James Donnelly, Case Manager

One thing that’s easy to recognize as soon as you walk into A Forever Recovery is that the staff, from reception all the way up to management, consists of truly genuine individuals.

Their empathy comes from a true understanding of what it’s like to struggle with addiction, whether they’ve dealt with a family member or loved one, or have gone through recovery themselves, and they have a true desire to help their patients on the road to recovery.

James Donnelly is a case manager and also facilitates an anger management group at AFR and has his own unique story. His goal is to guide patients as they go through the process, to give them advice, help them with any needs they may have and also communicate with their family members.

Donnelly first thought his calling was in social work, working with foster children – as a product of the foster care system himself – but he soon realized it wasn’t the right fit.

“I would describe my upbringing as difficult,” he said. “I was placed into the foster care system when I was six months old, and then I was adopted later on. I was physically, verbally and sexually abused, and so I was pulled out of that home and put back into the foster care system before being adopted again.

“I wanted to work with foster children and I had various jobs, working with Goodwill, working with people who have disabilities and helping them find employment. Then I went to work for the state in Child Protective Services. I quickly realized that wasn’t really where my heart was.”

What Donnelly described was no doubt a tumultuous childhood, which led to his own addiction. His drug of choice was alcohol, which he started at the age of 11.
After years of getting sober and relapsing repeatedly, it wasn’t until he was 31 that he finally got his recovery into place.

“My journey into recovery, I didn’t go to a treatment center, I dealt with a counselor one-on-one for years,” he said. “I went through that process and I wasn’t really aware of treatment centers.” “The way I came about it, a couple of family members kind of pointed things out to me and said, ‘We have this friend of the family that could possibly help you,’ and working with that gentleman for years, I came to the other side.”

The turning point for Donnelly was seeing the effects of his addiction with the eyes of his children. To many, he was what you could call a “functioning alcoholic.” He had a wife, three kids and a good job, but in reality, outside of that he was sabotaging his life, and that’s when he knew he needed to get help. “To end it all, was me identifying what I was doing to my children,” he said. The fear, the disconnect that I was placing with my children, and then identifying all of the damage I was doing to my life, to my marriage I was in at the time, just where I was at.”

“I have four children now, and my relationship with them is really good. We communicate a lot better now, but I admit that every once in awhile – and I always describe this in anger management – I’m one of those people that likes to work around the house, but I’m not very good at it, so I’ll get mad at a door if it’s not cooperating, and sometimes I’ll yell or raise my voice because I’m frustrated. If my kids are around, I can still see that glimpse of fear in their eyes. That piece is always there to remind me. It’s something I carry around with me.”

In some ways, Donnelly can look at his past as a blessing in disguise in the fact that it’s brought him to where he is today, impacting the lives of his patients and helping others to overcome their addictions. He can relate to their struggles and identify ways to help them overcome their fears. “I explain this to a lot of patients when they come in, it’s not just this one path here at AFR. It’s not just, ‘It’s going to be this.’ We come at you from all of these different angles because everyone is an individual,” he said. “The way I describe it is that your journey coming here was unique to you, your journey through here is unique to you and your journey once you leave us, once again, is going to be unique to you.”

“You never know what’s going to speak to an individual. It might be my anger management class, it might be counseling, and it could be a combination of different things and that’s why I love it here, because we offer all of those different things to people.”

“If you want it, it’s here, that piece is here for you. It’s awesome and that’s what I love about AFR.”