Eddie Grijalva’s Story

Written and featured in “Addiction World”, a recovery website and blog,  September 2008

Instead of blaming others for his addiction and imprisonment, he hoisted the responsibility on himself and took on his demons.  In prison, Grijalva began to read the Bible and embraced spirituality.  He taught inmates to read and write. And, using himself as an example, Grijalva counseled fellow prisoners on how to recover from drug addiction. “My time in prison was well spent,” said Grijalva, who spent more than two years in prison.  That was 12 years ago, and for the past nine years, Grijalva has been working as a drug and alcohol recovery specialist. He is free of his addiction, reunited with his wife and children, and firm in his faith that people can recover.  “It really is about talking to people, respecting people,” said Grijalva, a recovery specialist for Compass Behavioral Health Care.

Saturday, two days before he turns 60, Grijalva and his wife will be in New York City, joining people like him and his family.   He will be Arizona’s “recovery delegate” at a Recovery Rally to bring awareness to treatment and recovery programs.  The 51 delegates will be joined by family members and people involved in drug- and alcohol-treatment programs.  They will form a human chain across Brooklyn Bridge and march to New York City Hall to make the very human point that addiction is a disease and is treatable, and recovery is real.
“The honor of one is the honor of all,” Grijalva wrote in his nomination essay.  Grijalva has a gentle voice.  He exudes patience. His black hair is peppered with white and is neatly twisted into a long, single braid. It’s his mark of his Tohono O’odham and Mayan indigenous roots.  He began abusing drugs as a high-school dropout and took up heroin while fighting in the Vietnam War.  Ten years of continued heroin use, arrests, jail time and divorce from his first wife followed.   While incarcerated he took up an offer of residential treatment. He was put on probation and started a drug-free life with a new wife and two children.  His past seemed to be fading when Grijalva relapsed. He started using again and attempted suicide several times.  A drug conviction sent him to prison, where he had his reawakening.

Grijalva’s vivid story goes a long way to help others recover.  His cultural understanding and bilingual skills also serve as powerful tools in his work.  He directs cultural services for Compass, creating diverse recovery programs and he works closely with the Tohono O’odham Nation to provide culturally sensitive recovery services.  He incorporates sweat lodges, talking and drum circles into contemporary 12-step programs.  “When you incorporate cultural perspectives and approaches, the successful outcomes increase,” Grijalva said.  Grijalva’s work has become a model among other American Indian tribes across the country.   “What he has done in our community is incredible,” said Neal J. Cash, president and chief executive officer of the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona, which coordinates mental health and recovery services in Pima County and Southeast Arizona.

Grijalva said it’s not just his successful story that proves the need for more recovery facilities and resources.  He said the hundreds of individuals who have been treated for drug and alcohol abuse are proof that people can be cured of their disease.  But successful recovery starts with giving people a second chance, withholding judgment and offering compassion.  “It’s about honoring people,” he said.