Emmy-award winning actor, Martin Sheen visited Western Michigan University on Thursday to share his passion about drug and alcohol addiction to community members who share his interests.
For the past several years, Sheen has been heavily involved in promoting drug courts and treatment programs for people like himself who have battled addiction with alcohol or drugs. Sheen acknowledged his own alcoholism and expressed his thankfulness for people who understand substance addiction as a disease.
“Acting is what I do for a living. Activism is what I do to stay alive,” said Sheen.
Sheen’s speech was part of the annual Coming Together Conference, hosted in collaboration by The Healing Center, The Drug Treatment Court Foundation of Kalamazoo County and the College of Health and Human Services Specialty Program in Alcohol and Drug abuse.The Coming Together Conference is an organization with the primary goal of reducing the stigma associated with addiction and recovery. The organization sets out to accomplish their goal by reaching out to community members and organizations at events like the Coming Together Conference.
“The conscious goal I have for each and every one of you is to find a passion and pursue it with everything you have,” said Sheen. “My goal for you today is to keep on keeping on.”
Sheen’s speech was followed by Earl Hightower, an award-winning chemical dependance counselor. Sheen called Hightower a friend, a hero and a savior.
“He has helped save lives in my family and many others across the country,” said Sheen. “There is no one I have known in all my years to have given more of his time and talent to helping others, and that man is my dear friend, Earl Hightower.”
Hightower explained his long history with drug and alcohol addiction that peaked on his 22nd birthday when a plane he was riding crashed. Hightower survived the crash but broke several bones rendering him immobile, and therefore watched as both of his parents and younger sister bled to death.
“I’ve been sober for 31 years now because of those who came before me who were there for me in my time of desperation,” said Hightower.
Hightower talked about his own advocacy for drug treatment courts and his work as an intervention specialist.
“You, Kalamazoo, have set the bar for the rest of the country for drug treatment courts,” he said. “What you have done with your numbers is absolutely remarkable.”
After the opening ceremonies, members of local businesses and other community members separated for a series of breakout sessions. Participants chose the seminar most applicable to them in three separate time slots and discussed topics ranging from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to adolescent trends in drug abuse in Kalamazoo County.
Hightower emphasized that once addicts are “cured,” or sober, it is their responsibility to heal others with the same disease.
“We cannot just heal ourselves, but we can heal our community,” he said.