By JESSICA NICOSIA
For The Recorder
Like many almost-90-year-olds, Amsterdam native James Pepe has a lot of wisdom to share.
But unlike many people, he has put great effort into sharing that wisdom with others.
Pepe, who has lived in Florida for much of his life, has written a 25-page manuscript on alcoholism, his own battle with the disease, his 47 years of working with others suffering from addictions, and his thoughts and opinions on the toll alcoholism can take on a life.
"He wanted to see if he could help people have the same kind of success he did," said Rick Pepe, 63, James' nephew, who is helping to edit the manuscript in preparation for publishing. Rick's background as a high school English teacher and his experience of putting his own career into a book led James to seek his nephew's help.
"He decided it would be good if he could get this published and in book form and get it in the hands of people who could really use the help," Rick Pepe said. "That's been his life's mission to share his success with other people."
James' manuscript, titled "All About Alcoholism, Drugs, Forgiveness, and You," is a 25-page informational text sprinkled with personal anecdotes from his own battle with alcoholism and his work with countless other sufferers over the years.
But he is adamant that he does not want any credit for his volunteer efforts with the organization Alcoholics Anonymous. Instead, he wants to help individuals and family members to better understand that alcoholism is "a thief that will steal your health, wealth, family and everything you may have held near and dear" and that alcoholics are "innocently victimized" by their genetic susceptibility and body chemistry.
"I'm just trying to convey information I know to the public, to help them," said James.
One of five children, James Pepe began working at a young age in the family restaurant started by his parents in the West End of Amsterdam. He is a World War II veteran, and suffered from alcohol addiction after he returned from that war. With the help of Alcoholics Anonymous and his sponsor Joe Centi, formerly of Amsterdam, he was able to recover and has remained sober since 1966.
Soon after he recovered, James went back to work in the family restaurant, often acting as a bartender.
"I had to go back to work and so I chose the month of December, with all the holidays nearing, to take the challenge of bartending once again," James wrote in his manuscript. "I felt that if I could handle the holidays one day at a time, it would be the ultimate test and I made it, thanks to all the thinking tools provided by A.A."
"I always thought that was pretty brave to be a recovering alcoholic serving people liquor and beer while resisting it yourself," Rick Pepe said. "He sought that job because he wanted to see if he couldn't identify other people who might have a problem with alcohol and get them on the road to recovery."
And helping alcoholics is what he has been doing for the past 47 years. The manuscript recounts the difficulties with doing so in the 1960s and '70s, when hospitals had a policy of not accepting alcoholics for detoxification, and there were no detoxification centers as there are today.
"In those days, we had no facilities to treat these individuals except our homes, when permissible," he wrote. He recounted stories over the phone from his home in Florida of how he would drive around in his car with people who he was helping, trying to keep them away from alcohol while they were detoxing.
"I regarded every newcomer as a newborn babe," wrote James. "I realized how frail, fragile and confused the individual would be ... my only approach was to give the person TLC."
Sister Mary Theresa of St. Mary's Hospital was instrumental in opening the doors of the hospital for admission to alcoholics, according to the manuscript.
While he has no estimate of how many people he has helped through the years, James has found many common themes to the addiction which he recounted in his writing, including: "once somebody recovers, they're all good people," "it's a disease, not a bad habit," "it involves the 'merry-go-round syndrome' -- so easy to get on, so hard to get off," as well as practical advice on "self-inventory," or not getting discouraged if you relapse.
"The best remedy for maintaining sobriety one day at a time is to try and give sobriety away to others," he wrote.
James' number-one piece of advice in the manuscript is "Prevention, Exposure, Protection, and Exemplification": the four steps to making sure children are informed of the hereditary information, dangers and risks associated with alcohol and other addictive substances. He hopes that some day the stigma of alcoholism will be overshadowed by the efforts to prevent it from continuing in families prone to the disease.
"He really doesn't want any recognition," said Rick. "It's been his life's mission to share his success with other people.
"I know how it felt to hold my book in my hand, and the feeling of accomplishment, and I want him to have that, too."