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  • St. Patrick’s Day means many things to many people, especially the Irish, or those with Irish heritage. I have Irish in my blood from both sides of my family. I have an Irish middle name, Egan, named for my maternal grandfather, Pete Egan. I’m proud of it, and of my Irish heritage. His family came over to America from Ireland sometime in the 1800’s, like many Irish families did. We believe they came from somewhere in the South of Ireland, perhaps from County Tipperary. Pete was a printer, a typesetter, a very intelligent, hard- working man who read voraciously, self-educated, having had to drop out of school around 6th grade to go to work to help feed his poor family. He also suffered from the curse of the Irish – a profound love of alcohol. He was an alcoholic. According to some of Dad’s writings – he wrote extensively about the whole family – Pete was a great guy to be around when he was on a roll, full of the spirits and feeling good, but he could turn into a nasty drunk, and you didn’t want to get between him and that first drink! He was known to quit jobs and go on weeks-long benders when the paycheck was a few minutes late, and then negotiate his return once the dust had settled. Not an easy man to be around. I did inherit a lot from him, through his daughter, my mother, who also suffered from the curse of the Irish.

    My paternal Grandfather, James Bridgeman, Sr, was also born into an Irish family while they “stopped over” in Liverpool, England, on their way to America. In tracing the family back, we’ve found that they came over to England around 1825, long before the Potatoe Famine chased many out of Ireland. He was one of 8 born there in Liverpool, where the family ran a boarding house and built up enough money to send different family members over to the states as they could afford to do so. James swore off alcohol at an early age, and only took up drinking later in life, as he tried to help put some meat on his only son’s teenage bones and would take him out for beers. He was always a very controlled drinker, having the occasional glass of wine with dinner, never more. We always thought of that side of the family as the “tea-totalers” – visiting Grandma Bridgeman or any of Dad’s siblings (though an only son, he had 8 sisters!) was never as much fun as visiting the raucous Egan clan. James, Sr., did suffer from a rolling coaster of emotional swings, another trait I inherited from a grandfather. In my 20’s I was diagnosed by the V.A. as manic-depressive. James died 3 weeks before I was born, so I never met him, although I feel I got to know him well through dozens of stories told by his son, my father, James, Jr.
  • But, my celebration of St. Patrick’s Day has more to do with the luck of the Irish. Given my predisposition to a fondness for the grog, which extended to anything addictive, and for emotional swings, which bedeviled me throughout my teens and early 20’s, it’s truly a miracle that I found a life rich in spiritual sobriety and passionate, emotional stability. I really got lucky, and this is the day that I always acknowledge and celebrate my good luck, and drink in a large mug of gratitude to toast my good fortune.

    Several things happened on St. Patrick’s Day in my life. In 1972, my family moved to Connecticut on St. Patrick’s Day, when I had 3 months left to my senior year of high school. I had to move with them, thanks to a wild keg party I had thrown in my family home the previous month that convinced my parents I wasn’t ready to be on my own to finish out high school in Pittsburgh. My plan at the time was to get my high school diploma, then join the Navy and embark on a 20 or 30 year career of seeing the world and living the classic life of a hard-partying, good times sailor, with a woman in every port. I never had any use for books or learning up to that point. I saw education as a necessary evil, and always learned just enough to pull an adequate grade-point average. In those last 3 months of high school, I was fortunate to have the first teacher in 12 years who inspired me, an English teacher who brought literature and education to life for me. I’ve been an avid reader, and student of life, ever since. It was only dumb luck and a wild keg party that led me to that teacher. Luck of the Irish!

    After a tumultuous 4 year Navy career, I got out, and quickly realized I was afflicted with a life-threatening addiction, and spent the next 2 ½ years fighting it, trying to beat it. I was losing that battle. On St. Patrick’s Day, 1980, the last time I got high, I was given another gift. A realization that I was powerless over addiction. No amount of resolve or willpower, of which I had plenty, kept me from picking up that last joint. Another gift. I had to surrender to win this battle. While this concept went contrary to my never-say-die Irish nature, the valuable lesson served me well.
  • I still struggled with extreme emotional turmoil/roller-coasters over the next 4 years, as although I’d surrendered the idea that I could find sustainable relief through any substances outside of myself, I still hadn’t found a sustainable alternative for finding a balanced life. Something was going to have to give. I was running myself right into the ground. Friends and family were just as concerned about my health, 4 years clean and sober, as they’d been when I was a full-blown addict. Then, I got lucky again on St. Patrick’s Day, 1984, when I finally began my journey of sustainable recovery, and asked another recovered addict to sponsor me through the 12 Steps of recovery.

    The result was freedom from addiction, freedom from the emotional roller coaster I'd known my whole life, and a life that continues to get better and richer, each year feeling more alive than the previous. Today, I celebrate the Luck of the Irish. I may well be the luckiest Irishman I know.

    May you all experience the Luck of the Irish, this day and for all the days of your lives. You don't need to be Irish to enjoy this luck - you just have to believe.

    Slainte!
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