Who are you in the hardest moments of your life? When everything seems to be working against you how do you behave? I believe most of us would be hard pressed to do much more than make it through. Jeff Grigg however, is not most of us. His life, up to today, has been filled with more than his fair share of adversity. Even though he has dealt with countless hardships he has always helped others along the way.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Jeff about his recovery and his life and himself and I was absolutely awestruck by what he’s gotten himself through and the goodness he has shown throughout. Jeff found himself homeless at the age of 14, before you and I knew how to cook pasta, he was figuring out how to take care of himself in every way possible, and he didn’t just get by. Jeff earned his GED and left high school early so he could join the army. He told me the story of what motivated him to join the army. It’s quite a story, buckle up. One night in high school his friend picked himself and a couple of other guys up. They thought they were headed to a regular party for a casual night. When they entered the house the party was supposed to be at they were met with an intense argument between Jeff’s friend, the driver, and the kid at the house. The argument escalated and escalated until all control over the situation was lost and a young man lost his life. Jeff told me that his friend was the youngest person convicted of murder who got life without parol from Lowell to this day. What he didn’t tell me was the trauma that witnessing something like that must have been for Jeff. Jeff’s friend had been using substances long before this event, in Jeff’s words “he was in a bad spot”. Jeff told me that in January of 2007 the family of the young man that died retaliated and kicked in the door of a friend’s house and shot his friend 6 times, killing him. I’m sure there was a lot of shock, pain and desperation going through Jeff’s mind at that time. One of those thoughts was “if I’m going to die, I’m dying for something that’s worth it.” So he joined the army. Jeff had realized he was living in this incredibly dangerous situation, a situation where every single day was a dangerous struggle. He didn’t join in on the violence, he didn’t retaliate on that kid’s family, he decided to do something positive with his life, to lead a life of service. I don’t know about you, but I doubt that would have been my reaction in that circumstance.
A LIFE OF SERVICE
So Jeff joined the army. His life stabilized somewhat. He said “the army gave me a place to stay, a job, they fed me, and it gave me a sense of purpose and got me away from all that danger at home, ya know?” Eventually Jeff left the army. He got himself an apartment back in NH. He was feeling good. Feeling ready to take on life. But Jeff’s early life never seemed to stay good. Very soon after leaving the army his entire apartment building burnt down. Jeff was left with only the boxers he’d worn to bed. Even his car was ruined when a man who had jumped out of the burning building landed directly on top of it. Before Jeff realized that he had lost everything though, he thought of others. Jeff was credited with pulling 4 people out of the building and to safety that day. He could have chosen to save himself, some of his things, his car, but he saved others instead. He put himself in danger, several times, to rescue others. To this day the father of a boy he saved from the building is still in touch with Jeff. He sends Jeff cards and he visited Jeff in the hospital in a time of need and is endlessly grateful to Jeff for saving his son’s life.
Looking back on that event he said “when I got out of the army I was proud of myself, I was happy, and then the rug just got yanked out from under me and I was so angry, so so angry and I was dealing with an injury so I had a prescription and life just went right downhill from there. There was just no medium. I was on top and then I was just down in the dirt.”
FROM THE BOTTOM
Jeff was living on the streets of Manchester NH. Homeless, again. Eventually he built his life back up to something stable. He had a job selling cars, he found himself a new home, he had a relationship, but he was still using. He said “I was hiding that I was using but people still knew. I look at pictures from back then and I just realize there is no way people didn’t know.” Jeff was building his life back up until he wasn’t and it all fell apart again. He lost his apartment, he lost his car, and he ended up living at a shelter in Manchester.
Jeff is the father of two sons whom he loves greatly. One son is very new and Jeff only just met him and is working furiously to be able to have him in his life more. His other son is significantly older. Even at the time in his life when Jeff was living at a shelter in Manchester he was still trying to be the father he knew his son deserved. He told me an incredibly sweet story about one very specific memory he had with his son. It was Memorial day weekend and he had taken his son camping at this location that was almost an island and his son was so so excited. The pair were the only people at the campground the first night of their trip and they both thought it was so awesome to be camping on this island by themselves. When Jeff woke up the next morning his son was rubbing his back and just singing. Jeff told me, “It was amazing. I just laid there for like 5 minutes and it was amazing, when I finally rolled over he got all big eyed and looked at me and he was just like “Daddy, we are not the only ones on this island.” and I just burst out laughing.” This memory is clearly so precious to Jeff and I can certainly see why. It is such a sweet and endearing moment of bonding between father and son. This memory shows just how dearly Jeff loves his children and how important they are to him. As mentioned Jeff was living in a shelter at this time in his life, which is why he took his son camping, he made a fun memory for his son even when he had almost nothing. Jeff told me that there was a woman who worked at the shelter and she knew a little about Jeff. She knew he had a job, had a car, and was a veteran. He said that every time he saw her she said “you don’t belong here” and gave him “a whole load of shit” because she wanted to get him the help he deserved. But Jeff grew up homeless, he grew up on the streets, he had spent years living outside so this was just the status quo and asking for help wasn’t a thing Jeff did. Luckily, that woman said something that allowed Jeff to let her in. She said “You’re not asking for help, I’m giving it to you.” So Jeff went to the Farnum center in Manchester to start a recovery program. He almost had a 28 day bed at that program when he got kicked out. Then he was back on the streets of Manchester.
THE RIGHT PLACE
Soon after he left Farnum he was walking with a friend and as they walked past a parking garage he looked up and there was this kid getting ready to jump. Jeff had his friend go around to the back of the parking garage and call the police and Jeff went up to talk to the kid who was trying to end his life. He didn’t tell me the specifics of that conversation, nor do we need to know them, but that day Jeff saved that young person’s life. He was able to convince him to get down off the edge. When the police showed up the young man didn’t want to go with them in the ambulance. So they nearly had to arrest him but then Jeff stepped in again. He offered to ride with that young man, a complete stranger, and so Jeff saved his life again and helped him get the help Jeff had just been denied. Jeff said, “I felt like I was in the place I was supposed to be. I’ve been in his shoes.” Jeff has known so much suffering in his life and yet at every opportunity he has tried to reduce the suffering of others.
Soon after that incident Jeff ended up going to the Keystone Program in Nashua, another residential recovery center. He almost completed that program but not quite. Luckily, he had made it far enough that he had secured a bed at a sober home. The Liberty House in Manchester to be specific. He said “It was great, I got a job, I had a place to live there but then I had another slip up.” That slip up led to Jeff’s first overdose. He was walking to work in the middle of January when he saw a kid he used to get high with and the kid said “Hey, I still owe you some money!” so the two walked across the street together and in Jeff’s words “5 minutes later I had a needle in my arm. Nobody knew what happened, one minute I was in a park and next thing you know I was waking up in a hospital.” Jeff ended up going back to another rehab program 2 days later because sometimes slips are just part of someone’s recovery journey, and that’s how it was for Jeff, he got right back to getting better. He said that “even then I still had a few mix ups and a few slip ups.” He was seeing a girl who was also in recovery and they were doing pretty well. They had an apartment and jobs and then she got pregnant and to quote Jeff “things just fell apart”. When she got pregnant Jeff started to realize that she was using again and he would try to intervene because he was worried about his baby but his girlfriend denied it and eventually she left Jeff and he didn’t hear from her for quite a while. So Jeff lost everything again. He was homeless in Manchester yet again and he started using again. He ended up getting really sick, he kept overdosing, he had sepsis and his neck and arms were covered in abscesses, his body was shutting down. Jeff was staying in a tent in an area where the police went by frequently and when they interacted with him they would say they were going to force him to go to the hospital because “they knew I was sick and dying, they knew I was trying to kill myself.” Those police officers ended up calling the Veteran Outreach Program and so Jeff got into a hospital. He stayed in that hospital for a few days and when he got out he started doing the same thing again. Then, in Jeff’s words, “I was sleeping in a tent and I woke up and I just knew I needed to go get help”. So he went to Queen City Farnum but he couldn’t get help there despite trying over and over and over again. One day as Jeff was walking by Farnum, trying to get help once again, there was this guy outside and he said “what are you doing?” so Jeff shared that he was getting really frustrated because he was finally ready for help but he couldn’t get a bed. So the guy said “Ok, you need an advocate? I’ve got your back.” That man just got on the phone and called and called and called and within 6 days he had gotten Jeff a bed in a treatment facility. Jeff said, “I was just in the right place at the right time”. Jeff then lived in a sober house for 3 months and then he slipped up again. This time though he got himself clean, he moved to a safer place, living with his friend whom he’s so close with he refers to him as his brother. Jeff is still living there today building his life up and giving back to the community. But we haven’t quite finished the story of Jeff’s life prior to today.
THE LIGHT IN A HARD PLACE
Jeff has done a lot of good in his life. He’s quite literally saved lives and he’s changed lives. Jeff is an artist and an athlete, a father, a veteran, and a hard worker. All of this is true in spite of having more than his fair share of difficulties leading up to the peaceful place he is at now. At one point during the constantly evolving challenges of Jeff’s life he found himself faced with serving time in Bill Rica. He spent the first 4 and a half or six months in solitary because every time he got out of his cell his PTSD was triggered, he would have trouble sleeping, and eventually end up getting in a fight and being put right back in solitary. Until one time when he was let out of solitary and he was put with another veteran and someone finally got it and he didn’t go back to solitary. One day while the two were together the other guy said “the way jails treat veterans is a real problem and this is how we’re going to fix it. Every single day we’re going to sit down and write a letter to the superintendent and we’re going to get them here and sit down and talk with them because it’s an election year and I have an idea that we’ll help them win.” So that’s what he and Jeff did: they sat down and they wrote a letter to the superintendent every single day. Then one day their cell doors just popped open and they looked at each other like “what is going on” they were then brought upstairs to see the sheriff and superintendent of the jail sitting there waiting to talk. So they pitched the idea. There was a wing of the Bill Ricca jail that wasn’t being used at all at the time and the idea was for it to be transformed into a veterans wing where inmates that were veterans from all over the state would come and serve their time together. And that’s exactly what happened! The old wing was transformed into a veterans wing and Jeff and his now friend set to work making sure it was going to stay viable. The pair were on the news. They met Michael Botticelli, the Director of the National Drug Control Policy at the White House at the time, and they chatted with him about the importance of the Vivitrol program in Jails. They met with the then Governor of Massachusetts and with the Mayor of Boston. Jeff and his friend wrote letters to every organization they could think of to get funding and to start programs in the jail. They started meditation programs where vets learned walking meditation, sitting meditation and breathing techniques. They got instructors in to teach cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy. They got individuals in with therapy animals. Jeff said the following about this experience; “this was one of the best parts of my life because I recognized how much better I left a place than I found it and typically I show up at a place and destroy it.” Jeff had suffered so much trauma at this point in his life, although I doubt he would ever use those words, he was serving time and in what I think we could fairly say a very hard time in his life and yet he found a way to help others. Jeff and his friend created a place where veterans could serve time but also learn and grow and heal. It’s well known that the justice system in this country has more than one flaw and it’s further known that the way we treat veterans in this country is far from fair. Personally, I’ve never made an impact on either of these issues, nor any issue of this size I’m sure, but Jeff has. In a situation where most of us would probably simply turn inward and find more darkness, Jeff turned outward and created light. Jeff said that experience awoke his passion for giving back to his community, for doing volunteer work, for making a difference even though no one was asking him to.
TO THE TOP
Jeff has done a lot of really interesting volunteer work since then. One story he shared with me was about his time with the United Cajun Navy. His buddy had called him up and asked if he wanted to go down and help rebuild a Hospital in Fayetteville. The hospital had been flooded and another storm was coming. So Jeff went down to North Carolina! When they got there the storm had already hit and it wasn’t just any storm it was Hurricane Florence. It had absolutely destroyed North Carolina. When they got done helping out at the hospital Jeff stuck around because some veterans that were in that area had contacted him and said they needed some help. When he joined up with them he was officially volunteering for the United Cajun Navy. At first he was organizing donations which was fine but he knew he could help more so he asked to be given more work. Then he was able to start helping with communications. He would receive help requests that got sent to the United Cajun Navy through Crowd Source and he would convey the message to the right team. Eventually, the people there realized Jeff had a lot of skills, notably he could read maps really well so within a few days he went from stuffing care packages to giving coordinates to the rescue teams. Later on Jeff ended up on a rescue team himself. He has a few very notable memories from his time doing that work. One story he told me clearly held a special place in his heart. A mother of a young schizophrenic boy had called to get help because they couldn’t get to the hospital and they had run out of the boy’s medication and the boy had run off. The United Cajun Navy and the Coast Guard deployed to find this boy and find him they did, but then they were faced with serious bureaucratic hurdles. They needed to get this boy his medication but they were told if they carried it across state lines they would get arrested. So Jeff called every news outlet he could think of and they were excited about this story. CNN, Fox, and local news reporters were all over it and right there doing interviews and telling this story to the world while the prescription made its way over. In large part due to the intense media coverage no one got arrested and that boy got his medication. The boy’s mother was incredibly grateful to Jeff and his team, as anyone would be. He pulled off the impossible and got that family what they needed in one of the most desperate moments of their lives. Jeff still helps the United Cajun Navy often but now he volunteers remotely. He assists with getting much needed resources out to the people that need them by calling businesses and local stakeholders and procuring donations. One thing Jeff said about his service with the United Cajun Navy absolutely tore my heart out. He said “You know, I’ve saved people, or been there for them, on the absolute worst days of their lives and they look at me like I’m an angel sent from their God and they are just endlessly grateful and then in other times of my life I’ve been looked at like I’m absolute trash by the people who are supposed to love me the most. I wish people would just realize that addicts, or drug users, we’re human.”
Recently, Jeff got a new job and he’s really happy there. One of his coworkers had a friend with a gym where they do Judo and Jiu Jitso two things that Jeff is very passionate about. Jeff spends a lot of time at the gym these days. The people at his gym that participate in Judo and Jiu Jitso are a big part of Jeff’s support system. He says “I’m very thankful for them because we don’t really know each other like we know little things but not enough to judge each other and they make me better each and every time we’re together. You know those two hours on the mat, they make me better. They’re bringing determination into my life, they make me stronger, they make me smarter, they make me more agile.” Jeff also sustains his recovery through his volunteer work like his ongoing work with United Cajun Navy or the 2000 burpee challenge he’s dong now as a fundraiser for Stop Soldier Suicide a cause that is near and dear to his heart.
These days Jeff lives his life mindfully, healthfully and lovingly. He spends his time working at a job he enjoys, strengthening his body and mind through judo and jiu jitsu, meditating, writing and recording music, and being a father. Jeff has been in Recovery for years now. I asked him how he defines his recovery. He said; “Powerful. If there was a word I could put to it, that would be it. I’m staying productive. I’m not necessarily busy. Now the things that are in my life they’re there for a purpose. I realized that when I was getting high I was just trying to fill my life with something.” At one point Jeff mentioned that life now is beautiful. I asked him to dive into that more so he did. He said; “I used to see all the negatives and it made me a really angry person but I love people, I love having random conversations about anything. Using made me not that person. I put a shield up and people thought I was evil and violent, and they had reason for it, but now, how can I see anything but the good? You know? I tried to kill myself three times. I hung myself from my third floor balcony, the only reason I’m alive today is because the people downstairs from me saw me swinging. If I wasn’t supposed to be here right now, if I wasn’t meant to be going through this I wouldn’t be. There’s something beautiful about that. Like, I’ve been given opportunities that I wouldn’t have imagined being given and why? Through addiction we go through things and we think we’re not good enough for anything you know? Like I used to eat out of dumpsters, how good are you at that point? How do you compare yourself to anybody? When I was living at Liberty House in Manchester I was rubbing elbows with police officers and firefighters, high caliber people that I would look up to and I never felt like I belonged with them. I screwed myself though when I thought like that ya know? I took away so many opportunities from myself. People say addiction took this and addiction took that, no it didn’t, no the fuck it didn’t, I gave it, I gave my addiction everything it didn’t take a god damn thing from me. So today I’m taking back what’s mine.“
Jeff is this absolutely incredible human. He has been through more than I would have thought is supposed to fit in one life. The whole time he has managed to help others even throughout some incredibly dark and trying events.
A MESSAGE FROM JEFF
It’s really important to me that these blog posts accurately portray the people I’m writing about and that they tell their story the way they want their story to be told. So I’ve been asking people what they would want the one message of the pieces I write about them to be. When I asked Jeff he said “I want people to know that drug addicts, people with addiction issues, we’re human. We’ve done great things for this world. Yeah there are going to be times when you’ll see someone and you’ll think they’re nothing and they’re trash but you have no idea what they’ve been through or what they’ve done and I just want people to be more supportive. Especially in the recovery community, I mean you see so many things and it’s not easy, it’s simple just don’t use, but man it’s not easy. So I just really want people to be looked at as people not drug addicts like I see videos on facebook of people laughing at people who are probably in the worst part of their life. You know, do you feel that way about somebody with cancer? Are they a great person until you find out they’ve got cancer? People think drug addiction is just somebody that wants to get high, but no drug addiction is just somebody that wants to numb the pain. So I just want people to know that we’re doing our best and we’ve got something to give to this world. And for those people that are using, I want them to know that the saying “it’s never too late” doesn’t apply to addiction. If you’re dead you’re clean but it’s too late to live the clean life. I want them to know that there is a better route. Like you’re walking the worst fricken route. There’s a way to bring a real smile to your face, to be healthy, to be like a better person.” If you are a person who is considering starting a recovery journey Jeff recommends calling 211. 211 is the NH statewide resource number and will help you find the services you need.
My interview with Jeff was a conversation I will never forget. He is absolutely right. People with Substance Use Disorders are human and they have as much to give as any of us. So next time you see someone who looks a little bit down on their luck I hope you think of Jeff and remember the beautiful and valuable person that each and every one of us is.
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