/ Modified apr 24, 2013 2:57 p.m.

Eddie’s Story: ‘Hopeless Cases’

Counselor uses troubled past to find new approaches to addiction treatment; Part 2 of 3


Tucked into a leafy Tucson neighborhood, New Directions is easy to miss.

But inside, this behavioral health and substance abuse treatment facility is innovating in addiction treatment.

Here, people in recovery have access to more than 12-step programs, says Mary Jo Silcox, CEO of Compass Behavioral Health Care, which runs the New Directions center.

“They get four hours of treatment per day, and that consists of therapeutic groups and education, as well as individual therapy,” Silcox says. “And then the Four Winds Program supplements that with talking circles, sweat lodges, Native American arts and crafts, so it’s a combination of two cultures that come together.”

These two cultures have come together because of Edward Grijalva, a counselor with Pascua Yaqui and Tohono O’odham roots who has shaped most of what New Directions does.

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With scant resources and few successful examples to draw from, Grijalva set about creating a model of culture-based care that works.

“I sat in my office for months with no phone and no computer, just staring at the walls and trying to figure out where is this going?” Grijalva recalls.

Eventually the elements of a new approach—one that combines spiritual and traditional practices from the many tribes and cultures the center serves with cutting-edge research on trauma-informed care—to addiction treatment came together, with powerful results.

“Obviously the outcome we want is long-term recovery, and that’s what we’re seeing,” Grijalva says. “We’re seeing people do really well—I mean, not just a few months, but years [of sobriety] behind them now.”

Grijalva’s passion for improving addiction treatment stems from his own troubled past. Growing up in an impoverished Tucson barrio, Grijalva watched his father struggle with addiction. By age 14, Grijalva was abusing drugs himself. At 19, he was drafted to serve in Vietnam, where his drug use intensified.

“In our recovery we talk about geographical change, and how we think that if we go to a new place our lives will be better,” Grijalva says. “But we learn that wherever we go, wherever I go, I take me with me. ... So I went to Vietnam and I took the problem with me.”

Grijalva also brought the problem back home, where he got involved in dealing drugs. Them, after an arrest for armed kidnapping, he spent time in treatment and managed to kick his habit.

For 15 years, Grijalva was free of drugs. He went back to school, started a family and built a new life. But when that life fell apart, he fell apart, too. Grijalva got back into dealing drugs, and soon wound up in prison.

“I ended up with people who were serving multiple life terms. And these men had come to terms with what they’d done in such a way that it really struck me,” he recalls. “That was my spiritual awakening.”

Grijalva watched these men as they gathered each day to talk and pray. Eventually, they befriended him and welcomed him into their circle. They were dedicated to improving themselves and becoming better people, even though they would never be free again. Seeing that transformed how Grijalva thought about the world, and it compelled him to change.

“I was going to bring a piece of them out, and I was going to be their forgiveness,” Grijalva says, “and the day that I left, these men—who had done some horrible things in their lives—were crying as I left.”

When he left that day, Eddie set out to live a life of purpose. He has worked in behavioral health and substance abuse treatment ever since.

That has often meant confronting and working around major challenges. Over the past few years, as the state of Arizona has slashed funding for behavioral health services, New Directions and the rest of the Compass Behavioral Health Care system have suffered.

They’ve had to cut back to keep providing the same level of care, Silcox says.

“What we’re seeing is we can’t serve as many people,” she says. “We have to serve them in shorter time frames. And the acuity of the people we’re seeing is higher because of the other supportive services that have been cut in the community.”

There are sorrows in Grijalva’s work, and he makes his peace with them at the end of every day, as he climbs Tumamoc Hill.

High above Tucson, he renews his hope that, with the right care, others who struggle as he did could one day change their lives as he has.

“No matter how terrible it seems, your life can be different,” Grijalva says. “I want people to know that.”

This piece represents Part Two of a three-part series on addiction airing April 2, 9 and 16th on AZ Illustrated Science.

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