“I can, I will, I am able.” – Tony Hoffman

Tony Hoffman gives a speech of “From Prison to Olympics” in McCarthy Art Center

Tony Hoffman, at the McCarthy Arts Center & Theatre at Saint Michael’s College, speaking about his journey through drug recovery, on Thursday, Feb. 2nd, 2023. PHOTO BY THEO CASTONGUAY

Minqi Kong | Managing Editor of Visuals | mkong@mail.smcvt.edu

Tony Hoffman had a spiritual awakening while serving time in prison. 

“Jan. 21, 2007, I had a spiritual epiphany, which was kind of like a sudden awakening, so to speak, where I came to believe something greater than myself,” Hoffman said. 

St. Michael’s College UpLift program invited Tony Hoffman, author and owner of pH Wellness drug and alcohol treatment facility to share his experience “From Prison to Olympics.” Hoffman spoke at the McCarthy Art Center on March 2 about the power of sharing his own experiences so that those who hear him can feel supported, and how substance abuse and psychological problems can be channeled and better helped through communication. “You are not alone.” Hoffman said.

Hoffman experienced severe depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts in the past, and also struggled with addiction. The dark times in his past did not make him give up on his life, and he worked hard to change himself and try to regain hope in life and become positive. 

 Through friends and misuse of prescription pain medication, Hoffman got hooked on drugs when he was in high school. At first he realized he did not feel pain. He did not feel depressed and he no longer had suicidal thoughts. But before he knew it, he fell into the abyss of addiction.

Back then, Hoffman had a friend who was also struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse with him, and he was the one who provided the substances to Hoffman and other friends. Once this person got caught by his mother, he could not provide substance anymore. Then, Hoffman did the most regretful thing in his whole life, he robbed his friend’s house for drugs. 

Hoffman got sentenced for the drug-related robbery for two years. On Jan. 21, 2007, while in prison, a spiritual epiphany appeared in his mind, and it changed his life. “And once that epiphany took place and initiated the process of where the foundation of my faith came from, and then from that day forward, it was about exercising my faith and building up this muscle of faith and how I was going to practice it not only for myself, but the world around me,” Hoffman said.

Because of his own experience, Hoffman climbed out of the abyss himself, he began to pay attention to many details in his life, began to brush his teeth every day, make up his bed sheets, and pick up the trash on the floor. Self-discipline was one of the ways he redeemed himself, and he believed that self-discipline would help him become a better person. Hoffman hopes that he can help those who are in the same place and suffering like he was to have hope in the world again, to have hope in themselves, to believe in themselves and to believe that people around them can help them. “I can, I will, and I am able,” Hoffman said.

This event was sponsored by the Bergeron Wellness Center, which has held many events on campus such as a meditation event at the end of the last school year, to help students with anxiety and depression.“And what wellness is trying to do on campus is just erasing that stigma of people not wanting to reach out for help,” said Bridgette Akins, St. Michael’s wellness coordinator. During her time at the school, Akins recognized that many of the school’s students were experiencing varying degrees of stress in different areas, and that students could have both mental health issues and substance abuse issues. She thought Hoffman would be a good guest speaker to address these topics with students.

Both Hoffman’s presentation and the Wellness Center’s central idea of helping students, as expressed by Akins, is focused on communication. Communication is an important process for healing the psyche, “I think the way we communicate is extremely important. We need to stay away from things like what’s wrong or it’ll get better. You’ll be fine. Those are what we may intend to be comforting or encouraging to an individual,” Hoffman said. “How can I support you is a great question.” 

I think the way we communicate is extremely important.

-Tony Hoffman

Hoffman mentioned that many people are struggling internally with their mental illness, even starting in middle school to try to find answers. The reasons for searching for answers from middle school may come from family, from some kind of trauma they suffered when they were young, or just to find a place and meaning in society where they can exist. 

“And a lot of times I found that we try to come up with answers on our own sometimes and we don’t get those answers,” Hoffman said. “And it’s really not about getting answers. It’s about coming to terms with the questions we have through conversation.” Constructing the right environment for communication is a responsibility that Hoffman and the Wellness Center are trying to create. Hoffman mentioned that if someone is struggling to have a difficult conversation, they have an obligation to find a safe environment to have that conversation, a place where they will not receive judgment or shame for the things that are communicated in that space. 

“I loved his point about when people are able to open up a safe space for conversations that creates community and connection which then instills hope and people can find their purpose, they can share their gifts to make a positive difference and help others and give back,” said Amy Hylen ’25.

 Enzo Li, ’23, also went to listen to Hoffman’s speech. “ I think the talk is very inspirational and needed to be heard, because many people in the situation are not able to express their feelings or even let the world know they are struggling,” Li said. “So I think Tony Hoffman did a really good work for the voices that were not heard in communities and we definitely need to provide support for them.” 

Communication is a critical part of the process, but sometimes people are not willing to tell the truth and get help, Hoffman said of the situation because such people are in a situation where trauma or their struggles can make them feel trapped to the point where they don’t feel safe to communicate. It’s a struggle because people can’t change another person. We can’t force people to get help. If they choose the health center inside their school that is only a few minutes’ walk away may be the greatest decision of their life. They have to want to do it on their own. But we can help them by the way we communicate.

“If you ever need anything, I want you to know that you can come to me for that support. If you needed me to find some type of resource or location where you could possibly get some relief with whatever it is that you’re working through. I’m happy to do that for you.” Hoffman said.Students looking for support can join wellness sessions on campus that are sponsored by the Wellness Center.  For more information, contact Bridgette Akins bakins@smcvt.edu.