A Support System to Heal the Family

Let's Talk Addiction & Recovery Podcast
Friends outdoors walking

The family can recover together. Without a reliable system in place, though, the family will default to negativity, often digging up the past and reliving old memories. That’s why expert interventionist Debra Jay co-created Structured Family Recovery, where family members all join the same team to uplift the positive and work toward shared recovery. In this episode, Debra Jay and host William C. Moyers explore the inner workings of the family recovery team and why it works so well.

We needed something for families that was meaningful. Simple to do, but meaningful.

Debra Jay

0:00:14 William Moyers
Here we are again, a new season in our award-winning series of Let's Talk podcasts. Presented to you by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. I'm your host, William C. Moyers. Welcome and thanks for joining us. Today our topic is 'it takes a family.' Creating lasting sobriety and togetherness. And my guest is the noted author and interventionist Debra Jay. I've known Debra and her husband Jeff Jay for 25 plus years now. And I know how many lives they have saved from addiction and how many families have recovered because of Debra and Jeff's intimate personal perspectives and vast professional expertise. Debra, thank you for joining us today from your home in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan.

0:00:56 Debra Jay
Well it's wonderful to be with you, William. I cannot believe it's been 25 years.

0:01:02 William Moyers
I know, it's gone by fast. [Debra laughs] And you've touched the lives of so many people during that time. And you really are one of the nation's leading experts when it comes not just to the impact that addiction has on the alcoholic and the addict, but, the impact that addiction has on the family. What makes addiction a family illness, Debra?

0:01:22 Debra Jay
Well I wanna say first, you know, I got into this field because of my love for the families. And I was told well you're gonna have to work with the alcoholics and addicts on the units for five years before you get to do the Family Program. And that was at Hanley Hazelden, you know, way back in the day. And I eventually was able to facilitate that program. And working with families has always been my very favorite thing. It's been my passion—why? Because I am a family member. I'm not the addicted person. And when you start looking at this disease, the interesting thing I think is that both family and addict has a lot of denial about how they're being affected. And but we are all living the same problem, only, we're living it differently, you know? And we're seeing it differently. So as a family member, what am I gonna do? I'm gonna talk to my beloved alcoholic or my beloved addict. And I'm gonna talk about the alcohol and drugs as a problem, whereas the person who's addicted sees the alcohol and drugs as the solution. It's always the solution. They don't have a choice in that matter. So who's the problem? Well I'm the problem, right? [chuckles] The person who's trying to get in the way of their alcohol use or their drug use is the problem. So we're talking two different languages. We're not even meeting as we live together with this disease that affects and changes us all.

0:02:55 William Moyers
[nods] So of course you and your husband Jeff focus a lot on intervention and helping the addict or the alcoholic find recovery, but what does recovery look like for the family?

0:03:06 Debra Jay
I wanna say family members have a lot—sometimes will have a lot of—well I think almost always have a lot of denial in the beginning. And will have certain objections. I think the biggest is I really wasn't affected. So we have to kind of look at that. And you know what, I don't care about denial or objections anymore. I used to spend a lot of time trying to educate people out of their objections. [smiles] And I realized they just walked away as polite as they would be thinking to themselves, 'Well that Debra Jay, she really doesn't know what she's talking about here.' [chuckles] And so, what I've really come to believe that it's when we get the gift of recovery as family members, it's just when we move our feet. It doesn't matter what we think. We just move our feet. Get involved in a good recovery program such as Al-Anon or Adult Children of Alcoholics. And what that does is it—it is emotional sobriety we're after. 'Cause what we don't realize when we're going through it is we develop all these survival skills. And it makes sense in the middle of a loved one's addiction. But they kinda change into character defects and they don't help us in the outer world. So we're looking at coming to this place of emotional sobriety. And with that, we gain peace, we gain self-confidence, we change in beautiful ways and at the end of the day, as the great Earnie Larsen used to say, we are able to initiate and participate in healthy relationships. And those of us who have grown up in alcoholic homes, that's one of our greatest struggles.

0:04:45 William Moyers
So let's talk more about that dynamic of recovery in the family. Of course your book It Takes a Family was published in 2014 and early in the spring or actually in April of '21, will be the second edition. And part of that is what we call structured—or what you call—structured family recovery. Tell us more.

0:05:06 Debra Jay
Let me just tell you a story. So I'm at an open AA meeting with my husband who's long time in AA and it's before Thanksgiving and it's a gratitude meeting. And this fellow got up and he—everybody was there with their families. He got up and he said, 'I'm here alone because I've been sober 12 years and my family still isn't talking to me.' And these are the things that break my heart that families that never really come together. And so, through my career, I have really focused on that. And when structured family recovery occurred to me and then we did it for two years before the book in our practice, that changed everything, William. Families so quickly changed, turned them around, things we could never do were happening. And three, four, five, six weeks of structured family recovery, people absolutely loved it. We needed something for families that was meaningful. Simple to do, but meaningful. And we hadn't had that before. But with structured family recovery, we do now. [nods]

0:06:12 William Moyers
Do you have to have—in structured family recovery, do you have to have the person who's recovering from the illness, i.e., the addict or the alcoholic, and the family? Or can it happen without one participant? Do they all need to be together?

0:06:26 Debra Jay
Well, typically what we do is we look at family. Of course it's however you define family. It might be your biological family, it might be the family you're married into, it might be, you know, the family you choose of course. And so, this is how it typically works is the family starts structured family recovery and their loved one is in treatment for instance. The loved one has to be getting some kind of treatment or they have to be in a Twelve Step program. Getting sober. And we like by the fourth week, we like them to join the team. And that's ideal. Because we all wanna do it together. However, it's a really good question because sometimes the addict refused to go to treatment. Sometimes the addict left early or they left and started drinking. And the families continue to do it on their own, it's really powerful. And I just wanna share one quick story with you. So a young woman was in treatment, she got—her family had been doing structured family recovery, she had joined them for one week. Got out of treatment and had an addicted drug-dealing boyfriend. You know, they're trouble. [smiles] And she runs off with him. And the family continued to do structured family recovery. And two months later she shows up at her parents' door. And you know what her first question was to her family, William? Are you still doing structured family recovery? [Moyers shakes his head] That's the first thing she asked her parents. And I interpret that as, 'Are you still being trustworthy, even though I haven't been?' [Moyers nods] And she went back to treatment and then she joined that team. So, it's a powerful social norm, it's a powerful example families set for the addict.

0:08:14 William Moyers
Powerful and positive. Talk about the positive brain using structured family recovery.

0:08:20 Debra Jay
This is one thing that was really important to me. Because families need to stick. So, when we look at the negative brain versus the positive brain, this is what neurologists tell us. The negative brain—anything negative happens to us, our brain lights up. Really bright! And those memories are extremely durable, right? [chuckles] And of course they are because, you know, we have to survive. You know, we have to remember what cave the bear lives in, right? The positive brain, it doesn't light up so bright. And those memories start bleaching out and fading over time. Because they're not as keyed into our survival. What happens with addiction is we are living in a lot of negative brain. When we do structured family recovery, everything's about positive brain. Why? First of all, neurologists say we need five positives for every one—to overcome every one negative. But the other thing is is when we bring these families together, if we start digging in the past, we start digging into talking to everybody else, this is what you did, this is how you hurt me, these teams, they'll blow up. They won't—people won't come back. You see what I'm saying? So the thing is we don't ignore the negative but what we say is we want you to get involved in a Twelve Step program, AA for instance for the alcoholic or addict, Al-Anon, Adult Children of Alcoholics for the family members, and bring the negatives there. Because those programs are designed to deal with the negative brain and turn it into the positive brain. So it's ideal that as a family, we're all together positive brain, we take our negative brain elsewhere. It doesn't help to constantly be lighting up the negative brain, family member to family member.

0:10:12 William Moyers
Fascinating. So in It Takes a Family, and let me just add that the second edition will be out in the spring, April of 2021. [Debra nods] In your new edition, you talk about—you provide for one year of structured family recovery, for families. But what happens after that year?

0:10:33 Debra Jay
You know I love that you're asking this question. Because I thought, you know, I thought, wow, it'll be really great if we get people to do this for a year. You know. And—and the interesting thing that has happened is that after the year is up, we didn't have anything else in the first edition. And families kept saying, 'But we don't wanna quit.' I'll tell ya about one family, really interesting. Two uncles, parents, their son was the addict, a friend of the son. And they are now on year four. Can you imagine this? [chuckles] Getting a whole family including extended family members, and a friend, to commit once a week to have that SFR meeting, and they're on year four. And they said, this is what they told me—and these were not people I was working with. They called me out of the blue. And they said, 'Listen, we created something so special, it's like this—it's like there's another body in the room, this kind of incredible spiritual experience that we have and this connection. We are afraid to lose it. We love it. We just don't ever wanna quit.'

0:11:47 William Moyers
We have about two minutes left, Debra—we could talk for another twenty, thirty, forty minutes—

0:11:51 Debra Jay
Mmm-hmm.

0:11:52 William Moyers
I just love tapping into your—not only your professional expertise but the passion. And the way you articulate it. It's really—I know it's gonna be powerful for our viewers and our listeners to be able to experience you. And they can do that of course through the book. And at the same time that your second edition of It Takes a Family is coming out, you and Jeff are releasing through Hazelden Publishing the third edition of Love First. So these are coming out at the same time. They're meant to come out at the same time, they're meant to compliment each other I believe. And also, to this point, you're gonna be offering workshops. Talk about that.

0:12:25 Debra Jay
We are. We are. Because, you know, Love First has been the, you know, top-selling book on intervention and with It Takes a Family, the thing is now, is that we have realized in our own practice that when—and people don't have to do an intervention to do structured family recovery, obviously. But when people do an intervention, and they move right into structured family recovery seamlessly, it's amazing what happens to the family. But what we wanna do is offer everybody a no-cost workshop with us to learn—both professionals and families can join this. To learn about all the changes both in Love First, which is all about intervention, and It Takes a Family, structured family recovery. And we don't wanna charge anybody anything 'cause we don't want any, you know, blockades in the way of joining. We just wanna make this. We're very dedicated in our careers to providing free information. And we really wanna do 'cause we're so excited about these two books, what's new and why it's important and how you can use it, and you know, get people excited on what we can do for entire families today. 'Cause we've—we've long talked about this. But we've never had anything like this. So we wanna share that information freely. And if anybody wants to know about that, then just go to lovefirst.net, and we're gonna have it on our homepage where you can sign up for that. [Moyers nods]

0:13:59 Debra Jay
And that's gonna be up in April 2021 when the books are being released. 

0:14:04 William Moyers
One minute—tell us what are three things quickly that somebody who participates in one of the workshops comes away with?

0:14:13 Debra Jay
Well, one thing they're gonna come away with which I think is really exciting is all sorts of tools that they can use through technology. So for instance, we have for structured family recovery, snap trainings. They're really short, one-topic podcasts, three to, for instance, five minutes. So, one—one is—one is how do you talk to your loved one when they are in treatment? Because what do families do? They get on the phone and they say well how do you like your counselor? Or how do you like your roommate? Or how's the food there? And you don't wanna ask questions like that because what that does is invite the loved one to use those as reasons they wanna leave treatment. Like, 'My roommate is so much worse, my problem's alcohol and he was shooting heroin.' You know, for instance. So, we teach families right away that's important for families to access but it's also important for treatment centers to know about. And share with their families that they can—anybody can use these resources. We make them available for everybody. The other one I really love is how—and counselors in treatment love this—how to talk to your loved one's counselor. [Moyers smiles, nods] 'Cause we want manageability. We want a relationship that works. We're not eating up the counselor's time. And how—and—and it changes everything right away. Just those two, changes everything right away. Cools the system, keeps things manageable in treatment, prevents people from leaving against medical advice. And so we have a lot of those that work both for the family members but they work for the professionals as well.

0:15:50 William Moyers
[nods] Debra Jay, thanks for sharing your perspective and your time with us today. Please join us for another edition of Let's talk. And make sure to tell your family and friends, colleagues and fellow travelers, to check out our podcast too. These podcasts bring us together and remind us that together, we can build a healthier, wholesome, and happier tomorrow, one day, one life, one family, at a time. On behalf of our Executive Producer, Lisa Stangl, we urge you to stay safe, stay healthy, and take good care. We'll see ya again soon.

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