In It To Win It

As a football player, Mike knew how to run the ball and make plays. From his Pop Warner days to serving as tailback alongside Hall of Fame cornerback Ronnie Lott at USC, Mike showed grit and determination as an athlete. That fight and perseverance, along with the strong moral character instilled in him from a young age, served him well when he needed it most.

With two Rose Bowls and the 1978 National Championship under his belt, Mike was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks. Unfortunately, around the same time, Mike started abusing alcohol and cocaine. The glamour of what he called “life in the fast lane” caught up with him when he started experimenting with these substances recreationally. Just before signing a contract with the NFL, he was arrested on drug charges, and his pro football career was over. During his time at USC, Mike’s father passed away. Between this tragedy and his football career ending, Mike lost control. He said, “That hit home. I became a full-blown addict.”

Between 1988 and 2008, Mike continued in a vicious cycle. He said, “I violated parole, did prison time, got out, did better for a while, messed up again, another violation, back to prison…”

After years of attempts at recovery, Mike finally checked himself into Cedar House in 2014 with some encouragement from an old friend and boss. 

Cedar House offered Mike a new lease on life. He said, “The courses, the curriculum, the resources they offer; the whole make-up of the program itself really works. Cedar House is THE best rehabilitation program in San Bernardino County.” He said that his case manager helped him to realize that he was “emotionally immature” and that “it was time to grow up.” That’s exactly what he did. 

Ninety days later, he graduated from Cedar House and moved into Loma Linda’s re-live program to begin his sober living. He worked alongside his future wife, Vallery, at the thrift store there. This is when he began to truly re-dedicate his life back to his faith.

He became an associate minister at his church in San Bernardino. Then, he went back to school for his certificate in counseling and his nonprofit license.

Mike said, “God has blessed me with a home. I’m self-employed as a contractor and electrician. I’m the lead counselor for intensive outpatient at Mental Health Systems. And I will have seven years clean in June. I am in it to win it!”

His proudest achievement is his nonprofit work. Through the years of struggling with addiction and homelessness, Mike always had a vision for what his life could be. He envisioned himself opening a home for those most in need. Along with Vallery, Mike now runs a homeless shelter in San Bernardino. He is also composing his autobiography, Victorious Change, to inspire others to make a positive change in their lives.

He said, “Addicts aren’t bad people. They just made bad decisions. At Cedar House, they teach people how to make better decisions; how to live clean and sober and accept life at its terms.” 

Now Mike is busily paying it forward and making a difference in his community. He reminds his clients to do what worked for him in his recovery: “Check in daily with yourself. Surrender to Jesus Christ. Let His will be done. Give Him all the glory. It’s just faith.”


A Mother’s Love

There’s nothing quite as strong as a mother’s love.  The moment her baby was born, Sereeta knew she would fight with everything she had to keep her son.  She never wanted to feel the pain of giving up her child again. 

Since she was 19 years old, Sereeta struggled with addiction. She went to drug rehab and stayed sober for six years.  But then, she became a victim of domestic violence and lost custody of her five children.  Losing her children led to a relapse, and she found herself battling not only her partner, but also the addiction again.

“I could not get away from him. He would try to control me.”

Desperate to escape the violence, she left and began living on the streets.  She slept at a shopping center and tried to find resources for help.  At a charity donations center, she was approached by a woman who wanted to help.  She got her in touch with Cedar House to overcome her meth and marijuana addictions, and that’s when Sereeta’s life began to change.

“I knew I wanted a change but didn’t know how.”

 After years of struggle and hardship, Sereeta developed problems with anger management.  She didn’t know how to channel the anger and disappointment she was feeling.  It surprised her to find that the staff at Cedar House were willing to work with her and had faith that she could turn things around.

“I saw that different people had hope in me.”

Just a week after moving to Cedar House, she was hospitalized due to complications with her pregnancy.  During her three weeks in the hospital, she regularly called Cedar House for reassurance that everything would be okay.

“I didn’t want to lose my son.  I didn’t want to feel that pain again.”

Sereeta endured an 8-hour surgery and a blood transfusion, but her baby was born healthy!  The next day, she was broken hearted when a police officer and a social worker arrived in her hospital room to deliver papers telling her that she wouldn’t be taking her baby home.

Four days after her son was born, Sereeta left the hospital and returned to Cedar House determined to make a change. 

“That’s when I believe my journey started.  I was fighting for that little boy.  I never fought so hard for anything in my life.” 

With 34 staples from surgery and a fierce resentment of many of the people in her life, Sereeta had a hard time adjusting.  She continued to struggle with anger management and the trauma of her life before treatment. 

“The first month was hard. It was a battle for me.” 

During her six months at Cedar House, Sereeta overcame her addiction; she learned to manage her anger; and she grew in her faith.

“I didn’t realize God had something else in store for me.  I just had to trust in the process.”

 Looking back at her experience at Cedar House, Sereeta recalls the “true, honest support” she found there.  She can’t begin to express the love she feels for the staff.  The Acceptance Prayer she was given during her time at Cedar House took her a long way through her journey, and she knows that gifts like that are steps the staff takes that are well beyond their job description.  The caring staff at Cedar House goes above and beyond for clients like Sereeta every day.  

“I have established leadership skills, budgeting skills, and learned how to be a
productive member of society as a mother.”

Looking back at her experience at Cedar House, Sereeta recalls the “true, honest support” she found there.  She can’t begin to express the love she feels for the staff.  The Acceptance Prayer she was given during her time at Cedar House took her a long way through her journey, and she knows that gifts like that are steps the staff takes that are well beyond their job description.  The caring staff at Cedar House goes above and beyond for clients like Sereeta every day.  

“If it wasn’t for Cedar House, I would still be traumatized by the domestic violence. The staff members showed me love like I’ve never been shown before.”


Just Enough

Eduardo checked the gas gauge of his green Honda and realized he was almost empty. With no cash, no home, no job, and no family, he knew where he needed to go. And he had JUST ENOUGH gas in his tank to get there.

From the age of sixteen, Eduardo had been abusing drugs and alcohol. In the summer of 2005, he began hanging around a rough crowd and started smoking cigarettes, then weed, then meth. Rock bottom came three years ago when he and his fiancé moved to Las Vegas. 

“I started stealing and lying; spending all my checks on gambling and drugs. I lost my fiancé; I lost my brother’s, my sister’s and my parents’ trust.”

Eduardo ended up living on the streets with only his car and his luggage. That’s when his brother told him about Cedar House, and Eduardo realized he had just enough gas to get there. He arrived at 10 p.m. on June 27, 2017.

“I was tired. I just wanted to stop and relax. I didn’t want a pipe in my mouth.”

The next morning, he learned that Cedar House had a waiting list to be admitted into the residential program, but Eduardo had no place to go. He stayed outside in his car waiting until a bed came available. He spent the next 45 days at Cedar House working on changing his life.

“At first, I didn’t like going to group (meetings), but eventually I thought to myself, ‘I’m setting myself up for failure.’ That’s when I started doing the work, especially learning about my triggers.”

Between learning certain types of music that triggered his addiction to meeting individuals who would significantly impact his life, the Cedar House experience made an indelible mark on Eduardo. 

“When you’re trying to recover, you’re so vulnerable, but there were some amazing gentlemen that really helped me along.”

One man in particular changed the course of Eduardo’s life in a way he never expected.

“I made the decision to leave (Cedar House) because I had reached the peak of my withdrawal. I had so much going through my mind and so many emotions going through me. If I left, I would have just gone straight back to doing the same things, and things would be a whole lot different right now. But Michael stopped me. He sat me down and had a powerful chat with me. He calmed me down and gave me the strength to continue the program. That man really cares about the people at Cedar House.”

We couldn’t agree more. Michael Rodriguez is the Men’s Residential Coordinator at Cedar House and an EPIC Life Changer. We’re thankful to him for his compassion and persistence. And, we’re thankful that Eduardo took his advice and persevered. 

After graduating from Cedar House, he went to work at his brother’s restaurant. Soon after, he reconnected with his fiancé and children in Las Vegas where he began working at a facility making plastic polymers for medical devices. It’s work that has been steady for him and his family even during these challenging months of the pandemic.

Eduardo says he would not even consider doing drugs again now that he has made so many positive changes in his life. Thankfully, he had just enough gas in the tank and determination to continue with his treatment to change his life.


Play the Tape Through

Try playing the tape through. When an addict’s desire to abuse drugs or alcohol strikes, they recall the full experience of what it means to get high – from beginning to end – from the moment of desire to euphoria, all the way through to the dark, ugly path it leads them on. They play the tape through as a strategy to get past the struggle of that longing.

When Leilani began to play her tape through, she witnessed the severity of her addiction. She saw that what would begin as an urgent need for a shred of happiness that she felt could only come from a pipe would quickly become a desperate search for a way to hide what she had done.

Growing up in the foster system, Leilani had a traumatic upbringing. At eighteen, she emancipated from the system and moved into a transitional living home where she was first introduced to meth. Meth became an escape from the trauma, and at the time she thought it filled the hole in her heart where she wanted the love of a family to be. 

She met a young man who had also grown up in the foster system and battled his own addiction to alcohol. Despite their substance abuse, they wanted to start a family together. Leilani convinced herself that she was staying clean when she stopped using meth and began using prescription opioids. After the birth of her son, Leilani continued using prescription drugs. Five years later, she and his father broke up, and she went back to meth. She started using so heavily that she let go of her son and began living on the street. This destructive path continued until her son’s father tragically died in a car accident.

“I was in jail when I found out, but I knew I had to step up for my son.”

For four years, Leilani bounced around from home to home, using needles to get high, dealing with toxic relationships and, all the while, trying to raise her son in that unstable environment.  By the age of nine, he had attended six different schools, while Leilani continued to find ways to dodge the system and keep her son with her. 

“My biggest fear was my son being taken away.”

When his father’s friends that were helping out finally tired of Leilani running around at night while they cared for the child, they called CPS. She devised a plan to test clean and meet someone with a pipe in the parking lot as soon as she finished. The plan derailed, and Leilani was caught using. 

“I finally just surrendered. I thought, ‘How am I going to put my son through what I went through in the foster system.’”

It turned out to be exactly what both mother and son needed. Her son was relieved to have a stable place to stay while Leilani met the system’s requirement to call an outpatient rehab program. For a month she visited her son on Fridays, got loaded on weekends and then stopped for a couple of days each week just long enough to test clean on Fridays for her visits. This was the lowest point.

“I wrote a suicide letter to my son. I thought I’d jump off a building, hang myself… I played around with a shotgun. Then I tried but couldn’t do it.”

Then she had an appointment at Cedar House Life Change Center

“I was convinced it wasn’t going to work. I got high in the parking lot before going in. I was so terrified of not having drugs.”

With that attitude and a steadfast belief that she could not recover, Leilani began her treatment. It wasn’t until the first panel she attended that she began to open her mind to the idea of recovery.

“The panel was so amazing. It opened up my heart, and I saw hope. I realized I was a good person; I was just broken.”

One of the most influential parts of her Cedar House treatment was her counselor Michelle who taught her to “walk and talk with love in your heart” and always reminded her about the importance of these four components of recovery: going to meetings, finding a sponsor, working the steps, and being of service.

When she completed the program, Leilani was relieved to learn there was a bed available at Steps 4 Life sober living. She rode her bike six miles everyday to work at a warehouse in Redlands. She attended NA meetings and got a sponsor. In April she was able to reunite with her son and close the CPS case. 


“The beautiful part was that the attorney that helped me was the same woman who helped me as a child. She told me, ‘Look, you are free from this place. You don’t ever need to come here again.’”

Step 4 of the program meant that Leilani had to dig deep to uncover some of the trauma of her childhood. She had to tread lightly and work through it in increments, but she managed. In the 6th step, she got her son back and, for the first time, garnered the items required for adult life – a license, registration, insurance and a credit card. She was able to save money in the transitional home to become self-sufficient to move into her own home with her son. He is proud to say that he is now safe and happy, surrounded by friends in a comfortable environment.

Anytime she feels triggered, Leilani remembers that it’s okay to reach out for help. She recalls her counselor Michelle’s advice to always, “Be honest in all your affairs.” She is excited to begin work as a Client Care Specialist at Cedar House where she can apply this and all the organization’s E.P.I.C. core values, and she’ll have an opportunity to pass on these lessons to others in need.

When in doubt, she remembers to “play the tape through.” Her story reminds us there is always hope in recovery, especially when you “walk and talk with love in your heart.”