Photos contributed by Jake Widmann
It’s not easy to reflect on a painful past, but by sharing his story, Marshfield author Jake Widmann is hoping to inspire others.
A teenage drinking problem that spiraled out of control in his early twenties turned him down a difficult road, one that would lead to an arrest after a high-speed chase with local law enforcement, and many more battles to come. If he was going to emerge from rock bottom, he knew something had to change.
Seven years after that arrest, Jake has successfully turned his life around – and isn’t stopping there. He has put his journey to paper in the form of UP, an inspirational book published in September that also acts as a guide to help others overcome their challenges and recognize opportunities, so they too can come up from the bottom.
“UP, in short, is about me and my story—but much more than that. It’s about navigating life as a young teen and coming of age into a world that is often confusing when we have so many questions, but so few answers, and so many of us, so few places or people to confide in,” said Jake. “It’s about the choices we make and how they affect us throughout our life; whether they be in the present moment, or an event far behind us in our past.
My story, as I have experienced it, is similar to so many other people’s stories, and as I began sharing it more openly I witnessed the freedom it gave me, and the inspiration it gave others.”
Jake has already received messages from dozens of people who are encouraged to make changes in their lives and take control over their choices and consequences. For himself, the road to admitting the seriousness of his addiction to alcohol was a long one.
“For much of my journey I only allowed myself to believe that addiction was black and white, that only people who drank themselves into homelessness and had cirrhosis of the liver were addicts, but me? Not me…I wasn’t an addict, I told myself.”
Even after serving 15 days in jail and paying thousands of dollars in fines, lawyer and court fees, it wasn’t enough to recognize the seriousness of his self-described “drinking problem,” a term he said people use to avoid the harshness of a word like addiction and the reality it illuminates.
“We might admit that we just can’t drink hard liquor, because then we become mean, but a 24-pack of beer is still okay,” he noted. “Addiction, or any hard truth for that matter, is not easy to face. We like to sugar coat our reality to make ourselves and those close to us feel better, and to avoid the hard work we know will be required when we confront it honestly. Ultimately, it’s up to the individual to decide when something has more of a grip on their lives than they’d like, and that they’re willing to change themselves to improve their life.”
Ultimately, it took blunt honesty from someone he trusted to face the depths of his addiction.
“The fact that I failed time and time again to change my life, before and after hitting rock bottom, wasn’t enough to convince me that I was an alcoholic,” said Jake. “What finally did it was power of one true friend, and my girlfriend at the time (now wife), who were able to be honest with me and tell me in plain, honest language, that I was an alcoholic.”
The road to recovery was long and painful, but Jake felt there was something more to his life. “When I realized that I was at rock bottom, when I had no other resources or stones to turn over in hopes of finding a few extra dollars so that I could get drunk or high, and numb myself for at least one more day, I realized I only had one thing left that could allow me to right my path—hope that one day my life would be better, if I began taking small steps toward the life I wanted to life; toward the more I knew there was for my life,” he said.
With encouragement from his wife, Brittany, Jake spent three months writing 276 pages of his story in every free moment. The process from starting to publication with hybrid publishing company Wise Ink Creative, based in Minneapolis, took about two years. It was about much more than just writing a book, however.
“It was a journey of healing from my past, learning more about who I am and the often brutal consequences of the choices I made, and how I can best utilize my unique gifts to have the greatest impact on my family and others with the time that I have here,” he said.
When Jake finally had the book in his hands, he knew there was one person that he had to give it to – the officer who arrested him.
Seven years ago, he spent four days in jail after speeding away from an officer, intoxicated, and resisting attempts at arrest. In January 2017, Jake participated in a challenge to write a letter to 30 different people, one of whom was the officer.
“He wrote back a phenomenal response, of which I have framed and hanging in my office at home,” Jake said.
Once the book arrived, he drove to the Marshfield police station to give that officer a copy, bringing his experience full circle.
“I thought it might also be a way to educate and expand the common misconception of who criminals often are—normal people (military members, parents, kids, students, productive members of society) who took steps down the wrong path, but want to do the right thing, and often have trouble finding their way back,” said Jake.
It was a special moment to be able to offer insight into one of the many lives an officer comes into contact with, but might not know how the story continued.
“If after spending two years writing my book, the only one I was able to get into someone’s hands was my arresting officer, that experience and everything that has, and will, come from it will forever be worth it,” Jake said.
If nothing else, he hopes that those who read the book take a look at who they’re surrounded by. “If you’re not where you want to be and you know there’s more to life, I promise you that dropping the friends who hold you back, are only there when they want to be or they need you, or are otherwise negative will be the single best thing you can do for your life going forward,” he said.
“You’ll eventually find new ones to fill in the gaps who will support, encourage and challenge you to become better. But for the time in between, get rid of the cancerous people in your life and start creating intentional, loving, productive relationships.”
UP: Lessons of Adversity, Hitting Bottom, and Choosing a Life That Matters can be purchased through Amazon or his website, sologood.co.
Jake is currently on active duty with the Army and will have completed twelve years by the end of his military career. “I’m beyond grateful for the people whom I’ve met, the places I’ve been able to travel to and the experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to take part in,” he said. “Until September of 2020 arrives, I’ll continue trying to be the best husband, father, and friend that I can be.”
His business and side project, Sologood, was an idea he came up with during his first deployment in order “to inspire people to embrace their uniqueness, to pursue their wildest dreams, and to stand up for what they believe in.” Through blogging and podcasting, Jake is working to spread a positive message and works late in the evenings after his kids go to bed, and early before work, to build up the business.
Jake’s next challenge is training and auditioning for American Ninja Warrior. “I realize it might seem like I have a million things going on and you’re probably wondering how I balance it all . . . I don’t,” he said. “I try my best, and that’s all I, and anyone else for that matter, can do as well.”
“Everything we do is about small, barely noticeable steps day after day,” he added. “I didn’t become an alcoholic in a weekend. I didn’t climb out of rock bottom in a weekend. My book wasn’t written in a weekend. And Sologood will not become what I envision it to become in a weekend either,” he added. “Start now, and just keep taking those small steps.”