His family found the way to Cope

Addict: CNN news writer William Cope Moyers had a loving family, promising future and a famous father. He also had a crack habit that was paving a path to his grave.

March 28, 1998|By PATRICIA GUTHRIE | PATRICIA GUTHRIE,COX NEWS SERVICE

ATLANTA - William Cope Moyers stares at the Atlanta brick house in a trance. Words tumble out. Regret, remorse, sorrow.

Somewhere inside, somewhere behind the dirty drawn blinds in a nondescript two-story apartment house, he came to die.

Not as a 35-year-old CNN writer, not as a father, a husband, nor the son of re-nowned journalist Bill Moyers.

But as a crack addict.

That is what he was. Despite everything - his Southern Baptist roots, his childhood romps through the White House and Air Force One, his press credentials, his house in one of Atlanta's most desired neighborhoods, his rides through psychiatric wards and recovery programs. This spot, where elementary-school children walk to the bus by day and hookers and dealers circle by night, truly defined his life.

Crack Addict.

"I knew how progressive the disease was. I knew each time I used, I fell faster and faster. I knew when I went out that day I was a dead man. I didn't go out to do drugs. I went out to die."

By all accounts -- his own, his family and friends - Moyers' life should have ended somewhere in those four days of October 1994. Not from an overdose, but from the all-too familiar street violence of drugs. Shot, stabbed, suicide.

If not for his car, maybe it would have.

Today, the name William Cope Moyers appears on the business card of Hazelden, one of the nation's premier private addiction treatment facilities.

He is director of public policy, sounding the call for improved substance-abuse treatment insurance coverage. He has appeared on "Oprah," "Larry King Live" and "Today," and testified before a congressional subcommittee.

He reveals his roller-coaster ride of use, abuse and relapse that began with weekend high school drinking, and rolled on to marijuana. LSD, snorting cocaine and eventually smoking crack cocaine.

His last relapse ended at Ridgeview Institute, a private treatment facility outside Atlanta, where he voluntarily stayed for 115 days - long after his insurance money ran out.

There, he finally faced hard questions: Why couldn't he stay sober? Why did he feel so bad and look so good? Why did his father's shadow loom so large?

Not an unusual story, it could be the tale behind any one of America's 14 million alcohol and drug abusers.

Despite assumptions to the contrary, Moyers, 38, is not an unusual addict in America. They are all of us: white, black, Hispanic, American Indian, middle-class, elite, poor, pharmacists, legal secretaries, teachers.

It's a lesson his parents learned the hard way. And in their usual style, they decided to educate others with "Moyers on Addiction: Close to Home," which begins tomorrow.

"When I first learned of Cope's addiction, it was a shock," says his mother, Judith, 62. "He didn't seem to fit the profile that I had of a drug abuser. He was very active, athletic and the epitome of health. But parents need to watch out for kids who are overachievers."

Sunday, Oct. 9, 1994, 7:30 p.m.

Cope hadn't come back after running an errand four hours ago in his shorts and Peachtree race T-shirt. It didn't take long for his wife, Allison, to figure it out.

She knew the recovery pattern, not just from her husband, but from her own experiences as an alcoholic.

They met in 1989 at Hazelden's halfway house in St. Paul, Minn. After years of watching him struggle with a familiar routine of straightening up, then slipping back into drinking, drugs and denial, she married him in 1992, just before moving to Atlanta, where Cope began his CNN career.

Their vows of love, support and fidelity included an implied promise: sobriety. She kept her end of the bargain. Cope did not.

And when he didn't, he just disappeared. Sober for more than three years, this Sunday was Cope's second slip in three months, leaving his wife alone with two baby boys, 20-month-old Henry and 15-week-old Thomas.

"I was really angry." Allison remembers. "But then I think I finally realized it truly was a disease. A normal person wouldn't do this. He loved his kids. He loved me."

She called his therapist, Dr. Paul Earley at Ridgeview, where Cope was supposed to be attending outpatient therapy.

She called her neighbors, Steve and Josephine Lindsley, who had become close friends. She called CNN President Tom Johnson, a good friend of Bill Moyers and Cope's overall boss.

Two days passed. Cope left a message on the Lindsleys' answering machine saying he was all right. Steve played it back for Allison.

No doubt: Cope was high.

She finally called Cope's parents in New York City. They flew to Atlanta immediately.

"There was a real fear that Cope might die," Johnson recalled. "We felt helpless. We knew there had to be a major intervention to get him out and into a program. He had failed in one just earlier, so this time there was a sense of urgency that Cope might not make it."

They knew he was holed up in some crack house somewhere. They searched the streets for Cope's car, and put the word out to cabbies.

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