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Fino: An Uncensored Story of Trauma, Substance Abuse, Education and Redemption

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By Gregory J Fino
Editor's note: this is a raw, uncensored, first person account of the author's experiences. Language used is explicit, as intended by Mr. Fino.
author Greg Fino

My name is Gregory J. Fino, and I am 36 years young, born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, where I continue to reside, and plan on doing so until the end of my days. Bear with me, as this biography is lengthy due to inappropriate/erratic, post war/trauma, behaviors and actions. I grew up in a Pittsburgh suburb called Upper St. Clair, which was as upper middle class "yuppie-ish," as a suburb can get. I was born into a relatively high socio-economic class family, with a silverspoon firmly placed and set, in a not so pleasant place, from day one.

Education was valued highly, money was seemingly infinite, and "sheltered" fails to properly describe how "bubblelike" my first 18 years of life truly were. My parents stressed the importance and value of education from as early as I can remember. My father, and both grandfathers, are and were prominent physicians, my mother was a masters level nurse, my half-brother is an attorney, and my sister, now a stay at home mother, has her master’s in education. Etiquette, class, and refinement were also highly important characteristic traits encouraged, as well as taught by my family.

Nouveauriche and/or "snobby" would inappropriately describe my family, though. Traditional traits such as respect for elders, women, first responders, our military, and our beautiful flag, were also drilled into me, along with table manners, politeness, and kindness. I was taught to never forget my roots or heritage, and stand up for the weak. Masculinity seemed to come naturally, as I played sports as well as "Soldier" before I even knew how to multiply or do long division. At twenty-two, I removed the spoon from that dark, dismal place on my own, and became a man, but we will get to that unpleasant, yet proud moment in life, shortly.

Grades 1 through 12 were a breeze academically and socially. I remember dreaming about being a police officer as early as age six, and that type of occupational craving shifted a bit, but always retained its similarity. At age nine, my destiny was made, with a chance encounter at an archery range, and a few short conversations with Patrick C, AKA Gunnery Sergeant C, AKA Police Officer C, AKA The Marine who fought in Vietnam. I still remember the stories about him encountering a tiger in the jungle, and a 20-foot anaconda moving across his squad's legs, while frozen in a tactical hold, in the prone position, preparing to engage an enemy Vietcong patrol.

I symbolically enlisted in the Marine Corps at nine, while in the 3rd grade. I promised myself I would join when I was of age, and with no hesitation, volunteer to go to war, if one was to be declared. No other branch would suffice. It was the United States Marine Corps, or nothing. From that moment on, I remember my younger days as taking incessant trips to the Army Navy store, dressing in fatigues, and constantly drawing M16 A1 rifles and Vietnam Veterans. That Christmas, I received the most prolific present I've ever received. It still hangs on my wall. The picture "Reflections," which shows the older, post-Vietnam veteran, leaning against "The Wall" while glancing at the reflection of he and his fireteam, deep in the lush, beautiful, booby-trapped Vietnamese jungle. Years nine to eighteen are a blur of spoiled living, sports, national honor society, and Abercrombie and Fitch clothing.

At 18, I graduated high school, affirmed my silver spoon was still tightly set, and popped my sheltered bubble, as I left for my freshman year at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; my Father and sister's Alma Mater. My love for the Marine Corps remained solid, but the reality of actually becoming a Marine, was not a reality whatsoever. Guys like me, from Upper St. Clair, didn't join the military or fight in wars. Not because myself or anyone else felt superior, it simply just wasn't heard of, or even considered. Recruiters, weren't and STILL are not allowed within USC schools, nor are ice cream trucks permitted in the jurisdiction (God forbid the horrible noise bothers the elites).
I did decide to become a vet, though. A veterinarian, that is, majoring in animal behavior and biology. College life was similar to Upper Saint Clair, except with more booze, weed, and women. Then at the beginning of my junior year, everything changed, and I felt the silver spoon shift. 9/11/2001. The bright blue cloudless day that shook me to the core, and everything I thought I knew, became a dream, as reality seeped into my soul, shaking me firmly, as to wake me from that facade like nightmare. The Marine Corps still wasn't a reality, though. It was on a warm Michigan Tuesday, smoking pot with my fraternity brothers in my room, when reality somehow broke through the cloud of ganja smoke, through my sheltered being, and into my bones. A cliché Marine Corps commercial came on, and for reasons unknown, the silverspoon shifted more, and I turned to my buddies and said, "I'm joining the Marines." They all laughed. I'm not sure when the laughter stopped, being that I left unexpectedly and unannounced, the next day.

Back to the steel city I drove, knowing two things only. My parents were going to shit, and I needed thirty days to get the THC out of my system for the imminent drug test, I knew I would receive, when I enlisted. Everything else was gravy. This was my dream, and now it would be my waking reality. "Where the hell do I join the fucking Marines?!" I figured it out, and for reasons still unknown, , I not only signed the dotted line on that check, for the amount, "up to, and including my life," but I also chose 0311 Infantry Rifleman, as my occupational specialty. "Fuck it. Go all the way or don't go." I juked and moved and delayed my medical assessment/Oath for thirty days, and then reached down, grabbed hold of the untarnished, untouched silver spoon, and like a Marine, yanked the bastard out of my ass, destroyed it, and destroyed the destruction. I wasn't a man yet. That would occur when I graduated from Parris Island, which I accomplished in August of 2002. It took some time between my enlistment and actually leaving for basic training. I used that time to exercise, and complete a semester at my new college, University of Pittsburgh. By the way, I suppose I didn't go "ALL the way...," I joined the Marine Corps Infantry Reserves. "Fuck it. Close enough."

At twenty-two, testicles descended, and confidence ascended. I was a United States Marine. "Holy shit! Now what?" There was no reason to worry about those things, I quickly learned I belonged to the government, and they would make those decisions for me. 2003 quickly came about, and with it came threats from Saddam Hussein, ultimatums by G.W., blood lust and fear on behalf of the U.S. Military, "shock and awe," and ultimately the beginning of the never-ending, Iraq War. Thank God my unit was passed up for the invasion. I would have been held in the rear and not sent, because I hadn't attended infantry Battalion training yet. I can’t imagine living with that guilt, today. The Corps decided that I complete 2 more semesters at Pitt, and spend my next summer vacation not at Parris Island for 3 months, but at Camp Geiger this time, in Jacksonville, North Carolina for 2 months, instead. My assessment upon graduation: "it fucking sucked and boot camp was ten times more pleasant." I was now an official 0311 United States Marine, though. Life was supposed to "fucking suck." I was a grunt.
helicopter in Iraq

Now I was ready to go to war, and war was ready to accept me. My company, Kilo, along with all of 3rd Battalion 25th Marines, was activated on January 3rd, 2005. Our first stop was a "work up" at 29 Palms, Marine Corps Combat Base, AKA the middle of the fucking Mojave Desert, for an undisclosed, unknown amount of miserable time. I learned four things in that non-stop, jam packed two months. 1. How to be a straight-up fucking killer. 2. The desert fucking sucks. 3. The desert's fucking freezing at night. 4. I drew the short fucking stick as the light machine gunner in our 5-man fireteam. We were ready to kill, though. The blood lust was stronger, the fear was weaker, the kill switch had been turned on. Bravo U.S. Government. Do a curtsy, take a bow. We were ready to fucking "get some." We would, and so would "they."
March 2nd, 2005. My boots touched Iraqi soil, as I stepped off the flying over packed sardine can, known as the C130, and I was officially a warrior. Life was about to be flipped left, right, up down, downside up, and upside down. Life as I knew it was over, I just didn’t know it, yet. Combat began day one. SBVIED. Suicide-Born-Vehicle-Improvised-Explosive-Device. One giant boom, we all hit the deck, the Marine from the unit we were replacing stood with his arms crossed, leaning against the wall and didn't flinch, one Marine from our Battalion severely wounded in his first hours of war, several Marines from the Battalion we were replacing, severely wounded in their last hours of war, one insurgent blown to pieces, a second in a following vehicle with his brain matter coating the interior, unable to detonate his explosives before Marines from my unit got their first kill, and Marines from the other unit got their last. Welcome to Mesopotamia, bitch. Shalom.

My war wasn't long, but I suppose it was rife with "war stuff" during that short 60 days. Patrols every day, incoming Mortar and rocket fire every day, more patrols, more Mortar fire, a Marine killed in action here, a Marine killed in action there. A Marine wounded here, a Marine wounded there. More patrols, more incoming. Exhaustion, air sealed MRE's for EVERY meal, weeks without showering or changing uniforms, one brushing of my fangs in 2 months. I was changed, but not deranged, until March 25th, when Bryan Richardson, my friend from high school, and the Marine I told was "the only guy guaranteed not to die, because he was the company radioman," died. I was changed and deranged, but my brain not rearranged, until April 9th, when I negligently discharged my M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, firing 29 rounds, automatic, in our crammed barracks, almost killing my entire platoon. I was changed, deranged, and my brain rearranged, but not straight up strange, until April 24th, when two 60mm mortars fell from Allah's blue skies, 5 feet in front of my face, exploding with a brilliant flash, bang, shock wave, and 14 pieces of unregulated Chinese metal shrapnel, ripped through both of my legs, right arm, and left abdomen. Iraq was over. My Marine Corps career was over. My war was over in Iraq, but had not yet begun at home.

Fallen Soldier Battle Crosses

Now let's get to the real gritty shit. It starts with a trauma. What's trauma to me, maybe puppies and rainbows to you, and vice versa. A 7-month tour in a war zone does not equate to "more traumatic" than a 7-minute rape at home. No one's immune, and contrary to popular belief, if you're effected by trauma, as in symptomatic, you're actually the opposite of weak. In fact, you have stronger survival instincts than those not traumatized by a life threatening/altering experience. It's also been proven that those who experience symptoms as a result of traumatic events, are more likely to possess high intellect and intelligence. That in no way means those who do NOT reap the derogatory effects of trauma, are LESS intelligent. Here's the process. 1. A subjective, personally traumatic event occurs. 2. If specific symptoms arise, the initial diagnosis is Acute Stress Disorder. 3. If those symptoms persist for more than 6 months, the diagnosis is then changed to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It cannot be cured. It can indeed be treated. One treatment, not encouraged or recommended by well....anyone, is self medicating, but it sure is easy, it sure does work, and it sure will progress into addiction, which is in fact a disease, and that disease is terminal.
Now prepare to hear a true shit show of a story. Not to worry, there's not necessarily a happy ending, but one of redemption, and one not plagued by drug withdrawal, poor inhibitions and judgement, anxiety, depression, aggression, suicidal ideation and intent, criminal behavior, or to sum things up, psychopathy.
I began self-medicating by chance, about 3 days after I returned from surgery in Germany, and was on medical hold with my best friend who was wounded with me, at Camp Lejeune. It's important to note, that directly after being wounded, I refused morphine, I refused all pain medication after my knee surgery, and I refused a prescription of opioid pain medication upon arrival at Camp Lejeune. I do not refuse to admit that something was profoundly wrong psychologically. I could not sleep, I could not stop thinking about my negligent discharge, the guilt of leaving my Battalion 5 months early, or the explosion that led to my medical extraction. I felt unable to relax, anxious, and unable to enjoy literally anything, including things once pleasurable (anhedonia). I felt like shit, I didn't know why, and I didn't know how to make it stop. Subconsciously, something told me how to "kill" the feeling quick, and with no rhyme or reason, I said to my friend, "give me 4 of your percocets." Why, I do not know. I had never touched anything but Marijuana and alcohol prior to this moment, nor did I know the effects of opioids, including a flood of dopamine leading to euphoria. 20 minutes after swallowing those four 5mg pills, I knew everything, the sky was more blue, the air more clean, the world an amazing place, and happiness was all I felt. I fit the category of "addict" that same night, once the dose wore off. And a manipulative, skilled addict I'd prove to be. I hit the road running.

For time sake, I will basically bullet point the next decade of my life; my behaviors, and their consequences, and all repercussions and ramifications. I began obtaining opioid pain medication in every way possible, including injuring myself, sometimes severely. Twice I have shot myself, once with a 9mm hollow point, the other time with a .22. Both times I manipulated police and medical staff, effectively convincing them that the injuries were accidental, to avoid involuntary commitment. I've severely burned myself on several occasions, I've robbed my family, lied to the point where I probably would fit the criteria of a sociopath, and done so much more. Somehow, I beat the progression of severe addiction and graduated from University of Pittsburgh first, with my bachelor's degree in psychology, and a minor in Spanish.

As my addiction progressed, so did tolerance, and dependency. By 2007, I was taking 20 5mg Percocets, instead of four. I was now taking them to feel normal, and avoid the depression and physical horrors of withdrawal, not the euphoric effects. Somehow, I was still able to function, and put on the facade that I was competent, and reliable. It's important to mention that this entire time, I was also drinking at least 5 nights a week, assaulting people almost on a weekly basis, and by the grace of God, getting away with it all. In 2007, I was hired by a major privately-owned security contracting firm, and sent to do armed disaster relief in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. For 12 months, I worked 11pm-7am, 7 days a week. For 12 months, I had drug dealers from Pittsburgh mail me 30mg Oxycodones, and I dosed on methadone, 7 days a week. I somehow successfully completed the contract, but my life became less and less successful, especially psychologically.

I returned to Pittsburgh, and immediately resumed my promiscuous, violent, outrageous bar life, and obviously made contacts with new drug dealers. Things began to progress though. Now I was snorting and smoking heroin (an opioid), smoking Crack cocaine almost daily, courtesy of my Crack dealing next door neighbor, and now also taking prescribed Klonopin (a benzodiazepine, which potentiates the effects of opioids, when taken together). I also decided to enroll in graduate school, to obtain my masters degree in professional counseling. Life was quickly spiraling out of control, as I studied to become a therapist, while pretending to go to the bathroom during class, truly to take a hit or two if Crack. Somehow, I completed the first year and a half of grad school, maintaining a 3.8 GPA, and completing the academic portion of the program. All that was left was my internship. Then shit hit the fan. Overdose.

I'll keep it quick. I overdosed on opioids. By divine intervention, a fellow junkie randomly stopped at my apartment and let himself in, found me turning blue, and unconscious, called 911, and the next thing I remember, was waking up on my floor covered in vomit, staring up at the faces of 2 police, and 2 paramedics. It took 3 doses of narcan to revive me. My first thought was one of horror and terror. "Fuck! I ruined my high, fentanyl patches are so fucking hard to find, and I wasted 100 bucks." My priorities were clearly in order.... Did I mention that this was in late 2009, and my daughter, born to a woman I was only seeing for two months, had just been born in February? Dad of the year.... I lied my way out of the psych unit, scoured my apartment until I found the fentanyl wad I overdosed on, rechewed it, and got high. Nothing changed, except my health, relationships, and quality of life. Graduate school was put on eternal hold (I still have never finished), but I did decide to accomplish my next accolade. Narcotics detection k9 handling in 2013! The irony!
man holding head

As usual, I somehow maintained my severe addiction, got away with my severe symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, by luck, was awarded a 5 figure disability payment from the VA, and was able to afford my 9000 dollar single purpose Narcotics detection k9 (Belgian Malinois), and successfully completed the 5 week, 4000 dollar handling certification course in Louisiana. I was the only non-LE student in my 14-person class, and more than likely the only closet junkie. I graduated with an ATF and DEA certification, though....."fuck it?" Not this time. "Fuck me." I had now survived a war, 2 gunshot wounds, 2 intentional overdose/suicide attempts (I failed to mention those in this clusterfuck of a biography), multiple violent fights, and avoided more than likely, in excess of 100 possible felony offenses. I think only a rock bottom junkie with severe depression and post traumatic stress, wouldn't put two and two together by this point, and assume all luck had been squandered. I did not put two and two together. Rock bottom hit, and there was no crack or heroin rock at the bottom of this rabbit's hole.

2014, I also failed to mention that I was now a year and a half into a position as an ACT 235 Lethal weapons agent/security company armed supervisor, overlooking more than 100 unarmed guards all around the Pittsburgh area. I was also excellent at the job, and even more excellent at hiding my severe mental health issues (polysubstance abuse included). I became the company's first k9 handler, and the sky was the limit....including death by overdose, organ failure, arrest, or institutionalization. Then on one beautiful summer day, I attended a crawfish boil with my fellow bar friends, in which I probably drank a fifth of vodka, 8 Redbulls, did 4 to 5 shots of hard liquor, took at least 8mg of klonopin, smoked a whole lot of weed, and probably consumed some other illicit substances following my blackout at around 8pm, and I disgracefully, dangerously, but successfully, made the 40-minute drive back to my home. I remember the chain of events that took place from this point on. I do NOT remember, nor will I ever know what I was thinking. All that I do know is that the series of events that followed, involved no malice, and beyond that fact, it shall remain a shameful, but important wakeup call in my life.

I will conclude briefly. Barefoot, I retrieved my Sig Sauer P229 9mm, and Ruger AR-10, and hopped in my mother's macho VW Bug, drove about 2 miles from my house, and simply starting lighting up mailboxes while drifting down the road, firing out the window. Reports state I shot 3 boxes, but I only remember one, and I must say, my grouping was good considering the circumstances. I also must say, it was by far the most dangerous, irresponsible, shameful act I have ever committed. My next memory is blue lights, a police officer ordering me to exit the vehicle, seeing a flurry of glockenspiels aimed at my face, and then being handcuffed and put into the back of a squad car. The police took mercy upon me, and charged me with misdemeanor reckless endangerment, because they knew there was no malice, and they assumed (correctly) I was a combat veteran who had lost his mind. The media did not show mercy. I spent 16 hours in jail, had my charges completely withdrawn after 18 months of successful completion of Veterans Court, but still to this day, reap the repercussions of a damning news story, similar to a life sentence via Google. "Gregg Fino Mailbox" is all it takes to learn my worst plight, which ended my entire armed security career, K9 handling career, and has effected almost every relationship I have encountered/entered since it happened. And I deserve every last bit of it. Accountability. Own it.

This was a blessing in disguise. I. Got. My. Shit. Together. I began intensive addiction and trauma treatment via private practice AND the VA, I was essentially forced into retirement , but was "lucky" enough to rate 100 percent disability for PTSD through the VA, and qualify for social security disability. I was BLESSED to retain my close relationships with my family members, including Adriana, my gorgeous daughter. I beat the odds once more, by beating my addiction, in which I've remained abstinent from all illicit substances since June 2014, and I was given a gift 6 months ago, in late March, when by chance I discovered that I not only had a passion for writing, but especially poetry. It now serves as my most profound, effective, gratifying treatment, therapy, hobby, activity, and JOB. My goal is to educate the public, veterans, and first responders, and everyone else who is left, regarding trauma, it's physiological effects on the brain, and it's high correlation with substance abuse, suicide, homelessness, incarceration, and hospitalization. Through rhyming stanzas, I have already succeeded in my goal. Disseminate facts, decimate fiction.
Thank you ALL so very much for what you do. There is a reason that there exists such a strong comraderie between military and first responders. I truly hope you are able to read these poems, and understand they apply to you, just as much as they do to me. Different sorts of war zones, same sorts of stress and trauma.

Gregory Fino

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