By Daniel J Vaccaro
If you live in Colorado, then you know Vic Vela ... or, at least, his voice. The award-winning Colorado Public Radio host is a mainstay on the airwaves and a welcome presence in cars and homes across the Front Range.
But what you probably don’t know is this: Vela is a recovering drug addict and an inspiration to many suffering from similar afflictions.
“People are surprised when they learn about the person behind the voice,” he says. “But they are also really supportive."
Vela’s struggles with addiction spanned two decades, starting in high school. He says he used drugs to self-medicate the pain of growing up as a closeted gay boy in a poor family in small-town Colorado, an insight he unearthed during his recovery.
For years, he was a high-functioning addict. He got a degree in speech communications from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2000, becoming the first member of his immediate family to graduate from college, and had instant success in the journalism industry. He interviewed celebrities, covered major events and won awards.
But over time, drugs took their toll. He lived a life of extremes. “I can remember when I was covering the Capitol, I would crouch behind a dumpster, smoke crack and then go inside to interview the governor,” he says. He would tell himself that if he were really an addict, he wouldn’t be doing important work every day.
In the end, his addiction outstripped his talent. He wound up unemployed, bankrupt and so sick he thought he might die. At times, he wished he would.
On Jan. 25, 2015, Vela made the decision to quit.
He says everything was different when he finally admitted he was an addict. He was hired by CPR and discovered that he could be great at his job without drugs; he found a community that accepted him; and he found his voice ... as an advocate.
These days, he uses his platform to help others struggling with addiction.
He regularly talks with groups and shares stories on social media. He sees himself as putting a human face on a growing problem. “(In 2017), more Coloradans died from a drug overdose than any other year in history,” he says. “But people are also surviving. I want to let others know that recovery is possible. I’m proof of that.”
A friend in recovery called today, thrilled about starting a new job. It’s his first job sober. He bought new clothes. Got a hair cut. Plans to get there 10 minutes early every day.— Vic Vela (@VicVela1) April 4, 2019
Nine months ago, he was homeless, driving needles into his arms.
Miracles happen every day.
On the career front, Vela continues to produce noteworthy journalism. Over 15 years, he’s gotten to interview such subjects as Jay Leno and Janet Napolitano. He’s reported on big issues such as election reform in Colorado. Most recently, he says his work is less about hard- hitting news and more about making people smile – for example, a recent feature he did on the “Orange Crush” Broncos teams of the late 1970s.
Vela credits MSU Denver for helping jump-start his career. Not only did he do an internship with a local television station during college, but he says the learning environment was ideal. “I loved that the people in my classes were from all walks of life,” he says. “Being around them helped me grow up. I wouldn’t have gotten that at another school.”
Vela has been sober for four years. In that time, he’s won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. He’s as healthy as he’s ever been. And he recently got an exciting second job – he’s going to teach classes at MSU Denver in the fall. His goal: to help aspiring journalists find their voice.
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