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Tony Hoffman speaks to community about addiction, mental health

 

October 25, 2017 | View PDF

Christopher Andersson

National speaker Tony Hoffman talks at the Byrnes Performing Arts Center on Oct. 19.

BMX professional and national speaker Tony Hoffman spoke last week to Arlington kids and community members about his own experience with drug addiction.

He talked to students at Lakewood High School and Arlington High School on Oct. 19 and 20, and also spoke to the community at the Byrnes Performing Arts Center on Oct. 19.

The Arlington Drug Awareness Coalition brought in Hoffman to speak about his history with addiction and depression.

Hoffman was a promising athlete in high school who became well-known in the amateur BMX (bicycle motorcross) community.

However, as other problems grew he gave up BMX racing when he was young, and became friends with people who introduced him to a variety of drugs.

"I smoked weed for the first time, started having a good time, and I told myself it's not really that big of a deal, so I'm just going to do it once a month," he said.

As he used more and more though, he said his friends got him into other drugs, such as oxycontin and eventually that would lead to heroin.

Hoffman said a lot of the reason he used drugs was because of his own issues with anxiety and depression.

"Because when I started using drugs, I found that the drugs fixed those issues," he said.

"So, if a kid is telling you that they're suffering from anxiety, we need to pay attention. If a kid's not on drugs yet and is telling you they don't like themselves, we need to pay attention," said Hoffman.

"When a kid gets in that realm they find themselves wandering off, looking for something, and that's exactly what happened to me," he said.

He also attributes mental health as the reason he originally stopped BMX racing, and advises parents to look carefully at their children if they suddenly stop doing something they were passionate about.

After becoming more and more addicted, Hoffman committed a home invasion and armed robbery in 2004 against a woman with multiple sclerosis who had oxycontin pills for her medical problems.

"I told myself I would never rob anyone after that day because of how dirty I felt," he said.

Hoffman went before a judge for the crime but said he received a relatively lenient sentence. He was not as lucky in his next run-in with the law though and ended up going to prison.

While in prison he had what he called a "spiritual experience" and began deciding on a new direction for his life, including wanting to race BMX professionally, go to the Olympics, and to start a non-profit organization.

"I told myself you're going to have to work harder than you ever have before if you're going to get to the Olympics," he said.

However, once out of prison he faced a lot of stigma and low expectations.

Hoffman said his parole officer took his mother aside and told her "I don't even want to send this kid home with you. This kid is going back to prison and belongs in a halfway house, and he's playing you, this whole thing is all made up."

In 2016 Hoffman placed second in the BMX World Championship Master Pro class. He was also the coach for the Women's BMX Pro Olympics team that year.

He also created the Freewheel Project which provides kids with bicycles, skateboards and activities. Hoffman said his bicycle is what helps keep him clean and the nonprofit organization focuses more on providing a positive atmosphere than strictly being a program against drug abuse.

When it comes to others with addiction though, Hoffman doesn't want to invite comparison.

"I'm not the rule. I'm an exception. I grew up in a house where my parents will celebrate 42 years together this year. I knew right from wrong," he said.

After looking at the roots of his own anxiety and depression, Hoffman said that more people need to be looking at those kinds of environmental issues that cause addiction.

"The drugs aren't the problem, they're the symptom to the problem. So if you're trying to address a problem with your son or daughter, you shouldn't say 'stop using drugs,' you should change the way you see the issue and find out what's going on underneath," he said.

Hoffman recently helped a woman who was the victim of multiple childhood sexual assaults get into rehab.

"I don't know what that feels like, but I know this, if we're going to heal somebody like that, we have to treat them with compassion and understanding. And we have to know that they might not get it the first time. They may not get the second time, or the third time. And we might have to send them to prison," he said.

He advocates for drug courts and social programs that try to address those mental health issues that contribute to addiction.

"You can't just tell that person to switch their behavior. We have to come together as a community to understand people," he said.

The talk was brought to Arlington by the Arlington Drug Awareness Coalition (ADAC), a group of community members that formed around four years ago.

"Our mission is to provide education and awareness about drug abuse and bring a message of hope for those experiencing the stigma," said Will Nelson, an ADAC member and the Weston High School principal.

More information about ADAC is available on their Facebook page at facebook.com/arlingtonaware.

 

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