Profiles in Recovery
Recovery Date: 12/20/1986
Haner Hernandez works with behavioral health care professionals across the country training them on prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery supports. He’s also a national consultant on health disparities and building health equity. Dr. Hernandez has experienced stigma first-hand related to addiction and other intersections such as racism and other forms of oppression.
At a very young age, Dr. Hernandez began using drugs and was first arrested at age 11. Near the height of his addiction, he was injecting nearly 30 bags of heroin a day. Eventually, Haner dropped out of middle school and went to prison on multiple occasions. During one of those incarcerations, he earned his GED, which he said was harder to do than earning his Ph.D. as a free man. One of his proudest moments was when his mom realized his commitment to recovery and the relationship he has built with his family.
How Life Today is Different:
Let’s see, today I love myself and it all stems from there. I have a great relationship with my family. I used to be the person no one trusted and today I am the person people call on for a wide range of things. I am a productive human being. I went from experiencing homelessness, to owning my own home. Moreover, I have been able to obtain a bachelors, a masters and a doctorate degree. I’m also a certified prevention specialist and a licensed and certified addictions counselor at the advanced level. And yes I have a Ph.D., but I also have a GED (high school equivalency) that I earned in prison. And believe you me it was more difficult to get a GED in jail than to get a Ph.D. in the free world. You must also know that I am not a high school dropout, I dropped out of middle school. So my life has changed dramatically. I could never have dreamed of my life in the way that I experience it today. My life has been possible because of recovery and many people in my life!
New Year and Setting Goals:
My recovery date is December 20th and I remember vividly what it was like to go from prison to treatment, not because I believed I had a problem, but because I wanted to get out of jail. Today I understand that I need to be engaged in my recovery on a daily basis. The start of every year, and every day for that matter, helps me to ground my recovery in setting goals and establishing supportive and mentoring relationships with people of like mind.
Advice to Others Seeking Sobriety:
Never lose hope! You are not alone! Life might not seem worth living and you might feel like no one understands you, or that no matter how hard you try, you end up back in the same hole, but you must understand that what you have is a disease. Addiction is not a moral failing and people do get better. More importantly, there are many people who are willing to help. Find one person that you can trust and let them guide you through the process. Your fears will turn into strengths and you will be able to see yourself and others in a different light. You deserve to live!!
The one thing that made a difference in my early recovery was learning the ability to slow down and take small steps. In the beginning of my recovery I wanted things to happen yesterday and I had to learn that recovery is a process and not a race. I first had to learn to love and accept myself and only then could I be of use and support to others. In early recovery I wanted material things because I thought those things would make me happy. Today I understand that material things can make us a little more comfortable, but they can also make us lose focus of self. For me balance is important and I can only find balance when I am in supportive and caring recovery relationships, the rest grows from there.
What Helped Me the Most?
I heard other people say that they loved me. Many didn’t say the actual words, but they proved it with actions. They listened to me, took me by the hand, told me the truth, and continued to love me even when I didn’t love myself. Those relationships grounded in love, humanism, truth telling, unconditional support and guidance are at the center of who I am.
Sobriety and Perfectionism:
I am a work in progress! Because of my degrees, position, and length of recovery others tend to see me as this person that doesn’t exist in my mind. Where they see perfection, I see a constant struggle to do the right thing. I am a vulnerable and sensitive being. For some, including myself at certain points in my life, I thought that being sensitive and vulnerable is a weakness. Today those qualities are some of my greatest strengths, they keep me alive. My recovery has given me the chance to develop those qualities and that helps me understand and help others.
What Works for Me Now?
What has changed for me is my ability to love myself and understand that I have a disease that is treatable and manageable. Also, that I’m not alone even on days that I feel alone. I have developed a network of good people all over the country and other parts of the world. There is a strong and growing recovery community that is supportive and open. I only need to reach out to the right people and I will benefit from the gifts of recovery and from what I have to offer.
On My Gratitude List:
I am grateful for family, my community, and recovery. My life is about relationships, positive relationships that enable me to get better on an ongoing basis.
I don’t celebrate what some folks might consider large accomplishments; I celebrate the small things in life. Those include my ability to feel, think, and help others. A celebration for me includes having good people in my life and my relationships with family and community.
Simple Pleasures Once Overlooked:
I enjoy great music and elements of my culture that keep me grounded. I am Puerto Rican and I am a Salsero! I have learned to understand my culture and how my identity is grounded in my culture. I have also learned to listen to music and it helps me make sense of who I am.
Good Recovery Reads:
Recovery Rising by William White
Shed the Stigma:
If you’re a person in long-term recovery who wants to share your insights, please contact us at [email protected].