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Ex-U Star: Tougher Times for Addicts

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April 16, 2020

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It’s no easy path recovering from addictions but Jim Carter is fortunate the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t raising hell for him the way it is for many others who are fighting daily battles with demons like alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, opioids, and other substances.

The halt to in-person support gatherings has created a new challenge for addicts. Alcohol sales are skyrocketing and that’s just one measure of how the coronavirus is impacting those with a dependency on booze. Finding statistics on how the virus has negatively affected other sources of addiction, including illegal drugs, is more difficult to document but it’s a reality only the delusional will deny.

Socially, emotionally, physically and economically the pandemic is disrupting lives for millions of Americans. Those with addictions are among the most vulnerable because in the face of adversity they are likely to abandon the things keeping them on the right path. It’s a reality that Carter, a recovering addict since 2003, learned long ago.

“The truth of it is in some cases, because of our disease, because of our addiction, we look for any excuse to say, ‘Oh, screw this, I am going back out. Oh, I need a drink. I need to go place a bet. This life is too hard. This corovavirus is too confining.’ …Many, many addicts—given any reason—they will grab it and say I gotta go act out because of that.”

Carter, the Golden Gophers 1969 football captain and for most of the 1970s a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, believes once the coronavirus epidemic passes the damage done to the addiction population could be eye-catching. “The recidivism rate is high in the addiction field,” he told Sports Headliners in a telephone interview.

Suicide in the coming weeks and months will even be the ultimate ending for some with addictions. Whether it’s relapse or ending one’s life, a culprit during these times is the isolation caused by the pandemic. Government guidelines have for now done away with small gatherings of support groups.

Without those social resources involving other people, addicts can also stop doing their daily individual work like a 12-step program that keeps them on track with guiding principles for recovery. Addicts can be drawn to isolation, not reaching out to friends by telephone for dialogue and support. “Addicts are the only people in the world that try to solve loneliness by isolating,” Carter said.

While Carter feels as “cooped up” as most of us while confined to his winter home in Palm Springs, he doesn’t feel the anxiousness others are experiencing and the temptation to relapse into booze or other addictive behavior. “I have two very close friends back in Minneapolis that anxiety is a big part of their issue and it’s been very, very hard for them (in these times),” he said.

Carter occupies parts of his days spending time with his wife and reading books. He also works with his 12-step program and talks to people in recovery everyday. “I know a lot of them all across North America. …I always touch base with somebody.

“I am not what we would call ‘slippery.’ That’s a term we use for people that might be getting nervous and thinking a drink might be an answer. I don’t have that (anxiousness) on a day-to-day basis.

“I can be an ass—you’ve seen plenty of that. I can be feisty and ill tempered, but I don’t have the anxiousness about thinking it might be a better idea to go get drunk rather than just minding my ‘p’s and q’s.’ That’s not a daily concern for me.”

Jim Carter

Carter and many others in recovery are using technology to care for one another during these difficult times. With concern about the virus increasing last month, he stopped attending meetings with a support group on March 10. A couple weeks ago the group of about 15 started convening daily at 7 a.m. via Zoom. Twice a week he connects via technology with a group back in Minnesota.

Carter spends most of a typical year living in the Twin Cities area. He not only attends formal support gatherings but meets with friends for coffee. “I stay with it pretty regularly,” he said.

At support meetings Carter might be listening to recovering addicts talk about menaces other than alcohol, including gambling, sex and obesity issues. No matter what the addiction, he can run it through his head and personalize it to his own struggles that have included booze, marijuana and rage.

“For me and other people that continue to go (support groups), it’s not necessarily a day-by-day concern that I might relapse,” Carter said. “It’s more of a concern for me to remind myself that I’ve got a lot of work to do to be a better person. To tell the truth, to do the next right thing, to have respect for other people, to not judge other people.

“All the way down the line. I am still obviously a long ways from perfect but that’s why I go now is to…do the self-examination, trying always to be aware of who I am, how I am operating and whether I am doing what I need to do to be a better husband, to be a better person in the community.”

Carter, 71, gave up drinking in 1982. He was in the car business in Wisconsin and a few years retired from pro football. “When I was in business in Eau Claire in ’82 I got all drunked up one night and did some stupid things—which I often did—and the next day I quit forever,” he said.

While Carter stopped drinking, he didn’t do much self-examination for a long time after 1982. He engaged in habits that he can only now look back on with regret.

“Being disloyal to partners, having affairs in my marriage, smoking a lot of weed, finding other ways to soothe myself,” Carter said. “Basically (that) is what we do with any of our addictions. We don’t want to face reality, so (we) either drink a lot, or we smoke a lot of weed, or we get laid a lot, or chase a lot, or gamble a lot—thinking that will soothe us. And it does temporarily but the consequences most always are very severe.”

Twenty-one years after giving up drinking Carter went for treatment in Arizona, spending 30 days in a facility to help addicts like him. Then 10 days followed of what he describes as “aftercare.”

“Ever since then I’ve been pretty strong in my 12-step regimen,” Carter said. “…I try to keep my head in that program for me to continue to get better, hopefully. Some days it’s two steps back and one forward, but generally to be a better person I work at it and talk to other people in the program.”

Many addicts, as much as they self-analyze, struggle to find the cause or causes of their demons. “But a lot of us in our addiction talk about it coming from a hole in our soul or somewhere deep down,” Carter said. “And it’s probably some type of abandonment, either physically or emotionally when we’re children, or abuse of some type.”

Carter has been unable to pinpoint what has caused his issues with anger and the drive for perfection leading to unhappiness and the use of substances to soothe himself. Whatever the causes he has tried to figure it all out and make peace with himself. He was the youngest of four children, growing up in South St. Paul as the son of a car dealer and stay-at-home mom. His father, Bob, had a temper like Jim’s leading the son to now believe that at least part of his behavior issues came at birth with his DNA.

Bob’s rages made a lasting impression on Jim who recognizes that while there was no physical abuse in the family, the emotion of words and how they are said can be highly impactful on children. His father was also gone from home a lot and maybe that, or receiving less attention as the last of four children, led to feelings of abandonment in Jim’s early life.

Carter speculates multiple factors were involved in shaping his feelings and behavior. Whatever the causes, he had an early desire to be recognized that has never gone away. “To have my name in lights,” is how he puts it.

A great prep football player at South St. Paul, Carter could have opted for Notre Dame but instead chose the hometown Gophers. He was a star player and important contributor as the fullback on the 1967 Big Ten championship Minnesota team. He was also a heavy drinker and “smoked weed.”

The Packers made a linebacker out of him, and the desire to achieve—to be perfect—haunted him in Green Bay just as it has most of his life. He believes many athletes are obsessed with being perfect, having an “I’ll show you attitude.” Many of them, Carter reminds, are also addicts.

The drive for perfection is something Carter continues to wrestle with in retirement (he still has an investment and advisory involvement with car dealerships in Wisconsin). He wants to control things—perhaps he speculates because he couldn’t as a child, our was out of control in his youth.

“I have horrible control issues now. I want to control everything I can. Our home, (and) even 12-step meetings. I am terrible. If it’s not going the way I want it, I want to control it.”

Day-to-day Carter confronts his challenges, and sometimes his past comes up all too vividly and painfully. He loves the University of Minnesota and was encouraged by friends to run for a vacancy on the Board of Regents. He became a finalist but the pursuit of a regent’s seat was cut short by the resurfacing of an incident that happened decades before when he played for the Packers and asked a woman in the organization for oral sex. He and many others thought 40 years was enough to put the embarrassing event behind him, but it became public all over again.

“That was very hurtful to me because I have done so much work to overcome it (the incident),” Carter said. “I can’t change the past. That’s part of the price I paid for that behavior 40…years ago.”

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

(1) Reader Comment

  1. avatar
    Gary Hanson
    April 16, 2020 at 8:47 pm

    I appreciate the honesty and candidness from Jim. I was a student at the U the same time as Carter. They didn't call him "Crash" for nothing! It is not an easy life if you are chemically dependent. But looks like Jim is serious and working hard to maintain sobriety. Congratulations, and keep up the good work!

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