Shupe opens up about his battle with alcoholism

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KINGSPORT, Tenn. (AP) — For the past 17 years, Jantry Shupe has battled alcoholism.

The struggle has cost him greatly — two arrests for DUI, the business he co-founded, his seat on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and having the whole ordeal laid out in the media, before his friends and family in his hometown.

"No question I hit bottom," Shupe said in an interview with the Times-News. "It's been a life changing experience for me. It's been humbling to say the least, of being completely exhausted of all you've worked for and to become totally transparent to my hometown."

Shupe, who turned 40 this summer, was first elected to the BMA in 2007 and again in 2011. He managed Oak Hill Funerals and Cremations in Kingsport and last year co-founded and opened a new funeral home — Trinity Memorial Services — off the John B. Dennis Highway.

Prior to being elected to the BMA, Shupe served on several local boards and committees and in 2001 received the "40 under 40" honor from the Tri-Cities Business Journal.

But in just over a year's time, Shupe's world turned upside down.

Kingsport police arrested Shupe for DUI in June 2013, but the charges were dismissed after the judge ruled officers failed to preserve the evidence. Earlier this year, he sold his stake in Trinity to his partner and in July the Tennessee Highway Patrol arrested Shupe on his second DUI.

Two weeks later, he resigned from the BMA.

Dr. Jerry Miller, founder of Holston Medical Group and a family doctor for 47 years, had once been Shupe's physician. After hearing of Shupe's arrest in the media, Miller reached out to him, to help him overcome his addiction to alcohol.

"I said I'm going to help this individual," Miller said. "I told him 'You have a disease, you have a serious problem, and you've got to have treatment. Are you willing to work with me and work with yourself and get help and overcome this?"

Shupe said he "absolutely" accepted Miller's help.

"If not for Dr. Miller, I wouldn't be alive today. I'm well aware of that," Shupe said.

Miller outlined a program for Shupe to follow and made arrangements with a local health care provider — Magnolia Ridge in Johnson City — for Shupe to receive inpatient treatment, then eventually attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

"I told him he should not get down on himself, ignore what's been in the (media). Hold your head high and do this with dedication," Miller said. "Now, he feels much better though he still has mountains to climb. I feel real good about him and I think he'll do well."

The World Health Organization estimates more than 140 million people worldwide suffer from alcoholism; in the U.S., one in every 12 adults. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence report alcohol is the number one addictive substance in the U.S., crossing all societal boundaries and affecting every ethnic group, both genders and people in every tax bracket.

Shupe said he has been struggling with alcohol for the past 17 years, keeping the secret from many of his friends and peers. But he said the roots of his addiction date back even further, to before he was even born.

"To many people's surprise, I've hated alcohol for years. I just couldn't get away from it," Shupe said, referencing a pre-natal exposure to alcohol. "If you could imagine having poison ivy in your arterial system, alcohol scratched that itch."

Shupe has also struggled with depression over the years and after being arrested a second time for DUI, had thoughts of suicide. A near death experience came during his month at Magnolia Ridge when he became septic from the toxins leaving his system and had to spend time at Franklin Woods Community Hospital.

Shupe said he is in his second month of zero alcohol and looks forward to many years of living that way.

"I feel better than I've felt in 20 years. I feel like I did in high school," Shupe said. "You get to a point you don't know what you're doing and this disease had me. Now, for the first time in my entire life I got professional help; I've accepted an uncontrollable part of my life and I have to adapt living with zero alcohol."

According to the Northeast Tennessee chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, dozens of AA meetings are held throughout the Tri-Cities every day of the week, in the mornings, afternoons and evenings with classes as general as open door and closed door or more tailored, such as for youth, newcomers, men only and women only.

Now that Shupe is on the road to recovery and living an alcohol-free life, he says he wants to use his experiences and story to help be a catalyst for change with other people struggling with alcoholism. Miller said he plans to encourage Shupe to speak to school groups or professional groups about his struggles.

Shupe said there is hope for people, if you get the help you need.

"I'm not a scum bag. I'm a young professional who was overtaken by a chemical, that I was unable to depart from without medical attention," Shupe said. "I don't want to waste one mistake I've made or not learn from any misunderstanding. I've spent my life helping others and I want to be back on the path of giving myself to others."

If people are comfortable enough to get checked for cancer, Shupe said then they ought to feel comfortable enough to have an assessment on their life to see if alcohol is a problem.

"If there's anybody I can help get help before they get to the last resort, then I want to be a catalyst to do that," Shupe said.

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