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My FrontLine Story: Bill Griffiths, RN

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Bill Griffiths is kind, energetic, and full of love and empathy for the people around him, but his journey wasn’t always easy. From losing loved ones and his own struggles with substance use disorder (SUD) to navigating the early days of the pandemic as a front line medical worker, Bill knows a thing or two about enduring life’s most difficult challenges.

Today, he works as a Registered Nurse on the team at Gaudenzia’s Coal Township substance use disorder (SUD) treatment program in Pennsylvania, tapping into his own lived experience to connect with clients, provide hope, and save lives.

This is Bill’s story.

If you or someone you love needs help with substance use and co-occurring disorders, please call Gaudenzia’s 24-hour Treatment and Referral HelpLine at 833.976.HELP (4357) or email [email protected] today.  

Bill before his driver’s training in the Gaudenzia van.

Where I Belonged

I was a homebody kid and a child of divorce. My little brother and I spent most of our days after school in our room playing video games and listening to music. I always had A’s and B’s in school. That’s what my mom expected out of me. I always did my homework, which I let many people copy. Despite the negative things growing up, I was given a lot of love. I got a job on a farm when I was 14, and then at McDonald’s when I was 16. I ended up working there between part-time and full-time while I put myself through college for two different bachelor’s degrees.

I always said I wanted to be a scientist or chemist, but my first degree was in communications. I worked at a television station for 1.5 years. They paid horribly and treated their workers even worse. I made more as a manager at McDonald’s, where I was still working part-time. That’s when I decided to go back to school for nursing. I’ve always worked with people and customer service, and I always loved science and math. It seemed like the perfect choice for me. Doing nursing for the first time, I knew it was where I belonged.

This Was Not My Life

I used to get into the liquor cabinet with my cousin or get beer off the tap occasionally when we were little. Other than that, I didn’t begin to experiment with substances until I was 18. Being a homebody kid, it felt like breaking out of my shell. I started using drugs and alcohol heavily, first to party, and then for performance. I could work and study with little need for sleep, and I needed to keep my good grades and work to keep my apartment. In hindsight, I see now that it also helped me cope with many emotions, including being a closeted homosexual until I was 35 years old.

As time went on, things spiraled out of control. I lost my nursing career to opioid addiction. I lost my home and my vehicle, then I attempted suicide. I spent just under a decade addicted to opiates while using other drugs as well, and I ended up in jail five times for drug-related offenses. I buried many family members due to alcohol and drug addiction as well. By the age of thirty, I had lost both of my parents for different reasons, as well as my grandfather. He was like a father to me my whole life.

During my last stay in jail, I looked around and saw myself getting older, and the others getting younger. I realized this was not my life and no good was going to come out of living that way. I remembered what I was like growing up, and I prayed to God and my departed family. I finally felt ready to be who I knew I was. I was released from jail by accident, instead of being transferred. This was on Dec 22, 2016. It would have been my grandfather’s birthday. I never looked back, other than to remember the things that changed my life for the worse.

The Timing of it All

I accepted Drug Court and didn’t mess up one time. I was placed in outpatient treatment through Gaudenzia in Sunbury. I needed a certain type of counselor, and I got Julie Albright. She was a wonderful woman who shared with me and related to me so well. I felt that she understood me. She had a fantastic sense of humor, but she was no fool. Julie was about the age my mother would have been at the time. I also had my friend, Becca, who let me live with her when I had nowhere to go. I shared common stories about them with Julie. This expanded my gratitude for the chance I was being given. Honesty and gratitude continue to make every day a blessing for me. I truly feel alive again.

I enjoyed early recovery so much that it didn’t feel difficult for me. The biggest challenges were being sure to not miss any of my public transport on Rabbit transit to make it to probation, court, and Gaudenzia multiple times per week. I completed the 3-year program successfully, and the judge asked me to give the speech on graduation day. During this time, I decided to appeal to the Board of Nursing to get my license back. I completed a 3-year PNAP program and regained it.

At the same time, without my knowing at first, Jayme Hendricks and Tammy Zosh were preparing to open Gaudenzia’s inpatient program at Coal Township. It opened just in time for me to be hired as the Nursing Supervisor. They had both followed my progress and decided to give me a chance. It’s one of the greatest reasons I love Gaudenzia. I will never forget that, or the timing of it all. I know my higher power is always there for me and has saved my life. I never want to let myself forget that. At the same time, I see that He has put me in the position to pay it forward to those affected, just like me, and to share all that I can with them.

The Most Beautiful Types of People

This February marked one year since I lost my little brother to opioid overdose. I feel that my brother knew I was aware he was using, even when he would tell me that he wasn’t. By this time, my roots in recovery were very strong. I was going to meetings and offering to take him with me. He went a couple of times. Other than that, I maintained certain distances from him to manage my own recovery. I would take him out to lunch with our aunt a couple times a month. I would drop him off at his place and as he got out of the car, I would give him a certain look and say, “Please, no nonsense.” He would put his head down and say, “I won’t.” Then I’d see him in my rear-view mirror as I drove away with tears in my eyes. Every time, I felt like it was going to be the last time I ever saw him again.

I will take life as it comes. From my experience, my higher power has always put me where I belong. I will always know where to go next. I always have. The only time I mess up is when I put too much of my own will into things. I think it’s most important to find your right balance, to stay positive, stay spiritual, share love, appreciate yourself, and be proud of yourself. I’ve been through so much pain, yet I’m so blessed at the same time. I share these things with our clients because they need it. We all need it. I stay very transparent. Our clients — people like me — we need hope to hold on to.

Even though everyone’s story is different, true empathy can put you on the same page. With our clients, I know their struggle. I never hold back on sharing with them. I want them to see the other side of life. Nothing is impossible. I love them. A person in recovery, I believe, is one of the most beautiful types of people in the world. We seek betterment, self-reflection, and spirit. We share so much love.

These Things Are Possible

Today, I have a beautiful fiancé who loves me so much. I met him on February 5, 2019 — what would have been my mother’s birthday. He is the most amazing guy in the world. I couldn’t love him more. I have amazing support. My home life is fantastic. I love to cook. That’s the work I did when I couldn’t be a nurse for those years. I can make a variety of things and have great interest in herbs and other homeopathic remedies. I love listening to music, playing video games, and the outdoors, and I like camping and harvesting, as well as gardening. I would like to get back into reading again too. I also love to talk. I’m always talking. My nurse Dana has a duck quacking as the ringtone on her phone for me!

I want anyone struggling with substance use to know that life without those substances truly is possible. No one that knew me thought I could do it, but I did. I’m a survivor. And I’m here for you. Always love, and never give up hope. These things are possible, but you MUST put in the work!

If you or someone you love needs help with addiction treatment, please contact our Treatment and Referral HelpLine at 833.976.HELP (4357) or email [email protected] today.

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