Children and Youth

Breaking the Grip of Addiction

Christine Henriques provides counseling to singles and parents who are dealing with addiction, domestic violence or other mental health related issues.

On a quiet Friday afternoon in Hollister, Christine Henriques (pronounced Hen-ricks) arrives just on time to run her group discussion at Mars Hill coffee shop. Henriques is a facilitator who typically has six to eight participants. The group’s conversation is up-front and revealing, ranging from substance abuse to domestic violence. One by one, they drop in each week and Christine provides both individual support and a little food for thought.

Henriques was recently featured in a short film entitled  "Versions of Motherhood",  produced for the Women's Fund for San Benito County. 

At the head of the table in the group session, a slim, middle-aged woman explains that she had to tell her son, now a father, that she’s not grandmother material.  “So I was still drinkin’ you know and so I said, make sure you don’t bring her around for babysitting because I’m still drinkin’,” she says.  She tells the group her son just replied,  “Mom I know."

Across the conference table is a newcomer, who says she was referred by the probation department. “I’m here ‘cause I’m an alcoholic and an addict to a few things,” she says quietly.

Henriques has “regulars” who come to talk freely without a lot of judgment. A blonde woman with dreadlocks says, “I am just a stay at home mom-slash-artist and I’m just trying to quiet my mind a little bit.”

Christine Henriques has no trouble filling her weekly sessions. Her clientele represents a broad sampling of ages, economic status and racial background. Although the numbers are varied, studies show that substance abuse and domestic violence are two of the major mental health issues for parents in San Benito County.

Henriques has been running her weekly group here for about two years. Over that time, she’s heard many reasons her clients continue to go astray. In each session she introduces concepts from "Three Principles Training," a program used by counselors working in the legal justice system. In this class, Henriques walks the group through a substance abuser’s thought process. “You might come in here, ‘I want to change my mom. I want to change my probation officer,’ you know, this one, that one.  ‘Why doesn't’t he work? Why can’t I stay sober?,'" Henriques says. She pushes the group to lay off on the excuses and take on some responsibility. She asks them to stop blaming everyone else, “and put the focus on you.”

Henriques describes herself first as a mother and a role model, but she is quick to add that she sees herself also as student, a teacher, a caretaker and a survivor.

She lives and works in Hollister but grew up in San Jose. She says she was “just a Catholic schoolgirl” who was unaware of the potential grip of addiction. She describes her childhood as protected and privileged. In high school, she convinced her parents to let her switch from Catholic school to a public school. She was adventurous, headstrong and soon joined up with the partying crowd.

But somewhere along the way she says her lifestyle converted from fun to a life centered around addiction. “I was an addict, an alcoholic, a victim, um hopeless and helpless and a parent’s worst nightmare,” she says frankly. Henriques is white and comes from an economically stable family but she was susceptible to chemical dependencies.

In San Benito County 57 percent Caucasians and 40 percent Hispanic residents either need or are receiving behavioral health care services, according to the American Communities Study on BenitoLink’s Community Dashboard.

“Almost every night, I’d walk the streets, going from club to club; hanging out, drinking,” Henriques remembers. During those years, she had two children, both from fathers with addiction issues of their own. “It was like a vicious cycle, going out there and getting and selling and using”, she says describing those years.  At night, her need for drinking and drugs would compete with trying to find a place for her and her two children to sleep.

“My children always came first even when I was out on the streets or staying in my car with my children," she sayd. "As crazy as that sounds that’s love and I was doing the best I could for where I was at for that point of time,” she says.

In an effort to separate her from her peer group, Henriques' parents asked her to join them in San Benito County. When she first moved to Hollister, she says she didn't relate to the community and felt torn from everything familiar. Unfortunately, it didn't take her long to find the drug culture here and get back in trouble.

“Drugs aren’t discriminating. They are equal opportunity and they are everywhere,” Henriques says, explaining that drugs can be found in most communities and that she just brought her problems to San Benito County.

In 2004, an arrest for the manufacture and sale of methamphetamines was the turning point in Henriques’ life.  It was a slow, painful turning point that included several relapses. She was sent to several programs, all outside of San Benito County. Henriques says there were no facilities available near her family and support system. Henriques was sent to a counseling session much like the one she runs now.

Today, after seven years of recovery, she advocates for more services in San Benito County to help people struggling with substance abuse issues. Single mothers like she was during her recovery have to make a choice between the care of their children and going through treatment.

According to the Community Dashboard statistics, 61 percent of women and 38 percent of men in San Benito County either need or are receiving behavioral health care services.

Henriques’ son Jaren, 18, says he tries not to think about the years his mother was caught up in substance abuse. Jaren says when he was young, he would ask to be left in the secure environment of his grandparents' home. When asked what he learned from his difficult early childhood experiences, he says, “It made me know what not to do; make good choices and what not.”

Christine Henriques went through several treatment facilities and eventually completed four years of recovery. She relapsed many times and yet she says, “Something inside of me said, ‘no, don’t give up.’” Fortunately, that was when somebody sent her to Liz Alameda, a drug and alcohol abuse counselor and owner of Connecting Principles. Alameda lives in San Benito County but spent much of her professional life working with Santa Clara County youth.  Alameda remembers meeting Henriques in a group session she was running. 

Alameda says, “She was unruly. How’s that? She was unruly. She was anxious. She was determined. She wanted answers. She also wasn’t ready to accept what was being said in the class." 

It took another two years before Henriques was ready to come back.

Henriques says, “Something clicked inside of me and I said I need to find Liz. Something she said just brought me back.”

Alameda says, “When she came back she said, ‘I want to know. I am tired of living the way I am living.’”

Henriques says she is blessed that she found a life coach in Alameda. Several years later, their relationship has developed into one of friendship and mutual respect.  She says of Alameda, “She held on and believed in me until I could believe in myself and she totally guided me into the process of becoming a facilitator and who I am today. Today, we’re colleagues and we work together and she is such a great inspiration and great mentor to have in my life.”

Henriques’ two older children have settled in San Benito County and are both doing well. Her 13-year-old daughter was very young when Henriques started going to Alameda’s group meetings.  Henriques says, “She sat with me in Liz’s classes and she heard that if you had a thought, you could create your reality. She was like, ‘I’m gonna ride horses and I am going to compete and I am going to win.’ And she ran with that thought and today she is a champion at gymkhana horseback riding.”

Jared, her now-adult son, appreciates the mother he has now. “Mom is there for me and families should always do that,” he says.

On a recent day, Jared was out on a classic winding San Benito country road learning how to drive with his mother coaching. As they lurch out onto the bumpy road, she nervously guides him away from the steep edge.

When asked about her son, Henriques says, ”I’m really proud of him. He just graduated high school and he’s going to college.” She points out that many of the people she counsels today don’t have high school diplomas. She is shocked at how many years have passed since she went off course as a teenager. Seeing her children go through their teen years worries her but she says she tries hard to be available to her children and always speak honestly.

Henriques also has a 3-year-old daughter who was born after her years of addiction. She says she tries to use her counseling tools to live in the moment and appreciate the time her family has together. 

At 41, Henriques went back to school. Since then she has completed the required academic courses and is now finishing her hours for a counseling credential in drug and alcohol abuse.

“I suffered this disease for 22 years,” Henriques says, noting that she learned the mindset and habits behind substance abuse the hard way. She says that she can at least tell her clients, “If I could do it, you could do it.”

Henriques says she is anxious to work with people in the same situation she was once in like legal offenders in the probation system or prisoners. Excited about her developing career, Henriques explains, “There’s an empathy there and I think this is my calling.”

Adults needing and receiving behavioral health care services in San Benito County according to the Community Dashboard:

  • 61 percent of women
  • 38 percent of men 
  • 57 percent of whites
  • 40 percent of Hispanics 

The Women’s Fund of the Community Foundation for San Benito County works with community organizations to help women and girls thrive.  The Women’s Fund is dedicated to empowering women to come together with a shared vision creating a lasting impact in the lives of all women and girls in the community. To learn more about the Women’s Fund, contact Stephanie Hicks at the Community Foundation for San Benito County at 831-630-1924, or [email protected]





Leslie David

Leslie David is a Bay Area independent reporter/producer and is a BenitoLink founding board member. She has produced for radio, television, newspaper and magazines in both California and Wyoming. She was with KRON-TV News in San Francisco as camera-woman, editor and field producer, where she won the Commonwealth Club's Thomas Storke Award with Linda Yee for their series on the Aids Epidemic. She started as a small market news reporter shooting her own 16mm film at KEYT-TV Santa Barbara. Leslie lives on a ranch with her family in San Benito County.