Ben Gray, treatment assistant at Pathways, walks into the facility every week ready to help individuals who come in looking to get out of what feels to them like a one-way street. Many are admitted to Pathways and are able to move on with their lives. Some return more than once, at times more than twice.
“The best part of my job is my one-on-one time with my patients and the behavioral intervention I apply,” he says. “I get to learn and find out about where a person has been and where I can help them along their recovery process.”
Ben describes his job as being good for his spiritual health. Why? He, too, walks into the facility knowing first-hand what it feels like to be a patient.
When Ben is off duty, or not at the gym bodybuilding, he’s in recovery.
Growing up in Roswell, New Mexico, Ben led an exciting life as a cowboy in the southwestern state. But after 18 years of living on a 35,000-acre cattle ranch, he was ready for more.
“I had always dreamed of being in the military,” he recalls. “My mother did her own research and said the best specialty that I could do to transition later to civilian life was to get involved in the medical field.”
Ben joined the U.S. Army in 2005, where he would become a combat medic. Two years later, the army notified Ben he’d be deployed to Afghanistan. In 2009, after completing training, he started his mission abroad. Assigned with multiple tasks on the field, Ben did it all – from looking for bombs to going out every Thursday to provide medical treatment to children. And while overseas, Ben was injured.
His injuries included a crushed spine and knee after jumping out of a helicopter during a mission and a broken nose and traumatic brain injury after a bomb exploded near him.
“I ended up with a few physical injuries and developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result,” he remembers. “It affected me really bad, physically and mentally. I was prescribed opioids for pain and behavioral medications for my PTSD. That’s where my drug-use issues started.”
The heavy drug combination led him into addiction. But before seeking help, Ben says he had to hit rock bottom.
“When I came back home and things slowed down, everything started to catch up,” he says. “I realized the depth of my addiction and had two options: death or rehabilitation.” Opting for the latter, he sought detox, went through partial hospitalization and six months of patient care.
To this day, Ben says he still receives calls about fellow veteran friends who didn’t successfully recover. “An average of 20 veterans commit suicide every day and most of them are under some sort of opioid or alcohol addiction,” he says. “I lost more friends to suicide than I did overseas. I’m lucky I survived.”
Influenced by his life experiences in Afghanistan, Ben felt compelled to follow his passion of helping others and pursued a career path that would allow him to influence others while helping himself along the way.
Diving into books, he completed undergraduate school with a degree in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling with a minor in nursing. “I wanted to study the brain and understand how it works,” he says, adding that he still struggles from mild PTSD.
Ben worked with the federal government for a couple of years until he decided to move into the private sector. Coming across a role available at Pathways, he saw the opportunity as a perfect fit.
“I already managed soldiers in the military as a substance abuse coordinator, so I had familiarity with the job and functions,” he says. “It worked out great. I can apply the behavioral and cognitive tools that I learned in the field and through college to help people. I know what people are going through from the substance abuse side, so I can be empathetic and altruistic with behavioral medicine.”
Ben says he wants to be a positive influence for patients by helping them break down their walls and open up. “I can play the big brother role, the father role or multiple roles in their lives,” he says. “I can play the assertive role if we have a problematic patient. But at the end of their treatment, they will have the resources and tools that they’ll need once they leave.”
The most rewarding part for him is the outcome. “I’ve been in that place where you feel like the walls are closing in and there’s an angel that comes out of nowhere and saves you,” he adds. “In the military, it always gave me an empowering feeling that, wherever I was, if someone was injured, I could come help them. Now professionally, it’s rewarding for me that there’s always ‘an angel’ out there – 911, EMS, a police officer, Pathways – that can help you. It gives you a will to survive, to just hold on a little longer. For me, that’s what it’s all about.”
PRO TIP: “If you’re getting into the health care field, you have to be flexible, multifaceted and encompassing of all people of all origins and demographics because everyone you treat is different. That’s why I tailor my approach and care to each individual patient. And by being altruistic, that’s how you can treat each patient like the individual that they are and give them 110 percent of your time and care.”