What’s Up South Texas!: Bartender shares history of alcohol abuse to inspire others

She mentors others battling addiction and encourages them to keep fighting every day

What’s Up South Texas!: Bartender shares history of alcohol abuse to inspire others

San Antonio – A San Antonio woman named TouchTunes Bartender of the Year out of the entire nation is bringing awareness to the fight against alcohol and drug addiction. It is a battle she has dealt with most of her life.

Crystal Sanders with TouchTunes Bartender of the Year award (Courtesy Crystal Sanders) (KSAT)

Crystal Sanders, 40, is not only a bartender at Brewer's Grill, but she is a direct care specialist at ALPHA Home.

"They are two different worlds, obviously," Sanders laughed. "I serve alcohol to people here and I keep people from drinking it there."

Sanders said each job has great opportunities for her.

"I love people," Sanders said. "The people who come into the bar are like family. They are the sweetest people. At ALPHA Home, they are also like family. I tell them they are my biggest hero. They really are because they are going through a fight I went through three years ago that you just never know if you are going to make it through. They are fighting for their lives."

That fight was the result of a dark past.

"I was born to two great parents who were married until I was about three," Sanders said. "I was born in Houston and I am a daddy's girl. My mom had problems being in and out of prison, so I was a little lost here and there."

At age nine, Sanders said she was molested.

Crystal Sanders as a child (Courtesy Crystal Sanders) (KSAT)

"Things like that change you," Sanders said. "There is an 80% chance if you have trauma in your life, you will become an addict. So, having that happen to me didn't set me off to success."

In high school, Sanders began experimenting with drugs, which led to alcohol.

“I wanted a quick fix,” Sanders said. “When drinking got involved, I realized, ‘Wow this is easy, and it is quick and that I can get it.’”

Crystal Sanders in high school (Courtesy Crystal Sanders) (KSAT)

Sanders said alcohol continued through college until she had her first son prematurely at age 18.

“It was a traumatic experience,” Sanders said. “He was two pounds and 14 ounces. He is now 21 and as healthy as can be and in the Navy, but that set a path of ‘How do I get through life everyday?’”

Crystal Sanders pregnant with her son (Courtesy Crystal Sanders) (KSAT)
Crystal Sanders with her first newborn (Courtesy Crystal Sanders) (KSAT)

She said not having coping skills made things worse in her life, especially after she had her second son shortly afterward.

"I was married to his father but became a single mother at age 21," Sanders said. "I had not experienced partying or anything, so that is when the drinking and partying took off."

Sanders said she was good at hiding her alcoholism. In 2007, more trauma followed.

"I was brutally raped, and it defined my life for a while," Sanders said. "I did the same thing. Open that bottle of wine. Open that bottle of beer. Take a Jager shot and you are good. I pretended like everything was great. I married a wonderful man who was a great father but ended up not being for me. I had my daughter and my other son."

Sanders said the person she was on the outside was completely different from the person she was on the inside.

"I was a PTA mom," Sanders said. "I was a soccer mom. I seemed perfect on the outside, but I was crumbling on the inside. I would get bottles of wine during the day and I would chug them and throw them into the neighbors' trash when I got home."

She said after she had her last son, the opioid epidemic impacted her life greatly.

"I was getting pain pills out the yahoo without being asked," Sanders said. "I have ADHD and instead of taking the Adderall like it was prescribed, I was going to like 10 different doctors and getting doses and would take them."

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Sanders said her normal life she was able to fake began to deteriorate.

"I filed for divorce and went off on the deep end," Sanders said. "Drugs, alcohol, being promiscuous, and partying became my life."

She lost custody of her kids, eventually.

"One day, I flipped my lid," Sanders said. "My youngest daughter and two older sons were supposed to come back home from a weekend visit and their dads contacted me and said they are not coming home. They said they didn't feel safe with them with me. I wasn't seeing all of that. I just knew I was going and going and going and was able to be a super mom, so I thought."

She tried committing suicide afterward.

"My youngest son was 18 months and I had him on my hip and called his dad," Sanders said. "He came and got the baby, not because I wanted to hand him over but because I knew I needed to. I would never do anything to my kids and that included seeing me at my lowest point. When I knew I wasn't getting them back, I took it upon myself to get a 6-pack of beer, throw on a bathing suit and drive to a lake, which was 45 minutes away."

Sanders said she broke her phone and brought her gun with her because she wanted to end it all.

"I brought pictures of my children and laid them on a table," Sanders said. "There were helicopters and cops and everyone searching for me everywhere. They pinged my phone before I turned it off and found me right before with my .22 in my lap," Sanders said with tears in her eyes.

Afterward, Sanders said she moved to San Antonio in 2014 to be with her high school sweetheart.

"I was darn good at covering everything up again," Sanders said. "I eventually lost it and started hallucinating and seeing things because I would be up for days at a time. It got to where I would wake up and make my vodka drink every day. If it didn't have alcohol in it, I didn't want it. I would also pop pills as much as I could. I finally got to where I knew I couldn't live like that anymore, but I couldn't stop either. I had to drink to stay alive."

More suicide attempts followed.

"I slit my wrists and was found in a tub full of blood and almost succeeded," Sanders said. "I jumped out of a moving car on the freeway. I overdosed on pills and don't remember the few days after that. I was locked in a cell and I was mad at God because he wouldn't let me go. I woke up on October 18 of 2016 and said, 'What I am doing isn't working. I am going to have to suck it up and sober up and see what happens.'"

Sanders stopped drinking alcohol but it was a scary experience starting off.

"There is a thing called PAWS, Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, that you get after you have been drinking for so long. It is terrifying. I couldn't read a book. I could barely walk. I was so weak, my balance was off and your mind just doesn't work."

She said she knew she couldn’t do it on her own, so she checked into ALPHA Home Jan 4, 2017.

Crystal Sanders's first day at ALPHA Home (Courtesy Crystal Sanders) (KSAT)

"I was there for 74 days and it saved my life. I never knew structure until I got there. Someone actually listened to me and said 'It is ok you are screwed up. It is alright. You don't have to hide it. This is what made you this way.' I did counseling and therapy because before I got there, I was also homeless. I would sleep in a park and I did things I am not proud of to get money to buy my alcohol and drugs and everything."

Now, Sanders is over three years sober and mentors others with the same problems she used to have.

"I tell them your sobriety comes first," Sanders said. "I wake up and realize God kept me here for a reason. This whole Touch Tunes thing came about and it makes me excited to bring attention to addiction. There is a stigma that surrounds it. That you can shove the problem in the back and I was like that for a long time. Someone needs to hear this. They are going to look at their husband and wife and parent and will say, 'I have a problem and I need help.' This is the reason I am here and stand in front of those girls at ALPHA."

Sanders now has joint custody of her children and a thriving relationship with all four of them.

Crystal Sanders with her children (Courtesy Crystal Sanders) (KSAT)
Crystal Sanders with her son (Courtesy Crystal Sanders) (KSAT)

"For the longest time, my oldest sons didn't speak to me but they allowed me to stalk them on social media," Sanders said. "We all just recently started talking again and I am just so proud of all of them. My youngest children are so smart and have good grades. My oldest sons are thriving in life. If anything came out of this, they learned what not to do in life and I thank their dads and grandparents for molding them into the people they are today."

Sanders said her next goal is to train so one day she can help women transition from rehab to the real world.

“You either struggle to stay clean or fight to stay high every day,” Sanders said. “Ask yourself, ‘What are you going to choose?’ No matter how far down you think you may get, there is not such a thing as rock bottom. If you are alive and breathing, you can always go up.”

If you know someone like Sanders who is making a difference in the South Texas community or who has a unique story, send us your tips. Contact Japhanie Gray on Facebook or @JGrayKSAT on Twitter. You can also send your tips to KSAT 12 & KSAT.com on Facebook.

About the Authors:

Japhanie Gray joined 10 News as an anchor in March 2022.