Seth Griggs-Ryan beside Chaplain Raymond Young at his Dec. 3 graduation from treatment in Las Vegas. PHOTO COURTESY OF SETH GRIGGS-RYAN

Community of Seth

LPL’s first Not So Average Joe gets a second lease on life

Seth Griggs-Ryan was the first Not So Average Joe, partly thanks to his kind disposition and wry humor and partly because of his quirky pursuit to be the human billboard of Big Sky – he negotiated free food and drinks from area establishments by getting their logos tattooed on his arms. For years, he wrote poetry on bar napkins – “the tortured soul writes his tortured dreams – they were cries for help,” he said recently.

After 12 years in the community, he knows the culture well.

“The last call, the first chair: party hard, work hard, play hard,” he said.

At one point he had three jobs while still maintaining a steady skiing schedule and daily buzz.

“I had that religious aspect to me, too, I always took that 40 days off of alcohol every year for Lent,” he said, and explained that he used those 40 days of sobriety as a kind of pass to do whatever he wanted the other 325 days a year. Then that tradition started slipping, he came up with reasons not to participate in Lent and began isolating from family and friends as his health steadily declined.

His substance abuse and health issues were a closely guarded secret, but frequent trips to the hospital and visible decline were noticed. He cited Nick Nolte’s mug shot as an example of his appearance back then. Unvoiced pain, old trauma left on simmer, he had given up.

“One day I passed out, got woken up by the fire department. They took me to the hospital,” he said. The nurse noted after testing his blood alcohol level that she could not believe he was conscious, that he was still alive.

“This phrase haunts me, still gives me shivers. I looked at the nurse and said, ‘Oh, I guess it’s just the Irish curse.’ Me making light of the fact that I should have been dead was just horrible, horrible, inexplicable. That was when I realized I needed to get help,” he said.

Leadership in the American Legion Post 99, of which he is a member, began trying to figure out how to assist. Jeff and Laine Hegness had a tough love conversation with him.

"It wasn’t an intervention, it was just a talking and at that point my mind was ready to take it. They put me up in a hotel and I detoxed over a week. It was horrible,” he said. They brought him food and stayed with him as he sorted himself with a bottle of booze, cigarettes and medicinal gummies.

“If you have ever seen anybody with the flu, take it times 10. It is one of the most mentally and physically exhausting things that can ever happen to you in your life. They stayed with me. Over the course of a week, they helped me,” he said.

Then, a treatment program with the Salvation Army was found in Las Vegas. It is free to anyone who needs it, Griggs-Ryan said. Laine and Jeff drove him.

In the program they call the first month “Stage 1”. Your body is getting out all the toxins and it is hard. Days begin at 5:30 a.m. in the “strict and rigorous program.” Beds have to be tidy or they are torn apart to be remade. Shower, shave, breakfast, devotional, prayer and then work.

People in the program work hard. They start all the new people out on the dock unloading trucks and sorting goods, as the Las Vegas Salvation Army is a hub for the organization. The money to fund the program begins in Las Vegas.

“They’ve had thousands of people come through this program. They take anyone, they take people from jail. They don’t get a lot of money for this. At first, you think it’s like a sweat shop, but eventually you come to realize that these people want to save and change your life – and they do.”

With his mechanical background he was promoted from the docks to becoming the maintenance guy, given more freedom and responsibility. The doors are only locked from the outside, people leave because it gets to be too much.

“I spent six months there, building myself back to the person I was, the person I knew I could be – because I lost that. I was a nameless vessel and they filled me back up,” he said. In his evaluation they called him a natural leader and said he could take charge of situations and get things done. To hear those words from people he respected was huge.

A lot of people do not make it to graduation.

Griggs-Ryan was one of the first in months, partly because the program is tough and partly because of COVID-19. It was a big deal, to him and to everyone else there.

Then, he had to decide if he would come back to Big Sky. Laine and Jeff went and got him.

“They drove me back up here and there was a lot of trepidation. I was scared. I had wronged some people here, not in huge ways, but huge to me. Step nine is making amends,” he said. He told some people thank you and some people that he was sorry; he shed some tears with friends.

“I came back and the community just took me right back in. It felt like a million pounds had been taken off my shoulders my first day back here,” he said. Friends now tell him he looks healthy and happy. He is embracing the lost art of letter writing and writes friends he met in Las Vegas, family and even some Big Sky locals he sees regularly. Putting pen to paper with complete focus on another person is an elevated way of expressing connection. He maintains his steady course of volunteerism, something that never faded away when other parts of his life did. He is just grateful, to the American Legion, to the people who spoke with him when he needed to hear their words.

“It feels so good to be here. It would take 40 pages and 40 days to mention everyone that has affected the outcome of my life to where I am now,” he said. “That is community, I guess it’s the community of Seth. It’s been tremendous.”

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