An Interview with Jimmy Ward
September is Recovery Month so we wanted to do something special. We sat down with Jimmy, our Substance Abuse Counselor, and asked him to tell his story. His work is so important, and an inspiration to all of us at MercyMed. He has dedicated his life to pursuing people who are suffering from addiction to help them in any way that he can. We hope you are encouraged by this in-house interview with Jimmy.
1.) Introduce yourself. Who you are, what you do, and why you do it.
I’m Jimmy Ward. And I’m a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor Level II. I do treatment assessment and placement, crisis intervention, relapse prevention, and recovery coaching. I ‘m also on call 24/7 outside of MercyMed. I escort people to treatment centers, I work with the families – a lot of crisis intervention is working with families – and in general act as a mini crisis center. My calling is one of advocacy because I’m in recovery. Most [substance abuse] counselors are in recovery. Probably 9 out of 10. Most of the treatment centers, primarily the people that work there are in recovery. The cooks, the nurses, all of the counselors. Because they’ve been there. You do it [become involved in others recovery] because you know. You’re just constantly trying to help people. We’re dealing with a fatal disease. It is a fatal disease. We teach recovery, and help people understand what they can do, and what they can’t. Recovery is for life.
We can’t do it alone. That’s why we have support groups. I like to use medical terms. Your medicine is in these walls. You’re a diabetic, you need to take your meds. You’ve got cancer, you need to undergo chemo treatment. You’re an alcoholic you need to go to group, come to counseling, call your sponsor, call your network. My number one motto, “Whatever it takes!”
It starts with the physical side. You’re going through withdrawals. And that’s tough. But then the real work comes when you go through emotional sobriety. How did you get here? Divorce, childhood abuse, you lost a job. That’s where you do your 12 step work. People [that have] years of sobriety become sponsors. You get a sponsor when you go to AA meetings. When you’re new to AA if you’re a woman/man, then all the women/men in the room will write their numbers down for you. That’s part of your network.
2.) What do you think is the most difficult thing for someone struggling with substance abuse to overcome?
Acceptance. Acceptance. Admission. Step one: “We admit that we were powerless over alcohol/drugs.” “Who cares to admit defeat? Practically no one.” No longer being in denial. D.E.N.I.A.L. = Don’t Even kNow I Am Lying. Phrases like, “I don’t have a drinking/drug problem. I just drink a little on the weekends.” Usually the consequences are what get people to the point of admission. Everybody has that – bam! – atomic bomb moment. Like mine, I almost died. Other people’s moment might look like, “My wife is going to divorce me if I don’t do something,” “I got a DUI,” or “I over dosed and wound up in ICU,” etc. I tell people either do this [recovery] or you die. Addiction is a fatal disease.
3.) What do the families go through?
Well [addiction] is a family disease. They would start with Al-Anon (the family members version of AA) where they learn the three C’s. I didn’t Cause it. I can’t Cure it. I can’t Control it. They learn detachment with love. I hate the disease but love the “qualifier.” [The “qualifier” being the family member with the substance abuse problem.] They learn that they have to be in recovery too. They learn how to set boundaries. How to stop enabling. The last week of a six week treatment program is actually for the family. That’s when they establish/get started in an Al-Anon. Recovery is equally as important for the family as the patient. You drop a rock in a lake and the water ripples out. It affects all the family (and friends). Al-Anon is a key part of recovery.
4.) What kind of people struggle with substance abuse?
Across the board. Teenagers, baby boomers. Anybody – young or old. There’s 23 million people in recovery. Addiction is a developmental disease. You’re not born with it. There are five causes for addiction: genetics, mental illness, childhood trauma, social environment, and early use. You can be from under the bridge (I hate to say that), or you can be from Green Island Hills. It can start at fifteen. I hear people say, “I used to could take a few pills on the weekend,” “smoke a little weed from time to time,” “drink a glass or two.” But this disease is progressive. We call it the growing tiger. It starts as a little kitten. It’s always there, though. Always growing in the background, until one day it’s a full-grown tiger able to take you out completely. It has no age limit, no social barrier.
5.) For people who want help, where do they start?
Patients of MercyMed or people in general can start with their family physician. They’re a good source. They can go hospitals. There’s 800 help lines. They can call me! We’ve got the MercyMed beacon on; like the airport. Always here to assist. They can go to the Bradley Center and say, “I have a drinking problem.” They can talk to a family member or friend. Just start by saying, “I need help.” “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” The disease is so powerful. It says, “Nah. You’re okay. Try it on your own. Do something next week.” Like I did; they go 30 days, 60 days. Playing the game.
6.) Can you tell me a story of a friend or patient who is in recovery?
Me. You can tell that story. You’ve got functional alcoholics like me. I did it for years. Only I didn’t want to stop. This is too much fun. When I look back I see myself as a cadaver, this is the old Jimmy. And I’ve dissected Jimmy all the way back to when I started at 15. Then my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s. Wow! It got progressively worse. In the 80’s people would say, “Jimmy you might be drinking too much.” My wife said, “you might want to cut down.” My daughter would say, “Daddy, you’re probably drinking too much.” “No-o-o. I’m okay.” “I’ve got this big high-powered job, I’m national salesman manager; I’ve got to do this to entertain.” So, I got away with it. What happened? Bam! Cross addiction. So, I quit drinking. I couldn’t drink anymore. The hangovers got too bad. So, I started taking prescription pills. Not every day at first, but that was the cross addiction. It too got progressively worse. I became isolated. That’s what all substance abusers do eventually, they isolate themselves. I was living out at my lake house for about year. Consumed with my addiction. Isolated. It got so bad I could hardly walk. I had to learn how to write again. One night it was so bad, I got up and tried to walk down the hallway. I crashed into the wall. Then I started vomiting blood profusely. I fell out.
My wife at the time found me and dialed 9-1-1. There’s nothing up there at the lake. It just so happened a fire truck that’s usually far away, was in the area and responded to her call. If they hadn’t been out there, Jimmy wouldn’t be here. That’s how far gone I was. The pills had caused ulcers. I was bleeding out internally. By the grace of God, I made it to St. Francis hospital. I was laying in that bed, and I heard the doctor say, “he’s not going to make it.” I could see a choice between black (death) and white (life). I said, “God, if you’ll put me back together again, I’ll be yours forever.” And He did. He put me back together again. Now when I sit in here [my counseling office] and do this [counsel patients], this is my recovery. This goes back to why I’m a counselor. I’ve been there. I know. I have seven years of sobriety. Now I’m giving back what was so freely given to me.
For Jimmy Ward 24/7: (706) 326-3123
Georgia Crisis and Access Line: 1-800-715-4225
For recovery support you can call or text the Cares Warm Line* 8:30am-11:30pm: 1-844-326-5400
For Alcoholics Anonymous in the Columbus-Phenix City area call 24/7: (706) 327-6078
For Al-Anon Family Group Meetings in the Columbus-Phenix City area call: (706) 327-7630
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) : https://www.samhsa.gov/
*Not an emergency number. In the event of an emergency call 9-1-1