Changing Career Changing Lives
Organized by: James Hamm
As a creative professional, I helped companies develop their brand identities and achieve marketing goals by designing and augmenting effective corporate media and communications. After graduating with a B.A. in Fine Arts and pursuing a career in Graphic Design and Marketing, I worked with clients such as Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Humana and a number of other businesses, large and small. During my time as a Graphic Designer and Creative Director, I produced and managed numerous award-winning projects. While my work has been fulfilling, my professional ambitions have changed over the years. In large part, this transformation was brought about by experiences that forced me to reevaluate my work and append the title of alcoholic & addict to my Curriculum Vitae.
In November of 2012, I checked myself into a rehabilitation center. Looking back at the years of instability marked by heavy alcohol and prescription drug abuse, rehab was a necessary step that seemed extreme at the time. Like any addict, I believed my behavior was questionable at best but did not warrant a professional evaluation. In reality, I was very sick. It took an intensive addiction-counseling program before I could admit to being an alcoholic and a drug addict. I still am. The difference is; I no longer give in to the compulsion.
The shift from being a casual drinker to an emotionally impaired alcoholic is often an imperceptible one. Before rehab, I would start and end my days with pills and alcohol. I tried to escape the self-destructive pattern many times but failed repeatedly. The steady stream of mind-altering substances inevitably resulted in shame, broken relationships, humiliation, hospitalization, and incarceration. Drugs and alcohol became my only means of coping. The light euphoria and confidence of the earlier days of intoxication was replaced with a heavy anxiety, as the cravings overshadowed my life.
In retrospect, rehab was the best thing that could have happened to me. The professional counseling offered by the facility’s addiction specialists, along with the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program and community, helped me return to a level of mental stability and spiritual clarity that addiction had robbed me of. I developed a greater understanding of my disorder and acquired the tools I needed to manage my compulsions and cope with life’s challenges without the sedating effects of drugs and alcohol.
The path to sobriety was difficult, but the challenges I faced along the way introduced me to the friendship, guidance, and wisdom of a remarkable community, without which I would have surely failed. I owe a great deal of gratitude to the many counselors and members of AA. Following in their footsteps, I dedicated myself, personally, to helping others recover from drug and alcohol dependency. In addition to attending four to five AA meetings every week, I facilitate meetings at the local state-run treatment center. I serve as treasurer for my home group, volunteer to answer phone calls to the local AA office, and help the community in any way I can. These experiences have cultivated a passion for Mental Health Counseling and continue to inspire me to give back. Today, I am fully devoted to sobriety, not just for myself, but for the countless people who are trapped in the cycle of addiction and despair I know so well.
My interest in the field of Mental Health Counseling is driven by my desire to help people recover from the devastating effects of drug and alcohol abuse. Growing up, I watched my father struggle with the same illness. As a young adult, I remember begging him to quit, taking him to AA meetings, and standing by his side as he poured countless bottles of whiskey down the drain, promising never to drink again. Serendipitously, I even had him committed to the same facility I now go to every Friday! Unfortunately, my father wasn’t able to leave the bottle, and the deteriorating health effects of alcoholism eventually took his life. I didn’t understand it at the time, but no one can be forced into sobriety; they must elevate themselves and develop the willingness to change from within. While addiction can’t be cured, it can be survived with proper treatment and guidance. Often, this impetus for transformation only comes when things are at their worst.
In our AA meetings, it is often said that while we may be strangers, as alcoholics we know each other all too well. We understand the extremes we have gone to for our addictions. We recognize the misery that comes with dependence. Having suffered the disease myself, I am blessed with an understanding that enables me to provide a level of care, guidance, and wisdom that stems from a place of sympathy and compassion. The clarity and understanding shared by recovering addicts is forged in a painfully familiar struggle. Although the difficulties I’ve faced granted me a profound, personal understanding of addiction, I still have a lot to learn. To this end, following a successful decades-long career in Graphic Design, I am pursuing my M.S. in Mental Health Counseling to focus on addiction treatment but also acquire the skills to address secondary mental health issues. I believe that a formal education coupled with training in the field will allow me to be of greater service to others. Upon earning my degree, I will work in an inpatient clinical counseling environment such as a rehabilitation facility or group home. There, I will assist the community by guiding and supporting recovering addicts on their path to freedom. It is my deepest wish that my efforts will, in some small part, help relieve the devastating effects of drug and alcohol abuse on the lives of individuals and their communities.