Friday, November 5, 2010

Twilight Star Shares his Story of Struggle with Substance Abuse

From the University of Illinois - Daily Illini:

The University added a new member to its wolf pack this Thursday.

Star of the “Twilight” saga Chaske Spencer spoke about his battles with racism, alcohol and drugs at the Illini Union yesterday, sponsored by the Illini Union Board and the Native American House.

Spencer portrays Sam Uley in the Twilight series. Uley is the leader of the wolfpack, and the first of the Quilete tribe to make the human to werewolf transformation.

Born in Oklahoma, he didn’t move to a Native American reservation until later on in his childhood, where he didn’t make an immediate fit, he said.

“They teased me for being an apple. White on the inside, red on the outside, and I didn’t understand that,” Spencer said.

With a father for an alcoholic, he fell into a crowd of other youths from dysfunctional homes, he said.

“I’m talking dysfunction: There was mental abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse. I thought that was normal for a long time, and it is on a reservation,” Spencer said.

In his teens he began drinking alcohol. He had a lot of anger inside, and the alcohol seemed to help him deal with that, he said.

“I took my first drink, and that one can, that’s what took everything away; all the pressures away,” Spencer said.

He moved off the reservation into a predominately white community during his later teens, where he experienced more racism.

To get over feeling like an outsider, he used alcohol as a social lubricant and got himself into a rough crowd. He would drink to the point of blacking out, and often didn’t know how he got home.

After high school, Spencer went to a semester of college, but then dropped out and moved to New York to pursue an acting career, where he continued to drink excessively.

He was still able to perform on set somehow, he said. But that all changed when he started using drugs.

“Things didn’t start going downhill until my 20s, when I had my first experience with heroin,” Spencer said.

A girl he was dating at the time got him into it, and he was hooked right away. He would even go to auditions high, he said.

Though his girlfriend got him started, she couldn’t stick around when his heroin use became an addiction.

“I lost my apartment, I lost the girl, I lost my career,” Spencer said. “Next thing I know, I was broke.”

He had to leave his luxurious $3,000-per-month apartment to move to a small dirty place in eastern Brooklyn.

“I just woke up and I had enough,” Spencer said. “The other option is death.”

After checking into rehab, Spencer turned a complete 180 degrees. In rehab they showed him a video of Native Americans and alcohol, where he realized what a struggle alcoholism was for his people. He said much of the reason is because of their displacement.

After becoming sober and checking out, he did everything in his power to stay on that path.

He was on the verge of giving up acting when his agent called him and asked him to audition for “New Moon,” the sequel to “Twilight.”

Spencer had heard of “Twilight,” but didn’t really know what it was.

“I literally had maybe $30 to my name at the point,” Spencer said.

He got the part. Spencer is still sober.

He has used his starpower to start the organization Shift the Power, which puts spotlight on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Thirteen thousand of these people are without power, heat and water due to their water infrastructure.

“It was one of the worst catastrohpes since Katrina, but the mainstream media didn’t pick it up,” he said.

Denise Poindexter, program adviser with the Illini Union Board, said her favorite part of Spencer’s speech was “the fact that he was open and honest about his past.”

Vaneitta Goines, program advisor for the Office of Volunteer programs, said Spencer’s speech could inspire students dealing wih similar issues.

“Even at this event we had a couple of students that asked questions about how to help their friends who are struggling with alcoholism or addiction,” she said.

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