Published June 11. 2011 4:00AM
Stonington - Up until his freshman year at Stonington High School, Christopher Blanco was a model student, posting As and Bs.
It was the summer before 9th grade that Blanco smoked marijuana for the first time. At first, he smoked it with friends on the weekends. But it wasn't long before it was every day.
Soon, he graduated to hash brownies, prescription cough syrup, Adderall, Ecstasy and cocaine.
After school, Blanco would go to the bank with a dealer friend and draw money out of his account to pay for drugs. It wasn't long before he exhausted the $7,000 he had saved working summers at the Misquamicut Club.
He soon began stealing from stores and school lockers.
"I was scared that I'd get caught. I was always living on the edge," he said.
As he began skipping school and his grades plummeted, Blanco's parents Terry and Vince Blanco began to suspect their son was using drugs. But Christopher Blanco tried to convince them he wasn't. He said they were later shocked to learn how bad the problem had become.
The turning point came in June 2009, when a depressed Blanco came home from work one night.
"I was brooding on these thoughts. I said, 'I'll put an end to these thoughts and kill myself,'" he recalled.
He tried to overdose on a combination of prescription cough syrup and alcohol. His mother found him the next morning, when he told her he had tried to kill himself.
He was taken to The Westerly Hospital and then admitted to an inpatient mental-health facility.
"It was good because I was safe. But it was horrible," he said. "Some people were restrained and others were screaming. They would stop when they got a shot to knock them out. It scared me. I realized I didn't have it as bad as other people."
Blanco began attending drug, alcohol and anger-management counseling.
"I left there knowing I had to change. I guess that did it," he said. "People wanted to help me before, but I didn't want to accept it.
"I felt there was too much to live for. I felt like I was letting everyone down, I was letting myself down, and I knew I needed to change."
He has been sober since that realization. This year, he earned high honors and will graduate on June 22.
"This kid is such a survivor," said school psychologist Maureen Masson. "He's very insightful and analytical. When I have other kids with addiction issues, I go to Chris and say, 'I need your help.'"
After the suicide attempt, Blanco asked to speak with Principal Stephen Murphy and told him the whole story. Masson said Murphy was one of the few people Blanco felt he could trust.
"The person who picked him up, dusted him off and pointed him in the right direction is Steve Murphy," she said.
Murphy said he tried to help Blanco work through his issues and channel his energy in a positive way.
"I saw someone who was really trying to turn things around but fearful of going back to his old ways," Murphy said. "We had an immediate rapport like a father and son or a grandfather and grandson. He opened up to me completely."
Blanco, who stopped attending church as a young child, said his renewed faith has also played a big role in his recovery. After his brother asked him to be a godfather to his son, Blanco was baptized and confirmed.
"I understand now that I made it through all these hard times because Jesus was there allowing me to get through," he said.
Blanco is appreciative to everyone who had faith in him, including his parents for never giving up on him.
"And I'm sorry to anyone I disrespected. It still bothers me that I was that person," he said.
Masson said she does not see Blanco relapsing into his old ways.
"He truly has learned from his experience," she said.
Blanco plans to attend Three Rivers Community College in the fall and enroll in the Air Force ROTC program.
That's because his obsession with drugs has been replaced by a love of flying.
Blanco is close to earning his private pilot's license and takes lessons out of Groton-New London Airport.
On a crystal clear day last week, he flew over to Westerly Airport and practiced his landings and take-offs.
'"He's a great kid and a great pilot. He works really hard," said instructor Cate Bugsch as she watched Blanco go through his pre-flight checks of the small, single-engine plane.
Blanco hopes to someday be a commercial pilot.
"You're all alone up there. It's the best feeling, being at the controls and you're responsible," he said. "I don't do drugs anymore, but I can escape this way."