When Mike Alessio is invited to drug courts to speak to addicts and alcoholics, he wants them to know about life after sobriety. He tells them that sobriety is a springboard by which one can achieve great things.
“My path was marked by situations like that,” Mike Alessio told students packed inside the Mynderse Academy Auditorium. One of those situations, which epitomized his addiction with absolute precision was the night he considered his “absolute low.” It was an ordinary night, but he purchased just a little more cocaine than he had expected to use that evening. He told the students, “We figured I’d save the rest for the weekend.” As the night went on, it became clear to Alessio that getting into work, at Bonadent the next day, was going to be a challenge — if not an impossibility.
He did what most substance abusers do, which is to say he made an excuse. Alessio called his employer and made an excuse as to why he would be late. “I just wanted to buy some time,” he explained to the students. It wasn’t just time he was buying, though. As the morning went on, and the excuses continued to roll — eventually — he gave up on making it to work that day. That afternoon, his boss appeared at his door.
Alessio was home, recovering from the 24-hours of mayhem — but he lived with his parents. He explained that hearing his boss, tell his parents at the front door of his childhood home — that he was being fired — impacted him. That wasn’t the moment things turned around — but it was perhaps the first definitive moment that Alessio knew he had a problem that he couldn’t fix on his own.
He had a series of battles with a court system that wanted to see him succeed as much as any of his family or friends did. However, it still wasn’t enough to turn him around. Alessio even described the moments where he would think about how it would be, if he received a call that one of his aging parents — if they were in the hospital and he needed to be there. “They would’ve had to call the bar — and they would’ve known I was drunk. Listen, this was before cellphones,” he quipped.
“In life, what you do will become who you are,” Alessio told students, reminding them about how far things can spin out of control if they do not listen to the voice inside of them. He explained that knowing yourself, knowing who you are, and understanding that the people around are there to help — are just a few of the things every student should think about.
The face of addiction was something that he believed prevented him from getting help earlier. Those around him knew he had a problem — but the social perception of what an addict looks like is the complete opposite. “I was in the bar wearing a tie — I had a good job,” he explained. To show students what he meant, he put a costume on — with a scruffy beard, flannel jacket, and rugged hat. “This is what we think an addict looks like,” he continued.
Alessio wanted to make this point because he had a good job — working for a great company that gave him unwavering support. He had a family that was well-respected. He explained that there was no beer in his refrigerator at home. All of that was meaningless, though, as he was continuing to spin further, and further out of control.
January 1st, 2004 was the day everything changed for Alessio. It was the day he got clean — and most-importantly stayed clean. He told an emotional story about his two co-managers and boss coming to visit him while he was in jail. Alessio said that while he had lost his job at Bonadent, he regained it, but it was the message they brought to him that day in visitation that was a moment of clarity that led to January 1st, 2004.
The three of them told Alessio that they loved him, cared about him, but most-importantly that his job was going to be waiting for him when he got out. It was something that he had thought was an opportunity lost. When Alessio was released from jail, though, he knew that he needed help. He described how house arrest saved his life. After he had served part of his house arrest period successfully, he was given the option to try it on his own. “I wasn’t ready to yet,” he continued.
He stayed on and from that point forward — he was able to work hard at staying on the path of recovery. It was a path that Alessio used to become healthier, more active, and better as a person than he had ever become before. An athlete and solid student in his youth — he spoke like an individual who truly had learned what opportunities had wasted away over the years.
Whether it was competing in an Ironman Triathlon, running a marathon like the Boston Marathon, or just working more in the gym, as a coach, and friend to those who helped him along the way — he became 100 percent dedicated to it.
Today he speaks before students — reminding them of the opportunities they have before them. Whether it’s an opportunity that can lead to great success or hardship — he experienced both — it’s all necessary. That is his message to students. Pointing to a large image of his mugshot from one of his DWI’s Alessio concluded, “If this is what it takes” to make the turn in life — to regain the control in life that he lost — “I hope you experience that.”
Alessio has had his share of challenges. He has had his share of ups and downs, but his message is a resoundingly positive message. For students at Mynderse Academy, who gave him a thundering ovation at the end of his presentation — it might have been the dose of reality that could save a few of them from going down the path, which he had taken. Before the presentation began — Alessio told FingerLakes1.com that at the end his message was simply about making a difference for the kids, who are being exposed to more of this everyday.
Editor’s Note: Mike Alessio is a member of our FL1 Sports team as an on-air commentator during our live high school basketball coverage on FingerLakes1.TV.