`Addicts need to take responsibility'

Q&A

Q&a

William Cope Moyers

October 15, 2006|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Sun Reporter

William Cope Moyers seemed to have it all.

He was the son of Bill Moyers, the White House wunderkind under Lyndon B. Johnson who went on to a stellar career in journalism that is still continuing on your local PBS station.

The younger Moyers followed his father into that profession and the skids were greased. He zoomed up the ladder, working in his father's native state at a newspaper in Dallas. He excelled at Newsday on Long Island, where his father had once been publisher. He worked in his father's TV documentary production company. Later, he came under the tutelage of one of his father's oldest friends, Tom Johnson, who was running CNN.

The problem was that William Cope Moyers had something else besides all this good luck: He had an addiction, essentially to anything he could get his hands on. At first, that was mainly alcohol, later, crack cocaine. The addiction destroyed his marriage and nearly killed him. It survived three attempts at treatments before Moyers found the path to sobriety.

It has been a decade since Moyers went public with his story, while addressing a civic group in St. Paul, Minn., where he works for Hazelden, a highly regarded rehabilitation facility. Those in his audience were nodding off as he started on his standard after-lunch pro-treatment talk. They came to life when he departed from his script and told them that if they wanted to know what an addict looks like, they should take a look at him. He later did a PBS series with his father.

But he gives what is probably the fullest rendition of his story in his new book, Broken (Viking, 368 pages, $25.95). "I have been telling my story for 10 years," said Moyers, Hazelden's vice president for external affairs, speaking over the phone from Seattle on his book tour. "I saw the book as another opportunity for me to carry the message of hope and help for people like me and families like mine." You grew up in a well-to-do family, went to a fine college, had a good profession, all the advantages one could want in life. What does your story have to say to a city like Baltimore where the ravages of addiction are so evident in communites that face deprivations you never had to face?

What I can say is that addiction is a disease that does not discriminate. I am proof of that. It can even happen to the white guy from the suburbs with all the advantages and security that brings. Addiction doesn't care. It does not discriminate and neither should recovery. Just because you are the son of Bill Moyers does not mean you cannot become addicted, and just because you are not the son of Bill Moyers does not mean that you shouldn't get what you need and deserve, access to treatment and recovery programs. I went to treatment four times before I learned to take personal responsibility of living as a man in recovery. Everybody should get the opportunity I had. Your message is that addiction is a disease, but it is different than, say, cancer. You acknowledge that recovery means accepting personal responsibility. No one can make that decision when facing cancer. How does this affect the claim that addiction is a disease?

There is a behavioral component in many chronic illnesses. I faced cancer. I had melanoma. There was a behaviorial component to that, I stayed out in the sun too much. No one made me do it. I wasn't aware of the dangers, but I have to take responsibility for it. There is a behavioral component to the cancer that smokers get. The same is true of diabetes, HIV/AIDS and so on. Just because addicts and alcoholics are willing to inject themselves with heroin and drink cold beer does not mean they should be excluded from the opportunity to get treatment and to recover. But society does not give transplant organs to people who are not taking care of themselves; why should it spend money treating people like you -- and many others in your book -- who fail to recover despite multiple visits to expensive treatment centers?

Remember, there are also people like my current wife, who is also in recovery. She was treated at Hazelden one time and has been sober ever since. Sometimes it happens quickly and sometimes slowly. Unless an addicted person wants to pick up the tools they are given, it is not going to work, any more than the Mayo Clinic will succeed with cancer patients who do not follow their regimen of treatment and recovery or Johns Hopkins will succeed with diabetics if they are not willing to do their part. It took some time before the seeds planted in me began to sprout.

It is ironic that I did not stay sober coming out of Hazelden and here I am working at the place. Who could have ever imagined that I would grow up to be an addict and an alcoholic? I did not aspire to that. And who could imagine that Hazelden, where I was treated twice, would later on in life pay me? I have always said that coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous. What do you think of the war on drugs?

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