How Omar Pinto Helps Individuals Find Their Pathway to Recovery
We are very excited to share our interview with Omar Pinto, an addiction recovery specialist, life empowerment coach and founder of the SHAIR Podcast, SHAIR Space, and the SHAIR Recovery Community. We loved learning about Omar’s drive to help individuals find their own, unique pathway to recovery, which is his overall mission for SHAIR (Sharing Helps Addicts in Recovery). Keep reading to learn more about Omar, the recovery community in Costa Rica and the inspiring SHAIR community!
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
A: My name is Omar Pinto and I currently live in Costa Rica. I was born and raised in California and lived there until I was 28. When I was 29 I moved to Costa Rica to open up an online casino and sports book, and that’s where my addiction really took off.
Much of my recovery journey begins in Costa Rica because when I moved here, I immediately dove into the party scene. There is a huge nighttime party culture here in Costa Rica and at first, it was kind of like an oasis with the ability to be in my 20s again. There was a lot of drug use, cocaine, ecstasy, mushrooms (you name it) was all readily available.
I met a lot of unsavory characters and quickly became one of those unsavory characters myself. I also met my first wife, who is Costa Rican, right when I moved down here. We fell in love and ended up getting married about 3 years after we met. In the midst of all of that, I was trying to juggle a relationship, one that I cared for deeply, and at the same time I was carrying on a double life of all night partying. Keeping up that lifestyle was exhausting, especially while owning and operating a business. I didn’t want to let go of any of it, but towards the end, my business was failing and everything started to crumble around me. My business partners were wondering what was going on and tried to intervene.
At that point I had bodyguards, I was carrying a loaded weapon, and I was living this gangster persona. But, I was a person that was confused, I had lost my identity and my way. I was the only one who could not see my problem.
In the end, my business partners locked me out of the offices and pushed me to go to rehab. My wife, who was 6 months pregnant, had enough and left. There I was... I had lost my business, my wife and I knew that if I didn’t do something about it, I would lose my daughter. That was my rock bottom, I lost everything. And that’s where my recovery journey began.
I started going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings and surrounding myself with the people who were also in recovery. It was easy to hang out with the group because no one else wanted anything to do with me. My old friends that I used to use with didn’t want to hang out with me and my own family was hesitant to be close to me. Because of that, I had the time and space to get sober and dove into my recovery.
Q: What has becoming a peer recovery specialist taught you about yourself?
A: Being a peer recovery specialist taught me about the identity that I had attached myself to in recovery. My identity shifted when I went to the MRC (Minnesota Recovery Connection) and got certified as a peer recovery specialist. I started to look at myself and recovery differently.
I am an NA guy, which is different than an AA guy. It’s a little edgier and can be a little more hardcore. It’s a different mindset and different rhetoric. For example, in AA you’ll hear people say, “I’m a grateful recovered alcoholic” and in NA you’ll hear, “I’m a grateful recovering addict.” I started noticing the way people would talk about themselves, saying things like “dope fiend”, “drug addict”, etc. It was always something negative. I used to follow that same mentality and say, “I’m a drug addict and I’ll always be a drug addict.”
But that changed when I got into the MRC and I started to think of myself as a person in long-term recovery. What you say about yourself says everything about your recovery. How you classify yourself and the language that you use reaffirms your mindset and your belief systems. That clicked and it made a lot of sense to me!
Q: How do you think the language around recovery has evolved over the years in general?
A: I had some hesitation at first to completely change my recovery rhetoric. I was holding on to what I learned in NA and a lot of my identity was as a “recovering addict” instead of a person in long-term recovery, which is who I am. After so many years of being sober, completing the 12 steps and mentoring and sponsoring other people, I realized I was a very different person and how I describe myself changed as well. It was eye-opening, I wasn’t a “hopeless dope fiend”, and I’m actually a person in long-term recovery.
I am no longer held to the same standards that I used to aspire to as a drug addict. Now I am a husband, father, community leader, podcast host, coach and mentor. I no longer have to associate myself with negative language.
Q: What is the recovery community like in Costa Rica?
A: It’s amazing! Costa Rica has a very strong AA and NA fellowship, both in Spanish and English. When I first got involved 15 years ago, the English fellowships were very small, only around 5-10 members each. But they started to grow naturally with the sports book business because many of us were drug addicts. So, we started a recovery community within the gambling business! People knew each other and were able to help each other out.
Also, people were visiting Costa Rica and searching for AA and NA meetings online. So people who were traveling would show up at the meetings from all over the world! We’d see people from Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. We’ve actually had people from all over the world relocate to Costa Rica because the fellowship is so strong. They can anchor themselves to the meetings and feel comfortable and safe moving here without disrupting their recovery routine. Costa Rica has really become an English speaking recovery hub.
Q: How did your idea to start a podcast come about?
A: A lot of it stemmed from the negative language I was hearing. As my mentality started to shift, I couldn’t connect to the negativity, judgment, and dogma that I was hearing. I felt I was being pushed away. And if I feel judged, I’m gone!
I was listening to a lot of podcasts and had the idea to start a podcast on recovery. I wanted to interview people that had struggled with addiction and come out the other side. And, I wanted to know how they did it. I wanted to talk about every possible pathway to get clean and sober and broadcast it out to the world! That became my motivation. I didn’t agree with the mindset that I saw within the groups I was attending.
Along with the podcast, I also launched a private Facebook Group that now has over 5,000 members. SHAIR has been a bridge to multiple pathways to recovery. It allows people to say, “I like that, or that makes sense, I’ll try that.” They can pick and choose what can work for them. SHAIR started its own recovery movement.
More recently I launched the SHAIR Recovery Community, which is a smaller private Facebook group with online meetings. The idea is that we ask, “Where are you at? Where would you like to go? And how can we help you?” It’s our first paid membership group which offers live online meetings. We provide coaching and feedback from myself and other members who have a significant amount of time being sober.
Q: What is the most rewarding thing about hosting the podcast and the SHAIR Recovery Network?
A: It’s definitely the community that I have built and the family that has formed. I have watched so many people cross over and find their own pathway to recovery. The reward is watching them find their own way. I am the conduit that allows people the opportunity to listen to other people find recovery. They are creating connections, developing friendships and finding a pathway that works for them. We offer a group with NO JUDGEMENT, NO DOGMA, and NO ABSOLUTES. It’s a really a buffet, where you have multiple options and can pick and choose what works for you.
Q: What is something that happens behind the scenes of your podcast that your listeners wouldn’t know?
A: A lot! I have two assistants who help with the podcast and SHAIR Recovery Community. I also have eight volunteer admins in the SRC, and we have our own private chat going on in the background. I have a mentor in the group who I lean into recovery wise and talk to him on a regular basis.
I would say that there are 10-15 strong members in the community who help me run everything.
Behind the scenes is everything from editing the podcast, having discussions with the admins, recording interviews and keeping the essence and purpose of what we’re doing pure. We don’t allow any bullying, harassment or negative comments. Our group is really positive and open-minded, but to keep it that way, you have to keep out riff-raff. It’s all become a very seamless process because everyone shares the same mindset and we’ve been doing it for so long.
It’s very important for us to stay on point about our purpose, which is allowing every member to find their pathway to recovery without the interference of anyone else.