This holiday season, give yourself the gift of help if you are dangerously overindulging | Opinion

Mark Knight
·4 min read

In 2012, I was arrested for driving under the influence. I was fortunate many times over: I did not hurt myself or anyone else, I had the resources to handle the legal ramifications, and family and friends supported me as I got the help I needed.

About two years later, I sent an email to our entire Jackson Health System family — then more than 10,000 people — to talk more openly about my mistakes and my path to recovery.

I was so anxious about sharing something so personal with so many. But I look back on that decision with such warmth. People sought me out to offer support, share their stories — and even seek help of their own.

I pulled my original message from the archives and am sharing it again with my colleagues — who now number almost 13,000 — and a broader audience. The events of 2020 have traumatized many of us, and this message is a reminder that we are all struggling and suffering in our own ways. It also is a reminder that it’s never too late to ask for help and make changes in our lives. As healthcare professionals, we at Jackson want to lead the way toward ending the stigmas around mental health, addiction and recovery.

These are the thoughts I offered my colleagues in 2014:

“Dear Jackson Family,

“Jackson routinely highlights the dangers of driving after using alcohol or drugs. It’s an important topic at this time of year as we celebrate so many holidays, and an important topic for our organization because we are too often called upon to deal with the aftermath.

“For me, it is also a painful reminder of my own personal experience. Some of you know that I was charged with driving under the influence in 2012. It was a life-changing mistake. I was lucky not to injure anyone, but the consequences have still been intense. Some of them are obvious and tangible: the expense and inconvenience of the legal case, the disruption to my daily routines and the embarrassment of having to tell my family and my boss. Other parts of the aftermath are harder to describe. I’ve had to spend a lot of time trying to understand the ways in which I disappointed my loved ones and myself, and a lot of time apologizing for my mistake.

“Many of us have grown up with alcohol being a part of our celebrations: spiking the eggnog at Christmas, champagne toasts on New Year’s Eve, a special bottle of wine on an anniversary, even a happy hour after work. South Florida even celebrates its hedonistic side: Our global image includes frozen cocktails, an active night life and exciting major sports events.

“We might have that drink to help relax and take away our stress … forgetting that it lowers our inhibitions and can lead to much more stressful outcomes.

It’s not my job or intention to preach about the decisions you make. But one of the ways I’ve chosen to make amends for my actions is to talk about them publicly. If you’re someone who needs help, especially during this holiday season, please make the decision and take action today.

For all the dark and frightening moments I experienced since that night, the biggest surprise to me has been the support and compassion that I received from the people who genuinely care for me and wanted to help.

If you make the small mistake of overindulging — this holiday or any time — please don’t turn it into a larger mistake by getting behind the wheel. And if you suspect that you or someone you love might need help, please don’t wait.”

I am six years stronger than I was when I wrote these words. My own recovery has been personal and private in many ways, but also a way to show others that sustainable change and positive growth are always possible. Now more than ever, I hope you will find strength in your loved ones and community. I hope you will be the support that others in your life need. And I hope you will have the courage to ask for whatever kind of help you need to move into the new year with hope for the future.

I wish all of you only the best for 2021. Goodness knows, we have all earned it.

Mark Knight is the chief financial and innovation officer at Jackson Health System, where he has worked since 2010.