Debra Jay interviewed at the Women’s Symposium

The legendary Jerry McDonald of Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, interviewed Debra Jay about her book, “It Takes a Family.” Debra was presenting on the topic of Structured Family Recovery™ and the best methods to increase family involvement and improve treatment outcomes.







Treatment Didn’t Work?

A question from one of our readers:


Dear Jeff and Debra,


My husband went to treatment, but he started drinking again after he got home. He was only there nine days, but it didn’t seem to help at all.  What can we do? I’m so frustrated!




Dear Frustrated,


We feel your pain. Families are always shocked when they learn how little time a person gets in a residential treatment program. After waging a long battle to get their loved one to accept help, they expect the person will be away and in treatment for at least a month. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.


What your husband received is more properly called detoxification and stabilization, rather than treatment. Once a person has been medically stabilized, has received basic education, and has received a continuing care plan, they are discharged. The next phase is typically an IOP (intensive outpatient program), meeting at 3 to 5 times per week for 6 weeks. Not many patients comply.


When resources allow it, we recommend 30 to 90 days of residential treatment. The “gold standard” used for airline pilots and physicians who need treatment is 90 days—and that’s just the start.


Your husband’s focus has to be on Twelve Step meetings and outpatient services. Right now, the goal should be to consult with his doctor, keep it simple, and start over. The old prescription of “90 meetings in 90 days” is a good place to begin. He’s had a bad fall, but it’s time to get up and try again. There are many recovering alcoholics in our community who’ll be happy to help him.



This post was also published in the Grosse Pointe News

Inside Step One

I’m doing a new series of articles for Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation called “Inside the Twelve Steps.” The first article is now available online (free, of course).


Inside Step One:


Hope you enjoy it!




When does grief turn into addiction?

Hospice of Michigan conducted an interview with Jeff Jay that appeared in several regional newspapers. The topic of addiction and grief comes up frequently in our clinical work, and Jeff answers many common questions. We’ve had a significant response to this article, so we thought our readers would like to see it.


Read the article here: When does grief turn into addiction?

The Unexpected Gift

desert tree


Christmas 2015


Imagine a young woman, about sixteen years old, living in a conservative religious community, and discovering she’s pregnant. In the time and place where she lives, marriage at a young age is common, but her fiancé knows he’s not the father, because they’ve never had sex, so the engagement will have to be ended. The pregnancy isn’t visible yet, but the reaction of the community is certain, because pre-marital sex and children out of wedlock are outlawed. She will be ostracized, if not banished outright from the town. Her parents are dead, and there are no extended family members nearby. Imagine her fear and anxiety.


It’s hard to have faith when no human help is at hand, when life plans fall apart, when people desert us. Where is God in our darkest hours? How can faith battle despair?


Welcome to the drama of Christmas, without the tinsel and parties and cheer. The young woman only had her faith, and an uncertain road leading to a son born on December 25th.


Imagine the fiancé acting on faith, too. He comes back to his love and marries her, as the pregnancy shows itself to the village. The townspeople assume he’s the father, so he’s disgraced along with his bride. He’d been considered an honorable man, but pregnancy is shameful and unacceptable, and may cost him much-needed work. With only his faith to go on, he perseveres and does his duty, as best he can.


Welcome to the trials of Christmas, the way of love and grace. See how much pain and humiliation goes with every human life, often without cause or warning. See how lonely and embarrassing it feels to have others turn away in judgment.


Imagine the young couple, fighting cold and poverty, traveling many miles to a larger town, as required for the census. With no money and no friends, they are consigned to a barn for their lodging. Animals are the only source of heat in the stable, so the child is born with little protection from the cold. Like so many new beginnings, this one looked bad from the start. Some sheep herders came to marvel, but what could they make of this scene?


Welcome to the very first Christmas, a story of hardship and hope. There are no sugar cookies or crackling fires, no Starbucks or Santa. Through the mystery of suffering and the perseverance of faith, a new life is born. All things are possible with this recipe, guided by the hand of the Master. Can I bring myself to the precipice of belief? Can I accept the danger?


Christmas is a time of renewal and a celebration of grace. It’s a time for forgiveness and hope. We exchange gifts to show gratitude for all we’ve been given, and we give generously to the poor who wait in hope and fear.


I remember being helpless in my own addiction, at the end of the road, unable to see anything but darkness. Suicide seemed like the only option, though unspeakably sad and desperate. Without the help of others, without a loving interruption to my madness, without the love of family and friends and professionals, the disease would’ve swallowed my soul and snuffed out my life.


But help alone couldn’t save me. My recovery wasn’t simply a do-over with clinical guidance. I had to come to a point of deep surrender, and an abject willingness to give up my throne of control. My absurd and deadly pride had to be relinquished, or I would never find a power strong enough to save me.


I remember pacing the hospital ward and seeing a framed poster with the motto: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Could it be true? Could I really begin again? It would have to be on a new basis, without the fireball certainty of my old ways. Could I come to believe? Would I have enough to rededicate myself, like the miracle of the Hanukkah lights?


Little by little I made my way down the new road. Or perhaps I was carried by the kindness of strangers, the love of family, and my own willingness to lay down the old life and try a different one. When I was drinking and drugging, I didn’t care what people thought, so why should I care now? I’ll go to the meetings, I’ll pray with the group, I’ll make a decision to turn myself over to the miracle.


Christmas is a celebration of the greatest things coming out of the lowliest, the triumph of humility in the face of suffering, the transformative power of faith. The meaning of Emmanuel is “God among us.” Isn’t that the story of recovery? As we get the daily reprieve from madness, and a rebirth into limitless possibilities, don’t we find it together, in God-among-us, in unexpected joy? Don’t we find it when we share the gift?


Let’s bring the gift with us wherever we go—the gift of being present and ready to help. Let’s help with the dishes, the children, and the lights. Let’s suit up and show up and say Yes to life. Let’s show the world we’ve really come back, and we’ve come back to give back, and come back for good. Merry Christmas.


Jeff Jay

Navigating Grace, by Jeff Jay



Jeff Jay’s latest book is Navigating Grace, a solo voyage of survival and redemption.






A Power Greater Than Myself

Calling on the power of grace in our darkest hours


I’d been alone on my sailboat in a terrific storm, more than 150 miles out in the Atlantic, and I’d been out there for seven days. Good Samaritans guided me the last few miles into Charleston Harbor—a place unknown to me—and showed me safe anchorage for my 39-foot sloop. My new friends picked me up in a small dinghy and ferried me to their marina. It was a miracle I’d survived.


When I got in the shower, I felt like I was riding a bucking bronco. The violent motion of the boat at sea over the last week was in my bones, and I kept wanting to reach out and steady myself, as though I were still in danger of being pitched overboard. The wonders of running water, central heating, and electricity were luxurious to me, like memories of another lifetime. I’d almost died out there, and I knew how fortunate I was to be alive.


I’d sailed right into the teeth of a December gale, and the boat had been battered to pieces. I’d lost my power, too, so I had no lights, no radio, no navigation, and no way to restart my auxiliary engine and head for safety. I was far beyond sight of land or any coastal shipping traffic, so there was little chance of being found. The old boat seemed to be coming apart, and I knew a crack in the hull would quickly send me to the bottom, several thousand feet below my keel.


In the end, I was confined to a darkness deeper than anything I’d ever known. The weather was already bleak, with howling winds and roller-coaster waves, but as night fell, my isolation became complete. Without electricity, I couldn’t see the world around me, so I had to rely on an old kerosene lamp—very dangerous— and a small flashlight. The sailboat’s rig was twisting the deck violently, causing explosive sounds in the cabin below. I expected one of those cannon-like blasts to crack the hull any moment, so I spent the hours of the night in despair, waiting to die.


Navigating Grace, by Jeff JayThere was no reasonable hope for survival, barring a miracle I probably didn’t deserve. My only prayer was that I wouldn’t suffer too long, that I would die quickly. I had no life raft and no way to survive the ocean waves.


It had been the same at the end of my drinking and drugging career, nine years earlier. I saw no way out and had no hope of recovery. I was 26 at that time, and my addiction had taken me from a bright young college student to a homeless vagrant in less than 10 years. I was suffering from a bleeding ulcer, bleeding colon and transient neuropathy of the legs, and my mental state was desperate. I was also a card-carrying atheist in those days, so if I couldn’t help myself, there was no hope for the future. Suicide seemed like my best option.


But in the end, a family intervention saved me from myself and got me into a hospital, and ultimately into recovery. It was no small miracle to be saved from my own self-imposed death sentence, but there were many dangers ahead. While still in treatment, I realized the addiction was more powerful than me, and that I was being pulled back down into the morass of alcoholism. I was desperate to find a solution, but without the most rudimentary faith, I only had myself to rely on—and I was the problem. I spent a long night searching for a way out, but couldn’t find the light. Misery and fear were my only companions.


Only complete surrender finally delivered me, in a way I never could’ve imagined. In the middle of the night, in the deepest despair, I got down on my knees and cried out to the God I didn’t believe in, and asked for help. In the moments that followed, a power greater than myself was revealed to me, beyond anything I’d ever imagined. In those ineffable moments, I came to believe I could stay sober, and that there would always be help when I needed it. My life was never the same.


It wasn’t something I could easily talk about. I didn’t want to be branded a religious fanatic, but I’d had a supernatural experience that changed everything. Now the Twelve Steps made perfect sense, and I began to grasp what the people in meetings were trying to tell me. I understood the paradoxical nature of Step One, the need to believe in a power greater than myself in Step Two, and the necessity for placing myself in the care of that power in Step Three.


This last part wasn’t as difficult as it appeared, because my white-light experience had revealed a God of infinite love and understanding, far beyond the realm of human comprehension. I knew I was always safe in that love, and that my addiction had no power, by comparison. I still had to contend with all my human weaknesses, but I never drank or drugged again. I became a pro at “one day at a time,” and I was eager to carry the message.


My life looked very different nine years later, out on the ocean in the middle of the night with the boat on the verge of sinking. What miracle would save me now? Hadn’t I designed my own fate with this crazy voyage? Wasn’t I guilty of always wanting more, of always trying to outrun the past? Yes, I was clean and sober, but wasn’t I the architect of my own demise? Many losses—and even deaths—had sent me off on this adventure, in a bid to find another chance; but now my dreams lay in ruins and the boat seemed to be on her last gasp.


Most people don’t know much about sailing, but we know what it’s like to be on a sinking ship, as we slog through the storms of sickness, divorce, unemployment or grief. All of us have known the dark days when all seems lost, and the will to go on evaporates. But out on the boat, my end seemed certain, not metaphorical. Worse yet, it was all my fault.


In what I thought were my final moments, a relentless guilt seized me, as I thought about the things I’d done and the things I’d failed to do. We all have regrets, yet they often disappear into the background as we live our busy lives. But in the moment of my seeming death, these failings loomed large, and dragged me down into a black hole of despair. I couldn’t forgive myself, and I couldn’t believe that God would forgive me either, as I’d strayed so far from the law of Love in the pursuit of my own desires.


A miracle happened on the boat, which I describe in Navigating Grace, and I was delivered from the black hole and the storm. The clutches of death were ultimately loosened and I found my way back to shore, astonished and grateful. I learned I could be forgiven, and I could begin again. This knowledge was wrapped in mystery though, and it took me more than 20 years to grasp the fullness of the message. You could say I’m a little thick-headed.


Back onshore, the familiar world seemed unfamiliar. The demands of life often crowded out the spirit, and it took concerted effort to break away from the distractions and pay attention. I had a renewed appreciation for my life, for the miracle of it, and for the generosity of strangers.


How many storms have we all survived, delivered by love in all its disguises? How often do I still look into the blackness, when I should be looking at the light? Why is it so easy to fall into that trap? The light is always there, waiting to be noticed. The hand of a friend or a stranger is always there to help, if only I stretch out mine. Will I?Jeff Jay headshot 1


Jeff Jay is the author of Navigating Grace: A Solo Voyage of Survival and Redemption.


This article was originally published on Hazelden’s website.



London calling

Jeff Jay

Jeff Jay

Eric Clapton’s treatment facility, Crossroads Centre, Antigua, will be hosting Jeff Jay to speak about his new book, Navigating Grace, in London, England, on September 15, 2015. The event will take place at the Royal Society of Medicine, from 7:00–8:30 PM. A free copy of Navigating Grace will be given to everyone who pre-registers. Registration is also free.


Jeff Jay will give one of his popular talks on the spirituality of recovery, along with readings from the book. He will also sign free copies of Navigating Grace. Light refreshments will be served. Click on the flyer below for more information. Navigating Grace, by Jeff JaySeating is limited, so please pre-register, if you plan to attend.


Special thanks to Denise Bertin-Epp, CEO of Crossroads Centre, Antigua, for planning and hosting the event. Thanks also to Deirdre Boyd, CEO of DB Recovery Resources, London, for co-sponsoring the event.



Navigating Grace Jeff Jay Flyer

click to enlarge










John Oliver on Big Pharma

John Oliver is a a comedian in the vein of Jon Stewart. But his reporting on the billions of dollars of pharmaceutical money spent to influence doctors is chilling. This excellent segment is worth watching.



Jeff Jay

Helping Our Son

A letter from one of our readers…

Dear Jeff and Debra,

Our teenage son is on the road to recovery from problems with prescription pain killers. How can we learn how to be supportive, beyond the basics we learned from his treatment providers?

—Pensive Parents

Dear Pensive,

Your question is important, because most families (and most patients in treatment) underestimate what will be required to maintain long-term recovery. Treatment is just the beginning of the process, a launching padfor recovery. In treatment, the acute phase of the illness is arrested through detox and stabilization, followed by counseling and education, which lay  groundwork for the months and years of recovery ahead.


Most good treatment providers have family programs, but they are brief and don’t prepare parents for the difficulties that may lie ahead, especially the specter of relapse. Families can play an active and positive role in recovery, which is critical after treatment has concluded.


It Takes a Family, by Debra JayHazelden recently published “It Takes a Family: A Co-operative Approach to Lasting Sobriety,” by Debra Jay. This book lays out a year-long program for families and their addicted loved ones called Structured Family Recovery™ (SFR). The SFR system is based on weekly conferences, led by a trained SFR counselor, that promote recovery, prevent relapse, prioritize issues and provide a common language of recovery.


Togetherness creates transparency and positive accountability in a manner that prevents addiction from regaining control. In the past, families were often sidelined in the recovery process, but this new approach puts family members back in the picture, so relapse is avoided and the family is once again united.


This post originally appeared in the Grosse Pointe News


Success doesn’t come magically or accidentally. It is a result of what we do. The same can be said of failure. Usually it is a small change in one direction or the other that determines if we win or lose. Structured Family Recovery helps us make the correct choices and then steadily keeps us on course over time. ––Debra Jay, “It Takes a Family”



Boomers and addiction

Debra Jay was quoted in a very good article in the Pacific Standard, titled: “Are Substance Problems Among Older Americans a Looming Crisis?” The journalist asked good questions and put an appropriate focus on medication issues.


(Photo: Zsido/Shutterstock)

(Photo: Zsido/Shutterstock)

The article drives home the point that older substance abusers, like all addicts, are unlikely to seek help on their own. They’re also likely to avoid those who raise the issue with them, whether that person is a family member or physician. ““It is usually the adult children who decide to take action and help motivate an older parent to accept treatment, through either informal or formal intervention,” says Debra Jay.


“As is true for adolescents, this age group has unique needs,” says Jay. “Typically, they progress more slowly through treatment and are facing issues specific to their stage of life: empty nest, change in roles (such as retirement), grief issues, body changes, cognitive deficiencies, limitations related to sight, hearing, and mobility.”


Debra Jay is the author of “Aging and Addiction: helping older adults overcome alcohol and medication dependence,” (Hazelden – with Carol Colleran). This book has been hailed as an indispensable guide for families and professionals dealing with chemical dependency in the boomer and boomer-plus population.


Aging and AddictionBarry McCaffrey, former Drug Czar, wrote the introduction to Aging and Addiction and said: “This superb book will help save lives. It’s that simple. Aging and Addiction is intelligent, readable, and well researched. Above all, it is an immensely compassionate book, which offers hope and direction to families and readers who have an older adult who is abusing alcohol or medications.”


“Older American adults who abuse or are addicted to alcohol or prescription medications are not failures. Most have raised wonderful families, retired from successful careers and community activities, and led energetic lives. They are suffering from a disease. As with any other physical illness, they can be helped to recover. However, many go without diagnosis or even minimal treatment from their doctors and the health care community.”


The Pacific Standard article puts emphasis on the important help boomers can find in 12 Step groups, which provides a new and positive opportunity for socialization and friendship. The article also puts the spotlight on the difficulty physicians have in saying No to patients who want drugs they’ve seen advertised in the media. Thanks to staff writer Chelsea Carmona of Pacific Standard and Substance for a great article.