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Tony Hoffman Shares His Story With Holliston

by Chris Cain
May 4, 2019

Mindshare, the Holliston PTO's Parent Education Program, presented 'Breaking the Stigma: Recovery Advocacy & Addiction Awareness' featuring Tony Hoffman on April 30th.

Mindshare, the Holliston PTO's Parent Education Program, presented 'Breaking the Stigma: Recovery Advocacy & Addiction Awareness' featuring Tony Hoffman on April 30th.

Anne Buckley, head of the Mindshare program, welcomed the large audience of students, parents, educators, and representatives from Holliston's addiction support groups: HPD, Youth and Family Services, and HDAAC. Buckley also introduced Tony Hoffman, who shared the remarkable story of his life from the best of times to the very worst of times.

More than once, Tony said, "My life is an open book, please ask me anything."  His story laid bare his rise to stardom, his fall from grace, and how he 'got back through the door from addiction.'  At the presentation's end, there were few questions about his life that remained to be asked.

In elementary school it became clear that Tony had exceptional athletic abilities.  He was labeled a 'gifted athlete' and therefore afforded special treatment by coaches and other adults.  He adopted an attitude that mimicked professional athletes - I'm already good and I don't need to practice.  This attitude led to his being benched during a game. What he realized too late is that his attitude formed a choice-making pattern that led to trouble.

In seventh grade he developed social anxiety that caused him to be fearful of integrating with others. What he, and all of us, need is empathy and compassion from others to avoid isolation.  He received a reprieve from the isolation when he played sports.

Tony was expelled from seventh grade.  Enter BMX bikes.  Tony's brother was a rider.  His parents insisted that Tony get into the sport.  Once again his athletic gift surfaced and the rest is history - a meteoric rise on the BMX race track.

In high school, Tony discovered he had a knack for computers and computer networking.  In part, this isolating activity supported his social anxiety, yet he had two talents to lean on for his future.

Enter alcohol and drugs.  Many students experiment with these substances in their teenage years.  Not all get addicted.  Addiction depends on heredity.  It turned out Tony had addiction in his genome from many generations of his ancestors.  "Addiction is not a choice you make, it is made for you by your genetic makeup," Tony shared more than once.

Tony discovered that once you have gone through the door of addiction, only two routes remain - death or changing six things.  He shared the six things repeatedly with the group: Think Differently, Talk Differently, Walk Differently, Have Different Friends, Change the things you do, and Change the places you go.  Each sounds simple enough - his experience suggests that living all six is extremely challenging.

On January 22, 2007, Tony was arrested for armed robbery related to his drug addiction.  He served two years in prison.  On the first night in his cell he saw an inscription on the ceiling from a previous occupant, "What I think determines what I say; what I say determines what I do, what I do determines my character, and my character determines my destiny."  That inscription sparked Tony's rise from the ashes of addiction.  He set four goals: ride BMX again, participate in the Olympics, start a non-profit organization (now known as the FreeWheel Program), and become a professional speaker.

While some were skeptical that he would achieve these goals and avoid future incarceration, he was in Holliston this week to talk about how he has gone 'four for four' on achieving his goals - despite some accidental setbacks.

He reminded everyone that shame and guilt are two of the toughest emotions to overcome.  Compassion and empathy can be the 'antidotes' that get us through the toughest times.

Many thanks to Mindshare for sponsoring timely topics for Holliston's parents and youth.

 

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