No More Letting Go

No More Letting Go has started a quiet revolution among family members grappling with addiction. Acclaimed by professionals and lay people alike, No More Letting Go presents a new and compelling strategy for dealing with alcoholism and drug addiction.

In short, highly accessible chapters written with warmth, understanding, and compassion, Debra Jay weaves together philosophical and religious thought; new science on the brain function of an addict; the physical and psychological impact of addiction on family members; and poignant, real-life family stories. No More Letting Go is a powerful, informative guide that provides comfort, hope, and practical advice to anyone affected by a family member’s addiction.

An exciting, cutting-edge book that will inspire families to know and act from a place of courage and power — allowing them to step outside the shadow of addiction, reclaim their lives, and effectively intervene with their loved ones.

–Claudia Black, author of It Will Never Happen to Me


“A powerful call to action…zero tolerance for untreated addiction. Debra Jay provides a clear, gentle and compassionate path based on love and respect.”

“A wonderful, compassionate, and hopeful book about one of modern life’s most baffling and powerful disorders: addiction.”

“Passionate, original, and thought-provoking, No More Letting Go is a must-have book for families and friends of addicted people. This book will save lives.”

“Poignant and impactful, this scientifically-based book will bring healing and life to many families.”

“Debra Jay has written a landmark book about action. As in Love First, she emphasizes that alcoholics and drug addicts do not have to hit rock bottom before they can get sober. Action, she writes, is the key to unlocking the cycle of destruction, and those whose lives are out of control do not have to want help to get help.

Bringing a holistic approach to intervention and treatment, she shows how the minds, bodies, and spirits of alcoholics and drug addicts are intertwined and explores assumptions, emotions, thought processes, and physiological changes (particularly those of the brain). Written primarily for the families of drug and alcohol abusers, this logically arranged and poignantly written book is an essential part of any public library collection; with an extensive list of resources for treatment and recovery.”

“Addiction counselors have typically assumed several things: recovery can occur only when the addict decides he or she needs help; this happens only when the addict hits “rock bottom”; until then, the addict’s loved ones should detach emotionally. But Jay, an intervention specialist and author of Love First, believes that untreated addiction is unacceptable because it wrecks families and destroys lives. She outlines a plan to help families get assistance for their addicted loved one without waiting for “rock bottom.” Intriguingly, Jay also casts the battle against addiction as a kind of spiritual war: she redefines detachment as “a spiritual quality that makes action possible,” and describes such action as an act of faith. A fascinating section entitled “What We Know Now,” details current genetic and neuroscientific research into people’s varying susceptibilities to addiction.”

“An exciting, cutting-edge book that will inspire families to know and act from a place of courage and power—allowing them to step outside the shadow of addiction, reclaim their lives, and effectively intervene with their loved ones.”

It Takes a Family

There was a time when drunk driving was fairly acceptable behavior. Bars provided drinks in plastic “to-go” cups to take in the car. Repeat offenders still held valid driver’s licenses, no one ever heard of a “designated driver” and friends regularly let friends drive drunk. Getting caught resulted in little more than a slap on the wrist. Then two mothers, whose children were victims of drunk drivers, began an organization called MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) and convinced the nation that driving while intoxicated was unacceptable. Today, we are much safer on the road because of the passion of these mothers. Now we must go a step further and contend with addiction in our families, so we can live happier, healthier and more secure lives in our homes.

Having worked for years with alcoholics, addicts and their families–and growing up with alcoholism among my own relatives–I have come to a profound realization: Addiction must be denied a place in our families. I think we have all been told that we must wait until alcoholics and addicts want help, but we also know that wanting help can take years or never happen at all. In the meantime, we pay a dear price for addiction’s “right” to exist in our families unchallenged. This book is about the spiritual act of saying “no” to addiction. Letting go is often misunderstood to mean we are to do nothing. When I say no more letting go, I am saying that we must never let go of our right to take positive action against this destructive disease. Instead, we must let go of those things that block our ability to take action. When families make a commitment to work together in love, a power they didn’t know they possessed emerges. They gain tremendous influence, becoming highly effective at motivating alcoholics and addicts to accept help. When taking the right kind of action, the wellbeing of families begins to take precedence over the will of addiction.

A few years ago, I wrote a book titled Love First: A New Approach to Intervention for Alcoholism & Drug Addiction. I wanted to give families, who were ready to take action, access to a detailed roadmap showing them how to intervene. Since then, I’ve talked to people who tell me their families are having difficulty making the decision to do something. They can’t move forward. When a family is hesitant or wavering, it usually means they don’t have enough information. No More Letting Go presents families with what they need to move from uncertainty into a place of clear and definite decision-making. No More Letting Go then provides a number of specific ways to help addicted loved ones, giving families the latitude to select a method that best suits their individual situation.

Once we decide that untreated addiction is as unacceptable as drunk driving, we will begin addressing the problem differently. Imagine a time when it will be unthinkable not to intervene when someone we love becomes addicted to alcohol or other drugs. Ignoring a friend or relative’s addiction will feel as wrong as handing car keys to someone who is stumbling drunk. No longer will we enable the disease; instead we will put a stop to it by initiating recovery. We will be able to depend on most everyone to help us, because almost no one will find it tolerable to support ongoing addiction. Those who become addicted will get help years or even decades sooner, and families will escape endless days of anguish and distress. Small children will know they can depend upon non-addicted family members to protect them from the pain of growing up in alcoholic homes.

Family is our springboard into life. If our family life is robust and healthy, we have a head start on the world. But when addiction distorts and twists our households, we begin at a disadvantage. The longer we are subjected to another person’s addiction, the more we change and the farther we diverge from the world of the well adjusted. We cannot sacrifice the sanctity of our lives to the rapacious nature of addiction. We are given only one life to live, and it is precious. Each of us, including the addicted person, has a responsibility to stop addiction from stealing away with the best of our lives.

– Excerpt from No More Letting Go.

Hitting Bottom: A Family Affair

When addiction begins causing serious problems, a family’s greatest fears turn into reality. They watch with disbelief as the alcoholic continues drinking while their lives are falling apart. Unable to convince the alcoholic to stop drinking, families begin searching for answers. In my years of working with the relatives of alcoholics and addicts, I have found that families rarely reach out for help until the drinking and drugging hits a crisis point, and then they are often told: “There’s nothing you can do until the alcoholic wants help. You’ll just have to let him hit bottom.”

Hitting bottom is an old idea, still imposed upon families as if it were an absolute. Many families sadly believe that they must wait for alcoholics to hit bottom before there is any hope for recovery. They rarely stop to consider that this belief sentences them to years of unhappiness and devastation. No one ever mentions the fact that alcoholics and addicts don’t take the trip to the bottom alone–the family goes with them. Families are never warned that the journey to the bottom takes even the smallest children.

Hitting bottom should never be our first strategy; it is a strategy of last resorts. Only when every reasonable intervention technique is exhausted, should we let someone freefall. Even then, there are ways to raise the bottom, to stretch out the safety net of treatment and recovery. Addiction always presents new opportunities. The trick is recognizing them and knowing how to take action.

The premise of hitting bottom is that addicts hit one bottom and, when they get there, they are either struck sober or go running for the nearest treatment center. But addicts are resilient. They find people to rescue them. They often bounce along the bottom for years without a flicker of recognition that they need help. When they find themselves in a tough spot, alcohol whispers reassurances: There’s nothing to worry about as long as you have me.

I was having dinner with some recovering alcoholics, and a particularly nice fellow in his late fifties was celebrating fifteen years of sobriety. He talked about living in a roach infested, one-room apartment above a bar for twelve years, drinking and doing drugs every single day. He said his life was miserable, but he just couldn’t stop. He came close to dying several times before getting help. One of the people in our group said, “Well, you just weren’t ready.” Someone else piped in, “It takes what it takes.” Everyone’s heads nodded up and down in agreement. Stunned that my dinner companions thought that this man had to lose some of the best years of his life before he was ready to get sober, I asked, “Where was your family?” He said his wife divorced him and his kids never came around. “All for the better, really,” he added, “I wasn’t any kind of father worth having.” I asked what might have happened if everyone in his family, along with his closest friends, had come to him with a solid plan for recovery and an outpouring of love. Might he have accepted their help? Could it have turned out differently for him and his kids? Would his marriage have survived? He looked at me for a moment and then said, “I never considered that before. Who knows, I might’ve taken them up on their help. Maybe we could’ve saved our family.”

Do alcoholics ever hit bottom and then climb their way up into sobriety? Of course they do. But we never know who’ll be the lucky ones or what price they’ll pay along the way. Three hundred and fifty people a day find a bottom with no bounce – death. Countless others go to prison, go insane, or just go nowhere. Families are torn apart, children lose one or both parents and relationships are damaged beyond repair. But many begin a journey of recovery before hitting bottom–tough and rocky at first, but easier to travel as time goes on. Many things motivate alcoholics to make a turnaround before tragedy strikes, but it is usually family, friends or employers. When the Hazelden Foundation asked sober alcoholics what set them on their new course to recovery, seventy-seven percent said a friend or relative intervened. Someone cared enough to raise their bottom.

The best cases against hitting bottom are the real life stories: A college educated, 47-year-old divorced father of three loses everything, lives in his parent’s basement drinking and smoking pot daily and is unable to hold a job. A 24-year-old trades his girlfriend’s new car for crack cocaine. The police find a 72-year-old grandmother half naked and passed out on her front lawn. Babies are strapped in the backseat as a mother drives drunk to buy more wine; the police stop her, taking the children to protective services and mom to jail. A young father goes to bed drunk and suffocates on his own vomit. A successful 32-year-old woman driving home intoxicated kills a father and his daughter as she slams into them on the freeway. Each of these stories comes from families I’ve worked with and no words can express their pain or deep, abiding sense of loss. Waiting for alcoholics to hit unknown bottoms results in much tragedy and heartbreak.

“Bottoms” can be temporary. Alcoholics resist getting sober even when things are going badly in their lives. They are good at weathering storms. Perhaps they’ll swear off alcohol for a while, but as soon as things cool down, they begin drinking again. The addicted brain can’t make lasting connections between alcohol and the problems it causes. Once the problems go away, alcohol is their best friend again. Addiction is both invisible and sacred to alcoholics: they deny its existence yet sacrifice everything to it.

Addicts don’t want to cause trouble or hurt the people they love. Quite the contrary: they struggle to be the person they think they still are, the person they were before the addiction took hold. They can’t make sense of their own actions. As their addiction progresses and troubles mount, they work harder to manage their lives, but addiction never lets anyone lead a life free of trouble. There are always problems, big and small. Bad behavior, poor decisions and emotional upheaval are all symptoms of this disease that affects both the brain and soul. Families are confused, too. Not understanding what is happening to their loved ones, they mutter: “When will she learn?” But addicts can’t learn because addiction keeps tightening its grip, demanding complete allegiance.

The apostle Paul could have been describing an addict when he wrote: “I do not understand my own behavior; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate. Though the will to do what is good is in me, the power to do it is not; the good thing that I want to do. I never do; the evil thing which I do not want – that is what I do.” As alcoholics try to resolve the conflict between how they want to behave and how they are behaving, in the end, the only solution they can see is another drink.

– Excerpt from No More Letting Go.

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