New Hope for Addicted: Greener Grass
Author: Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne
Hi. My name is Courtney, and I was married to an alcoholic. We first met over a keg of beer. We courted at happy hour. I was in my 20s, he in his early 30s. This is what people did. We went to work and then we went out for drinks. We were young. We were having fun.
Actually, I almost didn’t marry him. We eloped to Jamaica, and the day before the wedding, we participated in a “mixology class” at the resort. I quickly realized that “mixology class” was code for drinking shots of as many types of rum as you could. I managed to swallow back one before I started just tossing the shots over my shoulder. Joe got into the competitive spirit and downed every shot. And then he went down. Literally. Stepped back from the bar, stumbled, slid down a column while desperately trying to remain vertical. Needless to say, that wasn’t a great night for us.
The next morning was even worse as we walked to breakfast and our fellow vacationers shouted out, “Hey, dude, how you feeling?” He wasn’t the only idiot; lots of guys and gals overindulged. I can still remember one couple on the beach digging holes in the sand to throw up in. But, for Joe, I had this sinking feeling that this wasn’t all in good fun. I didn’t really care about how anyone else acted. I was only focused on his behavior, and I was angry. But could I really let this “one incident” dictate my entire future?
We were married just before sunset on the beach. The puking-in-holes couple served as our witnesses. True story. I haven’t had rum since.
Certain points stand out as eye-openers to his problem. Like the time he was designated driver and insisted he was okay to drive home from his company Christmas party; we got pulled over and a police escort home. Or, the time he started an anti-war political discussion, with an Iraq veteran—I literally dragged him from that room. Or when softball “practice” became an excuse to have a party on any day that ended in a “y.”
CO-FOUNDERS OF GREENER GRASS, JOE NAUGHTON AND JAISON HROBAR
I’m a smart chick, with a social work degree and countless credit hours on addiction, but it was easier to cover the behavior than deal with it. I became my own case study, but the plight for all co-dependents is the same. Alcoholics and addicts don’t believe they have a problem. It doesn’t matter how many times you stand in their face yelling at them that they do. Until they are ready to admit it to their inner-most selves, they won’t act. The Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Book” says that “frothy emotional appeal seldom suffices.” Joe had to realize the problem on his own. He didn’t until a couple years after we separated.
I am not alone. Joe is not alone. The statistics are staggering. A Harvard School of Public Health study reveals that almost two-thirds of Americans have friends or family members who have struggled with addiction. But, even more eye-opening is that addiction is a community problem. “Addiction left untreated costs Americans more than 100,000 lives and $400 billion each year.” (H. Harwood 2000)
A study by the Justice Policy Institute found that “every dollar spent on drug treatment in the community is estimated to return $18.52 in benefits to society in terms of reduced incarceration rates and associated crime costs to taxpayers.” Where else can we reap an 18 to one return? And, if that is the case, why don’t we talk about it? Look around. Two of the three people sitting near you right now have some experience with addiction. Is anyone talking about it? No. It’s a topic we don’t tackle. The stigma associated with the disease is negative.
Joe and I separated in November of 2008. We remained in touch, and I watched him spiral. Today, I’m happy report that Joe has been sober for two years, three months, and eight days. I am proud of him—for realizing the problem, for doing something about it, despite how very difficult that journey must have been, and for coming out on the other side a better person.
Since getting sober, Joe and his friend Jaison, a recovered alcoholic/addict, have been working to find a way to help others facing the same situation they were in not long ago. Thousands of people in the Lowcountry are struggling and need help. Money, however, is often a barrier to treatment. Both Joe and Jaison admit that if they didn’t have someone pay for their treatment, they would have died waiting.
INDIVIDUALS WITH ALCOHOL OR DRUG ADDICTIONS CAN BE FOUND IN THE BIGGEST CITIES OR THE SMALL RURAL COMMUNITIES. SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND ADDICTION CAN STRIKE ANYONE OF ANY SOCIO-ECONOMIC BACKGROUND. ADDICTION DOES NOT DISCRIMINATE.
Joe drank for 30 years before he went to rehab at age 43.
“I believed that I didn’t have a problem. No matter how bad the situation or consequence, I never believed I was as bad as my father,” he said, choking up a bit at the memory of his father who passed away in April 2009. He drank himself to death. “I believed that society caused the issues I had. And I never felt like I fit in that ‘society,’ so I was naturally more relaxed, calm, and funny if I was drinking.”
Jaison started drinking and using at 14, “drinking other kids’ parents’ alcohol at house parties on Hilton Head,” he said. Addiction is hereditary. For Jaison, it was his grandparents and two uncles who carried the gene. It was Jaison who carried the casket at his uncles’ funerals. “I carried the casket for two uncles who overdosed and then I partied,” Jaison admitted. Jaison’s view of what an alcoholic or addict looked like was based on experience. His grandfather was a violent alcoholic. “As long as I wasn’t violent, I didn’t have a problem.” Even living in his car under the Hilton Head bridge wasn’t a wake-up call for Jaison.
So, what was the wake-up call?
For Joe, it was a slow realization. He went to detox and started a 12-step program in February of 2010 but admits that he kept drinking for another nine months. “In November of 2010, I knew I just didn’t want to live this way anymore. I knew that in order to get better, I had to be physically removed from alcohol. I asked for help and a bed was made available to me at Bridges of Hope,” Joe said. At Bridges of Hope (a residential treatment facility) there were 49 guys and six dogs, on a farm, in the middle of Georgia. Life had changed. “There were rules, and I had finally begun to learn some responsibility. Learning is different with no alcohol. It wasn’t as if I was learning new concepts—responsibility, acceptance—but they finally clicked. I knew I just needed to—wanted to—do the right thing.”
“When your drug dealer tells you that you have a problem, you know it’s serious,” Jaison said. “But I still didn’t listen. His wife had kicked him out of the house when his “run out for milk” lasted two hours. Jaison said he was relieved. “I was dying, and my greatest fear was that one of my kids (he has four) would find me dead on the couch,” he said. His mom finally said she was done too. “She is a phenomenal mother, so I know that was hard for her. I finally talked to the associate pastor at my church, and he helped me get into rehab.”
Once at rehab, Jaison had his doubts, but it was the director of the program who had faith, telling him, “If you don’t believe, believe that I believe.”
“Eventually, the desire to drink just left me,” Jaison said. “I did the work. I followed the rules.”
For Jaison, the idea to help others came while he was in rehab. “I left my wife and four kids to fend for themselves while I was gone. I couldn’t afford to help my family or myself,” he said. “People ask for help all the time. They are destitute and at death’s door. They would go to rehab if there was a way.”
Together, Joe and Jaison have been working to make it happen for anyone who asks for help. They’ve developed an extensive network of contacts across the region to ensure that when someone is ready to make the commitment, they are able to get them there. The duo has logged thousands of miles, bringing alcoholics and addicts to rehab, oftentimes leaving after work, driving all night, and then returning just in time to start their workday again.
It was one of those all-night drives that changed the course of both of their lives, and likely that of many others. On a 10-hour journey, the two began talking about how to parlay their lessons learned and the generosity bestowed on them to others. And the idea of “Greener Grass” was born. “We may have been delirious from the ride, and we may have seen a jack-a-lope, but we definitely knew we had a great idea.” Joe said it may have been the greatest night of his life. As his ex-wife, that stings a little, but I did agree to tell the story, so…
On the heels of their long drive, they created a non-profit organization, Greener Grass, with a mission to ensure that no alcoholic or addict desperate and willing enough to seek help from a treatment facility is denied this lifesaving opportunity due to inability to pay either out of pocket or via insurance. Further, through Greener Grass, they want to work to lessen the burden of the family that has suffered alongside the afflicted by providing, where needed and when possible, financial assistance for such things as food and basic necessities.
With a vision to change lives, they have their work cut out for them. They want to impact not only the lives of those afflicted with the deadly disease of addiction, not only the lives of the families and friends who have suffered alongside the afflicted but the lives of the people in the communities where they reside. Through education, outreach and the changed lives of the men and women they aim to assist, they are driven to change the stigma of alcoholics and addicts from “hopeless bane on society” to “contributing member of the community.”
You mean let’s take the anonymous out of the scenario? Of course we should. People are highly emotional and make connections with people. Could it be that the stigma associated with addiction is because there are no people (with last names) shouting from the rooftops? Joe Naughton and Jaison Hrobar are putting a face and a name to addiction.
Having completed the necessary state and non-profit filing paperwork, Greener Grass is working in 2013 to raise the funds necessary to assist a minimum of five people in receiving the help they seek. Using facilities with which they currently have relationships, this means raising $4,200 to $7,200 per individual, depending on their particular needs. By ensuring that no man or woman seeking treatment from alcohol or drug addiction is denied due to lack of finances, they believe that by providing means for these men and women to get the help they desire, their families can also start on a path which leads to healing and rebuilding.
Joe and Jaison’s long-term goals are a tad loftier. They hope to acquire the land and resources to build a Greener Grass residential recovery and rescue facility in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Here, sick and suffering alcoholics and addicts will be given the opportunity to rebuild their lives through the 12 Steps of AA/NA, through discipline, through love and through the responsibility of caring for rescue animals. The therapeutic value of mutual, unconditional love and companionship between man and animals has been proven to help both, and we believe that by placing society’s “unwanted” in an environment that promotes love and growth, something miraculous will happen, they explained.
Today though, they remain grounded in their mission with an eye on who they can help this year. When asked, is the grass really greener on the other side? Jaison said, “It can be.”
Indeed it can.
How You Can Help
Donate your time, talent, or treasure. Greener Grass needs:
• Graphic and web design assistance
• Board members with legal and/or accounting background
• Money! So they can fulfill their mission to help those seeking long-term treatment for addiction. Monetary donations can be mailed to 25 Thurmond Way, Box 1307, Bluffton, SC 29910.
Want to help? Send Joe and Jaison an e-mail at GreenerGrassSC@gmail.com.