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He had to hit rock bottom before recovering

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He had to hit rock bottom before recovering

Jimmy has a big smile during a recent Milwaukee Brewers game, left, and while in the Army in 1972 at Fort Leonard Wood, right.

By Julie Bremer

Thursday, September 24, 2020

“It all started after my wife passed away.  I was always a drinker but, Barbara, she was my ‘brakes.’  She was the one that told me I had enough and that I was done. After she passed away, I had no one to tell me to put on the brakes and so, I didn’t.” 

That is how Jimmy describes his life before he found treatment in the Outpatient Addiction Treatment Program and the Milwaukee VA Medical Center. 

His story comes with personal loss, sadness and anger, but his recovery continues to show him daily that the clarity is worth the sobriety.voices of recovery

“I had a home that was paid for, money in the bank. There was no rock bottom for me back then,” he said. 

“After my wife’s passing, I had a couple of relationships, and they were bad because these relationships involved alcohol — going out, going to bars — and I became a ‘regular’ at a bar.  ME!  A regular!  A bar was not my friend, nor was the person I was going to the bar with my friend.” 

Jimmy said his drinking worsened, and he became the worst kind of alcoholic. 

“I became an at-home alcoholic.  I was always stocked, and my bar never closed.” 

It was a chance encounter with a new neighbor that started Jimmy’s journey towards clarity. 

“He went to this club, and one day asked if I’d like to come along.  So, I went.  And what did I see?  All alcoholics. Users. People like me. I sat and listened to their stories, and what else did they have in common? They all found their rock bottom, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘What’s my rock bottom?’ I’ve never been arrested. I haven’t had a DUI. I haven’t harmed anyone.” 

Jimmy said he wasn’t able to relate to the people in the groups and so, like many in early recovery, he stopped attending. 

Jimmy credits Dr. Sarah Keating with taking an early role in his path to recovery. 

“Dr. Keating would always tell me, ‘You know, Jimmy, every time you come in here, it’s a reboot.’  We would have the same conversations because I just wasn’t making any progress.” 

After one of these appointments, Jimmy decided to try Dryhootch instead of going right home. Dryhootch is Milwaukee coffeehouse run by Veterans for the purpose of supporting Veterans. 

After walking through the door, Jimmy said he was immediately welcomed and greeted by Veterans who guided him and were concerned about his problems. 

It was during this time that Jimmy was starting to reach his rock bottom, unbeknownst to him. 

“I was losing contact with my son and daughter. When I would talk to my daughter, I would argue with her every time. My daughter was planning her wedding, and she didn’t want me a part of the wedding, and ultimately, I was uninvited.”

“My rock bottom was losing my family. I had no one to call. My daughter got married, and I wasn’t invited. That was my rock bottom.” Jimmy

Jimmy realized he had hit his rock bottom. 

“My rock bottom was losing my family. I had no one to call. My daughter got married, and I wasn’t invited. That was my rock bottom.” 

Things started to change for Jimmy when he admitted he had a drinking problem and realized he needed help. His daughter and son were supportive helped him come to the VA. 

And then, COVID hit. 

Jimmy’s job was affected by the economic shutdown, hampering his social and financial independence.  He wasn’t able to access the DOM for treatment as “there were worse people off than me who needed it more.” 

“I still had a home; I just needed treatment. It was suggested to me that I go to inpatient (3C) for seven days, and I consider that one of the best things I have ever done for myself. I have no regrets.” 

While admitted, Jimmy received the news that so many long-term alcoholics receive about their health. 

“My health, it was bad. My blood pressure was sky high, and my health was just poor overall.  But what did I get in 3C? I started to get my clarity!” 

Jimmy started with the OAT program after his discharge from 3C and said small things started happening. 

“My daughter was starting to talk to me; my son was starting to talk to me, and I was able to see my granddaughter.” 

When he started with Outpatient Addiction Treatment (OAT) program, Jimmy said he had no idea what to expect, but he knew he was on a new journey. He was able to call in to the OAT groups and participate without leaving his house. 

“It was all new to me, to everyone on the call, including the staff. But we all worked together and learned from each other, and I realized that I CAN do this,” he said. “I was starting to rebuild my self-confidence. I started acknowledging that I can do this!” 

Jimmy successfully completed the 10-week OAT program and never missed a group. He continues to engage in aftercare, where he has built a network of people he never met face to face but recognizes by the sounds of their voices. 

“The aftercare keeps me accountable,” he said. “I so need that so I don’t fall on my journey.” 

Jimmy’s journey in recovery is centered around newfound clarity and his family. His creativity has returned; his relationship with his family is improving, and his spirituality has grown. 

Jimmy said he is learning who he wants to be and how he wants to portray himself to his fellow man. Only with sobriety is he able to see this. 

Jimmy told me during our conversation that his son gave him a car seat for his granddaughter so she can ride in his car. 

“He trusts me now. I know what that feels like to never be trusted, and I don’t want to go there again,” he said. 

Having that little car seat in the back reminds Jimmy just how far he has come in his recovery, and that clarity in his rearview mirror keeps his eyes focused on the road ahead.

Julie Bremer is a social worker with the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.

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