Samir Vergara is a former actor and broadcast journalist. Cocaine use ended both careers. After relocating to the United States, he met a former drill instructor who changed his perspective on life and helped him achieve sobriety. Samir is now a drug counselor, assisting people in dealing with problems similar to those he once had.
Samir Vergara enjoys reminiscing about his time working as a broadcast journalist.
In his Orlando, Florida, home he has a collection of old cassette tapes. Each recording features a different celebrity interview. During the ‘90s, Samir translated interviews with actors such as Bo Derek and Jack Nicholson for a Colombian radio station.
Samir loved his job. The position allowed him to achieve a bit of fame, and strangers occasionally recognized his voice during brief interactions. He had built a stable career before drug addiction brought his life crumbling down.
“I’m traveling throughout Latin America. I have a nice expense account. I’m interviewing all of these important people,” Samir told DrugRehab.com. “But on the inside, it was the worst of the worst.”
He lost his job because of cocaine use. He lost his money. He lost his wife. If it were not for an intervention by his mother, he believes he could have lost his life.
But Samir does not regret his past actions. He believes everything happens for a reason. He says that for every testing, there is a blessing. Samir didn’t realize his purpose in life for many years, but now he understands it.
“This whole time, God had a plan for me,” said Samir.
Samir was born in Colombia, a country nestled on the northern tip of South America. The area is dominated by mountains, rainforests and coffee plantations. When he was a small child, his family moved to New York City.
“So many actors used drugs to get through the day. It was a subculture that I got hooked onto.”
Samir’s family settled in the Whitestone neighborhood of Queens. He attended Public School 193 Alfred J. Kennedy, an elementary school across the street from Samir’s home. As a child, he sometimes saw his peers discreetly smoke marijuana on school property.
“I tried it once or twice,” said Samir. “But I didn’t really start smoking it again until freshman year of high school, when I was about 15 years old.”
After his parents divorced, 10-year-old Samir moved with his mother to Miami Beach, Florida. He attended Miami Beach Senior High School, where he acted in a number of theater productions. He grew to love the work and had dreams of becoming a professional actor.
“That’s when the acting bug started,” said Samir.
After graduating high school, Samir moved back to Colombia to live with his father. Samir said the country provided him with a change of scenery and his father offered him financial support. He decided to pursue acting and enrolled in acting school.
He began acting in a string of Colombian soap operas in his early 20s. The work was enjoyable but demanding. The career required working late and arriving to the set early the next morning. To brave grueling schedules, other actors would turn to energy-boosting drugs such as cocaine.
Samir began doing the same.
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“In the world of acting, you work a lot,” said Samir. “So many actors used drugs to get through the day. It was a subculture that I got hooked onto.”
This wasn’t Samir’s first experience using drugs. In the past, he had smoked marijuana and drunk alcohol for fun. But now he was relying on cocaine to get through the day. Over time, he became addicted to the stimulant.
“Cocaine was the drug that brought me to my knees,” said Samir. “Stimulants made me feel good the first hour or two. But as time wore on, I began to feel a little paranoid, and then I felt very paranoid and nervous.”
His substance use disorder affected his career. He began showing up late to work, missing scenes. When he was on time, he often forgot his lines. Sometimes he missed entire workdays, angering the production team.
“I got to a point where I couldn’t stop using,” said Samir. “I was using every day. It was getting bad.”
Because of his substance abuse, Samir’s acting opportunities dwindled. He began losing roles. Watching his career suffer was difficult for him to handle.
“It was like losing your dog,” said Samir. “I worked so hard to get this and keep it and take care of it, but because of bad decisions it was all over.”
As his acting career started to decline, he began looking for other employment opportunities.
One day, he was listening to an interview with an American celebrity on a Colombian radio station. The interviewer was leading the conversation while another person translated it to Spanish for Latin American audiences. Samir thought the translator was doing a poor job interpreting the interview.
So he called the broadcast network, Caracol Radio. He offered to help the company translate interviews because he could speak fluent English and Spanish. After a brief trial period, Caracol hired Samir in August 1991.
At Caracol, he translated interviews from English to Spanish while on air. He also set up interviews with a host of people, including celebrities Francis Ford Coppola and Mike Tyson. Samir thrived in the role.
“Part of my job was to find people and convince them to give us a few minutes for an interview,” said Samir. “Sometimes I called their hotel room when they were in town. I got Jack Nicholson and other celebrities to say yes. Somehow I was very good at the art of persuasion.”
The manager at Caracol encouraged Samir to go to journalism school to expand his opportunities within the company. So Samir enrolled in a Colombian trade school that focused on broadcasting. During this time, he learned to interview people and produce audio content.
Upon graduation, he took on more responsibilities at Caracol. He still tracked down people to interview, but now he was conducting and translating interviews. Samir led conversations with a host of celebrities, including Sylvester Stallone and Liam Neeson.
However, he continued using cocaine in his spare time. His co-workers knew he was experiencing drug addiction, but they did not intervene.
“In that world, it is enablement,” said Samir. “Nobody said, ‘Samir, you need to go to rehab.’ They saw that I was landing these interviews, so they didn’t care. Their mindset was, ‘As long as we get the interviews, we are OK.’”
Samir’s cocaine use began affecting his marriage. Samir tied the knot with his fiancée, Patricia, in 1991. During their relationship, she pleaded with him to seek assistance for his substance abuse problems. But, like many people dealing with addiction, he was reluctant to seek any form of treatment.
Eventually, Patricia had had enough. She filed for divorce in 1992. Although they got back together in 1997, Samir’s continued drug use caused the relationship to once again end in 1998. Samir was crushed.
“Nobody said, ‘Samir, you need to go to rehab.’ They saw that I was landing these interviews, so they didn’t care. Their mindset was, ‘As long as we get the interviews, we are OK.’”
“When that happened, I began to use [drugs] in a way that I never had before,” he said. “I didn’t go back to work, and I stopped doing regular things that people do on a daily basis, like take showers and groom themselves.”
He would wake up each day and try not to use, but it never worked. Invariably, he would purchase more drugs. Over time, he grew tired of this lifestyle. In 1998, he found the strength to call his mother and admit his drug problem.
Shortly after their conversation, Samir’s mother traveled to Colombia and persuaded him to move back to the United States. A month later, he boarded a flight to Miami Beach.
When Samir arrived in Miami Beach, he had no money. He had no job lined up. But he remained optimistic. He was ready to start a new life and felt that a new environment would allow him to achieve sobriety.
He stayed with his mother for a few days before moving in with his sister in Gloucester County, Virginia. They eventually moved to Alexandria, Virginia, a city on the outskirts of the District of Columbia.
Staying sober during this time was no easy task.
“It was a process. There was a lot of pain. I had to face my past and the mistakes I had done,” said Samir. “I had to come to terms with the fact that I had lost my wife. I had lost a lot of the things I had worked hard for.”
After relapsing, Samir attended a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia. During a speaking session, a man named Ed recounted how he’d overcome drug addiction years before.
Ed, a former military drill instructor, had a tough demeanor. He was honest and thoughtful yet direct and blunt in his opinions. He had dedicated his life to helping people conquer addiction. Samir introduced himself to Ed that night, and they eventually formed a strong friendship.
Ed taught Samir discipline. He told him that sobriety takes hard work. He criticized Samir for feeling sorry for himself and told him that his problems were the result of his own actions. He encouraged Samir to attend support group meetings more regularly, but Samir was reluctant.
“I love to play soccer, and I told him that 12-step meetings would interfere with my playing the sport,” said Samir. “He told me, ‘If soccer kept you clean, I’d tell you to kick a soccer ball all day. These 12-step meetings will keep you sober.’”
In November 1998, Samir began attending support group meetings every day. They helped him better understand his past actions and how they related to his current problems. He also learned about his character defects and how to support others in similar situations.
Samir hasn’t touched drugs since. He has been sober for more than 18 years.
“I used to always think about me, but [after attending 12-step meetings] I started to think about other people,” said Samir. “I started to wonder how I could help people looking to stay sober.”
This desire to assist individuals with substance use disorders eventually led to another career change.
Ed also encouraged Samir to go back to school and pursue a meaningful career. Samir knew he wanted to help people who were battling drug addiction or alcoholism. So he decided to study to become an addiction counselor.
“[Ed] encouraged me to go to school and study a career that I would have never in my wildest dreams thought I could do because I was an addict,” said Samir.
“I get a lot of joy out of seeing someone recover from addiction, seeing someone get better.”
In 1999, he enrolled at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria to study addiction counseling. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree and completing 1,500 internship hours, Samir became a board-certified counselor.
“Now I’m an addiction counselor,” said Samir. “It’s completely amazing and surreal.”
He eventually rekindled his relationship with his ex-wife, Patricia. They remarried in 2003 and settled in Orlando in 2007. Samir became a counselor for Quest Counseling Center and co-hosted a TV program about addiction recovery.
Samir is now an addiction counselor with Major Counseling Center in Orlando. He addresses client issues such as drug and alcohol addiction, anger management, codependency, depression and relationship issues. He specializes in Christian counseling, behavioral issues, coping skills and sexual addiction.
As a Christian counselor, he uses biblical teachings to help clients with a Christian background overcome life problems and strengthen their relationship with God.
However, Samir meets with clients of all backgrounds, including those who are not spiritual.
He routinely works with people struggling with addiction and feelings of hopelessness. He helps them identify the origin of their drug use. In many cases, his clients were sexually abused as children, or they succumbed to peer pressure.
“A lot of times they identify with me because I was in a similar situation. It helps them spill their feelings to you, and they learn to recognize their self-defeating thoughts.”
At times, he opens up to them about his own tribulations with substance abuse.
“A lot of times they identify with me because I was in a similar situation,” said Samir. “It helps them spill their feelings to you, and they learn to recognize their self-defeating thoughts.”
Despite a busy schedule, Samir still attends 12-step meetings three times each week. These groups allow him to concentrate on his sobriety. He maintains that he would not be sober today without them.
“A lot of counselors … think that they can get their recovery through counseling their clients, but that does not work. Counselors who are addicts in recovery need to continue to work on their own recovery,” said Samir. “I take it one day at a time.”
It took Samir many years to recognize his purpose in life. It is not acting or producing. It has nothing to do with tracking down celebrities for interviews or translating conversations. Instead, he strongly believes that he was meant to help people overcome problems that affect their lives.
“I get a lot of joy out of seeing someone recover from addiction, seeing someone get better,” he said. “My whole life, I took from people. I took from my parents, from employers, from friends. Now I am finally able to give, to help.”
Samir is thankful for the blessings in his life. In 1998, he was divorced, depressed and had no money. Today, he is remarried to his first love, lives in a nice house and helps people defeat their inner struggles.
And he is doing it all while sober.
“My worst day clean is a thousand times better than my best day using drugs,” said Samir. “I am truly blessed.”