We were all told of the dangers of drugs growing up. We’ve seen the commercial: “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs,” with the accompanying image of an egg being fried in a pan. But we have also encountered the social pressures of fitting in, and the desire to avoid being the odd man out. No one wants to be the one left out of the “in crowd.”
This was the scenario that Gregory Lindsay found himself in years ago during his time at Cass Technical High School. He was a good student, but “it was about fitting in back then,” he said. At first, “Boone’s Farm wine was a cheap, quick, easy-access high,” but he soon found that cheap wine just didn’t cut it. He wanted a bigger high, so he experimented with marijuana.
Greg’s experimentation led him to trying more dangerous drugs, including LSD, before determining that heroin was his drug of choice. He was hooked on the feeling. He never fully experienced what he was after, but continued using in pursuit of the ultimate high. Greg had a promising future. He graduated from Cass Tech and was admitted to Wayne State University as a psychology major. Although heroin was Greg’s drug of choice, he learned fast that heroin had zero regard for his well-being. His increasing heroin addiction interfered with his intellectual ability and desire to better himself. It was a constant uphill battle.
Greg would rationalize his drug use as a way to make it through his days at work and school. He also began free-basing cocaine as a way to further control his highs and lows. “Heroin made me more level, cocaine kept me on edge. I thought I had the perfect combination. But between the two, I had also developed a gambling habit to support my addiction,” he said.
Eventually, the constant need to maintain his increasing appetite for drugs had to be financially supplemented, so his addiction spread to gambling to help support his addiction. Greg quickly realized that he was being spread too thin between work, school, family and his addiction. He dropped out of Wayne State University after three years.
Despite dropping out, Greg continued to try to balance other areas of life — a new job at the post office and a new marriage — but in these areas, too, addiction took precedence. “The suffering that I caused my family during this time was immeasurable. I lost their faith, their trust and their respect,” he said. Even after managing to quit drugs, Greg admits that he was still an addict. He played the lottery uncontrollably. “It got so bad that I was taking money from my register at the post office to pay for lottery tickets until I could eventually replace it,” said Greg. “I know now that I traded one addiction for another and that I’d always be an addict.” He lost his job at the post office, damaged his wife and destroyed their marriage.
After nearly 10 years addicted to heroin and cocaine, Gregory Lindsay walked into a prayer meeting. Since then, he has attended many Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Through his work in these groups, he realized that he had to reinvent himself. He went back to school and became a certified addiction counselor. Teaching lessons from his life experiences became his life’s mission, and something good came from all his pain and heartache.
Greg has the psychological, emotional and physical scars from his many years of drug abuse. But more than that, he has a story with the power to prevent others from walking down the dark path that he has already traveled. Many of the choices he made due to naivety and peer pressure could have landed him in harm’s way or dead. “I wish I had known about substance abuse treatment and options when I was in the throes of my addiction. That type of information was not publicized in our community back then, and we had to suffer through detox and stabilization from drug dependence. I feel obligated to save just one person from the mistakes I made in my life,” he said.
Although he escaped his addiction with his life intact, he was diagnosed with hepatitis C, known to affect intravenous drug users. Fortunately, he has been symptom free and in good health for decades, but he might not have been so lucky. Many of his friends and family members died after being infected with HIV due to intravenous drug use.
Greg is thankful that he survived to warn others of the dangers of drug use. He tells people, “When you’re ready to sober up, you have to make that choice: Do you want to feel good or be good? Do you want your friends back? Your dignity back? Your family back? Your life back? Then and only then is recovery possible.” Greg is now leading the life he was destined to. He is fulfilled, happily married for 21 years and living proof that out of addiction can come the true happiness one can only know after losing everything.
Greg has dedicated his life to helping people find their way through their addiction and now counsels people who find themselves where he has been at the Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center. He started a 12-Step Program, Alcoholics for Christ, which meets every Thursday (8806 Mack Ave, Detroit at 7 pm) and also works as a mental health substance use disorder technician at the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority where he assists people find the appropriate treatment and services.
According to Darlene Owens, director of substance use disorders at DWMHA, “Our goal is to increase drug awareness and erase the stigma associated with substance use disorders. DWMHA delivers substance abuse treatment and relapse prevention as well as services for depression and other mental illnesses all within the same system.
Mental health should be seen as a priority in the lives of everyone and treated the same as physical and behavioral health.” Heroin has been attacking young people for decades. It is necessary to be aware of our youth, their struggles, and let them know that help is available.
The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority has a 24-Hour Crisis Help Line available at 800-241-4949 for anyone looking for answers. Support services are available for all. To find out more, go to www.dwmha. com.