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LiveFree!’s Executive Director Shares Her Story with the Tampa Tribune

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By TBO.COM | Staff Published: February 16, 2013 Updated: February 16, 2013 – 12:00 AM

J Griffin

Jackie Sue Griffin

46, Temple Terrace

GOAL: To remind those who are diagnosed with addiction or struggling with substance use and/or abuse that it is never too late to make healthier choices and that treatment works and recovery is possible. My goal is to continue to help others find inner strength and understand that when it comes to an individual’s personal recovery or behavioral health care, whether prevention, intervention or treatment, one size does not fit all.

WHY I DID IT: Seventeen years ago, I made a terrible decision to get into my vehicle after I had too much to drink. I crashed my car into a pole on my way to another bar. I remember distinctly the police lights, and being handcuffed and transported to jail for driving under the influence of alcohol. Although intoxicated at the time, I  remember being so very grateful my son wasn’t with me and that I had not killed someone due to my poor decisions.

I knew I had to make a decision to  change or continue to go down a path to more self-destruction. I evaluated my unhealthy lifestyle and, instead of passing the blame, decided to be honest with myself. Although my drinking was not interfering with work or family life, I drank to relieve stress and was a binge drinker in social settings. I realized this was not healthy and that I could not continue living this lifestyle.

I accepted a job at Operation PAR, a nonprofit organization that provides substance abuse prevention, research, intervention and treatment for individuals struggling with addiction. I was scared my new employer would rescind its job offer because of my DUI, but thankfully, I was advised that since it occurred prior to my employment, I would  be eligible to work for the agency. I knew the universe had spoken and that this was my opportunity to build a new life for myself and my son, Devon Tyler Konyha.  Eventually, as I became more aware of our organization’s resources, I began to help others connect to the prevention and treatment resources they needed to sustain hope and healing and begin their own recovery or pass the information to a friend or family member.

HOW I DID IT: I was able to obtain and sustain sobriety by reading and following up on the information provided by Operation PAR. The agency’s president and CEO, Nancy Hamilton, became my mentor. I learned that individuals struggling with substance abuse need a personalized recovery plan. I was committed to building a new social support structure, reestablishing “people, places and things,” and attended Alcoholics Anonymous. I learned that addiction is a medical condition, a chronic disease, and that it was not about a lack of willpower.

Using my skills and personal experiences, I can assist in developing alternatives for treatment, therapy and support, and promote the idea that everyone’s journey is their own. Reaching people individually is a must for prevention. This approach has enabled me to partner with groups, parents, guardians and law enforcement to build a safe and supportive community environment.

After admitting my personal problems with addiction, I, too, searched for answers about why I felt unfulfilled and turned to alcohol. Today, I strive to exercise more, be grateful for the help of others and limit my stress by not overextending myself.

HURDLES: I am proud to say that I have had no breaks in my sobriety. I still struggle with being completely at peace when I’m not doing something. This year I plan to learn meditation. The passing of my sister in November was incredibly hard. Yet, again, I was surrounded by the most amazing individuals you would ever hope to know in this behavioral health-care field. As a parent, I remain committed to talking to my son every day about what it means to make healthy or healthier choices. I think that families should understand their genetic makeup and talk with their children about what it means to have a predisposition for addiction.

GOING THE DISTANCE: My dedication to getting healthy grew out my  awareness that I was not able to drink alcohol in any safe amount. I strive to continue to look for the positive in life. And as vice president of development for Operation PAR and executive director of the LiveFree! Pinellas coalition, I am so thankful for the opportunity to help our community successfully acquire new grant funding to serve those in need.

BEST ADVICE: It is hard for me to give advice because I do not look at myself and think “I have made it.” However, a few words of wisdom passed on to me include: “Never buy your own press” and remain committed to learning and performance improvement. Invest in science and data-driven decision making. Be an attentive parent. Be kind to others, always. Make every day a teachable moment. Approach life with humility and the sincere courage needed to say “I don’t know,” or “I need help.” Value and honor difference. Try to understand personal perception and personal accountability to self and others. Understand what the phrase “progress not perfection,” means to you.

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