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WINONA, Minn. (AP) — Mark Jacobson had nearly lost all hope.

He was drowning himself in booze and living with anxiety and depression. He had reached a point where he began seriously contemplating suicide, the Winona Daily News reported .

But with one extra try for help, Jacobson recalled a time when he had received help in the past from Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center and decided to give its experts a call.

Four and a half years later, he’s still alive and is now sharing his experiences in hopes of helping other addicts

He is now 18 months sober, living in a residential assistance home in Winona and, as of April 14, is a certified peer support specialist to provide help, understanding and support to fellow addicts like himself. As a recovering addict, Jacobson has become committed to helping others find relief and educating the public about the issues he — and countless others — have lived with for years.

Jacobson grew up anywhere between Staples, Minn., and Wells, Minn. The family moved depending on his dad’s business, but Jacobson said he never felt like he had a cohort of friends or kids his age to hang out with.

At home, he and his four brothers were allowed to drink, provided they stayed on the farm, so he began drinking at age 14.

And he kept drinking. Three of his other brothers followed suit, becoming alcoholics themselves, Jacobson said.

Self-medicating with liquor and continuing to fuel the disease of addiction, Jacobson had multiple DUIs and had been in and out of emergency rooms and treatment for years. Ten years ago, Jacobson said he was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. He believes he coped with alcohol.

Since working his way through recovery, Jacobson acknowledges his situation could have been improved with education and support.

“If I would’ve known then what I know now, things would’ve been different,” Jacobson said.

Within the past 17 years, he said he has been sober for as long as four years. But every time he fell into a relapse, it was because of his complacency with his program, he said.

This time, he believes, will be different.

“I want to see the changes, and the support system I got and the people I got around me (are a) very big help,” Jacobson said.

Mike Fahey, the residential services director for the Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center, said he has seen the immense dedication of Jacobson to stick with his program and stay sober.

Furthermore, Fahey said Jacobson’s passion for sobriety can be seen through his countless writings, leadership and management in facilitating the dual diagnosis support group and encouragement to others about getting the help they need.

“I think he’s just a very caring individual. He’s very genuine; he’s very empathic,” Fahey said. “(He’s) somebody that really has a sincere interest in other people’s growth and recovery — that’s been made obvious by the fact that he’s wanted to help facilitate support groups that focus on recovery.”

And he is more than just an addict, Fahey said. He has been a student in the community and a volunteer with different organizations.

With his peer support certification, Jacobson can provide an understanding voice to addicts and lend a helping hand to those who need one, especially from someone who has been in a similar situation. Along with relating to others, he said he is now educated on the effects of alcohol on his body and other situations.

Jacobson described the situation as almost like him being a big brother to fellow recovering addicts as they make their way through programs and recovery.

And his support, Fahey said, can be a strong resource for others.

“Somebody that’s has been through a lot of the challenges, struggles with mental illness and chemical dependency can uniquely relate to other individuals,” Fahey said. “It’s just another resource to our clients.”

Ultimately, Jacobson said he hopes to provide the addicts he assists with the support of someone being there — something he said he never really had until his phone call to Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center more than four years ago.


Information from: Winona Daily News,