might be able to now distance himself from the disease that nearly killed him, Gayo had not come out without some scars.
Alcoholism had placed significant burden on his relationship with his partner. Under its influence, Gayo said, he became violent: "To the point where I was chasing him with machetes."
Speaking about those experiences didn't come without difficulty. Throughout his life, Gayo had worked in a bank, operated his own business as a wedding coordinator and made a successful life for himself. But in the end, due to alcohol and his behavior, Gayo said, he lost respect from his family and, especially, his partner.
Slowly, he is rebuilding that trust.
Vodka, the opponent
During the final meeting with the Post, Gayo tried to explain his situation with a demonstration. He brought out a chess board with a few pieces on each side – kings, queens, bishops, knights and some pawns.
"I don't know the rules but we'll make our own rules," Gayo said.
He picked up a king — his father, who died 10 years ago — and placed it on edge of the chess board. Then, he picked up a queen — his mother, who died last year after battling cancer – and did the same.
"Today, I'm the princess," he added, pointing to another piece. "And I have a prince," he said, referring to his partner.
Other pieces represented family and friends, forming a barrier around the piece Gayo said represented him. If one of those remaining pieces were no longer there, that leaves an opening for a piece from the opposing side to come forward, he added. Gayo named that piece vodka.
"He can destroy me anytime he wants to because I have no more willpower. The only person that can protect me is my prince," Gayo said. "My question is, because I hurt him in every emotional, physical, mental, financial — is he really going to protect me? That's where I'm at today."
Sewing and healing
Gayo and his partner live in a quiet home nestled in scenic Ipan. In order to concentrate on his recovery, Gayo has temporarily restricted himself from employment. But to keep himself busy, he visits thrift shops.
To remove remnants of alcohol from his home, Gayo converted an entertainment room just a short distance from the entryway. The bar he used to host party guests on numerous occasions no longer exists. Karaoke speakers sit idle in one corner of the room while at the center, the remains of a billiards table have a new life as a holding place for piles upon piles of shirts, dresses and hats.
A photograph of his mother sat on a work table in another corner of the room, adjacent to that was a sewing machine.
Gayo would take clothes he'd find in thrift shops and repair and redesign them – a hobby he had just recently started.
"I have my mom and then I have my sewing machine, and my computer here. And all the clothes you can imagine," Gayo said. "This is part of my healing. I keep myself busy."
Gayo is working toward becoming a social worker and counseling at Oasis.
'We're dying for help'
The island needs more treatment centers, such as Oasis and Lighthouse Recovery Center, he said. But Gayo also understands that these centers need more funding in order to improve existing services. Hiring more police officers and security, while an effort to stop drug importation, doesn't help mental health services, Gayo added.
"Before we got addicted to drugs and other substances, we were human beings. We were fathers, mothers, grandparents, we got kids," he said. "Our lives were destroyed because of drugs. We need help. We're dying for help."
Gayo said the trust between himself and his partner is about 80% repaired.
"He's working on I trust you with the car, here's some money," Gayo said.
Taking baby steps
It's a battle, he added. The moment Gayo fails to use the tools taught to him by Oasis is the moment that proverbial game of chess ends, he said. To prevent that, he can work on maintaining his defense line – those pieces on the board – so they can all protect each other. But at this point, Gayo is giving himself time before completely re-associating with friends.
"I gotta protect myself. I cannot go to parties with them. I can relapse with whatever is in front of me. (But) I cannot also cage myself in this house because I'm human. I need people to touch me, I need people to talk to me. I need to go out to society. I cannot be here 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So I gotta learn. It's like baby steps again."