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Jim Paige, a graduate of the Adult Rehabilitation program in Minneapolis

Army helps former attorney find hope

Added on Thursday, August 28, 2014

Jim Paige woke up in a St. Cloud hospital with a tube down his throat, clueless about how he’d gotten there. The doctors later told him that his blood alcohol concentration might have been .7.

“At .4 is usually when death starts occurring,” said Paige, 45. “But I wasn’t concerned about death. I’d tried killing myself plenty of times before.”

It was fall 2012. Six years earlier, Paige had a family, big house, and a six-figure job as a patent attorney. But all of those things were gone now.

After Paige was released from the hospital, he got straight to drinking again. He later checked himself into detox, at which point his probation officer was notified. He was put in jail for a week.

Jim-Paige-two-300x200After jail, Paige arrived at the Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center in Minneapolis on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. Although it wasn’t his first time in treatment, none of the other programs led to him saying these six beautiful words: “I haven’t had a drink since,” Paige declared in August 2014.

Early years

Alcohol began chipping away at Paige’s life right after high school. He grew up with his parents, brother and sister in Exira, Iowa, a Podunk farming town west of Des Moines. His parents split when he was 9.

“My dad was an alcoholic – my mom said that’s what destroyed their relationship,” Paige recalled.

As a teenager, Paige was a decent student, good baseball player and hard enough worker. His mother got married again, this time to the owner of a local pub. “He was a good guy and he wasn’t a big drinker,” Paige said.

After high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy to become a nuclear engineer. Unfortunately, that aspiration got nixed right before boot camp, when he was arrested for drunken driving in early 1988.

“That got me demoted to electronics technician,” Paige said. “I suppose it was the start of things to come.”

He spent nearly five years in the service, until December 1992, when he was discharged a year early under the military’s Sole Surviving Son policy. An unthinkable tragedy had struck when his brother, also a serviceman, was home on leave that September.

“He died in a single-car crash that was alcohol-related,” Paige said. “My mom was one of the emergency responders. She didn’t know it was him. She was asking everybody what was going on, and they kept trying to take her back up the hill.”

As devastated as Paige was, he didn’t allow the tragedy to derail him. Instead, he enrolled in junior college just one month after he was discharged from the military. In college, he’d get a second chance to become an engineer.

Problems begin

The 1990s were busy for Paige. In addition to transferring to Iowa State University, he’d gotten married and had three kids – twin boys and a girl – with his then-wife, Lisa, who already had two kids of her own. She made good money working as a registered nurse, and floated the family while Paige finished school.

He was well on his way to becoming an electrical engineer.

“I had a 4.0 GPA right until the first semester of my senior year, when I got my first B,” he said.

Paige was also on his way to becoming an alcoholic. Sometime during the busyness of raising five kids and going to school, alcohol had gained a dangerous foothold on his life.

“I didn’t go out a lot, but I’d drink at home while I was doing chores,” Paige said, noting that Lisa did not drink. “By the end of my senior year, drinking started becoming an everyday thing.”

He graduated from Iowa State in 1998 at age 29, then dove straight into law school at Drake University.

“I loved the science and math and technology of engineering, but I realized that implementing it was boring,” Paige said. “A friend of mine said patent attorneys use science and engineering, and they make really good money.”

He spent the next three years in law school. Every year, his drinking got worse and worse.

“Toward the end of law school, I’d stop and get a 40-ounce bottle of beer on my drive home,” Paige said. “Looking back, that’s when the problems really started picking up.”

Alcohol problems aside, Paige had done so well in school that he’d written his own ticket. Job offers started coming in immediately after he graduated from Drake, with honors, in spring 2001.

Although Lisa suspected that his drinking was a problem, she didn’t have enough ammo to call him out on it.

“How do you tell someone who’s aced their way through college and law school, and is now getting six-figure job offers, that they have a problem?” Paige said. “I was invincible.”

Downward spiral

Paige moved the family to the Twin Cities, where he’d accepted a job as a patent attorney for a prestigious Minneapolis law firm. Lisa scored a good job in health care, and eventually began working in management for a well-known local hospital.

Paige would spend the next six years at the law firm, working long hours and making serious money.

“There were periods when I’d work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for months at a time,” he said. “In my best year I made $175,000.”

Then, in his sixth year, it all went south. It was 2006, and Paige was approaching partner status.

“I had reached such a high level that I didn’t have anybody breathing down my neck,” he recalled. “At that point the alcohol started getting out of control. It moved from beer to liquor, and it went all day. I’d wake up with the shakes. I’d go to restaurants for lunch and have four or five drinks. But I could do whatever I wanted, because who had ever stopped me before?”

His work began to suffer. He was arriving late. Leaving early. Making stupid mistakes. Saying inappropriate things. Soon enough, Paige got called into his boss’s office.

“Like a true alcoholic, I blamed getting fired on everyone but myself,” Paige said.

He found another job as a patent attorney in Omaha, Nebraska. He and Lisa were still married, but decided to live apart for a spell to build up their bank account; they’d lost big when the housing market collapsed.

His new job lasted six months.

“I got fired again – I was drinking a liter a day,” Paige said. “I made several trips to the hospital and detox. It was another ledge as I bounced further and further down to my bottom.”

He made his first trip to treatment – a 30-day program – in February 2007 and stayed sober for just 20 days afterward. He went to treatment again that April and stayed sober for a while, finding another job as a patent attorney in Minneapolis. He kept the job for about three years, then fell off the wagon.

Lisa had seen enough.

“I came home one day and everything in the house was gone except for my stuff,” Paige said. “She’d taken the kids and moved across town. She said get sober and I’ll come back.”

That was October 2010. Suddenly, Paige was living in a 3,400 square-foot-home, alone, with oodles of money. It was a recipe for disaster.

Hitting bottom

Lisa never did come back, and Paige doesn’t remember much about living in the house by himself – he was always drunk. But he does recall certain things.

“I remember lying in bed, hammered and frustrated, swearing at God, saying I wanted nothing to do with Him, because He wasn’t doing anything for me,” he said.

During the next two years, Paige wound up hospitalized about 10 times, spent a Christmas in jail, got another DUI, and attempted suicide on several occasions.

“I’d try drinking myself to death, but I’d pass out before I could finish the job,” he said. “Another time, I walked into a gun store to buy a nickel-plated .50 caliber handgun. But they didn’t give it to me; thank God for the final security check.”

He went to treatment again in January 2011 but “was drunk on the plane ride home,” he said.

As time ran on, his money ran thin. He began taking jobs for which he was drastically overqualified, working as a clerk in a health store and several gas stations. He got fired from those jobs, too, and eventually lost his house.

“I was just a wreck,” Paige said. “I’m not doing any of this any justice because it’s all such a blur.”

In April 2012 he went to treatment yet again, this time in St. Cloud. He completed a 45-day program and stayed sober for six months, living in a supportive housing program.

“I was feeling good, but then I relapsed,” Paige said. “I was drinking at a friend’s house and had passed out on the floor. He had to go to work and was debating whether or not to call an ambulance. But he did. The doctors said that if he wouldn’t have, I would have died.”

Those were the same doctors who shoved the tube down his throat and said his BAC was .7. It was October 2012, and Paige had reached his bottom.

“I was beat up,” he said. “I had lost everything. Everything.”

Soon, The Salvation Army would help him get it back.

Hope springs

Paige was referred to The Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center by his probation officer.

“He said it was only a matter of time before I’d be dead, and asked me, ‘What’s it going to take?’” Paige said. “I told him I was willing to do a year of treatment.”

The rehabilitation center was the perfect fit. It’s a free program funded by sales at Salvation Army Stores, providing six to 12 months of food, shelter and residential treatment services for up to 130 men at a time. The men receive counseling and spiritual support every night. By day, they perform volunteer “work therapy” for 36 to 40 hours per week. Most of this work involves the organization and distribution of clothes, furniture and other donations made to Salvation Army Stores.

Halfway through the program, Paige began making notable progress.

“A switch went off,” he said. “It hit me how I’d been treating people, how selfish I’d been. I didn’t want to live my life like that anymore. I decided I was going to be the guy I’d always wanted to be when I was a kid. A good guy. A stand-up guy. A man with integrity. Instead of talking the talk, it was time to walk the walk.”

He graduated in six months. Afterward, he began living in a sober house for veterans and working at a Salvation Army Store.

“I worked hard and tried to do a good job at everything I did,” Paige said. “If you focus on today, tomorrow will take care of itself.”

Jim-Paige-300x200Management couldn’t help but notice his strong work ethic. In June 2014, he was promoted to warehouse supervisor of the Salvation Army Store headquarters in downtown Minneapolis (pictured). He now manages The Salvation Army’s fleet of trucks, its donation inventory, its storage facilities, and a million other things.

“I don’t think or care about the future anymore, because God has it taken care of,” said Paige, who is making headway in repairing the family relationships he’d broken. “I used to be insanely motivated to be wealthy, to have a big house, to always want more. But my life perspective has changed. I’m blessed with talents and I have the ability to do a lot, but not for the sole purpose of having money. I want to be of use to people.”

Paige is thankful for the rehabilitation center.

“I would recommend it to anyone,” he said. “Use it to discover what God has planned for you. If it doesn’t stick, keep coming back until you figure it out. Because if you don’t figure it out, it’s going to kill you.”

Paige was reluctant to share his story because he’s not boastful. But he agreed that his story could bring glory to God and inspire others to seek help.

If you or a loved one would like more information about the rehabilitation center, or to enroll, call 612-332-5855 or learn more online. The program is free and accepts applicants from across Minnesota, North Dakota and nationwide.