Clearing the Channel


Here is an article I wrote for Human Development magazine, focusing on burnout in the helping professions. It contains a cautionary tale, an action plan, and a success story.


––Jeff Jay




“Make me a channel of your peace….” —Prayer of St. Francis


We can all admire the prayer attributed to St. Francis, no matter what our pastoral, teaching, or care-giving role. But what can I do to keep my own channel clear? Having worked as an addiction counselor for decades, I know something about crisis management and unrelenting stress. For most of us, they’re part of the job description. What can I do to keep the channel clear and avoid burnout?


The neglect of this question killed a co-worker of mine, shocking everyone in the organization. It was early in my career, and burnout was not yet well understood. As a staff, we dismissed the notion of self-care, but our nonchalance withered as his funeral approached.

(read the full article HERE)



I’ve provided the article here in two formats: the original magazine layout and a text layout, which is easier to read. If your school or institution is interested in the confluence of psychology and spirituality from a Catholic perspective, consider subscribing to HD.


Download the full article here (right-click or control-click): Clearing the Channel text file


Clearing the Channel_Jay_ HD Magazine sm



The Hero’s Journey

Navigating Grace, by Jeff JayJoseph Campbell was an influential thinker, weaving together the stories of many cultures into a seamless narrative. His most famous book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, demonstrated that the travails of our individual lives and the teachings of the world’s great religions have a lot in common—namely struggle, divine help (usually disguised), and deliverance.


Many such stories begin with an unlikely hero (think of Moses being orphaned in the reeds), who through divine intervention is delivered to a powerful family. A series of unlikely events unfolds over the years, endangering his life more than once. But in the end, he triumphs and leads his people out of bondage and into the promised land.


In our own lives, a crisis can challenge us to take action, face difficulties, work harder, accept setbacks, and try again. No matter the outcome, we are stronger and wiser than when we began.


The book Navigating Grace is the story of people in recovery who became heroes—at least to me. Their stories, their courage, and their wisdom helped me to overcome my own addiction and find my way into recovery. The maverick priest, Vaughn Q.; a crippled saint, Mary B.; and boxer, Jimmy C.; all showed me a way out of the darkness of my own self-destruction. They were bearers of light.


These heroes guided me from chaos to coherence, and from doubt to faith. Navigating Grace is the story about a solo sailing voyage into the Atlantic that nearly ended in my death. Through seven harrowing days at sea, 200 miles offshore, I lost all hope, but mysteriously regained my life.


The heroes in my life taught me about resilience, persistence, and mercy, and I hope in some small way to pass on their message through my talk on October 11 at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial.

––Jeff Jay

PS: A video of the talk can be found here: http://www.familycenterweb.org/index.php/videos/691-navigating-grace-a-solo-voyage-of-survival-and-redemption-with-author-jeff-jay


This post originally appeared in the Grosse Pointe News




Addiction and Redemption: the way out

addiction-and-redemptionHere is a PDF of an article I wrote for Human Development magazine. The article begins on page 8.


Addiction and Redemption, by Jeff Jay


The article contains some material from my book, Navigating Grace. It also contains material on Steps 1–5. I hope you’ll pass it on.








“Addiction and Redemption: The Way Out,” by Jeff Jay, as originally published in Human Development Magazine.

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










Help, Thanks, Wow

If you have someone in your life you’d like to introduce to prayer, Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow: the three essential prayers, (Riverhead, 2012) may be your best bet. It’s irreverent enough to make the uninitiated feel comfortable and insightful enough to shock them. What could be better?


Help, Thanks, Wow: by Anne Lamott

Click for Amazon

If you have a seeker in your life, someone who is trudging down the path of life and spirit and pain Help, Thanks, Wow will be a wonderful respite from the journey. It’s a little oasis of a book, a refreshing conversation with a fellow traveler. You will laugh and nod your head as you read this book, and so will your seeker friends.


If you have someone in your life who’s awash in tragedy, not in the thick of it, but in the aftermath; someone who’s angry, who’s maybe lost faith and is or is not trying to put on a brave face, Help, Thanks, Wow is just the book. Anne Lamott doesn’t sweeten things up, doesn’t wear rose colored glasses and doesn’t pretend that everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. She is just the friend you want to see in the hospital or at the funeral home.


Help, Thanks, Wow is a very slim volume, the perfect size for a quiet evening. I will give it to friends and family for years to come, like banana bread at Christmas. Anne Lamott has given us all a great gift with this book, and I hope you’ll share it with those you love.


Jeff Jay


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