ONTARIO — He was born with sight, but had two degenerative eye disorders that would eventually cause full blindness. However, a life of knowing that would happen one day couldn’t prepare Nelacey (pronounced nee-lay-cee) Porter for that day. When he finally plunged into darkness, Porter said it sent him into a tailspin, and he began drinking heavily to escape and started smoking marijuana.
“Those two destroyed my whole life,” Porter said.
In 2013, Porter came to Ontario from Portland to get inpatient treatment at Lifeways Recovery Center, and while the road to sobriety was not an easy one, Porter has turned his life around.
Porter was born with juvenile versions of retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration. While both of these disorders typically affect much older people, Porter said his disorders are so rare that doctors still haven’t discovered what specific strain they are.
As he grew up, the disorders “got worse and worse,” Porter said, adding that there would be good days and bad days, with bad days being times when his eyesight would become blurry.
“I never knew when it was going to happen,” he said.
Despite this, Porter participated in as many sports as possible, with track and field being a main pull for him.
The shift in his eyesight seemed to happen about every other day, however, and sometimes would happen after he woke up from a nap. Porter made it through high school without a cane, although admitted he “probably should have used one” at that time.
It was during his first year in college in 2002 in Western Oregon that Porter had his first significant drop in vision.
“I woke up one morning and I couldn’t see anything,” he said.
“I hated being blind,” Porter said of realizing there would be no more good days for eyesight.
So he started drinking. That combined with a bad hip injury caused Porter to lose his Olympic career, as he had been an athlete for U.S. Paralympics team.
“I hated not being an Olympic athlete,” Porter said.
Unable to accept reality, he became depressed, and started drinking “to a point of passing out every day, because I could see in my dreams, and I didn’t have to live in reality.”
The shift finally came for something new, and that is when Porter moved to Ontario to get clean and sober.
“It took a while [for me] to accept who I was,” he said. “Fortunately, I finally realized I had a problem.”
When Porter finally started going through the motions of treatment for himself, rather than for family or relationships, his life completely changed, he said.
“I found God, which helped me accept me the way I am, and to love and respect myself, and love and respect everybody else,” Porter said.
The reward of getting involved
This newfound respect led Porter into helping others.
“I just love helping people, in general,” he said.
And Porter is currently doing that in a multitude of ways. He is actively involved in the recovery community, and is the chairman for several meetings, as well as a mentor for people. He is also a sponsor, guiding sponsees through a 12-step recovery program for addiction. And at Porter’s church, Origins Faith Community, he is a youth group leader and a member of the hospitality and visions team, the latter of which helps the church stay on path.
Being involved is rewarding for Porter.
“First and foremost, it helps me get out of self,” he said. “And being of service to others and helping other people I don’t know — it’s more or less like a living amends to all pain and misery I caused others in my addiction.”
The spiritual reward is in building a relationship with a higher power, Porter said.
“When i go to bed every night, the first question I ask myself is ‘Did I do anything today that made a difference for someone else.’ If I can say ‘yes,’ I can sleep with good conscious,” Porter said.
When asked what he thought was his greatest achievement, Porter said recovery stands high on that list. But since then, he has had an even greater achievement.
“I think seeing world through the lens I do today is probably is my greatest achievement,” he said. “Being able to recognize the gifts God gave me, and seeing the world through my heart instead of with my eyes, gives me more of an honest picture of world and people that way. And I love the world that way.”
Porter finds gratitude in no longer being distracted by “exterior things that divide most people.”
In addition, Porter encourages people in the community to approach him if they would like to talk.
“I’m hoping to open dialogue and communication for me and other blind people in the community,” he said.
Another huge achievement for Porter was getting a guide dog, which he brought home in February of 2018 after a couple of weeks of personal training in Boring.
When he first sought out a guide dog from Guide Dogs for the Blind, there was a major hiccup: they asked Porter if he had a history of drug or alcohol abuse. Not wanting to lie, he told them he did, and they said until he had a year of sobriety (with documented proof) they couldn’t proceed.
He relapsed soon after, he said, feeling like a year would be impossible.
“But I was ready for a change and once I hit that point, that possibility came back and I was driven.”
After graduating from the inpatient program at Lifeways Recovery Center, he checked himself into outpatient care at Lifeways, ensuring he had weekly UAs and mental health counseling.
And after Guide Dogs for the Blind had conversations with his mental health as well as drug and alcohol counselors, “they knew I was on a good path,” and ended up accepting his application three months before the 1-year mark.
Porter brought Torrence home in February of 2018.
“Most of what I’m hoping to achieve hasn’t come yet, but it’s close,” Porter said. “It gives me hope I am headed in the right direction, and I didn’t have hope when I was drunk or high.”