Participant #17
Jeff Williams
32 years old

Bio of Addiction

Jeff was raised in a two-parent family, with two half siblings that were adopted by Jeff‘s biological father. Jeff is the youngest child and was referred to as a “sensitive child”. His father balanced the love between his adoptive and natural children well. Jeff‘s siblings, for various reasons, both required intensive and long term medical and phycological treatment as young children, and Jeff often felt isolated from his family as a result. Jeff‘s mother was an alcoholic with a family history of substance abuse.

At the age of 7 years old, Jeff‘s parents, and his cousins parents divorced. He became the “helper child” for his mother after the divorce. Jeff‘s father was reserved in the array of emotions he shared, either happiness or discontent, and as a result, Jeff failed to learn good coping skills as a child.

“I didn’t learn any good coping skills from either parent. My father would either ignore it or be happy. The only way I saw my mother cope was emotional dis-regulation or drinking alcohol. That’s what formed in my mind to cope. Both my parents clearly loved all of us children dearly but were not representative of good role models when it came to coping with difficult emotions.”

Jeff began using marijuana between 12-13 years old with his 5-year senior sister and her older friends.

“That was a cool moment. It was the first time me and my sister were engaging in more mature adult type activities. We were building that adult relationship.”

At 14 years old, Jeff began making friends who were also experimenting with various drugs. He began using hallucinogens, LSD, and mushrooms, casually. At 15 years old he began drinking alcohol, and continued experimenting with drugs, like opium and pharmaceuticals.

“I tried anything I could get my hands on. What I thought, this was the average teen age life. It’s what you do.”

At 15 years old Jeff suffered a traumatic loss; his uncle died of an Opioid overdose.

Jeff drug use continued, and he began snorting Adderall with a friend.

“I did it (snorted Adderall). And it was amazing. I knew this was it. This is what I really enjoy.”

At 17 years old Jeff began using cocaine as his primary substance. He lost his older brother due to a drug over dose. Jeff‘s brother’s death shattered him emotionally, but the tragedy ultimately brought his family closer.

“To this day we say ‘I love you’ more, just because of that (his brother’s death). Because you just never know when it will be the last time you see people.”

Jeff drug use intensified after the passing of his brother.

“That was my main coping mechanism (drugs). It felt good to escape.”

With the death of his brother and the increase of drug use, Jeff‘s mental health issues became more evident.

“Go out with a bang. Do as much cocaine as I could and kill myself. That was my plan from 17-18. I was just going to keep using and let it happen. Just let the drug addiction take over and take my life. It was too painful. I wanted out.”

Jeff continued his drug use, and graduated from high school. He struggled in college, and actually began committing small petty crimes to fund his addiction. He eventually stole from his father, and sister, and was confronted. Despite the confrontation, Jeff‘s father was very supportive and compassionate. Jeff debated committing suicide but stopped, because he felt he couldn’t commit suicide so close to his brother’s death. Jeff‘s family and friends embraced him emotionally.

Jeff entered formal rehabilitation, for the first time, for cocaine addiction. Jeff entered an intense outpatients rehabilitation program for 6 weeks, 6 days a week, 8hours a day. While in the program, a friend from high school who struggled with heroin addiction leaves the program, and dies just days after.

For the next ten years, Jeff struggled with alcohol addiction. He graduated college with a bachelor’s in exercise physiology and became involved in a healthy lifestyle based on exercise and healthy eating. All of this was strongly encouraged by his stepfather.

“Throughout those two years it was pretty wonderful to be engaged in an activity that helped me; mind, body and spirit. I’m very thankful to him for that. (Stepfather)”

In his early 20s he began drinking casually again.

“Beers- here and there. Thinking I can handle this. I have control over this. The substance use I know is an issue but I can do this. I didn’t have any control.”

Jeff became a binge drinker.

“Friends, and loved ones would say, when I would do that, in that way, that was self-destructive, as I look back, there would be a point that I would flip a switch and I would not be myself. The darkness that was inside would take over, I was filled with anger. I made people scared. They were scared to be around me.”

“I was never abusive to others in my life. It was always focused inwardly. It was the self-loathing the hatred. I wanted to kill that pain.”

Jeff bonded with his brother’s childhood friend, Eric, who shared the same struggles of substance abuse. Eric and Jeff grew very close after Jeff‘s brother’s death; they became like brothers. In Jeff‘s mid-20s, Eric entered recovery for substance abuse.

“I was losing one of my best friends. I wanted to hang out with him at bars. I didn’t understand how can you not be in bars?”

Turning Point

At 28 years old Jeff realized he had an alcohol addiction.

“I was isolating. I was drinking Jamison whisky by myself with beers and smoking tons of cigarettes. I started wanting to hurt myself again. I didn’t want to be here anymore. It was tough. It was a hard time in my life. I realized it was an issue and I needed to work on that.”

“I had one last drink the night before I got sober. I went to a psychiatrist and told him I needed help. He gave me some medications for depression and generalized anxiety. That was when I got sober.”

Jeff‘s sober date is the same date as his deceased brother’s birthday.

Addiction 14 years
Recovery Attempts 2

Jeff relocated to Rochester, NY 6 months into recovery.

“I very quickly realized why my brother Eric would not go out with me to bars. It’s awful. For someone who wants to be sober being in that atmosphere is damaging. It just reminds you of all the times you used, to kill those feelings of emptiness and those uncomfortable feelings. It’s not a fun time. I apologized pretty quickly into my sobriety to my brother Eric. Why would I think it wasn’t a big deal? It IS a big deal.”

A year after moving to Rochester, NY, Jeff sought out mental health services because he was still struggling with similar issues as active addiction. Jeff lacked coping skills. He utilized exercise as a coping mechanism in sobriety, but acknowledges now that it is not enough. Jeff actively participated in mental health therapy. After a year of therapy Jeff asked for a diagnosis.

“In mid-2017 I asked for a diagnosis. I was scared of what she would say.”

“My therapist was hesitant for several reasons. …… Many people with mental health issues are too connected to the labels. You are not those labels. You are more than that. I am me. I am uniquely Jeff.”

Jeff was diagnosed with major depression, generalized anxiety, poly-substance abuse disorder, PTSD, and borderline personality disorder.

“Those were difficult for me to hear. There is a huge stigma around the borderline (borderline personality disorder).”


Life in Recovery
4 years

“In substance abuse, there is so much underlying mental health. However, in mental health, you can’t treat someone for mental health who is actively abusing. That was never explained to me until now……I could have used that information. The way I feel is a symptom of mental health. But substance use is a coping skill. It’s a dysfunctional coping skill.

Jeff is currently exploring dialectic behavior therapy (DBT) to address his borderline personality disorder. By exploring DBT he can pin point successful coping skills. DBT can also reduce the symptoms of Borderline so much so that eventually you will no longer be clinically diagnosed with the disorder. He is currently taking medications to control underlying symptoms.

“How I got sober was not any one thing. It was building these different skills and building different supports or getting them put into place to help me get sober and maintain sobriety.”

“Addiction is a chronic disease, like diabetes or heart disease. To say you have to get sober and remain sober your entire life is not possible. You need to realize you will most likely relapse and prepare in a positive way. That’s how the healthcare system is changing, people aren’t junkies they are not their addiction.”

“You are making a conscious decision not to use drugs. It certainly wasn’t perfect. I struggled for 10 years, after rehab I relapsed using different drugs. There’re is no other choice in my mind but moving forward and bettering myself.”

“For those who have loved ones struggling with addiction, the best thing you can do is show your love, your compassion, and if they made that decision to become sober, they can come to you for that help. Showing that you will accept all of them, even the bad parts, makes it less scary for them to ask for help and can encourage them to get the help they need”

Jeff is currently working as a community-based counselor and certified personal trainer. He continues to care for his mental health issues and building coping skills for the future.

Exercise (#1therapy)
Traditional Therapy
Exploration through reading
Buddhist beliefs


I wouldn’t take away a single moment in my life, it has all been painfully beautiful.



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