S1 E1: Jennifer Angier on The Deeds of Mercy

Meadows Behavioral Healthcare‘s Vice President of Addiction Services, Jennifer Angier, sits down with host David Condos to unpack the concepts of grace, mercy, and amends and explore what they can teach us about recovery and the darkness and light found in all humanity.

Podcast Transcript

Jennifer Angier: Hi. I’m Jennifer Angier, and I am the Vice President for addiction services at Meadows Behavioral Healthcare.

David Condos: Awesome. Good to see you again, Jennifer. Thanks for being with us.

Jennifer: Thanks for having me.

David: Absolutely. I know we’ve talked before, but for anyone who hasn’t heard your story, your background, could you give us an introduction to you, Jennifer Angier, the person? How did you come into this recovery world yourself and then how did you come to be in a point where you care so much about passing it on to others?

Jennifer: Sure. I’d love to. The story seems like it started yesterday. I can remember exactly where I was standing, when I knew that I had to do this work, that these were the people I needed to be with and be around. I was young. I got sober at age 18, not because of any great integrity that I had, simply because for me, the disease of addiction found itself in me very quickly and took me to the end very, very quickly.

Soon after that, I fell in love with the process. The process of the courage it takes to show up in treatment. It’s where I wanted to be. It’s what I wanted to do with my life, so I started as a receptionist, and have had just about every job in the industry that I’ve been allowed to have. Each job has been an important part of who I am today. Every job from–

David: You started as a receptionist, you knew you had to get involved in this some way, somehow. Was that how that played out?

Jennifer: They had a better idea of what I was qualified for. At that time, I didn’t know what I was getting into and I wanted to jump right in, and as a lot of people do when they’re touched by how powerful this is, but as a receptionist, I had the opportunity to hear the voices of the people that were calling, the families, the patients. I had the opportunity to greet people when they walked in the door, and see the staff come in and just want so much to be able to connect to the purpose that they had when they walked in the door.

The patients seemed different when they walked out and I fell in love right then and there. From that, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to be– I was sort of raised as an advocate for patients, through defending their charts, through defending the story as it shows up in their charts, to the insurance companies, to learning how to partner with people that were there to support them, whether that be their family or their loved ones or even the insurance company, and from there have had many different opportunities. Being at the Meadows feels like home, like everything that I’ve done all these years, it’s come to this place. I couldn’t be more grateful to be with this group.

David: Like you said, you’ve been a part of this world for a long time. You’ve had a lot of different perspectives on it.

Jennifer: About 30 years now. I’ve been sober 32 years and I’ve worked in the field about 30.

David: What is all that time, all those different jobs you’ve had along the way? What has that taught you? What do you feel like is one thing that you’ve learned that stands out from all that?

Jennifer: The most important thing, it’s the patients. It’s the love, the courage that they bring to this and and matching it with everything we have in every way, in every role. Housekeeping has an incredibly important role in welcoming that patient into the dark time of their life and to helping them see who they are and what they deserve. They connect with our patients in ways that none of us ever will be able to, supporting them to understand the importance of who they are.

Our chefs are our resident counselors. The ones that are with our patients as their heart just sort of breaks when no one else’s around. Therapists and the level of intensity that they meet every day with every single role, is in service of our patient. Every single opportunity that we have is to show them that they deserve the very, very best experience that they can have. For me, it goes back to where it started. Just being being able to be a part of this process is an honor.

David: I know you and I have talked about this before, the concept of grace, mercy, those are words that we’re all familiar with, we use them, but could you introduce us to the role that they play in recovery? What part are they in this conversation?

Jennifer: I’ve had the opportunity to speak on grace in many different forums. I’ve been often asked to define that word and I don’t have a definition for it, except it’s an experience where I have access to the truth. Some people call it a moment of clarity, some people say it’s a spiritual experience. The best way I can define it is in a lot of ways, my sobriety date. 32 years, July 6th, 1987, is my sobriety date.

David: That’s your grace.

Jennifer: That day is what I celebrate. When I celebrate my birthday, I don’t celebrate the time. I still go back and celebrate July 6th, 1987. The fact that that day happened in such a dark period of my life, I have no explanation for that. I have no explanation for how I was able to start to see the truth about what was really happening. Without words to describe that, I try to talk about the experience and lately, I’ve just felt drawn to talk about mercy, which lives inside the container that’s grace.

Why I’m drawn to it? As we experience it, it changes a similar to truth and similar to how grace changes us. The conversation started when I was angry one day about what’s happening in our industry. Just angry about people not understanding the level of desperation our patients are experiencing, places that don’t support staff in growing their ethics. I was just so angry and then the word mercy just came and I thought about how when a patient is struggling to hear me–

When they can’t hear me talking about their disease, when they can’t hear the truth, I’m actually drawn towards them. I’m not angry at them. I understand they don’t have access to it at that moment. The level of compassion I feel for them, the level of intensity in which I want to help them find a way that they can hear it, not the way that I want to say it, it just intensifies.

Why can’t I offer that same experience, outwardly to people who don’t understand this disease as well? Maybe your boss, maybe your mother, your father. Where did this intolerance slip in? That’s where it sort of started. That day, as I thought some more about it, I remembered a play that I read by Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, and in it is this unbelievably beautiful conversation about mercy.

Every line of it just takes my breath away. I went back and I started looking at it. The conversation about what happens, the momentum of mercy, the deeds of mercy, how it impacts us, it almost flows identically to what I’ve been talking about with grace and the fact that I even knew that there was something that Shakespeare wrote, is a gift of my sobriety. I got to go to school sober. I’ve had the opportunity to experience so many things through the eyes of what sobriety has given me.

That doesn’t make up for what was lost, had it happened in regular time, had it happened the way it happens for other people, but that’s okay. I’ve been able to really, really find value and the limits of what has happened as a result of my using, and most of that found its way towards my ability to learn.

David: That’s grace that you learned that, that you had that.

Jennifer: It’s been a beautiful process and as the truth comes out about what it means to have stopped learning in seventh grade and to pick up at age 28, I am humbled by that. I love all those quirks about that experience and I use it. [music]

David: Back to the Shakespeare. We may have read this play, Merchant of Venice,at some point in high school but there’s this mercy kind of soliloquy This piece about mercy. What does that mean? Translate that into this conversation.

Jennifer: Every line of it speaks to me in one way or the other. It’s a conversation about moving away from justice into the experience of mercy, and where it lives in all of us, and how it ties us to God but it also connects us back to humanity. That beautiful conversation between what part of me is God and what part of me is a king and what part of me is desperately on my knees begging for mercy. It captures all of it.

It’s Shakespeare, so obviously I can’t just rattle it off because I don’t remember it all, but as you look at every– As you slow it down and look at each line and– Just like I think with everything as it comes to us, as we slow it down and look at it and see it today and then maybe see it 10 years from now, it says something different. It opens up with the quality of mercy is not strained. It’s not pulled in a direction that that’s not accessible and available. It’s available to all for us.

He talks about how it drops us like a gentle rain upon the place beneath and I have found that to be so true. When I think of people who experience the gift of mercy from another who’ve been forgiven. Who have seen the quality of what it means to be s human being that can forgive, to have another human being forgive you at the level that most of us have been forgiven. To really see that, it’s like a gentle rain. Then he says–

David: It’s life-giving.

Jennifer: It is. I haven’t seen. That’s what I love sharing about it because you learn something new. Then he says it is twice blessed. “It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” I believe is how he says it. I remember the day that somebody forgave me– My sister forgave me for the unforgivable act. The one that I would take to my grave and I remember looking at her and thinking, “How did I miss this woman?”

Like, “How did I not know that she was capable of such love?” I still feel that way about her. I’m so blown away by her capacity to love, and it in some way is for my ability to see it. Not her ability to do it, but my ability to see it came in that granting. Then I think about the times where I begged for it. Where I have hurt so badly in my life because sobriety doesn’t make life stop, it actually brings a full rich experience of love, which- all of this comes back to love. He talks about how the deeds of mercy– Speaking of mercy he says, “It is mightiest and the mightiest. It becomes the throne monarch better than its crown.”

David: What does that mean? What does that speak to you?

Jennifer: How incredibly powerful– This desperation of, “I need help, I need somebody, please help me. I have nowhere else to go. Whether that’s God or this treatment center or– The drugs aren’t answering the bell anymore. Nothing is working, there’s this silence.” It’s this desperation for more that’s been driving us and the disease and then all of a sudden there is just absolute silence and we know that nothing is going to answer that bell anymore. Then steps in mercy, the begging for it. It’s not just the getting it, it’s the asking for it that is powerful.

David: That’s really a great place to be?

Jennifer: Right. When he says it becomes the throne monarch better than his crown. The ability to give mercy, the ability to know it needs it. Those things are more powerful than power. Even the most powerful thing that we have, money or all the things that I thought would make me feel better when I got sober– That I thought would be the answer to what was happening to me. None of those things had the same economy that the experience of that desperation of begging for help and of receiving it.

Nothing had the same power. When I talk about– There is something in the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous that I love. It says, “Great suffering and great love are AA’s disciplinarians. We need no others.” We are disciplined by the suffering. We go and say, “Help me,” and we do whatever it takes. We show up at the treatment center that I always saw it–

Was it online? We leave our families, we go towards the solution, a solution that we don’t know even if it’s going to work, all because we’re terrified of it continuing, of having to live like this. Then something shifts in us and we don’t just stay sober because we’re scared. We stay sober because we’re loved. We’re loved by people who come to us and reach out. We’re loved by what we see in their eyes. We’re loved by their actions, we’re loved by their stories, and then that disciplines us.

We’re not disciplined by the king anymore, we’re not disciplined by his scepter, we’re disciplined by love. When he says that mercy is above the scepter’s way. It isn’t throned in the hearts of kings, it’s in all of us. Just like the darkness is in all of us, there is this other peace and so another part of what happens in this is I’m surprised by people’s capacity, by nature’s capacity, by just in all of it.

David: I like that. What you were just saying is that a lot of times you would think of addiction as what shows the depth of the darkness of what humanity is capable of, but it also shows the heights of the compassion that humanity is capable of.

Jennifer: Amends is really about that. Amends at first blush is, “Please stop being angry at me.” That’s sort of the tension. Relieve my tension. Ultimately what an amend truly is me saying to you, “I know what I’m capable of. As a matter of fact I’m probably capable of worse and I will do whatever it takes to hold back this horse inside of me, to keep this barn door watched and to learn more about what I was really looking for. I’ll do the work to never do that to you again.”

Then is another line that Shakespeare says that is so awesome. Again speaking about mercy he says, “It is an attribute to God himself.” Then he says, “And earthly power doth then show likest God’s, when mercy seasons justice.” That it adds a different flavor to it. Yes, this should be the way it is. I should be dead, I should be in jail, I should never have received the gift of forgiveness from my sister, I shouldn’t have a graduate degree, I shouldn’t have the keys to the kingdom like I do. I don’t mean in a heavenly way, I mean literally on this planet. I have so much that I’ve been given. People trust me. Somebody is listening to this right now. That blows me away.

David: If it was strictly justice-

Jennifer: If it was strictly justice–

David: – none of that would be the case-

Jennifer: Because then what he says–

David: – but mercy steps in. That’s what you saying.

Jennifer: Because then he says something else that’s really amazing. He says, “Consider this: That in the course of justice none of us should see salvation.” In the course of justice, none of us should see salvation. That makes me a little less unique, a little less of a horrible human being because the reality is, every one of us, if we look at it in the course of justice, we should never see salvation, that he’s not even done there. He says one more thing.

He says, “In the course of justice none of us should see salvation.” He says, “We do pray for mercy; and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.”

David: What does the deeds of mercy mean to you?

Jennifer: That’s the action, the belief in all that it brings. That’s going back to the general reign and that’s what it’s growing and it’s caring for everything that’s happening around as a result of it. The deeds of mercy for me, my responsibility to this work. I can’t walk away from it, it owns me. I have to stay here and be present for– I know that sounds dramatic but it’s the deeds of mercy for me.

I hear so many of us, myself included, angry about what’s happened with the bad players out there. The people in this podcast have probably gone on four or five websites that aren’t even real, they’ve called treatment centers and been promised things that are unethical or illegal.

David: Manipulation and–

Jennifer:It’s come into the space and so we all are angry and we feel very alone- or let’s talk about just your family. Your family is still drinking and nobody stopped, so we’re angry about that or we’re angry at our boss or whatever, and we feel alone. Then I think about who really was alone, like Betty Ford. She was all alone.

David: She was a prominent person, really stepping out.

Jennifer: She stood there and said, “You don’t need to understand what I’m saying because it’s real and I’m going to keep walking forward.” Bill Wilson, all the people that wrote the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, there weren’t 48 other meetings in two hours that they could go to. It was just them and total silence behind them. I think back to all of the people that were before us, the collective unconscious, and I think we’re not alone.

I don’t have it that bad. I have all these people lean into. I have all these patients that are showing out there saying, “I trust you. I want your help.” It’s my job to make sure that where they land is safe and deserving of that.

David: What would be one thing that you change about this field, about behavioral health care?

Jennifer: That we would stop being afraid of the consequences of being honest. That if we’ve made mistakes, we would own them. We would do what we asked the patients to do.

David: Yes. Nice. Yes.

Jennifer: We would walk away from an income sometimes that we didn’t know how it was going to come. We would take time away from what our routine is. We would honestly look at, “Do we have the right and best place for them? Not for us?” That’s what I would change. We would remember who we serve.

David: Yes. Yes, and then looking even wider at the general public, what’s one thing you would change about what people understand about this?

Jennifer: I’m grateful. I’m so grateful for the focus on what opiates have done in this country. This disease is outpacing us. It’s really, really hard to admit that we’re not making a dent. I don’t believe it’s over. I believe we still have a lot of work that we can do, but the last I looked last year, roughly 72,000 people died from opiate overdoses. 72,000. 88,000 died from alcoholism. The problem’s not opiates. The problem’s the disease of addiction.

David: It’s not a brand new problem. Yes. Yes.

Jennifer: Right. More people died from alcoholism that combine them together, that number is– I’ve checked and rechecked. While maybe I don’t have the exact numbers right, it’s too many. It doesn’t seem right. It seems like false information and it’s not. A lot of us are, when we talk about where are the patients now, the different treatment centers have less patients than they’ve had before.

It’s not because they’re all going to different treatment centers, it’s because they’re dying. I would say, our problem is the disease of addiction. It’s much more broad. Much more pervasive. Much more devastating than the drug that is going into us. The opiate use, it’s killing them so quickly. Usually what happens when a patient relapses, they come back and they’re surprised by the disease, right? They say, “Okay, what you said was whoa.”

Like “I don’t even want to use, and I used. Didn’t expect that. Now tell me what to do again because now I’m hearing it differently. I thought all I had to do is want to quit using but now I hear you. If my problem was drinking, my problem was drinking or using drugs. Why do I pick up a drug or drink every time I’m sober? I promise being sober.” [laughs]

David: Kind of sitting with yourself.

Jennifer: Yes. “What happens in my brain?” and what we know today about the disease of addiction and how it impacts our logic, our reason and where it lives in the brain. All those things are available and accessible for people to understand today. It’s just the facts today but still our patients show up. I totally expect this with, “Okay, problem is solved. I want to quit using because I didn’t want to before but now I do.”

So problem solved but if you think about that with any other disease like cancer, if I came into my doctor’s offices, it was like, “I just want the cancer to stop. I don’t want to have cancer. I would like for this to end.”

David: “I’ve definitely made up my mind that I’m done with cancers so.”

Jennifer: Done with cancer. The doctor would be like, “Well, that’s not how this plays out.” That’s really good because it’ll get you to chemo but that’s where the treatment is. For most of our patients, they have to go through a time. I did, where I thought that not wanting to use was going to be enough. Until that day, when I walked up to the nurse’s station, and I knew it wasn’t going to be enough, I knew because when I looked back on my experience with drugs and alcohol, I saw where I should have wanted to stop.

I saw where I wasn’t able to see the truth. I saw and sort of felt that storm coming. I knew it would come again. That’s why I said I’m going to use again. What typically happens when a patient relapses is they come back surprised by their disease. They’re surprised. They’re like, “Okay, I didn’t think it was true. I thought it would be different but you were right. Now, help me.” The problem with the opiate crisis that we’re in, they’re surprise is death. It’s happening so quickly. We don’t get another chance.

David: How does the industry get ahead of that?

Jennifer: We get ahead of that by being willing to have more conversations about medications that will provide that moment, that breath between the thought to use and using.

There are ways that I’ve seen work with our patients that provide that space where they can find their way to the solution and they’re not overrun by the desire to use. We can provide environments where patients will want to stay for long enough. Where there can be shifts in their behaviors and their attitudes.

As it is now, where they go, if we’re cruel to them or we don’t offer them real life stuff, “I was told I got sober at 18 and I was told I couldn’t go to school. I was told that right was not mine anymore. I was told that I just had to live with that,” and today that’s not how it is. Young adults are embraced in the experience of college and their education. Rather than take from our patients, we provide a space that they want to stay in.

Time happens for them and their brain starts to heal. There’s a number of different things that we can do. Another thing that I see that we do is if a family member is sick, deathly ill and they’re in the hospital, what happens? The family comes, right? They rush to the side of their loved one. There’s always a mom that won’t leave. She won’t even take a shower.

There’s a mom, there’s a dad, there’s an aunt, there’s somebody until that right person shows up and gives them the privilege to go take a shower but then they’re right back. What we say to our family members, not at the Meadows, but what is said in this industry is “Drop them off at the gate and leave.”

David: “We’ll take it from here.”

Jennifer: “By the way, it’s a disease. By the way, it’s a fatal disease. Now go and if you call, there’s something wrong with you.” We have to let them sit bedside and I don’t mean literally. That’s not the right thing for this, for anyone but how do we let the people that love be a part of the healing? That’s another way that we do it. We create a space in which they can do their work. Then time has its way with them.

David: Yes. All right. Well, we’ll wrap up with two quick tips or nuggets that we can leave listeners with. First, what would be a recovery book or recovery resource out there that has meant a lot to you, something that you find yourself recommending?

Jennifer: I always recommend The Spirituality of Imperfection. Ernest Kurtz and Ketcham, I think, is her last name. That book provides storytelling. I love storytelling and it tells the story of what it means to be imperfect and the beauty in that. It tells the story through all religions, Buddhists– Every religious. It’s Dr. Seuss, I mean, it’s all these beautiful stories and you find yourself in it. You find that there’s a crack in everything that God has made. I believe is what Emerson said.

David: Yes.

Jennifer: It’s in there.

David: Yes. Yes. Yes. That connects back with what we’re saying about knowing what we’re all capable of.

Jennifer: Yes.

David: Yes. Absolutely. Then, finally, what would be one piece of advice? Something that was given to you in the right moment, something that’s meant a lot to you, something that you find yourself wanting to pass on?

Jennifer: I think right now, what I would say again, is we’re not built to do this alone. You don’t have to do it alone. Now’s the time. Right now is the time. Don’t wait. Get help. That is one of our greatest strengths. I still don’t know how that came to me. I can’t describe how that person found her way to the doors. I’m grateful to her.

David: Jennifer Angier is the Vice President of Addiction Services for Meadows Behavioral Health Care. You can find out more about how the Meadows programs approach treating addiction at meadowsbh.com.

To check out more episodes of this podcast and find all kinds of other resources and tools for Meadows Behavioral Health Care, visit beyondtheorypodcast.com. Finally, thank you for listening. I hope you’ll join us again next time for another episode of Beyond Theory.

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