S4 E2: Jerry Law On Treating Addiction With Love, Caring, and Concern

Released September 28, 2021

When it comes to interventions, sometimes words like ambush and shame come to mind. When it comes to a person in recovery, it can make a challenging situation get worse. However, Interventionist and Executive Director of The Meadows Dr. Jerry Law says that when you lead with love, caring, and concern you start on the right foot towards recovery. But how does one ensure that it happens properly? 

Podcast Transcript

Jerry: It’s about helping a family who has been enabling, whether passively or assertively, the disease that has been going on with their loved one. It’s done out of fear, or it’s done from a place of love, but that love turns into enabling, and it’s no longer helpful. The interventionist’s job is to help that family come to terms with what needs to change. Ultimately, it’s about two keywords: choices [and] consequences. 

Dominic: Welcome to Beyond Theory, a podcast powered by Meadows Behavioral Healthcare that brings you in-depth conversations with firsthand insights from the front lines of mental health and addiction recovery. I’m Dominic Lawson. 

Dominic: When it comes to interventions, sometimes words like ambush and shame come to mind. When it comes to a person in recovery, it can make a challenging situation get worse. However, Interventionist and Executive Director of The Meadows Dr. Jerry Law says that when you lead with love, caring, and concern you start on the right foot towards recovery. But how does one ensure that it happens properly?  

Dominic: Let’s get out of the abstract and see how this applies in the real world. It’s time to go Beyond Theory.  

Jerry: Hi Dominic, I’m Dr. Jerry Law and I’m the executive director of The Meadows, which is our adult treatment program in Wickenburg.  

Dominic: Dr. Law, thank you so much for coming onto the Beyond Theory podcast. We appreciate your time.  

Jerry: My pleasure, thanks for the invite.  

Dominic: Of course. If you would, just share with us your background. 

Jerry: Sure, I’ll be happy to. I have an eclectic background, which is a code word for really weird. I spent over 20 years in the corporate world, and towards the end of that I was ready for change. I had gone back to school to complete master’s and doctorate degrees in counseling. When I first got into the behavioral health field, it was as an interventionist. I was introduced to a fellow in the greater Phoenix area by the name of Dr. Julian Pickens who, unbeknownst to me, turns out to be one of the preeminent interventionists in the United States. Julian took me under his wing, and it’s just nothing but a divine gift that happens to me, and trained me in the intervention protocols, education, and certifications. And he and I formed a partnership and began doing interventions all over North America. That’s how I came to know The Meadows as well as many, many treatment programs throughout the United States, bringing individuals to these treatment programs to get the help that they needed.  

I was always very impressed with the work done at The Meadows. Interestingly, over the years, it seems all the key individuals that I had worked with at various treatment programs began to migrate towards The Meadows, including Sean Walsh, who is our CEO. One day Sean and I were having lunch and I mentioned to him, “It’s interesting, Sean, so many of these people that I know from programs all over the country are now at The Meadows. Something is going on. Well, I’m interested. I’d like to come and work for The Meadows.  

Sean said, “Doing what?” and I said, “I don’t know.” He took a leap of faith and he hired me, really for a job that didn’t exist and allowed me to create it. That role was director, family education and leadership training. In that role, I wore several hats. I worked with family members who were struggling while their loved one was in treatment, on phone work and videos and so forth, creating a whole series of videos that I can send them on various topics. Then, internally, I participated in a Family Week at all of our programs and supported the family therapist on all of our programs that needed a little extra support when they knew they were going to be having a particularly challenging Family Week. Then on the leadership training side, I worked with staff and brought onboard our service excellence program, a mentoring program, did a lot of work with various leaders because of my business background.  

About three and half years ago, Allan Benham, who was the executive director at Gentle Path was moved into his role. He’s now our chief operating officer. I was allowed to become the executive director of both the Gentle Path and the Willow House programs. Gentle Path is a men’s program with 28 beds to help men dealing with compulsive sexual behaviors and a whole host of core occurring issues. Willow House, being a smaller program, is for women only who are struggling with relationship issues of various kinds, a lot of trauma, PTSD. For the last three and half years, I have worked as the executive director over these two programs. Now, with the upcoming retirement of Dr. David Anderson at The Meadows, I’ll slide over into that role and become the executive director of our campus, our primary adult campus called The Meadows. It’s been about a five-and-half-year journey with The Meadows, and I couldn’t be happier.  

Dominic: First, our congratulations on the new role. That needed to be said. But I want to ask you something, Dr. Law: Take me into the mindset of an interventionist, because I know you go into a lot of situations, and not all the situations are the same? 

Jerry: That’s very true. An intervention is an interesting process because it’s not therapy. It’s helping a family who has a loved one that typically needs an inpatient level of care and is just unwilling to accept that care because addictions are diseases of denial. We often say addiction is the only disease on earth that tells its victim that they don’t have it. The individual is struggling and in trouble, and the family has tried everything they know to do to get the individual some help, and they just run out of options. When it reaches that level it’s time to get some professional help. As interventionists, we are trained to be able to come in and support that family in presenting an opportunity for treatment to the loved one. It’s the TV show, but not really. The TV show just focuses on a small piece of it, because the truth is a tremendous amount of preparation and planning. A typical intervention would involve about 40 hours of planning, preparation, rehearsals, facilitating the intervention. But ultimately, Dominic, it’s about coming to that individual based on three key things, love, care, and concern. It’s about helping a family who has been enabling, whether passively or assertively, the disease that has been going on with their loved one. It’s done out of fear, or it’s done from a place of love, but that love turns into enabling, and it’s no longer helpful.  

The interventionist’s job is to help that family come to terms with what needs to change. Ultimately, it’s about two key words: choices [and] consequences. It’s about sitting down with that loved one and saying, “We love you enough to support wellness and recovery. Here is how it looks like.” Whether it’s going into residential treatment or an outpatient treatment program or whatever the case may be. And we don’t use the word “but,” we use the word “and.” “And here is what we’ll not support, which is anything else. If you will accept this gift that we’re offering you, we’re all in. We’re going to move heaven and earth to make this happen for you. We’ll support you, we’ll take care of things on the home front for you, whatever it takes. And if you choose not to accept this help, then you need to understand the choices we’re making, because, just like you, we have the right to make choices. We are not going to punish you, but we are going to set healthy boundaries. We’re going to protect ourselves. This is what life will look like going forward if you choose treatment, this is what life will look like going forward if you don’t choose treatment.”  

It’s never about shame, it’s never about guilt, it’s never about condemnation, and it’s certainly not an ambush and an arrest. It is on the other hand about using those three key elements: love, care, and concern, to let that person know this is what we’re going to support, and this is not what we are going to support.  

Dominic: Dr. Law, do you use “and” instead of “but” because “but” has a negative connotation? Is that what it is? 

Jerry: It does. I’m working on eliminating that word from my vocabulary for that reason. Because it’s not either/or, it’s both/and in so many cases: “We love you and this is what we’ll support.” If the family says, “We love you, but,” it just feeds into the defense mechanisms of that individual. “You guys don’t love me at all.” A lot of the intervention process and, for that matter, a lot of therapy, is about language and helping people identify language that works, that identify language that doesn’t work, and make the right choice.  

Dominic: Understood. Also, you talked about the family aspect of it. On your YouTube channel, I saw that you talk about the difference between enabling and helping. Talk about that, if you would? 

Jerry: From my experience, enabling almost always starts from a position of help. We love this person, this person is in trouble, my loved one needs help, and so I step in to help. It would be lovely, Dominic, if some big, flashing red light would warn us when it transitions from helping to enabling — it doesn’t work that way. We suddenly find ourselves over some line. We’re no longer helping. Now we’re enabling, either passively or assertively, and both are important. The assertive enabling is when, let’s say, the wife calls in for the husband and says, “He can’t come to work today because he is sick.” The truth is, he is hungover. Or the parent who does the child’s homework because the kid has been all night partying. It’s assertive enabling. It’s stepping in and doing things for that person that protects them from themself. I’m not talking about taking care of a little child. That’s a different thing altogether.  

Passive enabling is the most deceptive because it’s not doing what I need to do to address an issue. I bury my head in the sand, I pretend that it isn’t what it is, I come up with excuses such as, “Well, it’s just a phase, and he’ll grow out of it.” While there may be truth in that, there comes a point when what I’m doing or not doing is making it possible for my loved one to continue in the dysfunction of the disease. That’s what I’ve got to stop. I’ve got to discontinue the actions I’m taking or not taking that are making it possible for my loved one to continue in that dysfunction.  

Dominic: Understood. Also, Dr. Law, I see that you talk about this many times where there is the stigma of getting help. It comes from either the person who needs the help or even the family member. How do you work through that with families and the people who need help? 

Jerry: Great question, and every intervention that I would start begins with psychoeducation. Helping family members understand. Addiction is a bio-psychosocial spiritual disease or disorder.  Of course, it has moral components, but that’s not what this is. This isn’t a moral failure. This is a neurological disease that has highjacked the brain of this person that is leading to behaviors that can be considered immoral. If all we do is brand it or flavor it as moral, nothing is going to happen. A huge amount of a successful intervention is that education process.  

My favorite definition of addiction that I always share was one coined by the late John Bradshaw. Dr. Bradshaw said, “Addiction is a pathological relationship with any mood-altering experience that has life-damaging consequences.” Let’s take the clinical out of it. If it’s an unhealthy relationship, and it’s directly tied to a mood-altering experience — which could be a substance, it could be a behavior, whatever the case may be — and it has life-damaging consequences, if whatever is going on meets those criteria, we need to deal with this. Let’s forget about the right, the wrong, the moral, the immoral, and let’s look at what is going on here and try to help this individual go into some program where they can get the help that they need, whether it’s a focus on trauma or PTSD or depression or bipolar or substance use disorders, sex addiction, whatever the case may be.  

Dominic: Absolutely. Dr. Law, you had a conversation with Dr. Connie Mariano a while back who served as the doctor for The President for a while. You were talking about the opioid crisis and one of the things you said stood out to me, you said that sometimes, that the medical community, there is a fifth vital. Talk about that, what did you mean by that? 

Jerry: Several years ago, the American Medical Association adopted a fifth vital, it’s the pain scale. If you have been to a physician in the last few years, always in addition to your temperatures and your heart rate and your pulse and your blood pressure, they are going to ask you if you are in pain. Then, typically, on the wall is a scale one through 10 and you’re supposed to identify “my pain is a six,” “my pain is a three,” “my pain is a zero,” “my pain is an eight.” They are ethically required to do something about that. But what they’ve been trained to do is prescribe medication, that’s their training. It’s not a right thing or a wrong thing. It’s a thing- thing. It’s just who they are and how they operate and what they are trained to do. If they don’t have additional training in addiction medicine, quite often the solution is, “Here is a script for this opioid. Next!” Because in the world of managed care, they’ve got about five to seven minutes with you, and it’s on to the next patient. You just identified your pain as an eight; they are ethically required to do something about that. The quickest, easiest, fastest is, “Here is the prescription.”  

It may be the right thing, and often it’s not the right thing because the opioids on the market today are so potent and so powerful that a physiological addiction, as well as a psychological dependency, happens pretty quick. Now the person goes back to the doctor and says, “I need some more.” If the doctors are on top of it, they will say, “Wait a minute. I gave you a 30-day supply; it’s only been 18 days. Where is the rest of it?” You come back in 12 more days and I’ll write you another script. But for this person to go 12 days without that opioid, they may go into severe withdrawal. Now they find another doctor and they start doctor shopping or worse, they hit the streets and they start using heroin, fentanyl that could be bought on the streets, now we are talking a whole different ball game. That fifth vital sign, as important as it is, it’s contributed to the opioid pandemic we’re dealing with. Ninety-three thousand people died from an overdose last year — 93,000.  

Dominic: I want to lean on your business acumen a little bit here, a little bit. I’m curious, this is just off top of my head, I wonder if some type of data analytics or tracking can help with the opioid addiction in that regard. I’m just curious? 

Jerry: It does help. I’m by no means an authority there, but one of our Senior Fellows, Dr. Kevin McCauley, in my opinion is the world’s foremost authority on the bio-neurological aspects of addiction. He has got so much of that type of information. It can be tracked. We can go back and look at when “big pharma” first introduced OxyContin, and it’s easy to track how significant the uptick in dependency on opioids since that time.  

Dominic: You create a lot of content. You have a YouTube channel and things of that nature. And, going in a different direction here, talk about how you create content for, not just in general business organizational culture, things of that nature, but also when it comes to mental health. I think there is a certain level of responsibility when you are talking about mental health and creating content, would you agree? 

Jerry: Absolutely. I’m very cautious with that, and what I’ve discovered, Dominic, works well are brief videos. The videos that I have posted on YouTube are 10 to 12, maybe 15 minutes long, and they are very focused on a specific topic. We’re living in a world of keeping anyone’s attention for any length of time is difficult. Our attention span, we’ve been trained by the media to have a pretty brief attention span. What I will do is, when I hear of particular families who are struggling with the topic, I will do some research on that topic, so that I can cite evidence-based realities. But I also toss in my own experience. I’m open about the fact that I’m personally in recovery, wide open about that. I will often share, when this was going on in my life, here is what I did, what my family did, because I think there is some value in being that human touch as well as the analytical. That worked well for me, and the videos that I created at The Meadows, the last time I’ve checked, I’ve got about 10,000 views. I know people are watching them and hopefully getting some help from them as well.  

Dominic: Absolutely. I believe a lot of people are getting help from your content. You talked about your being in your recovery and things of that nature. I guess I’m curious, can you talk about that, but also talk about people who are going through recovery, but also they want to help somebody else as well, talk about that.  

Jerry: I’m a big proponent of the 12-Step approach and I’m actively involved in it personally. I’m always reminded of Step 12 in the 12-Step world, having had a spiritual awakening as a result of this step. It says, “We try to practice these principles and carry this message to others.” The real keystone of the 12-Step world is, “The way I stay sober is by helping you stay sober. If I try to do it on my own and you try to do it on your own, good luck to both of us!” It takes a village, to use the old acronym story. It takes that kind of community and interaction with other people who get it, who understand it, who relate to it. In my home group, my 12-Step home group, as soon as the person is pretty well-grounded in their recovery, it’s time to connect them with somebody else as a sponsor, so that they can begin to carry that message to that individual and support them in their recovery journey. I don’t stand a chance of staying healthy and well in recovery without reaching out and supporting others on the same journey. I’ve proven that 100 times over.  

Dominic: We’re finding that, and even more so during this pandemic, that isolation has helped fuel those negative effects, whether it be an addiction, whether it be just mental health issues in general. I appreciate you sharing that, for sure. We have a lot of clinicians who watch the Beyond Theory podcast. Any advice for them as they are going through medical school or want to be a clinician or a therapist or something like that? 

Jerry: You bet. Take care of yourself. Burnout is real. We are working in a world where we are exposed to pain, deep wounded pain, day in and day out. It’s what we do. We have to come to realize that people who come to see us are not well. If we come out from that position in the first place, it takes some of “why aren’t you listening to me?” out of the equation. They are not well, and that’s okay. But we also have to take care of ourselves. If we don’t practice what we preach, if we don’t use the very tools that we are providing these patients for ourselves, it’s real easy to become resentful and burn out. I can’t think of a nobler calling in the world but also one that requires the practitioner to pay real close attention to their wellbeing, their mental health. We’ve got to practice what we preach.  

Dominic: When you feel that burnout feeling or the sensation, what do you do, Dr. Law? 

Jerry: It can be some time off, and not just sit at home but get away and do something fun. Because I’m actively involved in the 12-Step world, I reach out to my brothers and sisters in recovery. My home group does a lot of activities. The pandemic put a kibosh on a lot of it. But we go to baseball games together. We do activities together; we go out to dinner together. There is that camaraderie, and I need that connection. I need that connection because I have to separate my professional world from my world. Of course, there is my family. I’m very, very blessed. I’m married to the love of my life, and she is a source of tremendous support and strength for me. I’m able to reach out to her and say, “Julie, I need to talk,” and she is always available. So, having people to reach out to.  

Dominic: Talk about that, I want to stay there really quickly. Talk about that support that Julie has provided for you over the years and beyond. 

Jerry: When I first got sober, it was a real challenge to our relationship. We’d been married for a number of years. She did not know to the extent that I was in trouble, and suddenly here it is. She set a healthy boundary and said, “Either you get some help or I’m going to make some choices.” I did. I reached out, went through treatment personally. The two of us together went to couple’s counseling and worked with someone who understands this. She has her support network for herself as the spouse of a recovering addict. We work on it. I don’t know that I could have possibly done this without her support. I’m very fortunate. In some cases that doesn’t happen, and I recognize that, but I’m very fortunate.  

Dominic: Of course, you said something interesting that I want to key in on. You talked about her being your support, but you talked about her having her support as well. I think that’s something that doesn’t get talked about often. 

Jerry: But it’s critical, whether the loved one joins an Al-Anon or Nar-Anon or some kind of a 12-Step program. Where my wife got some support was a program called PALS, which is Parents and Partners of Addicted Loved Ones. It’s a faith-based support system similar to 12-Step but different. Plugging into that community, hearing stories of others, gave her great support. And she’s got a good network of friends, friends that she can reach out to and talk to. And I realized real early, I’ve got to own this. I caused this mess. For me to get defensive about it isn’t going to work. I’m going to have to own this, and if that means allowing her the space and the grace that she needs to go talk to her friends, to go to her therapist, I’m going to support that in any way I can.  

Dominic: Of course. You know, Dr. Law; one of the things I enjoy about being here at The Meadows is Tales from the Trenches. I love when we get those emails. Talk about the inspiration from that a little bit. 

Jerry: When I was in the corporate world, I fell in love with the concept of service excellence, customer service, service excellence, whatever, potāto-potăto. One of the things I learned was that I’ve always carried with me is with any interaction we’ve got with customers. We have the big-C customer. Well, that’s our patient, the person who is coming to our program for help. But I’ve got a whole lot of little-c customers as well — staff, coworkers, vendors, referral sources, outpatient providers — and what I need to do is see all of these people as customers. How can I meet the need of the big-C customer in the context of taking care of all of the little-c customers?  

I became a big advocate of that in the corporate world, and I just carried that forward. When I joined The Meadows, I do service excellence training for our staff, and Tales from the Trenches just birthed out of that. One day I was seating at my desk and I thought, Hmm, I just need to share some ideas here. I just coined this phrase, Tales from the Trenches, and just about every Friday, I send out a little e-blast, and I like to highlight great stories of patients who have let us know that 10 years later they are doing well. I love to find videos online that are fun and funny about customer service. It’s become a real joy to me to send those out every Friday. I think the staff enjoys them as well.  

Dominic: It’s a joy for us to read them quite often. Again, before I ask my last question, I want to say, Dr. Law thank you so much for coming on the Beyond Theory podcast. We’ve enjoyed this conversation. Then lastly, if there is somebody out there who just listens to this, Dr. Law, and they are afraid to reach out for help. Just talk to that person quickly, if you would? 

Jerry: I’ll look at the camera, look in this one anyway. Recognize that you are not wrong. Realize that help is not only needed but it’s abundantly available. Know that there are millions of us in recovery who have walked the same road you are walking, who have shared in that same pain, and we want to help you, and we are available to help you reach out. As trite or simplistic as that may sound, it is the solution. I’ve proved that over and over. I absolutely cannot do this on my own. Reaching out for help was the first step.  

Dominic: Dr. Jerry Law serves as the executive director of The Meadows, a residential treatment program focused on substance use disorders, mood and anxiety disorders, trauma, PTSD and co-occurring behavioral health issues. Find out more at TheMeadows.com 

Beyond Theory is produced and hosted by me, Dominic Lawson. You can discover more, including videos of some of our conversations, at BeyondTheory.com

Finally, thank you for listening, and I hope you join us next time for another episode of Beyond Theory