Jim shares journey through alcoholism and 36 years of sobriety to help others

A well-known Donegal man has shared his experience with alcoholism and 36 years of sobriety in a bid to help others who are struggling with addiction.

By Laura Glenn
Tuesday, 15th February 2022, 4:34 pm
Jim McLaughlin, pictured with his five daughters.
Jim McLaughlin, pictured with his five daughters.

Jim McLaughlin, from Ballyboe, just outside Muff recently shared a Facebook post which resonated with many people.

In the post, he spoke of how January 16 is a ‘very important date’ for him, as on that date in 1986, he walked through the doors of St Conal’s Hospital in Letterkenny to try and find sobriety.

Now, in 2022, Jim, a father to five daughters, has been sober for 36 years, despite facing many trials of life along the way.

The post was shared and commented upon numerous times and the Journal reached out to Jim recently to ask him about his journey to sobriety and how sharing his experience can help others.

Jim told how he entered St Conal’s Hospital at the age of 22, but did so believing he did not suffer from addiction.

“My mother got me put into St Conal’s. I knew I was drinking heavily, but I didn’t see it as a big problem. I thought:’Sure you drink, you fall, you get up again’.”

Jim outlined how he had been working and was earning good money. He was young and drinking and going out. But, he didn’t realise he was ‘killing’ himself and putting his family and friends through much worry and trauma.

“I’d lost a lot of weight and my mother could see it.”

Jim outlines how, after a few days staying in St Conal’s, he realised he needed to be there.

“I was in there a few days and thought that I’d give it a go and the rest is history. I never drank since.”

The main ‘ingredient’ to his sobriety was admitting he had a problem with alcohol and addiction.

“The biggest hurdle anyone will have to jump to conquer addiction is acceptance.”

Jim said he felt ‘safe’ in St Conal’s and joined what was then known as the ‘group.’ He found that the friendship of these men, as well as support from his parents, friends and counsellors ‘were all part of the cure.’

“You became like a wee family with the other boys. Back then, in 1986, there were 15 or 16 men in the ward.”

When Jim left hospital, he ‘worked hard’ at his sobriety and continues to do so.

In later years, he had many business interests, which he very sadly lost during the Celtic Tiger crash. He also went through a number of other tough situations and bouts of depression, but credited his girls and his determination to stay sober as seeing him through.

Jim is now a farmer and buys and sells cattle. He said this way of life is also a great help.

“I got involved in cattle and have a serious love for cattle. I found working with them very therapeutic - all animals are. But my main objective in life is my sobriety. People will tell you to be thankful for every day and it’s exactly right. The girls have always kept me going and seeing them grow up into who they are is brilliant.”

Jim told how he is happy that his Facebook post has been helping others.

“I shared it because I wanted to help people and people have approached me and thanked me for putting it up. I try and tell people, don’t be thinking about having to go off it for ten years etc, go off it for 72 hours at first - you can’t go off it for ten years if you don’t go off it for three days first. It’s one of those things you can’t forget about. If you’re a diabetic you have to check your sugars and be aware of it. If you’re an alcoholic, you can’t drink.”

Jim disclosed how, on many occasions, before he sought treatment, he would tell people he was ‘going off the drink’. “Up to a year before, I went into St Conal’s I’d tell people: ‘I’m going off it,’ but I was trying to tell people what they wanted to hear. And most addicts will do that until it runs out of steam. But I had to accept it and I got sober.”

Jim added that while others may tell you that you don’t have a problem with addiction, the only person who can decide that is the person it impacts.

“People would be very quick to say: ‘You’re not an alcoholic.’ But it’s not up to them to decide if you are or not. And the day you know that is the day that you know you have a problem. Acceptance that you have a problem with addiction is the key.”

In his post on Facebook, Jim told how alcoholism is an illness, just like any other and that there is a cure.

The post read: “I can say that I am a very proud alcoholic and 36 years sober and for the close friends that know me there was some tough situations that popped up in my life where turning to alcohol would have been an easy way out.

“But thankfully, I have five beautiful daughters who are my life and an old man once told me that you are only rich when you have loads of things that money can’t buy.”

He continued: “I hope this post may be of help to someone needing help and I am here just a private message away, and people should never worry about the stigma of it all, because at the end of the day alcoholism is an illness and being called an alcoholic should just feel the same as being diabetic.”

If you are concerned about alcohol or a loved one, there are dedicated support services across the country. For the South, see https://www2.hse.ie/services/alcohol-support-and-services/ and in Northern Ireland see https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/ and https://services.drugsandalcoholni.info/