Stuart Gregory now divides his time among five companies that he runs, with his primary role at technology consultant Capstone Technology Solutions in Statesboro, Ga. His productive, self-directed life seems almost unimaginable given that a decade ago he was living in his car and initially saw substance use treatment as merely a slight improvement over what had become his default home.
Looking back, Gregory credits his treatment program's “sheer defiance of my will” with helping him reach where he stands today. The other key ingredient, he emphasizes, was time. It took quite a while for Gregory to regress from a first joint at age 12 to the depths of despair, and likewise it would take time to find hope. He now applies that lesson to the intensive outpatient and sober living program for men that he founded, called Big Step Recovery and located in a recovery hotbed west of Savannah.
“If you can subjugate your ego to be a part of something, and care about other people long enough, you can love yourself enough to stay sober,” says Gregory, who turns 35 in April.
Contradiction in youth
When Gregory was first exposed to marijuana (a friend had stolen a cigarette from his sister), something that happened and something that didn't both became important.
“That sense of ease and comfort that comes from the first hit happened,” he recalls. “And everything that [youth prevention program] D.A.R.E. had told me didn't happen. I didn't go out and steal someone's TV.” The experience, and the mistrust of authority figures that it generated, would fuel his curiosity. For years, he would test the limits of his mind and body.
He says he began to experience consequences from escalating substance use around age 18, when he decided to escape an uncomfortable situation by joining the Army. “It is not a great place for a young alcoholic and drug addict to be,” Gregory says.
In the worst of times, he was using crack, opioids and alcohol and was homeless. “I wasn't suicidal in the classic sense, but death would have been a gift,” he recalls.
An acquaintance whom Gregory had known before the man had found recovery told him there was another way to live. Even though he didn't believe him at first, a treatment facility seemed a better alternative to living in a car. He would end up spending around three years among various levels of care.
Gregory says his treatment experience has shaped the program structure at Big Step Recovery, as well as his other work (his technology company employs several people in recovery who are looking to get back into the tech arena).
“One thing I've added, which I didn't have a lot of myself, is lots of clinical sessions,” he says. “Our guys are getting 9 to 16 hours a week of therapy. They are inundated in individual and group.”
Reflecting on the details of his journey, Gregory believes that the simplistic prevention messages of the field's past need to be discarded once and for all. “If I could have sat around and 'just said no,' I would have, at least once,” he says. “Our taboo attitude about drugs is part of the problem.”
Comprehensive education, and plenty of patience in working with the young person, is crucial, he says. The long path has ultimately paid off for him. “I get to do what I want for the rest of my life, and what I want doesn't hurt anybody,” he says.
Addiction professionals annually convene at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders to share what’s working: Clinicians hear from thought leaders on delivering treatment, while executives of behavioral healthcare organizations learn how to run more effective, more efficient, and ethically minded businesses.