Michael W. Tanner was an outstanding athlete growing up in East Boston and was destined to be the quarterback of one of the highest-scoring high school football teams in Massachusetts.
A star baseball pitcher and shortstop at Savio Prep as well with a live fastball, Tanner was starting to think about playing college baseball.
He left Savio but he continued to play sports after transferring to East Boston High School. But the son of William and Sandra Tanner ran in to some serious problems midway through his senior year.
“I was doing drugs pretty badly,” said Tanner who first began using drugs when he was 15 years old. “I started with marijuana and it quickly went to prescription pills like oxycontin. I could no longer function in my daily life.”
Tanner, a handsome, worldly and articulate young man, began his transformation to a drug-free and healthy life at the age of 21.
“I was homeless at the time. I had hit rock bottom,” he said. “But I decided I wanted to change my life. I firmly believe that if you want to change your life, you can do it anywhere.”
Tanner said he changed his lifestyle in 2006 (“Six years going on seven,” he says proudly). The president and founder of Hope Through Experience, Inc. he has been counseling people about substance abuse in home visits. In December he will open a drug counseling office at 311 Shirley Street in Winthrop. Tanner said Hope Through Experience is dedicated to the prevention, education, and treatment of substance abuse.
Tanner is a certified substance abuse counselor who is a student at UMass/Boston studying criminal justice.
“I just don’t do counseling and intervention. I do a lot of prevention and education,” said Tanner. “I’ve been to schools and do presentations. The bottom line is that I help people. Whatever people need, I’ll do.”
Tanner said based on his experiences he can determine whether a teenager may be using illegal drugs.
“If you see your child has a change in friends, a change in attitude, a loss of interest in school – parents know their kids and when something is not right,” said Tanner.
“When my parents found out I was doing drugs, there was nowhere for them to turn to, nobody to lead them in the right direction,” said Tanner.
He now hopes to be that guiding hand for parents and their children.
“My motto is healthy, happy, and successful – if a person is not healthy, happy, and successful, then that’s when they come see me,” said Tanner. “My clients make themselves healthy, happy, and successful. I guide them to do that.”
Tanner said all of his experiences are personal.
“I don’t think you can learn this from a textbook,” he said. “In order to really help someone, you really have had to live it. If I tell somebody to do something that I haven’t done myself, why would they listen to me? I can tell people this is what my family did for me and it’s how I got to where I am today.”
Tanner said he uses positive reinforcement in his counseling sessions. “A lot of what I do is positive thinking and it has produced positive results.”
Tanner is making final preparations for the opening of his new office on Shirley Street. He has hired nationally known interior designer Joanna Ciampa of Winthrop to bring style, comfort, elegance and beauty to the office.
Ellen Conti, owner of the building, is confident that Tanner will be an asset to the community.
“As one of the landlords, I’d like to say that when Michael first called me, I had my doubts when he told me what he wanted to do in the office space,” said Conti. “Once we had a meeting, we made a great connection. I felt Michael wanting to help other people was such a wonderful thing. I felt his office was going to be a great thing for our community and the surrounding communities and it’s nothing but a positive. This is going to be a small, family counseling service. The Streeter family totally support Michael and what he is doing.”
Tanner believes he is ready to make his presence felt in the town. “I’ve never been more passionate about something in my life. I truly believe I was brought back from the brink to do this and help people. Ellen [Conti] has been so supportive of what I’m trying to do. I knew it was going to take a special family and a special person to give me a chance and they’ve done exactly that.”