PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The Panama City Rescue Mission alongside Bethel Village graduated six members of their addiction recovery programs Sunday afternoon.
Mentors of those graduates say admitting you have a problem is the first step of solving it, and Jim Downs, who's been in the program for one year, one month and sixteen days, agrees.
"I came to the Panama City Rescue Mission, a broke, beat-down man," said Downs.
Fast forward through his recovery process, and that isn't the case anymore.
"He knows that he has a purpose," said Sue Downs-Loyd, Jim's sister. "It's an answer to our prayers."
Alongside two other male members, Jim proudly took the stage as he reminisced about his past, and plans to focus on his future.
"It's the best day ever," said Jim's other sister, Ricki Willet.
"For the first time in my life I've completed something," said a beaming "Big Jim." "I've completed the beginning of my journey."
Big Jim says he's battled addiction for 34 years. With nowhere to go and nothing to lose, Jim says checking into the recovery program was his last option.
"I was afraid I would never see my brother again," said Willet. "I was afraid he would die."
"I haven't seen my sisters in four year," said Jim. "They're here today."
Accountability is one of the lessons taught in the program.
"You've got to know who you are and understand who you are," said Thurman Chambers, President of the Panama City Rescue Mission.
Jim attributes his success to the program, God, and his case manager and friend, John Goldman.
During the graduation ceremony, Jim handed Goldman his graduation certificate claiming although he is too humble to hang anything in his office, perhaps he would make an exception for a "miracle" he helped create.
"I've seen his struggles, I've seen his walks," said Goldman to the audience. "This guy has fallen and he's stumbled, but he gets up. He may have some bruises and scars but he keeps going."
"Keep going;" it's a message he plans to share with others battling the disease.
"He is more alive now than he has been since he was a child," said Downs-Loyd.
"There's life after addiction, there's life after recovery," added Jim, "and there's hope."
On February 1st, Jim says he'll begin a new journey. He plans to walk out of the doors of the Panama City Rescue mission at 7 a.m. sharp and head to the Appalachian trails and beyond. He's starting a campaign, "Big Jim's Walk," to spread awareness about addiction and recovery.
"Because if it wasn't for the Panama City Rescue Mission and their free long term recovery I wouldn't be sober today," he explained.
Jim says he'd love company if anyone is up for it. He plans on letting people know about the resources he was gifted with ,and will help anyone who needs it.
"I urge the community to start talking about the problem and be a part of the solution," said Jim.
For more information about "Big Jim's Walk" you can check out his website; a link is attached to this article.