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 adversity. Yet, he’s here today to share with us how he made it through.
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. As a teenager, Jeff witnessed significant violence and substance use leading to an increased awareness of his mortality. His experiences lead him to think “if I’m going to die, I’m dying for something that’s worth it.” So he chose to lead a life of service.
A LIFE OF SERVICE
Jeff’s 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. 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.
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 became homeless again, and found a shelter to stay at in Manchester. 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. She suggested he go 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, Jeff was walking down the street and spotted a person having a mental health crisis. He helped this individual get mental health treatment, and very well may have saved their life. Jeff said, “I felt like I was in the place I was supposed to be. I’ve been in their shoes.”
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.” Jeff’s return to use resulted in his first overdose. In Jeff’s words “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 returning to use is 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.”
After rehab, Jeff got a job and an apartment but ultimately experienced homeslessness again and returned to use. 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 before returning to use again. This time though he got himself sober, 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.
THE LIGHT IN A HARD PLACE
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 of 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. The two veterans worked together, advocating for veteran services in the jail. Ultimately, they worked with the superintendent of the jail to open a veterans wing that provided services such as mediation, CBT, DBT, and animal therapy. 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 and his friend created a place where veterans could serve time but also learn and grow and heal. 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. 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 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.“
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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