How to start again when everything seems to be lost? It may seem strange that we are talking about “start over again” in a website dedicated to Jiu-Jitsu. However, the gentle art covers many other aspects in the lives of those who fight. The trainings, the lifestyle, everything helps to maintain the balance between mental and physical health. It is very important to have an outlet, especially in a society surrounded by violence and drugs. Unfortunately, the stress and personal problems, along with curiosity, can bring a person to searching for other ways to forget the day-by-day difficulties.
About eight years ago, these factors led Sergio Jr. to “only try” a kind of drug. “With an illusory sense of security and curiosity, I took cocaine for the first time. That was the beginning of one of the most difficult phases of my life,” said this guy from Rio. At that time, this purple belt from GB “Av. das Américas” was a photojournalist, had a successful career and, in a matter of months, he saw the best time of his life disintegrate into rubble.
From the material losses to the moral ones. Gradually, the trainings were left behind. He shut himself away alone in a dark room, regardless of rain or shine, day or night. Using the cocaine as a relief from the suffered losses, it got to a point in which he would only leave the room to buy more of that illegal substance. “I used to leave the room only to buy more and then come back to that dirty place for days without even worrying about my personal hygiene. It was a sickly routine. Until I decided to put an end to that situation,” said Sergio.
In 2007 came the decision to stop and write a new story, this time in the United States. Leaving his city in the hope of a new life was also somehow leaving behind the memories about certain persons and environments. New York, Connecticut, and finally Seattle (WA), where the reconstruction of this ‘carioca’ guy would start to be put into practice. In a new environment, surrounded by new people, the possibility of some kind of prejudice was practically zero. “There I reacquired my professional photographic equipment and worked as a foreign correspondent for some events. In the meantime, I got to visit a GB school near my house twice, but I had no courage to go back to training,” said the purple belt. Three years in the United States – no cocaine use. A moderate consumption of alcohol and smoking was still present in this Brazilian’s life. This period away from Brazil gave to Sérgio one of the greatest presents in his life: his first and only daughter Clara. After the birth of the little girl, without any previous planning, the decision to return to his country of origin in 2009 subtly emerged.
Back to Brazil and less than a month on Brazilian soil, the most feared happened: a complete relapse. “I would never imagine how powerful could be this devastating avalanche of chemical dependency. The construction of a whole life was reduced, in an 18-month period, to two bags of clothes,” he said.
Months which were marked by a “possible” overdose and – on the ledge of a building, even the consideration of suicide.
About this phase, Sérgio recalls: “I’ve slept in the streets and had no food for several days. I’ve stolen material goods and the peace from friends and relatives. I had a gun pointed to my head and I’ve been hurt. Nothing that different from the routine of the majority of chemical dependents nowadays.”
And what would look like the rock bottom of the addiction was not enough to make him stop. When he was 35 years-old, everything he would see or touch would ‘become powder’. With no social life, no responsibilities and a unique commitment: to have more and more drugs. Being sober at that point was a rare situation. And in those unusual opportunities, Sérgio tried to reflect about what his life had become. It was too much suffering. Then, the pain caused by that situation led him to take an attitude that would finally change his life and make him leave in the past all that suffering caused by drugs. Ten years without wearing the kimono, in August 2009, on his knees before his parents, Sergio in an act of desperation, for the first time asked for help. “It would be either hospitalization or death in a matter of months. My body was denigrated, abandoned. I was 25kg (55 lbs.) lighter. My head was not working properly. I was almost in an irreversible insanity situation. I had no life,” said the purple belt.
After some short-term hospitalization attempts, Sérgio was finally taken to the PROLIV (Comunidade Terapêutica Projeto Livres) in Maricá, RJ. It was a 6-month period facing all the difficulties, taking care of his body, his mind and spirit. It was not easy. Then, lucid once again, his dreams and goals returned and with them his passion for Jiu-Jitsu increased in his heart. “I got in contact with a great friend and instructor from GB in the US and got some info about GB Rio de Janeiro. Later, I contacted a friend who was opening his own school. We talked and I decided to come back.”
But even after being recovered, the shame and the insecurity would accompany him. His body, out of shape and tired could not recall the basic positions. But it would not frustrate his plans. Sergio enrolled at GB Av. das Américas. “I left the school pensive, dreaming about how my return to the mats would be. And especially being in a Gracie Barra school, something I always respected and adored since I was a teenager.” For the first time, he wore a GB kimono and from that moment on, day after day, training after training, the rough diamond hidden inside Sergio was being polished. It was not only a return, but the first step in a new lifestyle that he had adopted, “I started to worry more and more about my diet and rest. I was getting more comfortable in the trainings.
I decided to compete for the first time, approximately 5 months after my return to the mats. I was beaten in the first fight by 2 points, in the final seconds,” he told, proudly. That defeat could be a reason for a new relapse. Could be some cold water poured on his new start. It could, if we were talking about the ‘old’ Sérgio. But this ‘sudden’ loss motivated him even more. “I doubled my attention to the explanations during the classes. I started to better notice my strengths and weaknesses in the trainings. I searched for breathing and meditation exercises, I completely changed my diet and any other things that could help to develop myself as an (amateur) athlete and human, obviously. It took ten months until I decided to compete again.”
At the end of 2013, precisely in the last competition of the year in Rio, Sergio could shine once again. After three exciting fights the result: the gold medal. A medal that represented not only the championship win. It had a value that would go far beyond the victory itself. It represented a comeback. But if you think he stopped there, you’re wrong. The victories became a routine in the state championships.
From the fights came the tears, not from a possible relapse or defeat. In April of this year, Sergio once again took to the podium, in fact, in a place where anyone would struggle to be: The first place in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Confederation (IBJJF) championship. “When the fight ended, a little movie came to my mind. There was no way to avoid the tears. I looked around and I was still confused. I could not believe,” said the champion.
A story like this champion’s is repeated many times, every day in every part of the world. Unfortunately, not everyone can end this fight with a victory. Today, Sérgio Jr. has a stable life, close family and friends and is an example to us all. To wrap up, here is the testimony of the guy who faced the sadness until its maximum level and today shines with life, self-love and dedication to the Jiu-Jitsu trainings:
“I am not a saint nor want to be a hero. I am only someone else who survived and now can live more “intensively” the small things in life. Another one among few that managed to overcome the pain and accept the human condition – or my condition. I learned to live day by day the normality of human imperfection, with its emotional nuances common to everyone, without putting the responsibility for my actions on other people. It is a fact that we all have difficulties. It’s only a matter of changing the “why’s” for “for which purpose” along the way. In this point the Jiu-Jitsu came to strengthen my thoughts. With the gentle art we learn that not only because we are on top we are winning nor because we are underneath we are losing. We learn to deal with uncomfortable situations when self-control is essential in the search for solutions. We work resilience at every training – whether or not focusing on competitions. In fact, like in the treatment against chemical dependency, in the mats we forge values – good men for good things. When we wear the kimono, we dilute the differences that could exist. There we can find all kinds of professionals, beliefs and creeds, educational level, weights, heights and colors. They are all mixed. Both in the mats and in the life, there are humans, brothers and a big family. This was what caught my eye in the philosophy that Master Carlos Gracie Jr. is spreading throughout the world. Today I am part of this family and, thank God, I can be here to tell my story. I thank everyone for the help, the support, the criticism, for everything. I currently seek sponsorships, allies in this fight to get more championships in Jiu Jitsu, in life, for the will to live. To fight against drug addiction, for everyone who suffers from an addiction around the world – starting with our Brazilian families. We are not alone… Let’s fight as a family!” – Sérgio Jr – GB Av. das Américas.