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Danny Trejo Talks Long-Term Recovery: I Surround Myself With People Who Are Sober

By Desiree Bowie 11/07/19

The prolific actor discussed sobriety, prison and AA in Variety's recovery issue. 

Danny Trejo
ID 45276381 © Jaguarps |

Danny Trejo was 24 years old when he began his recovery journey. Now at 75, the prolific Machete actor and restaurant owner has more than 50 years of sobriety under his belt, something he got candid about for Variety's first issue dedicated to recovery.

The Trejo's Tacos owner is a proud member of Alcoholics Anonymous - a program he believes kept him out of jail and alive.

“They tell you if you leave [Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous], you will die, go insane or go to jail,” Trejo said. “And I proved that right. Every time I left, I went to jail.”

Decades ago, while Trejo was serving time at San Quentin, he reached a turning point when a speaker (and former inmate) named Johnny Harris returned to share his story of recovery.

"What Do You Have To Lose?"

“That guy saved my life,” Trejo revealed. “He said, ‘Why don’t you join us? Before you do anything, just join us. Give it a try. What do you have to lose?’ It was kind of like an awakening. So when I got out of the joint, I went back to meetings.”

So Trejo buckled down and did the work. He attended meetings and kept himself busy with various gigs, including working as a drug counselor. Then, 16 years into his recovery, Trejo's life would take another life-changing turn when he got hired as an extra in the 1985 movie Runaway Train - the movie would mark the beginning of a long, successful Hollywood career. 

“Everything good that has happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping someone else — everything,” Trejo said. “That’s the way I live my life.”

And Trejo practices what he preaches. He has been a passionate recovery advocate who is vocal about the benefits of sobriety and the work it takes to maintain it.

It's All About Your Support System

“I honestly believe this sobriety and being clean depends on your support system,” Trejo explained to Variety. “You’ve got this system of people around you that want you to stay clean and sober. If I’m driving down the street and I’m with somebody clean and sober and I say, ‘God, man, I sure could go for a joint right now or a beer,’ this guy will say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. … Let’s go to a meeting.’ … I surround myself with people that are clean and sober.”

Trejo, who has appeared in nearly 400 film and TV projects, maintains his sobriety by attending meetings and keeping in mind where he was in his life when he was using.  

“When I think about drugs … I think about having to shower with 50 men in prison. I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t want somebody saying, ‘Hey, bend over and spread ’em.’ That’s what drugs mean to me.” Trejo said.

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Desiree Bowie is a writer and movie lover from Los Angeles, California. Follow her on Twitter @dangerbowie

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