- Friends & Family
Jim M., known to most as “Mr. Jim”, is an addictions specialist and counselor and also a person in long-term recovery. He recently celebrated 40 years of abstinence this past April 17th. The positive changes in Mr. Jim since his recovery began have been innumerable. He was able to have a successful career and to mend his family that was once fractured due in part to his addiction.
Jim stated, “When you think that I got sober at age 38 and if I hadn’t, I was probably going to be dead at 39. To have had that history and now you see I am close to 80, and in great physical health and mental health, and I still have a loving family that I almost got rid of. I mean, the blessings! I’ve been (working in the field of) counseling for almost 30 years, and I have gotten to work with so many people that I’ve been instrumental in helping get sober. I’ve also worked with them with their families, because we have a tendency to piss people off when we’re using. The reality is, to have families come into treatment with them and see the families heal and be able to convince the family that instead of fighting with each other, we need to fight together against the disease. That’s a concept that they’re able to embrace, the idea of fighting the disease rather than fighting each other.”
When I asked what his life was like when he realized he needed recovery, Mr. Jim replied, “You know, it’s kind of interesting. Everything in my life was going down the toilet; my health and my relationships. I was in fights and I was on the verge of losing a job. When all of that stuff was happening, I came home drunk Easter Sunday weekend and struggled to get the door open and my five-year-old daughter opened the door from inside. When I saw the look in her eyes, I realized that there was terror, confusion and hurt. I didn’t want to be that man anymore. I didn’t want to be the man that caused my daughter anguish and upset. She had lived through all the stuff with my wife– the fights and all of that. That was it when I saw the reflection of who my daughter saw. I knew then and there I needed to do something about it.”
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do and I wasn’t happy that I had to do something about it, because I believed at that time that alcohol was my best friend. But, it had become my terrible, terrible enemy. It wanted to kill me.
That’s a tough place to be– when you’re so afraid of losing the one thing that’s killing you. It just doesn’t make any sense, rational sense, but it does to the alcoholic.
But that started the journey. I didn’t know what to do, or where to go. At that time there weren’t treatment centers or any of that, so I ended up in a mental hospital that weekend. I got detox there and while I was there, somebody told me about the twelve step tradition and I got out and started going that Monday night and I’ve been going now for 40 years.”
Through his training and education as a counselor and through his recovery, Mr. Jim has learned many important truths, but above all, he believes that you must be willing.
“You have to be willing. I mean that’s the word that is most mentioned in the big book, is willingness. You have to be willing to take help. To accept help. Then you have to be willing to take an honest look at what’s going on in your life. I found out it doesn’t cost a nickel to be kind. You know, you don’t have all the answers yet, but you know how to smile. When you’re standing out on the sidewalk before a meeting starts and somebody shows up and you know they’re just like you were the day you showed up, and maybe that’s only last week, there’s nothing like seeing a smile and for you to tell them to come on in, this is a safe place. When you can do that, it brings people together, because then you’re with other people who are going through the same thing you are and getting physically, and spiritually, and mentally healthy at the same time. I mean there is absolutely nothing like that.”
“Take good care of yourself, because that’s the one thing we never did is take good care of ourselves. The problem with me as an alcoholic is I let things happen to me instead of making good things happen for me.”
“I often said to people in early recovery, ‘fear will never ever stop you from drinking long-term, because an alcoholic, an addict is not afraid of anything.’ We’re not afraid of dying, we’re not afraid of losing family; that’s all the cost of doing business. Whatever we give up is the cost of doing business, but the only thing that will keep you sober long-term is gratitude. When you become so grateful for the life that you have, using again is no longer an option. It just isn’t an option. Those are truths I’ve learned.”
Mr. Jim has a great sense of pride for his ability to help others by sharing his own story and pathway of recovery. “There was a time that I couldn’t look people in the eyes. I was sure that they knew the dark deep terrible secret that was going on inside me. There was no dark secret in there, but I thought there was. Now, I can go anywhere, anytime, anyplace, regardless of who’s there, and walk in and be as confident and knowing who I am and what my life is about today. That’s a great feeling to have.”
As part of his way of giving back, Mr. Jim has given lectures at the Charlotte Rescue Mission, a place with a long history of reaching out to the homeless and those battling addictions. A man who had been an attendee of his lectures saw Mr. Jim at a peer support meeting and wanted to let him know the effect Mr. Jim had on his recovery. “He said to me, ‘I’m only here today, sober, because of what you taught me during that lecture.’ When I start the lecture I say, ‘What do you think you’re going to learn from an old man like me?’ I went into the Charlotte Rescue Mission, which is located in a chapel with 50-60 homeless guys doing classes all the time. When I went in there, they were all sitting in this chapel and they’re all up against the sidewalls and all sitting in the back. When I start off by saying, “What has happened to you is not your fault, but your recovery is your responsibility.” Within 10 minutes, all of the guys filled in the first five rows of the chapel. It helps to tell somebody, ‘Hey listen, this isn’t your fault, but we can help you,’ rather than saying ‘you got to do this, you got to do that’. All I had to do is tell them what I did.”
Even with 40 years of recovery behind him, Mr. Jim shared that he, too, still has struggles. He shared with me the way that his inner voice, the one that used to try to convince him that taking a drink was a good idea, has changed too. At the age of 79, Mr. Jim is still an avid runner. “In the middle of a race. Slick (the name he has given his addiction voice) says to me, ‘Hey Jim, you know you’re old for Christ sake, why don’t you go home and sit on the couch and act your age!?’ See, that voice knows that it could never talk me into drinking now but maybe it could talk me into stopping my self-care. As I was having these thoughts running up a hill, all of a sudden out of a side street comes a guy in a wheelchair. I looked up to the sky and said, ‘Hey listen, I don’t need graphics, I get the point, I should be grateful that I’m able to run up this damn hill.’”
To the newcomer on the road to recovery Mr. Jim shares his experience as a newcomer. “When I first got sober, my wife and I (the ex-wife) got into a really big fight over money and everything. I absolutely knew I was going to drink that night.” “When I got to the meeting back then, there was a woman who was 79 years old leading the meeting. She got up there and she said to the group,” I just got word that I have terminal cancer and I only have a month to live.” I heard this from the back of the room because I never was up front, I never participated.” I was sitting there thinking, if I found out I had cancer, I wouldn’t be here at some meeting. I know where I would be…drinking. That woman, she looked through the whole crowd and looked into my eyes and said, “Do you want to know why I’m not out drinking tonight?” I said, “Yeah, tell me, tell me, tell me.” She said, “Because it never made it any better.” It was the single most important message I had heard to that point and the single most important message to this point, because what she said to me was, regardless, I bought the promises of what alcohol said to me, I bought it thinking it would make it better but it never, never made it any better.”
Mr. Jim went from being a non-participating man who sat in the back of the meetings despising the people who said they were grateful for being in recovery to a man who says, “Now I tell people, I’ve seen my alcoholism as a gift from God. I see my alcoholism as a gift from God because it brought me to the place in my life that I don’t want to be anywhere else. I don’t want to have anybody else’s house, or anybody else’s car, anybody else’s family. I am happy and content with what I have. To be at a point in my life and feel the way I do, and alcoholism has brought me to this point, that truly is a gift from God, isn’t it?”