William C. Moyers


Copyright Creators Syndicate, Inc. For the benefit of alcoholics, addicts and those who care about them, please encourage your local paper to run "Beyond Addiction" by William C. Moyers. Available through Creators Syndicate.

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Beyond Addiction by William C. Moyers

Improving our understanding of alcohol and drug addiction

Bread and Butter, Raw and Real

You had to be there to really feel what you are about to read. I was, and I share it with you knowing that what I write won't compare with what I felt. But it is too good not to try to pass it along.

This past week, I made a quick swing through central Virginia. I stopped in Richmond, where Chris White, a trustee of my organization, and I got a full day's baptism in the sea of people fighting to free themselves of substances. They're all drawn to the McShin Foundation. It steers them to treatment and gives them a sober place to live afterward. McShin offers them the bread-and-butter ingredients -- e.g., jobs, peer-to-peer support groups, access to transportation to get around town and basic technologies, such as a phone and computer -- necessary to get around in today's real world, plus lots of rules and expectations to live by on a day-to-day basis, the essential staples every addict and alcoholic requires to have any chance to stay clean.

McShin also focuses on people who are free from substances yet not free themselves -- inmates in the sober block of the city jail. Here they begin to understand what it will take to avoid a return to lockup, by staying away from temptation. Without a heads-up, Chris and I were asked to share what addiction and recovery meant to us.

It was raw and real, to us and to the inmates. "Go ahead, get it out. Be free from it," a balding inmate with a deep drawl exclaimed to Chris, a no-nonsense Wall Street lawyer with a family's perspective whose soft-spoken words everyone heard.

"Give me the name of your treatment place and your email. I am going to get in touch with you," another inmate in his 20s begged me, thrusting a piece of paper and pen my way. It doesn't matter that the odds are against his ever getting there. Hope is all that mattered to him in that moment.

You had to be there to feel what Chris and I did. We were. The moment will last a long time, just like the interaction between us and Vladimir, an inmate who, by chance, was suddenly discharged into a rainstorm after being locked up for a year on some drug charge.

There he was, with us in the back seat of John Shinholser's car on his way to a McShin sober house to start over. Again.

That's typical of John -- the co-founder of McShin, along with his wife, Carol McDaid. He doesn't waste limited resources and takes advantage of every scrap of an opportunity to help people. That's why he compelled us to speak at the jail, take a ride with Vladimir and later got us to share our stories again with 100 or so residents and alumni at a mandatory McShin house meeting in a gritty basement hall. "Why not? You're here," said John. Not that we could have said no. John's like that. He doesn't give you an out, because he won't tell you what's coming until it does.

Addiction is a complicated illness -- which means treatment is often complicated, especially these days, as it is increasingly integrated into the larger system of health care. But the fundamentals of recovery from it are still -- even after all these decades -- pretty simple.

It is all about hope. Hope that comes their way through the stories of others who have overcome the adversity. Hope fostered by a decent place to live, a job, a family restored, health care and wellness programs, transportation, and a sense of belonging in a community that is part of the larger society.

McShin gives people plenty of opportunity for hope. But it takes it even further, by converting it into tangible help and, ultimately, healing. Even as someone who has had plenty of all those things over the decades, I got an extra jolt of each this week. Now I'm tired and ready to go home -- better off than when the week began.

October 18, 2014

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