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Out of the darkness

DUII court participant describes journey from drunken child to young man seeking sobriety


by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Ian Wahlstrom, pictured at an Oxford House in Hillsboro, is a participant in Beaverton's Sobriety Opportunity for Beginning Recovery diversion court program. He knows it will be a struggle to be sober for the rest of his life.Ian Wahlstrom has some reasonably fond memories of his childhood in Southeast Portland. After age 5, most of them involve drinking with his mother.

“The first time I drank was when I was 5 years old,” the 22-year-old says. “It was on my fifth birthday. I wanted a beer. I don’t remember what I was thinking, but I remember really liking it and asking mom for more. Most of the time she’d give it to me.”

A self-described “mama’s boy,” Ian figured out early on that mom had a serious drinking problem. He was concerned, but did his best to be a good kid and spend as much time with her as he could. By the time he was 14, he accompanied his mother to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

“I would go to support her, and we would drink before we went,” he recalls. “It wasn’t very effective.”

AA didn’t work for Ian’s mom, who he says still struggles with alcoholism, but lately it’s helped change his own life for the better. He didn’t start going by choice, however. Ian is one of about 25 active defendants in the Beaverton Sobriety Opportunity for Beginning Recovery special court.

A three-year, $125,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation funds B-SOBR, an intense, treatment-driven program for individuals who continued to drive motor vehicles while their drinking or drug use spiraled beyond control. The funding covers Case Manager Jennifer Rivas’ salary, home visits from Beaverton police officers and other related costs.

Led by Les Rink, associate judge in the city of Beaverton’s Municipal Court, B-SOBR is based on the premise that true alcoholics and addicts who drive illegally require a different type of attention than the occasional drinker who has a lapse in judgment. Participants agree to strict conditions in exchange for remaining out of jail, among them ongoing sobriety and urine tests, commitment to AA and seeking employment, and surprise visits from Rivas or a police officer.

From the ground up

Thanks largely to the program’s intervention, Ian — who went from alcohol and marijuana in his early teens on his way to full-blown heroin addiction — has come a long way since his two arrests for driving under the influence of intoxicants in January of both 2011 and 2012.

As of last Thursday, he’s been sober more than 450 straight days. After completing a rehabilitation program at Serenity Lane in Southwest Portland, he is an active and engaged AA participant.

Since February, Ian’s worked as a machine mechanic at the Four Seasons Bowling Center in Hillsboro, where he lives in a self-directed addiction recovery residence run by the nonprofit Oxford House Inc. He has a girlfriend, and plans to enter the microelectronics program at Portland Community College.

To the extent that a recovering addict can be, Ian — a tall, handsome young man who exudes a sharp intellect and sense of perception — is excited about his future.

“I’m trying hardest to just live in the moment and not worry about what’s next,” he says. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen today, tomorrow, next year or five years from now. I’m just trying to make the best decisions I can make right now and end up where I end up.”

Less than two years ago, it looked as if that would be jail or life on the street.by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Ian Wahlstrom talks about finding a power bigger than himself to help him be sober.

‘Everything was OK’

By the time a Beaverton police officer pulled him over on Southwest Allen Boulevard on his way from a party in Lake Oswego to another in Beaverton in January 2011, Ian had added heroin to his pharmaceutical menu. By then, that included cocaine, ecstasy and prescription painkillers, in addition to beer and booze.

As to the allure and effect of the opiate-based heroin on his state of mind, Ian pulls no punches.

“I don’t know how else to describe it other than it’s the best feeling in the world,” he admits. “I’d never felt anything like it. Everything was OK.

“Of course, the negative consequences of doing it are not worth it. It’s not a life.”

Describing his father — who divorced Ian’s mom, remarried and moved to Lake Oswego — as caring but passive to a fault, Ian more or less did what he wanted as an adolescent.

“He does his own thing, and he lets other people do their own thing,” he says. “I was never told to do my homework, to brush my teeth or go to bed. I did, or didn’t, do all that stuff on my own.

“My dad knew I was smoking weed every day,” he adds. “Every once in awhile, he’d say ‘I’m concerned about you,’ and that ‘Smoking weed too often will stunt your emotional growth.’ I knew I was going to do what I wanted to do.”

It probably didn’t help matters that Ian had little trouble maintaining A’s and B’s at Waluga Junior High and Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego.

“School always came pretty easy to me, even though I was getting (high) all the time and the rest of my life was chaos,” he says. “Growing up, I always felt I was going to have a bigger purpose. I had this feeling inside of me that I was going to do something with my life. Maybe that had something to do with me keeping up in school even though everything else was falling apart.”

By his junior year, Ian’s father and stepmom had moved to Farmington. Rather than transfer to Hillsboro High School, he dropped out of Lakeridge, eventually landing a job at Safeway. When he took the General Equivalency Diploma test, he earned the 13th highest score in Oregon.

“They sent me a high school diploma,” he says. “I don’t even know what Hillsboro High School looks like.”

At the crossroads

Claiming he was “only drunk” the first time he was pulled over, Ian’s only regret was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I recognized it was a bad decision afterwards, only because I got caught,” he says. “There was nothing that phased me. I drove drunk many times before that and many times after that.”

As he had with school, Ian sailed through the basic court diversion program, even managing to keep his multiple indulgences from affecting his urine analysis tests.

“I manipulated the s—t out of that program,” he admits. “I didn’t want to get sober.”

Though only a fender bender at dusk on Highway 217, his second DUII arrest, on Jan. 18, 2012, proved a life changer.

“I’d been up for probably 36 hours. I was drunk, high on X (ecstasy), acid and heroin,” he says. “It was bumper to bumper traffic. I simply didn’t hit the brakes.”

When he got out of jail at 4 a.m. the next morning, all he cared about was getting his next fix. Ian and the friend who picked him up stayed up yet another night, this time with the help of “a bunch of blow.”

“I knew there was going to be some repercussions from it down the road,” he says of his second run-in with the law.

Knowing he needed a course adjustment, but fearful he might sabotage any opportunity that would keep him out of jail, Ian remained ambivalent about the B-SOBR program — up until the moment he walked into the courtroom with Frank Revelo, his court-appointed attorney.

“That decision to enter the program rather then enter jail stands today as the most important decision I’ve ever made for myself in life,” he says. “I would’ve been way out of jail by now, and probably been back to jail on my third DUI. Based on where my life was headed, I could’ve been anywhere from homeless to dead to in prison.”

Clear thinking

Despite what he describes as one relapse “hiccup” early in his treatment, Ian’s maintained his sobriety since February 2012.

While it’s tempting to interpret Ian’s articulate, enthusiastic demeanor as a harbinger of a successful outcome, B-SOBR Case Manager Jennifer Rivas takes the cautiously optimistic approach to her client.

“I would say Ian is in the ‘action’ stage, where he is taking daily action to get further away from the possibility of relapse,” she says. “Is he cured forever? No. Will he relapse again? I don’t know.”

That said, she admits Ian shows plenty of signs of someone who wants a better life.

“The program is designed so that everyone has to do something daily to support a sober lifestyle. Most of our participants do,” she says. “Some seem more motivated than others. Ian is definitely motivated.”

While hesitant to suggest he has anything beat or figured out, Ian feels good about the way his new path is unfolding.

“I want to be sober for the rest of my life,” he says. “I’m going to do everything in my power to stay sober for the rest of my life. It’s really one day at a time, as long as I have the mindset to stay sober today.”

On a good day, he admits, things are better than ever before.

“This is, in my opinion, how life is supposed to be lived. Not putting stuff in your body to give you fabricated feelings.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Ian Wahlstrom talks about finding a power bigger than himself to help him be sober.




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