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Greg and Haleigh Fuller: When Opiates Break A Family & Earning It Back

Updated: Oct 13, 2021

Greg Fuller

I would say it started about almost 20 years ago. I mean I had a good job, I have a college degree, I have a house. I went through a divorce with Haileigh's mom and I was a single dad, I think I was around 25 years old. I don’t think I was ready for that at that age And you know, At that age if you're a single parent, and you're a single parent and you're a man there's really not a big network of people that fall into that category.

You know my friends they were out doing other things so it's almost like it was isolation without me even trying to isolate, and this came way before the drugs.

I had a really bad motorcycle wreck in ‘96, there was nerve damage done and it had progressed for about 14 years at that point where I had been dealing with chronic pain. They finally did surgery to fix it and that's where the actual drug use started when I had the surgery. They put me on fentanyl patches and I knew right then that it was going to be a problem. That transitioned to taking pills, Hydrocodone I had a prescription for it. You know, you don’t consider yourself an addict, you're just dependent on it.

Over the course of time I was actually getting promoted to better jobs, I bought another house. So on the outside everything was going great, but that's not what was really going on. It progressed to the point where I was spending so much money, And i was making good money, that it was cheaper for me to just use heroin. And these things sound crazy when you say them out loud but when you're an addict and you're in that situation it doesn't sound crazy to you. I have to have this substance, I'm spending $150 to $200 a day, I can get the same thing for $60 to $70 and bang, now you're on something that can be a lot more potent. This is before we had the big fentanyl problem when I was doing this, but it came about during that time.

So I transitioned to using heroin, oxy 80s when they were around before they were off the market. But mainly street heroin, I mean I was injecting it for 10 years, a decade. Eventually you reach the point where it doesn't matter how much money you make, it doesn’t matter what your position is you will get exposed. There's a point where you can't cover it up anymore. It costs so much money, the ceiling on your ability to tolerate it and you build up such a tolerance for it where there's no way to satisfy it.

It affected my jobs, I took a job making less money actually just because I wasn't going to have to travel all day so I wouldn't have to worry about taking substances with me on airplanes or driving all the way across the state. I ended up you know, losing that job and just job hopping from job to job. Things that I really didn’t want to do just to survive. Lost my house, lost my daughter.

I guess it was 4 years ago on August 20th 2016 I was on the way to go buy and I just called up my dad and told him I was done. I went to their house and went to treatment the next day. That was 4 and a half years ago and I have not touched it sense. I was in there in an inpatient treatment center for about 97 days, and then I moved to Nashville. I moved into a halfway house there, it's called REI inc. I was there for a little while, about a month. It was more of a very structured facility where you know, you have to be home by 7oclock at night, when you leave you have to sign out. It was great for me coming out of an inpatient to have structure like that.

About 30 days after that I moved into an Oxford house in Nashville. The guy who was running the Oxford house was a guy named Jaramiah Jackson, that's who answered the phone when I called to get in there. Jeremiah had been about 6 years. He was the person there from the very beginning of Oxford house. Became really good friends with him and he got me a job at an addiction treatment center in Nashville. And I was there about a year and long story short, Jeremiah relapsed and I ended up having to be the one to kick him out of the house.

Greg, Jaramiah and a friend

On November the eighth 2018 I got a phone call that he had overdosed and died. Two weeks after I told him he had to leave, it wasn't long at all. I guess he thought he could go out and do it again. So I left Nashville after that I mean that was, it was hard to deal with. I moved to Knoxville and took a job with an addiction treatment center in Knoxville. Worked with getting addicts into treatment, doing interventions in emergency rooms, dealing (working) with family members if they needed help trying to try to get someone to get help. I ran into the chief operating officer of the company I work for now. I was just there for a regular meeting about getting referrals and we ended up talking for three hours and he hired me to run one of the treatment centers so now I am the director of one of the treatment centers four and a half years later.

I overdosed 3 times, three times they had to use narcan to bring me back. The last time I had a lot of breathing issues they had to use the bag on my face in the back of the car. I was just tired of it, just sick and tired of it. A lot of times That's something like when you see a family that enables an addict, and it's very hard not to do that, but it just shortens the time until they reach their bottom. That's why I had to do it, I was tired of it. I did not want to do it anymore. It was miserable.

It's a miserable existence waking up every day you're sick, you have to find it and if you don't you're gonna get very ill. It's just groundhog day every single day and I was tired of it. Since then I have no desire to use. A lot of people say that you’ll struggle with it the rest of your life but that's not my belief because I don't, I don't have any desire to use drugs of any kind. I guess because I used for so long maybe? But I was done, sick of it, didn't want anything to do with it the day I decided to get clean. Yeah, just being miserable thats what did it.

It took me a long time to do it, you know, and I understand how a lot of people who try the first time, don't make it and they go back. I know people that went to drug treatment facilities three times that are sober today, very successful. My situation isn’t something I would use as a good example because I didn’t ask for help until I was 41 years old.

There's a reason most of the people in the treatment facility that I was at I was the only 41 year old heroin addict there. The rest of them were 20, 25, 30 there weren't any 41 year old heroin addicts and the reason is simple, most of them are dead. They don't make it that long. That's why I say by the time I decided to get sober I was so sick of it. I had done it so long that it was luck that I had made it that long. There was no other reason, I shouldn't be alive.

The biggest thing is to just make the decision there's no reason to go on that long when you know where it's gonna end up. It always ends up in the same places. In a lot of programs they say “jails, institutions and death” there's not a lot of institutions left. A lot of the treatment facilities and hospitals for the mentally ill have been shut down so that leaves jail and death.

And I’ve been to jail enough, more times than I can count on my fingers and toes and I’ve walked on the line of death. And that's where it's gonna end. People can say whatever they want to say, they can plan in their mind “I’m going to be different” and I’m gonna quit this weekend and this weekend comes and it becomes “well i'll do it next week” And that's where it ends up.

Long term recovery for me is having a structure to your life, I’m OCD which helps, but having a certain time to get up, having a certain time to go to the gym or something you enjoy, having a certain time that you go to bed. Organizing your life to where there aren’t many chances for there to be distractions. Knowing things that could be triggers. There's certain streets in Knoxville where I’m from where I don't even like going past the exits. Staying out of those areas. I don't communicate with anyone from back when I was using, the friends I have today there's a few that I actually used to use drugs with, but they’re all sober, they're clean. Building those relationships.

You have to go all in, there's no halfway.

I moved to Nashville to get away from it so you have to go all in, you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish it. I don't know anyone who looks back on it and says “I wish I hadn't got sober” I don't have any patients that say that, I don't know anybody who says that. I know a lot of people who look back and says “I wish I never used dope before” a lot of people never get to say that is the reality of it.

Structure, be willing to do what's necessary. Not looking at it like I've lost all these things I can't fix. That's another thing, not being fixated on the past. Just take it one step at a time because you have to clean up a lot of wreckage.

You’re going to have to clean up financial damage, emotional damage, damage with family. But it’s worth it and it gets a lot easier as time goes on. Once they see you actually do what you say, it changes all that.

Just go ahead and do it, don't wait around, not to put it off because I mean it sucks. Being a drug addict sucks. It's not fun, it's not glamorous, and it doesn’t end nice. Just go ahead and do it because there's' no reason not to, not to chase it. It can all be fixed, a lot of people think that where they’re at they can't dig themselves out of it so they just give up. And it can happen very quickly, I mean it's just a decision, that's all it is. A decision that “i want something better” and just go ahead and do it, not to wait.

Haleigh Fuller

I guess from the earliest I could remember he didn't make it to where I could see it most of the time. I mean, with age comes wisdom obviously. He tried to keep it secret although every now and then I would see paraphernalia around the house but I didn’t know what it was obviously, I was a kid I didn't know what that stuff was. I guess the point when I realized something was wrong was when I went to my grandparents house.

I was explaining to them because I had seen my dad, I had seen the paraphernalia and i was wondering what it was so I had showed them a picture of a syringe that I had drawn and they just asked “Where have you seen that?” I was like “I see my dad using them” and from their reaction I was like “Oh, this is not normal”

That was just my everyday life, me and my dad its always been us. I’ve never had a mom in the picture. It's always been, all of my school work and elementary school it's always been me,my dad, best friends whatever. I like to think we have a really close relationship, we’re very alike we buts heads a lot. I never questioned him you know? He was always there so I never questioned him he was the person I trusted the most and stuff and that was just my life.

By the time he was doing the job hopping I was already living with my grandparents but we did notice the fact that he was here and there and it was always something had always “gone wrong’ it was always a different excuse it was very confusing. But every time we tried to give him the benefit of the doubt because my grandparents love their son and I love my dad. So we were like “Ok whatever, get a new job”

I would still go and visit him, I didn't know he was still doing that stuff so I would still go and visit him. It was never a complete cut off all contact or anything. It's better than a lot of people have it.

The moment he got my trust back was probably honestly, pretty recently. (I’m gonna be honest with everybody including you *to Greg*) I really used to have a lot of disdain for my dad, I was very angry with him. I used to hold a lot of anger towards him and what he did with my childhood and my life and even after the fact when he was getting clean, which I didn't fully understand until now. It was hard for him to face me out of guilt and stuff for all the stuff he’s caused in my life. It made me upset, the fact that he didn’t see me that often though I know that he could. I didn't really fully understand the fact that hey, you kinda make him feel bad without even trying you know? Probably just recently Just because he’s made something of himself, he has a stable job and I’m super proud of him.

My friend her name is Makiya, we used to cheer together and one day she pulled me aside and one day was like “Haleigh listen, I know that you have been through a lot with your dad, but you know my dad is dead. And I know that I don't know what you've been through and that's none of my business and stuff but I really wish that I could have my dad in my life. And I think that you should take advantage of the fact that you still have him because obviously he’s overdosed. He doesn’t have to be here right now, you're lucky”

That completely changed everything for me, I started looking at it from a completely different perspective. Also with age now that I fully, well maybe not fully but I can better understand the situation and my dad and what he went through.

I grow every day trusting him more as a person with myself, with himself and with the rest of the family. I’m really proud of him for what he’s done and I dont tell him often enough.

If I could go back I would probably tell myself that it's not just me. When I was facing a lot of this head on I was going to a Christian, private school. Y’know all of the families are perfect, rich and y’know I would look at my life in comparison to theirs and I’m the white sheep in the middle of all the black sheep. I just stuck out with everybody and a really big thing for me was I went to public school. I got out into the world and realized that “Wow, it's not just me” and I started sharing my story and I wasn't ashamed of it anymore, and I realized that this happens to everybody else too. Everybody’s family has their quirks and I wish I would’ve known that way back then instead of feeling really isolated and alone.

Also I would tell myself and other people, if you have whoever it is; parent, aunt, uncle, brother in your life, don't have disdain and anger towards them. Take advantage of having them because not everybody has the opportunity to keep those people in their lives. You should have forgiveness and you should have grace with people. And you should be proud of what they’ve become instead of waiting around in the past being angry.

There is so much more to life than being angry.

Also, know when to draw the line. You can have grace on your people but know when to draw the line and when enough is enough.

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