I always say that everybody has a story to tell … some are just more compelling than others.
When I sat down with new friend Graham Skinner to hear his story, I found myself spellbound. Graham is a member of the marketing team at No Longer Bound, an amazing organization right here in the county.
For more than 20 years, this nonprofit group has been helping men free themselves from addictions by giving them the tools they need to change their lives. Over the years, I have heard the testimonies of several men who have gone through the 10-month, faith-based program, and I can tell you their stories of redemption are incredibly inspirational. Graham’s is no exception.
In almost every way, Graham personifies the type of young man all mothers hope to have — athletic, smart, articulate, handsome, funny and kind. How in the world did he go from being a star quarterback at Chattahoochee High School in Norcross to living in a hotel room and almost dying from a heroin overdose?
Graham told me he grew up in a loving home with wonderful parents and an awesome older sister.
"I never saw drinking or any fighting. My parents were always there for me," he said.
In fact, when he played travel baseball, Graham said his parents never missed one of his games, no matter where they were.
So what happened?
"I started experimenting with alcohol in eighth grade. And then in high school there was more pressure to drink and do drugs."
Like most teenagers, Graham said he yearned to be popular and wanted everybody to like him.
"I hated rejection and would do anything to avoid it," he said.
Because he was such a good athlete and made good grades, nobody suspected Graham’s "other" life, which increasingly included more alcohol and marijuana.
Graham said he felt like he had everything together. Then in February 2004, his world was severely rocked.
What began as a typical day ended tragically when his mother passed away suddenly.
"That morning my mother said she had a headache and didn’t feel very well. I didn’t think much about it and went to school," Graham said.
Graham’s mother, Andrea, had a massive stroke that night and died at age 47.
For Graham, the loss of his mother was devastating.
"I was so mad at God. I completely turned my back on him.
"Seeing my mom in the hospital with all of those tubes was so terrible, that I would do anything to get that image out of my head."
For Graham, that "anything" included getting as high as possible with whatever substance was available.
"I started taking prescription pain pills and I would lie and steal and do whatever I had to to get them," he said.
Graham said he went through a period of being completely selfish. "I didn’t care about anybody else — I didn’t care who I hurt — I would do anything for the drugs. The only thing that meant anything to me was being high."
After being arrested nearly a dozen times for various offenses, including DUI, possession of drugs and disorderly conduct, Graham found himself living in a hotel room, shooting up heroin.
"I was with a few other people, and they couldn’t wake me up — they thought I had overdosed."
When he finally did wake up, Graham was scared enough to call his dad and ask for help.
"My dad had begged me to go to NLB, but I never would. This time, I knew if I didn’t I was going to die."
After serving two months in jail in summer 2009, Graham entered the program and began his journey to freedom.
The program is as difficult as it is successful. An average of 80 men, of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds, complete the program each year. The ones that do complete it have a 70 percent success rate, extraordinary compared to the national average of 10 percent. Graham said there was no one particular mentor that helped him; instead, the entire staff did.
"God used the staff to help me," he said, "and I knew God wanted me to help others."
If you are wondering how you can support this awesome ministry, remember it is much more than a recovery facility. It operates a thrift store (with a new one opening at the first of the year), a greenhouse, graphic design and printing business and wood shop. No Longer Bound also has a Cars for Recovery program, where you can donate used cars, tax deductible. Be sure and check out the videos on its Web site.
As for Graham and his bright future, he is going to school at night and hopes one day to be a high school teacher and football coach. Graham has been blessed, and I have no doubt he will go on to be a blessing to others.
For more information on No Longer Bound, check out its Web site at www.nolongerbound.com.
Adlen Robinson is author of "Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home." E-mail her at email@example.com.