If you screamed those words would you want a drug addict to come to your rescue? I would if the fire was a family member whose life was being consumed and destroyed by drugs and, the rescuer was recovering addict, ex-fireman,
In this second, of a three-part series, about former drug addicts who are giving back as substance abuse counselors, Recovering Addicts Giving the Gift of Life, I offer Dillon as this installment’s P.I.L.L. (Positive Inspirational Life Link).
A lifelong resident of Hartford, Dillon relinquished a promising career as a firefighter to pursue a life of drugs and petty crime. Pursue is an oxymoron, as nobody chooses the despair and degradation that comes with that life. But let’s begin where all stories do, at the beginning.
Like many young boys, Dillon wandered through the early years of his life without direction or ambition. Dillon’s high school years began ominously, as a freshman, after only one week, Dillon was removed from Weaver High School and landed at A.I. Prince Tech. Graduating in 1972, a member of the varsity basketball team all four years, the last three as a starter, it probably appeared too many that he had gained some insight and direction. But there were still many forks in the road in which he would choose the wrong direction.
After graduating from high school Dillon had an opportunity to earn a college basketball scholarship as a walk-on. However, unlike high school where he manipulated the system academically, Dillon couldn’t make the grade and never left Hartford. He attended Hartford Community College (currently known as Capital Community College) but again he failed to realize success. “I was always trying to fit in the world,” said Dillon, “the more I stumbled the more I felt like a failure.”
Dillon continued to live aimlessly, working mostly as a handyman; jobs without any future. Then in 1980, at age 26, he took and passed the fireman’s exam on his first try. For the first time in his young life Dillon seemed to have a sense of direction. But life wasn’t through offering him opportunities for self-destruction.
After six years on the job as a firefighter, Dillon had an argument with his longtime best friend, an event that changed his life. “It wasn’t unusual for us to go at it,” said Dillon, “but I couldn’t have known that he would commit suicide, that we would never talk again.” Unequipped to handle the emotion of death, especially suicide (who among us could at such a young age) Dillon’s life spiraled out of control, to numb the pain drugs became a daily staple. “Prior to his death I used drugs recreationally, weed, cheap alcohol and even a little cocaine,” stated Dillon, “but after [death] I dived into cocaine as a way to avoid the pain I was feeling.”
The three years following were tumultuous at best for Dillon. Multiple drug rehab programs and his continued inability to cope with the emotional loss, lead him back to a familiar place – what to do with his life. Faced with certain termination, Dillon was allowed to resign from the Hartford Fire Department. He may have saved face, but his soul still burned apathetically. “I understood the department’s decision. They gave me every opportunity for success. I just couldn’t reverse the lifestyle that I had now become accustomed to.”
The next ten years was an internal battle; drugs trying to kill him, and his spirit trying to break free. “My addiction forced me to live in a four block radius around where I used and hustled for drugs. I was out of touch with reality. Everything I did was in some way connected to getting more drugs.”
After more than fifteen arrests, many leading to short stays at the Hartford Correctional Center, and several drug rehabilitation programs (some to avoid incarceration), Dillon’s life took a turn for the better. A turn that benefited him as well as the community he preyed on for so many years.
Dillon last went to a drug rehab in 2001, but didn’t find relief from the addiction that controlled his life until 2002 when he entered the AMIR (African Men In Recovery) program, offered by Community Health Services Inc. (CHS). It was there that he had the fortune of meeting Dorian Grey “Mickey” Parker. You’ll recall the first part of this series featured Parker.
Dillon and Parker both shared the following story with me during their respective interviews for this column. Dillon was instructed to sit down in Parker’s office, and he [Dillon] promptly sat in the comfortable, counselor’s chair. Parker directed Dillon to a hard, plastic chair and told him, “There’s a lot of work and responsibility that comes with the counselor chair, but if you’re willing I can show you how.”
Dillon accepted this challenge and entered the Project for Addiction Cultural Competency Training (P.A.C.T.) program. While working at certification to become a substance abuse counselor, Dillon recognized the hardships of trying to recover in the same environment he used in and basically developed his own treatment program. During that time he was an understudy, doing mostly administrative work while experiencing the counseling methods of others. Dillon has now completed more than 8000 hours of training and development as a counselor.
When Parker departed the CHS program Dillon became, and continues to be, its chief counselor. The community outreach AMIR program assists those with the desire to free their lives from the bondage of drug addiction. “We don’t turn anyone away,” said Dillon. “Those who aren’t truly motivated or just not ready for a life without drugs generally leave on their own.”
Because of his own experiences, or more profoundly as a result of being blessed by them, Dillon’s inspiration for serving other recovering addicts is self-serving. “In the clients I see, I always see me,” said Dillon. “Every addict who recovers is contributing to the solution, and becomes a role model for others who become motivated to change their lives.”
“The problem with treating addiction is the issues are ever changing,” continued Dillon, “there are many moving parts. We need to concentrate on person centered, reality based counseling, meet clients where they are, in other words consider their education, background and motivation.”
Programs like AMIR are always at the mercy of those who determine funding. We are fortunate that the CEO of CHS continues to believe in this program,” offered Dillon, “and he does so because of the program’s success. Funding is always and probably will always be an issue, but we can’t blame the system. We must become willing to do whatever it takes to change the system.”
In addition to the AMIR program, Dillon works on-site at the Community Court, providing a link between community court defendants and the services offered through CHS. “It’s ironic that my past experiences have created this opportunity to be an advocate for those whose lives have been misdirected due to drug addiction.”
Having been drug free for over six years, Dillon is married, a homeowner and on a career path that also serves the community. George “Gumby” Dillon Jr. is truly a P.I.L.L.
Reprinted with permission of the NorthEnd Agent's.
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