The story is so common it borders on cliche — son of a prominent family gets involved with one substance or another and becomes an addict.
Such is the story for William Cope Moyers, son of legendary journalist Bill Moyers (who also was the press secretary for President Lyndon Johnson). The younger Moyers grew up in a privileged family on Long Island, followed his father into journalism, and by age 35 ended up nearly dead on the floor of a crack house in Atlanta.
Moyers, author of “Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption,” will tell his story and be part of “Recovery & Reentry: Rebuilding Lives,” a program of the Rescue Mission of Trenton that take place at ETS in Princeton on Wednesday, July 25, at 8:30 a.m.
The event is free to attend and will feature keynote speaker Governor Chris Christie, who will discuss his initiative to expand treatment opportunities for non-violent drug offenders, and a panel discussion on re-entry into society following addiction.
The panel will be moderated by Michael Aron of NJTV and will feature Moyers; Don Forsythe of the Employability Development Program at the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development; John Hulick of the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse; Raquel Mazon Jeffers of the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services; and two Rescue Mission residents. Visit www.rescuemissionoftrenton.org.
Moyers grew up in the suburbs of Long Island in the 1970s. At age 16 he smoked marijuana for the first time — not because he was deviant, but because everyone was doing it, and “because teenagers take risks,” Moyers told host Jeffrey Boorstein on the PBS program “Healthy Minds” in 2009.
Because Moyers’ family was so prominent, because he had an upbringing that looked all-American, no one could put a finger on what was wrong. People could see that he was suffering, but that was the only sign of substance abuse by the time he transitioned to college.
“Drugs made me compatible with the real me,” Moyers told Boorstein. He was a perfectionist who could not handle the thought of being imperfect. “I always say that I was born with a hole in my soul. Marijuana medicated me and filled that hole.”
In 1981 Moyers earned his bachelor’s in journalism from Washington and Lee University in Virginia. And during his and his brother’s college years, introduced his brother to drugs.
In 1982 Moyers married and set out for a journalism career that included a stint at Newsweek magazine. The entire time he was wallowing in an addiction he did not know — or at least believe — he had.
Addiction, Moyers says, is the only disease he knows that convinces the victim that he does not have it.
So while his life on the surface looked like it was going according to plan, he was getting worse and worse. All under the nose of a wife who had no idea that she was married to an addict.
In 1989 Moyers entered treatment for the first of four times. His confession of a life lived in lies broke up his first marriage, though Moyers met and married a fellow patient named Allison, who is still his wife. Moyers bounced in and out of recovery programs because, he told Boorstein, he did not do what he was supposed to do to keep himself away from substances.
Addiction Is A Disease. Moyers likens alcoholism to diabetes or cancer in that those deadly illnesses are often manageable, if the sufferer takes an active role in his own recovery. But while Moyers learned every trick and every tool for recovery, he didn’t use them. And things finally got to the rock-bottom point in 1994, when Moyers was a reporter with CNN.
Moyers had two children and a job he stopped showing up for. That led to the floor of an Atlanta crack house, where Allison found him, nearly dead.
Having finally gone too far, Moyers became what he calls “part of the solution.” In 1996, fresh from his last (so far) round of rehab, Moyers joined Hazelden, a national addiction recovery program headquartered in Minnesota. He serves as that organization’s vice president of foundation relations and is one of Hazelden’s marquee voices.
Take Responsibility. When it comes to responsibility, Moyers pulls no punches. He says that addicts are entirely responsible for their actions, if not specifically the genetic predisposition to become addicted.
He does not use his genetics (some of his family members had alcohol problems) as an excuse, but says it is an explanation for why he got so involved with substances. He doesn’t have the cravings anymore, at least not often, but he admits he is not cured, only in remission.
Prevention Is the Best Medicine. Stopping an addiction before it starts, however, is a better plan, Moyers told Boorstein. This is where family comes in. In his family, drugs and alcohol were never spoken about. Not because anyone was avoiding the topic, Moyers says, but because it just never came up.
Moyers talks about letters from his father (“a prodigious letter writer”), in which the elder Moyers always sensed something amiss with his son. He had been frustrated by certain problems and incidents while his son had been growing up, but “nobody was able to connect those dots,” Moyers told Boorstein.
When the bottom first dropped out on him in Harlem in 1989, Moyers said his issues finally made sense. But nothing happened beyond a cycle of addiction and rehab until a moment in the car with his father in 1994, when the elder Moyers looked at his son and said “I hate you.” The son’s answer: “I hate me too.”
But having almost died a 35-year-old crack addict in Atlanta, Moyers was finally ready to accept who he was and do something about it. He often quotes a famous passage in recovery literature: “Acceptance is the answer to all my problems of today.” He still strives to be more than he is, he told Boorstein, but today he is more comfortable in his own skin; more OK with being less-than-perfect.
With their three children now at high school and college age, Moyers and his wife remind the kids about the realities of drinking and doing drugs — not everyone “is doing it” when it comes to binge drinking and experimenting with drugs, he says.
He also asks parents, family, and friends to take seriously the fact that young people get into substances. And, most of all, he hopes to inspire addicts and families with the simple idea that it is never too early or too late to get help, until you hit what he believes to be the only true rock-bottom — death.
“It is OK to ask for help,” he told Boorstein. “Addiction does not discriminate, and neither should recovery.”