Broken Open: What Painkillers Taught Me about Life and Recovery

New memoir from William C. Moyers to be published during Hazelden Betty Ford's 75th year
Learn About Hazelden Betty Ford

Center City, Minn. (April 12, 2024) – In a new memoir, Broken Open, to be published this September as a follow-up to the New York Times-bestselling Broken from 2006—William C. Moyers reveals that in the midst of his 30-year recovery from illicit drugs and alcohol, and a successful career as a national recovery advocate and fundraiser for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, he experienced a multi-year "run-in" with prescribed pain medications. 

Broken UpThe story—featuring dozens of diary entries—describes in vivid, relatable detail how Moyers felt compelled to keep his opioid use disorder secret from the most important people in his life as he struggled to understand what was happening to him. With everything he knew about substance use disorder, recovery, and his own journey thrown into question, Moyers felt overwhelming shame; yet he eventually moved beyond addiction once again, this time with the help of an anti-craving medication that is perhaps the most under-utilized tool in America's efforts to turn the tide on its relentless opioid crisis.

"I thought I had all that I needed in the tools that had worked for me and been so important to my recovery journey up until that point—from regular recovery meetings to healthy daily practices that nurture my spirit to a rich community of people like me for support," Moyers says. "But, in this case, I needed something else, something more—a medication to quiet my craving brain. Only then could I move past the shame and confusion I had felt and embrace my evolving journey in a new way—not as a redemption story, but as a whole-life story—replete with failures, fears, joys, triumphs, and sorrows. I've made peace with the reality that our stories aren't set-in-stone accomplishments that we must forever strive to live up to; they're ongoing adventures that we get to live into."

Moyers wrestled with the very stigma he'd been fighting against for years as a well-known national speaker, and the deep shame he had never truly released—now exacerbated by a new substance use disorder. Along the way to being broken open and fully exposed, he gained fresh perspectives on addiction and recovery that run parallel to a growing national dialogue and to the evolving practices of his employer, Hazelden Betty Ford, the nation's leading nonprofit provider of substance use and mental health care and related education and publishing services. Broken Open will be published by Hazelden Publishing and available Sept. 3, as Hazelden Betty Ford celebrates its 75th anniversary. 

"William has inspired thousands of people over the past 30 years, and he'll inspire thousands more as he shines new light on the complexities of addiction and recovery, the value of addiction treatment medicines, and the harm of stigma and shame in every form," said Hazelden Betty Ford President and CEO Joseph Lee, MD. "William is a big part of Hazelden Betty Ford's 75-year history and an important recovery voice nationally, thanks to his skill as a communicator and remarkable willingness to be vulnerable—a trait he shares with our namesake Betty Ford. His journey is like the journey of many in recovery, with ups and downs that all eventually reinforce hope."

In the book, Moyers describes how he was so paralyzed by fear and confusion that he sought the help of an addiction medicine doctor outside of Hazelden Betty Ford, even though his employer was leading efforts nationally to integrate buprenorphine into treatment center protocols and break through long-held stigmas against such medications. 

"As they learned more, my leaders at Hazelden Betty Ford were rightfully concerned and asked a lot of tough questions that were justified based on how I'd hidden the truth of what I was experiencing," Moyers said. "I see now how afraid I was to lose everything I'd established over 30 years, and how unworthy I felt."

Moyers feared his "run-in" (as he calls it in the book) with pain medications would erase all the good he had done as a national advocate. 

"It didn't feel like a relapse in the way I expected any return to substance use might. I wasn't experiencing many consequences other than internal turmoil. I still felt like I was in recovery even before taking the anti-craving medication, so it was confusing," Moyers said. "In the end, I learned that recovery is an intimately personal journey that isn't always measured simply by abstinence or even sobriety. For me, the experience crystallized the reality that there are many pathways, not just one way, to get well, and I hope others will see themselves in the story and feel empowered. Embracing the truth that we're people whose lives are always in process is hard, but it's a way to a new kind of freedom."

The story resonated with Moyers' friend, music legend Rosanne Cash, who wrote the foreword and was inspired by his relentless drive to help others, even as he struggled.

"In every obstacle, in every confusing or tortured moment, there was something in him that knew the current experience could be of use to another suffering soul at a later date. That is a high calling," she writes. "I felt moments of joy reading Broken Open. … I felt a sense of liberation by the permission William gives to not try so hard, to not avoid the truth of pain and shame, but to wander a path that is utterly authentic, even if it sometimes seems circuitous or slow."

For years, Moyers measured his recovery by the number of days since his last drink or last stop at the crack house. Now he marks his recovery journey as beginning in the first moment he realized he wanted to get well three decades ago. He says it's been a long and strange road since then, but worth every up and down. 

"There are as many roads to wellness and recovery as there are people who seek these things—and we can support and accompany and encourage each other even as we're on separate paths with different markers and milestones," he says. 

The book is available for preorder from Hazelden Publishing and most online book retailers including Amazon. It will be distributed by Simon & Schuster. An extensive book tour is planned, starting later in the summer through the end of 2024, including 75th anniversary events at all of Hazelden Betty Ford's residential sites nationally.

About the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is a force of healing and hope for individuals, families and communities affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs. As the nation's leading nonprofit provider of comprehensive inpatient and outpatient addiction and mental health care for adults and youth, the Foundation has treatment centers and telehealth services nationwide as well as a network of collaborators throughout health care. Through charitable support and a commitment to innovation, the Foundation is able to continually enhance care, research, programs and services, and help more people. With a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center, the Foundation today is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in its services and throughout the organization, which also encompasses a graduate school of addiction studies, a publishing division, an addiction research center, recovery advocacy and thought leadership, professional and medical education programs, school-based prevention resources and a specialized program for children who grow up in families with addiction.