Muskoka Mosaic: Surviving...
Muskoka Mosaic: Surviving rock bottom
Introducing James Hunt
HUNTSVILLE – At the age of 14, James Hunt began a torrid love affair with alcohol and drugs.
After struggling with alcoholism for more than 20 years, James Hunt is sober and working on a career guiding youth.
/ Mandi Hargrave
It was an affair that lasted more than 20 years and destroyed his relationships with family and friends.
Hunt described himself as a street kid who was always out running the streets of Huntsville with friends late into the night, where a lot of alcohol, drugs and criminal activity were involved.
“That just set me up for a really difficult future,” he said.
Hunt took six years to finish high school, as he would quit and start numerous times.
His eldest daughter was born just after his 19th birthday and as time went on Hunt continued to fall deeper and deeper into the pit of alcoholism.
He and his first wife separated in 2004 and their eldest daughter lived with him, while the younger child went with their mother.
“Even though in my mind I was being a father to her and raising her, it wasn’t healthy,” said Hunt. “She’d go to her room and I’d sit on the computer and drink.”
He became so isolated that his routine quickly became: go to work, go to the beer store and go home. As the alcoholism progressed, so did the distance between him and his daughter.
“We were really close, especially when she was younger, up until she was nine or 10 … there’s certainly regret there and I wish I could have done things differently, but there’s also the knowledge that I can’t go back and change that.”
Hunt’s drinking became an obsession.
“It’s all you really think about. I was still working and maintaining that front,” he said. “But really I was just working to be able to supply myself with alcohol. It was routine, at the end of every shift go to the beer store, go home, drink, blackout and wakeup the next day with ‘maybe I won’t drink today.’ But that would only last a couple of hours before I was planning on going to the beer store.”
Hunt knew he had hit rock bottom when he could no longer stand to live with himself. As time passed, he slipped into a dark depression where suicide was constantly on his mind and he had a plan for how he would take his own life.
“I knew how I was going to do it and where,” he said. “One morning I woke up, and I blacked out every night for two or three years, and I finally put those two together. ‘Wait a second, I’ve got a suicide plan and I get to the point every night where I don’t even know what I’m doing, so one of these mornings I’m not going to wakeup.’ Something in me still wanted to live, so I reached out.”
Hunt began taking part in a recovery program and celebrated five years of being sober on Christmas Day, 2012.
The first two years of his journey to sobriety were his most challenging.
“At a certain point that obsession to drink was lifted,” he said. “The first two years were really intense. It’s difficult to explain to people who haven’t experienced it. The obsession is still there. You start to notice things like my routines for going through town always seemed, no matter where I had to go, the route went past the beer store. A lot of things like that; it was just this constant pull back to it. There’s a real necessity for me, for most people, not to drink at all.”
He explained that most alcoholics try to moderate their drinking or cut back or only allow drinking on the weekends.
“That doesn’t work because what happens is once you take alcohol into your body it sets off like a chemical reaction and it keeps the obsession alive,” said Hunt. “You have to learn to draw that line and just say ‘no more.’”
Through his sobriety, Hunt has been able to mend the relationship with his daughter and said it’s much healthier than what it was.
“We’ve made great strides in repairing that,” he said. “She’s got a lot of respect for me and what I went through getting sober and the work that I’m doing now. I’m just amazed by her, that’s she’s as healthy as she is. She went through her own struggles and I think watching me fight for sobriety, that had an effect on her.”
Hunt said it was a positive effect as his daughter learned from his mistakes and created a path to success for herself.
“There’s always hope. Everybody, when they come into the program, is hopeless because by the time you get there you’ve already spent a long time trying to quit,” he said. “People die of alcoholism all the time. So there’s a real hopelessness about it when you’re trapped in it because you resign yourself to the fact that ‘I’m going to die of this. There is no escape.’ I think people feel like that in all kinds of situations in their lives.”
He attributes part of his success in becoming sober to reconnecting with his spiritual side and God.
“The reason 12-step fellowships work is because they recognize drinking is just a symptom and the solution to the problem is spiritual in nature,” said Hunt, noting that the program doesn’t preach God or a specific religion, but spirituality loosely.
A year after becoming sober, Hunt started going to church and is working toward ordination as a pastor. He leads the youth ministry with Muskoka Community Church and was inspired to become involved with the community in other ways.
He volunteers with the breakfast program at Huntsville Public School, The Table Soup Kitchen and The Door Youth Centre.
Working with youth and helping them transition into adulthood as healthy, successful individuals has become a focus of Hunt’s.
Through volunteering with the youth centre he became the new director last fall.
“It’s largely because I look at them and see myself at that age and I just know the kind of pain and suffering that follows,” he said. “I can remember at that age thinking ‘I’ll grow out of it, you party when you’re a teenager and you eventually change.’ But it’s so hard to break free.”
He said one of the most difficult things for alcoholics in their recovery is the idea of never having another drink again.
“I struggled with that too. The life I have now is amazing and I couldn’t have imagined living a life like this,” said Hunt. “Being so connected with the community and all of these people. It’s like everyday I’m on some amazing adventure. I have no idea where it’s all going but it’s awesome.”