“Fifteen minutes into my story with me, he stuck out his hand and said, ‘I have fifteen years clean and sober. Someone gave me a chance. You indeed need a chance. I’m bringing you aboard.'”
Hello, my name is Major Jordan and I’m person in long-term recovery. What that means to me is that I have not used any mind-altering, illicit substances or alcohol since March 17, 2007. That would be eight years, four months, and twenty-four days. What it also means is that I’m recovering on the other side of my disease or diagnosis of major depression, severe recurrent with psychotic features of post-traumatic stress disorder. I’m what they call in the clinical arena, dually diagnosed.
I was diagnosed with major depression, severe recurrent psychotic features in 2006 in Springfield, Massachusetts. My depression stems from a multitude of different things. They thought that it was because over the course of the years I had used substances, but as I continue to receive services from the mental health professionals, they realized that it was indicative of a much deeper problem that goes all the way back into my physical and sexual abuse as a child.
I first started using alcohol and drugs when I was nine years old. Initially when I used alcohol, it was out of curiosity at the 4th of July outing with the family. During that time, I got caught by my mother and she smacked me upside my head, and a funny thing happened: I felt no pain. So initially what happened with me, I don’t know how it works with everybody else, but my brain associates it with if I drink, I don’t feel no pain. From that point on, I instantaneously was psychologically addicted to alcohol.
By twelve years old, I was having blackouts and fully addicted to that liquid drug. This cycle went on and on and on and on and on for many, many years. I’m an ex-felon. I have over four felonies. I’ve done over ten years prison state time, two years in Rikers Island. I’ve been homeless nine times. I’ve been in detox about nine times. I used to sleep on the side of the Salvation Army in a cardboard box with rain coming down. I didn’t even want to go into the shelter. I used to walk around derelict with dried up feces and urine on my legs, looking for my next hit of crack cocaine.
What really changed my life around was, the last time that I hit bottom, it was with a DWI in 2006. My grandson was in the backseat of the car and I was charged with a DWI with child endangerment. At that particular time, I had custody of my grandson. Needless to say, I lost custody of my grandson. My wife, who I love very much, who is currently remarried to me, at that particular time just packed my stuff and put it in the backseat of my brother’s car. When I came out of the local jail that morning, I was essentially homeless again.
In Springfield, Massachusetts, they have what they call Melanie’s Law. Melanie’s Law is a mandated stipulation of a minimum amount of time that you may have to do, or you just go to trial, and it’s a felony. They would not let me plead down to it, so I pleaded guilty to it. They let me go on my own recognizance with the promise of my coming back to serve my six months sentence. They were sentencing me to the Western Massachusetts Alcohol Correctional Facility, but I didn’t show up for my court date. As a consequence of that, warrants [were] put out on me. I was homeless and I would go back into the detoxes and ask for help.
They said they really couldn’t do anything because of the warrants, as far as any residential treatment. I was really trying to do damage control because all my life I had been manipulating my situation to try to get the best outcomes, and so it didn’t work. The last time, when I hit my last bottom behind this last bottom, I just said, “I’m tired and I need help.”
Someone in the detox in Springfield, Massachusetts said, “Well Major, if you’re really tired and you really want help, we can help you.” Not only that, he said an interesting thing that stuck with me. He said, “I believe you can do what I do.” I just looked at him like he was crazy. I didn’t believe that I can do counseling. I didn’t believe that I can be a support to anybody else. I felt hopeless. I felt suicidal. I felt homicidal in a lot of different ways. I was at my end. I was at the end of my road, and so I said, “Just help me.”
I turned myself in, and I went through the Massachusetts correctional facility that’s called WMCAC, Western Massachusetts Alcohol Correctional Facility. When I got down to this particular facility, it was an eye-opener for me and a life-changing event. From the time you wake up after breakfast until you got to dinner, you’re in program. It was almost like an academy or a college for recovery.
They would take us out to outside support groups and support meetings, and then they would allow the sponsorships to do that as well. When I was discharged from the Western Massachusetts Alcohol Correctional Facility into the Hope House, a residential program for men, I might’ve lasted there about a month and a half before I went back and relapsed. As a consequence of that I got discharged and I was homeless again.
During this time, I embraced some recovery support groups, and it was during this time that I was introduced to what they call a peer center. It was called the Lighthouse in Springfield, Massachusetts. It was a peer support center. Initially, the way of introduction was not by way of me wanting to be there for the right reasons. I had just heard that I could get a bus pass free there, a monthly bus pass.
My manipulative mind said, “Wow. I’ll go join in. I’ll get me a free bus pass.” I knew enough when I went to the peer center, not to say, “I’m here to get a bus pass,” and so I said, “Hey, I need some help.” They said, “Well, you have to be diagnosed with a mental illness in order to receive our services.” Just so happened at that particular time I was connected with mental health therapy. I was getting therapy from a professional organization. They handed me some papers, I took them to my doctor. He filled them out and I went through the peer center.
My first day through the peer center was a life-changing event for me because everybody that I was introduced to that I thought was working in a professional capacity was actually diagnosed with a mental illness, but they were dressed in professional clothes. They carry themselves in a professional manner. They had meaning and worth to their life. I saw that there was more to the peer center than just getting a bus pass. I started going there every day between nine and eleven-thirty before I went to my twelve o’clock support group outside of that. That was my introduction to this recovery process.
During this time, I was able to accumulate significant clean time in my recovery process through my support groups. I got approved for my social security disability based on me having a severe and persistent mental illness. I got housing through a medical program off of my insurance from the same. What happened six months later was because I did not know how to handle money, my back pay from social security was almost $30,000. I went through it in four months.
My rent went from being zero with the program to $600 a month because Medicare kicked it. When medicating, Medicare kicked it, they kicked out the state health insurance that was paying for my housing. A funny thing happened, and three things happened on the same day, on the third of the month. My rent was due. I didn’t have the money because I got another letter in the mail stating that this medical provider was dropping my insurance so they couldn’t pay for the rent. Then I got another letter in the mail the same day saying that child support had found me. Then I got another letter in the mail saying that my social security check went from $856 to $299 a month.
Essentially, all in one day, my income went from $856 to $299 a month, and my rent went up to $600. As a consequence of that and me not knowing how to handle my income at the time and didn’t know nothing about budgeting, I wasn’t recovered in the area of discipline and budgeting. I was recovering just in the area of staying clean. Because I didn’t have those life skills that I needed to stay stable in that area, I essentially became homeless again.
I packed up my stuff and whatever I had, and I made an impulsive decision to move from Springfield, Massachusetts to Texas. Keep in mind, I was divorced by this time, or just about in the process of being divorced from my current wife who I’m remarried to. I picked up and I made an impulsive decision, and I moved to Texas and connected with an individual out there that I had been seeing off and on throughout my separation with my wife pending the divorce.
The divorce went through, I married this person. Four months later, I looked, I realized it was not a healthy relationship, said I made a mistake. I moved out. I was homeless again. This was with over three years clean time that I had. I was making unhealthy decisions but I was still clean. I moved into the mosque and I slept on the floor. I spoke with the imam, and he gave me the key to the mosque and allowed me to move into there temporarily as a shelter. I slept on the floor over there.
During this time, having learnt, “Wow, I didn’t realize I didn’t have the skills to live on my own and do the responsible things,” I reconnected with my current wife who I’m remarried to. We talked for a while about the pros and cons of what I’ve been going through and she realized that I actually did stay clean, I actually was working a recovery program, albeit I did make some irresponsible decisions within that process, I stayed clean.
We talked about getting back together. I relocated down here to Atlanta from being homeless. That was in early 2009. While down here in Atlanta, Georgia, from Massachusetts, to Texas, to Atlanta, Georgia, I was looking for work. My occupation, my professional occupation prior to the occupation that I work in now was I was running national cleaning companies. I had sixteen jobs. This is very interesting. I had sixteen jobs from 1997 to 2006. My problem wasn’t getting jobs, it was keeping jobs. This was in Albany, New York.
I was running national cleaning companies for one company or another at that time. That was not my passion. That’s just what I was an expert as. My passion had always been recovery. When I came down to Atlanta, Georgia, homeless, and I was looking for work down here for almost a year in the field of my expertise cleaning. They wouldn’t give me a job pushing a broom because of my multiple felonies, irrespective of how long I had not been arrested.
One day, I looked up at my wife, because we had gotten remarried by this time, and she said, “You’re not looking for work anymore. What are you going to do?” I said, “Well,” I said, “There are some sayings we have in the rooms of recovery, and one of them is, ‘If you want something different, you have to do something different.'” I looked at her and said that I was going to some place to volunteer, because the traditional way was not working.
She looked at me and basically said, “Boy, you need a job. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve been holding it down for us, but you need a job. Volunteer work is not going to get it.” I looked up at her, I said, “Well,” I said, “We broke up once. I’ve been homeless many times. I’m not scared of being homeless. Either you’re going to stick by me and let me do it the way I see or envision it because I have prayed on this, or we can separate again.”
She went in to the other room and I immediately got on the computer and I googled outpatient substance abuse programs in my zip code area, and about fifteen of them came up on this website. Every one of them said, “No.” I was calling say[ing], “I want to become a substance abuse counselor. I want to be an intern. I’ll work for free.” I had googled the GEICO website and the GEICO website had took me through the steps I needed. I was calling all these different places.
On the thirteenth call, I received a positive response from Grady Hospital. They said, “We don’t have a drug program. We don’t have an internship, but we do have a volunteer department. We do have a methadone clinic.” I said, “I’ll take whatever you got.” They asked me to write a cover letter and send it to them explaining why I would like to work for them, volunteer for their department. I did that.
I believe in the five P’s, proper preparation prevents poor performance, so during this time of me job searching I had already compiled my resume. Everything I had experienced through the peer center in Springfield, Massachusetts, in the Lighthouse, all the volunteer work that I had done there for the year that I was there, all the knowledge I had from the recovery support groups, I took all of these into play, incorporated it into my resume, and made it very appealing in my cover letter and sent it to them.
They set me up with an interview. I came down for the interview. I was accepted as a volunteer. For five days a week, almost for nine months, eight hours a day, I would travel forty miles round trip from Lithonia, Georgia to Grady Hospital, to the methadone clinic, getting up at four o’clock in the morning. I never asked them for a job. I was only there to learn and get the experience to become a substance abuse counselor.
A funny thing happened. In the third month of me volunteering there, Grady Hospital took on new leadership. During the course of this new leadership, Michael Young became the CEO. He hired Mr. Michael Clays and Dr. Christine Gault. They closed down the methadone clinic unceremoniously. They said, “We’re going into a recovery model.” I was still volunteering at this time. A lot of staff members quit because they didn’t want a recovery model. They didn’t want to engage with mental health with mental health or substance abuse services.
They basically asked me, “Major,” different staff members, “What are you going to do?” I said, “Well, when they move, I’m going to move just like they move. I’m working for free anyway. I have nothing to lose.” We moved down the block and we opened up a center there, it was called Florida Hall outpatient services. Four months later, they closed that down. They said, “We’re going into a full recovery model, and they leased a space over the space over at Auburn Avenue. It was called Auburn Avenue Recovery Center.
While we were moving over there and unpacking, Dr. Chris Gault, who is now the Assistant Commissioner for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, we were in the chart room and I was helping her unpack. She turned to me and said, “Major, can I ask you a question? It’s kind of personal.” I said, “Sure.” You don’t refuse your director. “Sure, ask me a question.” She said, “Are you rich?” I said, “No.” She said, “Are you retired with a pension?” I said, “No.” I said, “Why do you ask this?”
She said, “Because every day you come in here with a suit and tie on and you show up before all my other employees. You engage and you help and you shadow everybody. You do everything as asked of and you’ve never asked for a job.” I said, “Oh,” I said, “I got an income. I get $299 a month in social security, disability, and child support takes the rest.” I said, “I got five felonies and I’ve been diagnosed with major depression severe recurrent with psychotic features of post-traumatic stress disorder. You need to know all those things up front about me, because I believe in self-disclosure, not running from my past but embracing it and setting it up for a future. I believe my deficit is going to be an asset for me today.” She said, “Oh my God. Would you like a job?” I said, “That would be nice.”
She took me under her wing. She told me to submit my resume. By this time, I was volunteering and I was facilitating some recovery groups at Grady. One of the groups I teach is anger management. I’ve been anger management ever since for the last seven years. During this time, I submitted my resume. They called me in for the interview. I had this thing called self-entitlement. I thought I was automatically going to be approved for the job.
When my police background check came back for a second time—because they background checked me with Grady for the volunteer job [and] I got accepted—they did the same background check with the same information, same things came back, and the human resource recruiter looked at me across the desk and said, “We got a reputation to protect, and we can’t take a risk with you.” On the scale of zero to ten on my anger management scale, I went up to a seven. I call that increased negative self talk. I almost felt like verbalizing some aggression towards her, but I internalized it. I stuffed it. I took a deep breath and used some anger management techniques and I asked her, “What’s your appeal process?” She said, “There is no appeal process.”
Now my scale went right back up again to the seven with the negative self talk and de-escalated my anger and I asked her, “Well, if I wanted to write someone and thank them from the opportunity for working here for free,” I didn’t say that in that manner, but I asked her. She said, “Well, you would write it to me,” so then my anger meter went back up again. I said, “Okay, what’s your email?” She gave me her email, and I thanked her and I left.
As I got outside my cell phone rang and it was a colleague of mine who was mentoring me at the time in the outpatient services, and he said, “When do you start?” I said, “I didn’t get the job,” and then I vented. I said, “That such and such, such and such, such and such.” He said, “Well, come on in. Let’s talk about it.” I said, “I’m tired of talking. All the free counselors are there.” He said, “Come on. Let’s process this.” “No.”
I was having a break. I was having a break, an emotional break. I had to find ways to collect myself. I said I needed some time away from this. About five minutes later the phone ring again. It was my director, Dr. Chris Gault. She said, “Major, what’s going on?” I said, “I didn’t get it.” She said, “Well, let me ask you a question? Did they take your volunteer badge?” I looked down and my volunteer badge was still hanging on my jacket. I said, “No.” She said, “Technically you can still come in my building.” I said, “Yeah, but I need some time.”
Keep in mind, during this time that I was volunteering, my brother had also killed himself while I was on the phone with him. I took two days off and then I went right back to volunteering with Grady. I had never really had to do a whole lot of self-care in that area, but everything was coming at me at once, and I needed some time. She said, “Take a few days off and then come back. Let’s see what happens.”
So I went home and I fell into a deep state of depression. I wouldn’t sleep. I wouldn’t eat for two days. I wouldn’t wash up. I sat in the same chair for two days. My wife came into the room, into the den and she said, “You’re so good at helping everybody else, when you going to help yourself? You’re so good at speaking life into everybody else, when are you going to speak life into yourself? What are you going to do with your bad-sharing ass?”
I looked at her and I was like, “Get out of here,” in my mind. I just said, “Go on out the room.” She stood over me and looked at me and then left out the room, and then I turned around and I looked at the computer. I’m very good writer, a very good advocator, but I had never had to do it for myself on this level. I started writing my letter of appeal.
They gave me five reasons why they wouldn’t hire me, and I took those five deficits and I turned them into assets in my letter, and thanking them with my unofficial appeal because they didn’t have an appeal process now. Well, today they have an appeal [process]. I was the nucleus for the appeal process. I set that in motion. Unbeknownst to me, there were things happening after I sent that letter because I didn’t just send it to her, I CC’ed it to the director I worked up under, and so the recruiter could not just trash the letter. She had to bring it to her supervisor. Other eyes was on it.
Things were happening. It went from the recruiter to the recruiter’s director, the director called my immediate manager. My manager got with my director. Before the chief operations officer, it got with the executive director for mental health, Michael Clays, and then chief operating officer for Grady, Sue Green at the time. Each person was saying, “Well, if it’s okay with you, it’s okay with me, but CYA… cover your ass.”
I got a phone call Sunday night, and it was from Grady. My wife came in there room and said, “Major, there’s someone on the phone for you from Grady.” I got on the phone, “Hello?” “Yes, is this Major Jordan?” “Yeah.” I was still on my pity pot. She said, “Well, my name is such and such, such and such. I’m the executive secretary, administrative assistant for Michael Young. Do you know who he is?” I said, “Yes,” and I said, “He is the CEO of Grady for all eight thousand and so employees.” “Well, he’s requesting a one-on-one audience with you. Is it possible if you can meet with him?” I said, “That would be fine.”
That Monday morning, I dressed in my conservative two-piece suit and my Stacy Adams shoes, and my briefcase and my resume, and I went down and I met one-on-one, just with him, the chief operating office, Sue Green, and the stenographer. Fifteen minutes into my story with me, he stuck out his hand and said, “I have fifteen years clean and sober. Someone gave me a chance. You indeed need a chance. You’re the evidence that recovery works. I’m bringing you aboard.” He said, “You’re so good with the pen. I had to do some writing myself.” He wrote a contract out. Basically, it just stated that if I use alcohol and drugs during the course of employment I would be unceremoniously dis-employed, fired, terminated. Anything else, as long as I work there and I prove to be a worth to Grady, they would promote me from inside and outside of Grady.
I stayed with Grady Behavioral Health Outpatient Services for six years. I started there in 2009, and May 13th of this year 2015, I gave them notice because I was recruited by Beacon Health Options, ValueOptions. During this particular time, I received training to become a mental health paraprofessional, a certified mental health peer specialist, a certified addiction recovery empowerment specialist, a certified addiction and alcohol drug counselor, internationally.
I went through ICRC to get the international credentials, because I want to be able to do this anywhere in the world if I could, and WAM certified. I’ve been through many multiple trainings after that. I facilitated core recurring disorder groups. I did case management. I did peer support. I was the lead person to facilitate recovery groups for outpatients’ services at Ten Park Place from the inception of it, opening up, up until May 13th.
I facilitated three groups a day, five days a week. I gave them notice a week before May 13th. Since then, I’ve put on multiple recovery events for the community. I’ve written grants and had grants approved for recovery events. I’m just an advocate for recovery. This is what I do. Recovery is my passion. Recovery is my life. I believe in the model that we can and we do recover and the lie must go.
Photographs taken outside the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse in Atlanta, Georgia.