Deep down at his core Rudy Acosta is a master manipulator.
It’s what addicts do in order to keep the lies they are telling everyone — especially themselves — going as long as possible.
At its least damaging the manipulation was getting loved ones to believe he could get clean on his own, knowing full well where in Ahwatukee he was going to get his next high and at its darkest moments Acosta, 25, was getting his gang members to commit felonies, deal drugs and worse.
“I feel very ashamed about the things I’ve done in my life,” he said. “I can’t take them back. When you are using, and you are an addict, you don’t think about the consequences or who you are hurting.
“You are trying to get high and that’s all without thinking of ramifications.”
Acosta, a mere 60 days sober on Friday, is still manipulating but doing so in a much different way for an even better high.
The 2006 Desert Vista graduate redirected his manipulative skills to grappling. A discipline of the mixed martial art craze, grappling is mostly about getting your opponent to do something he doesn’t even realize he’s doing in order to gain an advantage.
“I’ve always been good at that,” he said.
The day Acosta got out of rehab, his fourth attempt since December, he found himself at the UFC Gym in Ahwatukee rekindling a passion he had for the sport before he got sidetracked once again by the desire to use. It was his new release while coping with his sobriety.
The euphoric invincibility — there is nothing they can’t do — that meth users describe has been replaced with getting his hand raised again and again.
Three weeks later he won the men’s beginner bantam weight class championship at Phoenix College on March 1.
He dedicated the win to two of his drug running buddies and put their initials — PR and KL — on his shorts he wore in the matches.
“They are motivation for me ‘cause I don’t want to go back to it. There was a time when I had a bad day I’d find a way to use,” he said. “Now, I go to the gym, train and learn new stuff instead of going back to my bad habits. I dedicated myself fully for three weeks and I won it. It was such a natural high and it lasts so much longer.
“It felt good to be a role model again for my brother, niece and nephew. For years I felt like they lost respect for me. Now I feel like I am doing something good and positive that they can look up to me for.”
None of the recent success seemed possible just three months ago.
Acosta was addicted using heroin, meth and pain killers. A lethal combination if there ever was one. He saw two of running buddies — Peter and Kyler — die from overdoses 18 months apart in 2011 and 2012, but it still wasn’t enough to slap him into sobriety.
“I was in denial even though I’ve been in the hospital myself for an overdose,” he said. “When you are using you think you are untouchable. I saw them in a coma and it was traumatizing. It increased my use because I somehow thought I’d get off of it on my own.”
It didn’t matter how much his girlfriend, Amanda Hofeling, pleaded with him, or that his family shunned him. Acosta was a junkie dating back to 17 when he first dabbled in heroin.
“It was difficult to understand how or why he didn’t stop,” said Hofeling, who has been with him for eight years. “As someone who wasn’t an addict I couldn’t understand how he couldn’t look at his life and see how it was being ruined and going down the drain and just stop.
“I got asked every day why I didn’t leave him. I was basically waiting for the day. It was hell at times, but this is why I stuck around. I knew this day was possible.”
It didn’t always seem that way.
If the death of some friends, numerous trips to jail, nearly overdosing himself or not speaking to his family for long periods of time wasn’t going to change him then what would?
Finally, he was ready to let someone else take charge of his life.
“Somewhere in there was my son,” his mother, Valerie Borunda-Jameson, said. “As much as he did wrong, I never lost faith in who he really was and now he is finally my son again.”
It took the four attempts — at three different rehab centers — since December to get to this point.
The first time he was asked to leave because of his violent tendencies, the second time he left on his own accord after they wouldn’t give him the prescribed drugs that help reduce the withdraws he wanted, and the third time he brought drugs with him into the rehab center.
Finally, Acosta found the right place — Banner Health’s The Villas in Scottsdale — and approached it differently.
“I told myself for years I could do it myself, but it wasn’t working,” he said. “I’m a control freak. My way just wasn’t working. I was losing too many things, too many friends that I finally surrendered myself, basically.”
His mind was right, but the body still needed it. The body usually wins that battle when it comes to junkies. The cravings and symptoms become too much and the user gives in all too often.
And Acosta was nearly there again when he turned to an old friend who someone Acosta believes kept him alive when he could have easily followed the route of his buddies Kyler and Peter.
“I was going through withdraws so bad, I was crying and shaking so bad the nurse came in to check on me and for the first time in a long time I prayed to God, and it sounds funny, but I asked him to stop the pain,” he said. “I went to bed for 30 minutes and woke up with a new perspective. From that day I changed and have given up my control. I woke up and it was like let (the counselors) tell me what to do.”
A new challenge
Acosta has a half-brother who is a freshman at Desert Vista. They’ve talked about the dangers — getting high is not worth a life of misery is the message — and the relative ease of someone who wants drugs can get them in Ahwatukee.
His brother said his friends have access to Xanax. They are facing the critical time when peer pressure, the curious mind, and the desire to fit in come together for a different kind of lethal combination.
That’s where Acosta, who was at his worst while living in New Mexico and using with his dad, hopes he can use his manipulative ways for good.
There was a time when he was running the gang — Alcoholic Krew — he couldn’t wait to work his suggestive, aggressive and persuasive ways into young kids to strengthen his influence on the drug dealings in the area.
Now once he gets more time being sober, works his program, stays away from the things that used to trigger an episode and continues his dedication to grappling, Acosta wants to use his influence for good.
“I feel very embarrassed about the things I was involved in,” he said. “I didn’t have a conscience back then. I thought I was cool and I could control people back then. (Manipulating) people was just another addiction.
“I can help those headed down the wrong path. That’s what I want next. To let someone, even if it’s just one person, know they can fight for what they want. I eventually did. For the first time in a long time I wake up not ashamed of myself.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com.