Talk About Filling a Hole in the Soul
From Where I SitOpinion

Talk About Filling a Hole in the Soul

Dave catches up with an old colleague who is sharing his story of addiction and recovery on behalf of the Addiction Alliance of Georgia.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Dave Schechter, freelance contributor for the AJT.
Dave Schechter, freelance contributor for the AJT.

I did not know.

William Cope Moyers was a colleague at CNN in the early ‘90s. We got on well, chatting about work and the challenges of raising small children.

In the fall of 1994, he disappeared. It was not until the 2006 publication of “Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption” that I learned what happened.

The guy who came to work clean shaven, wearing a jacket and tie, was addicted to crack cocaine, and had relapsed multiple times after alcohol and substance abuse treatment.

On Oct. 12, 1994, off-duty Fulton County sheriff’s deputies, part of an intervention team, pounded on the door of a crack house near Ponce de Leon and Boulevard, where Moyers has said he went not to get high, but to die. With nowhere to run or hide, he emerged. In the front seat of a van was his father, the well-known journalist Bill Moyers, who angrily said, “There’s nothing more I can do. I’m finished.” William Cope Moyers wrote that he believed his father then said, “I hate you.” To which he replied, “I hate me, too.”

Soon after “Broken” was published, Moyers spoke to a spellbound Atlanta Press Club audience. Afterward, I told him, “I’m sorry. I did not know.” He said that I wasn’t supposed to know, that he had worked hard to hide his habit.

Moyers, who has been clean since that day in 1994, today is vice president of public affairs and community relations for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, formed by the 2014 merger of the Minnesota-based Hazelden and the California-based Betty Ford Center.

He was in Atlanta several weeks ago, on behalf of the Addiction Alliance of Georgia, a new venture of Hazelden Betty Ford and Emory University. At Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, Moyers read from “Broken,” and discussed the myths attached to addiction and the stigma that surrounds the subject. His remarks, which can be found on the church website, were compelling.

Several million dollars have been raised to start AAG with outpatient services. Millions more will be needed for an envisioned residential care facility and programs to educate health care professionals, social workers, first responders, and faith communities. “While ours is an important first step to expanding access to care, it will meet only a sliver of this huge crisis in Georgia. Sadly, there are enough sick addicts and alcoholics to go around, yet there’s a tragic dearth of resources to help them,” Moyers messaged me.

This, in a state that listed 358 substance abuse treatment facilities in 2019, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Of the 27,669 Georgians aged 12 and older admitted for treatment in 2020, SAMHSA reported that 62.4 percent were for drug abuse, 19.9 percent for alcohol and drugs, and 17.6 percent for alcohol only.

Jewish Atlanta should not think itself immune. “Addiction doesn’t discriminate,” Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman of Chabad Intown said. “We’re suffering with this plague like the rest of society is.” Chabad Intown is the home of “Jeff’s Place,” named for a young man who succumbed to addiction and promoted as a resource for “those struggling with substance use abuse, those in recovery and their loved ones.”

Moyers talks about using drugs to fill “a hole in my soul.” Schusterman puts it this way: “People are looking for a deeper spiritual connection, a purpose driven life. They’re depressed, being paralyzed from anxiety. Or they’re using a substance or a behavior to temporarily assuage this.”

Even with several Jewish-oriented treatment efforts in Atlanta, Schusterman said more is needed. “It’s an evolving kind of endeavor. It’s something that I’m very passionate about,” he said. “I’m really looking to expand what we’re doing. At this point, it’s just a function of resources, human resources and financial resources.” He would like to hire a rabbi who primarily would work with Jews suffering from addiction or in recovery.

Schusterman also would like to see more Jewish facilities host 12-step programs, explaining that the ‘surrender to higher power’ they emphasize is derived from Jewish principles.

“Every single day” Schusterman hears from a spectrum of Jews in need, from leaders of organizations to, the day we spoke, a young man who texted that he was feeling suicidal. “It’s pervasive and we need to help bring some healing,” he said. “It starts with removing the stigma or minimizing the stigma that really holds people back from having open conversations.”

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