Appearances, as they say, can be misleading. Just consider Sound client Graham Miller.
“You look at Graham Miller and see a man in a wheelchair, with tattoos up the arms,” says Ashlyn Graff, Soundworks vocational specialist. “I look at Graham Miller and see one of the most authentic and kind-hearted people I know.”
Today, Graham is working at a job he loves, with a company, Cinemark, that he admires. But life hasn’t been very easy for him.
A Sound client since 2012, Graham’s journey to recovery has had a number of setbacks. But despite that, he is here today, stable and deeply invested in his recovery.
Born with spina bifida, abandoned by his father and living with a mother who struggled with severe addiction issues, Graham spent his early years in foster care.
“I was just mad,” he says, after spending years without his family. “I felt nobody wanted me.”
By the age of 5, he was sent to a children’s psychiatric unit in Seattle, deemed a “troubled child.” If not for his grandmother, a woman he cherished, he might have stayed there for years. Graham recalls that day she came to save him.
“She said to me, ‘I’m getting you. I’m going to figure out how to get you, but you’re coming home.” A strong woman of her word, that was exactly what she did.
Naturally, Graham still continued to struggle from the effects of his early life. But his grandmother believed in him, guiding him and nurturing him through tough times. Their relationship grew close over the years and she was a major influence on his life.
When she died in 1999, succumbing to brain cancer after a long struggle, Graham’s world collapsed. Forced to leave a job he loved at the YMCA to care for her, Graham lost everything that mattered.
Turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with his pain and sadness, Graham descended into the lowest depths of addiction.
“And I became the one thing I said I would never become,” he says. “That was a drug addict and alcoholic, just like my mother. I got into a deep, dark depression, obviously because my best friend was no longer here.”
His struggles went on for nearly 10 years, until he finally checked into an addiction treatment center and homeless shelter.
“I’ve been clean and sober ever since,” he declares.
Still, the emotional toll of his traumatic past persisted. He underwent therapy over the years to cope with his past life and, later, the loss of his mother in 2008.
“I am still pissed off about a lot of things,” he says candidly. “I’ve been in and out of counseling the better part of my life.”
Eventually, after an attempted suicide attempt, his doctor referred him to Sound in 2012. There, he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.
The therapeutic and case management support he received from Sound’s Adult Services program in Bellevue helped, even through a setback in 2013. Soundworks, Sound’s vocational program, was with Graham from the beginning, starting in 2012. Though Soundworks got Graham a number of employment opportunities, it was not until 2017, when Graham met Ashlyn Graff, that he landed at Cinemark Reserve, where he continues to work today.
“Everytime we talked about getting a job, Ashlyn listens to what I want, to what I need,” says Graham. “She’s not interested in just sticking me into any sort of job. She listened to what I had to say.”
At Cinemark now for the past six months, as a Guest Services Representative, he loves his job and feels he belongs.
“I really enjoy getting up in the morning and going to my job,” he declares. “It’s an overall fun environment, like a family.”
Ashlyn tells of a man who, in her opinion, has changed since she first met him.
“I think having a job definitely has a big impact on his confidence and well-being, to have a place where his skills are valued and he is valued.”
She notes that it is not just about being employed, though that is important. It is, quite importantly, about being part of the community.
“I’m really happy that this job worked out for him, because I could see that it was kind of wearing down on him — applying to jobs and going on interviews and not getting them,” says Graff. “This has really helped him. It is so huge to see the impact when people get a job when they haven’t had one for a long time. Getting to go out every day and interact with people and have a sense of purpose.”
The Cinemark has told Ashlyn that he is a good employee and that he does an incredible job for the company. They are invested in him, too, and make accommodations so that he can succeed at the company.
The future looks bright for Graham and he wants others to know that having a job, being part of something, having a sense of belonging, is possible.
“I hope that by somebody reading this story… it inspires them to go out and get a job, be a productive member of society and to know that they are worth something.”