Source: Washington Post
Author:  Patricia Brennan, Washington Post Staff Writer
Pubdate: Sun, 29 Mar 1998


Sharing What They Learned About Addiction

Bill Moyers and Judith Davidson Moyers sat in the lobby of a fashionable
Washington hotel, talking about their PBS series on addiction, aptly titled
"Close to Home," and recalled how much they had learned about the subject
since the day in 1989 when they discovered -- to their astonishment -- that
their eldest son was hooked on drugs.

But when William Cope Moyers, now 38, arrived to join the conversation,
they found out they hadn't learned everything.

"I've never asked you this question," Moyers said to his son. "If you
hadn't gone into treatment that last time, what would have happened?"

Cope paused, then said: "There's no question in my mind that I would be
dead. That's not an over-dramatization. That's not a simplification. It
could have been an overdose. I could have been shot to death. I could have
committed suicide. I was desperate."

If Judith and Bill Moyers knew little about addiction then, they know a
great deal more now. Much of what they have learned became "Moyers on
Addiction: Close to Home," airing in five installments over three evenings,
Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at 9. It is the centerpiece of a group of public
television programs treating the subject this week: "Straight Talk With
Derek McGinty" (Monday at 10:30 p.m. on WETA) and on Wednesday, MPT's
"Newsnight Maryland" at 7 and "Stories of Hope and Recovery" at 8 p.m.

Bill Moyers came to Washington as deputy director of the Peace Corps during
the Kennedy administration. He was special assistant to President Lyndon B.
Johnson and then publisher of Newsday. During his career in television, he
has won dozens of awards, including more than 30 Emmys, and written five
best-sellers. Judith Moyers is president of their production company,
Public Affairs Television, has co-produced a dozen series with him and has
several Emmys. They have served on the boards of foundations, agencies and

Cope, eldest of their three children, now acknowledges drinking and using
marijuana in high school, as did many other students. But not everyone's
parents had raised the success bar as high as his.

"When I was growing up, I was aware that they were good at what they did
and my father was very successful at a young age," said Cope. "So I wanted
to match them or be better than them. That's lethal, combined with being

He hadn't known then, of course, that he was addictive. By the time he did,
it was almost too late.

"I experimented with drugs not because of who I was or who I wasn't but
just because it was there," he said. "Marijuana, in my case, helped hook
me. It is not an innocent drug. It changes your perception, it changes your
moods and for a select group of people, it hooks 'em."

Eventually, he said, "I was addicted to everything -- a drug is a drug is a
drug for addicts and alcoholics -- anything that would get me out of myself."

Judith and Bill Moyers grew up in Texas in teetotaling Southern Baptist
families --  their fathers were deacons; Bill Moyers is an ordained
minister -- and they knew little about drug or alcohol addiction.

"We were strict parents," said Judith Moyers. She and Bill, their daughter
and sons attended church regularly. He recalled that they often
congratulated themselves "that none of our kids had become immersed in the
drug culture.

"How naive I was," he said.

By 1989, Cope, then 30 and a reporter for Newsday, was roaming what he
calls "the underbelly of Harlem, totally incapable of anything but getting
high. And I wasn't getting high anymore. I was totally out of control, had
been for two years. I was on the streets."

In reality, he was less than 20 blocks from where he and his first wife
lived on Central Park West, but in his perception, "I had no place to go. I
couldn't go home. I was terrified." He spent two weeks, he said, "locked up
in the psycho ward of St. Vincent's Hospital in New York." 

His parents were stunned. Only the day before, Bill Moyers had asked his
son to meet him for lunch and expressed his concern. "I said to him,
'Something's not right.' Cope told me he was having trouble with his
marriage. And I looked him in the eye and said, 'Are you using drugs?' And
he said, with this wonderful who-me look on his face, 'No, Dad.' I felt
such a surge of relief because obviously I wanted to believe it. That's
what I wanted him to say, and he said it, and I believed it. And so the
band played on."

For Judith Moyers, there was shame. "We didn't tell anybody. We told our
other children, but we didn't tell our best friends for months . . . . We
knew nothing about what we ought to do, about what he ought to do, where to
go for treatment, what kind of doctor to get. Should we do a lot? Should we
be supportive? Should we be tough-love people and say, 'It's all up to you.
Let us know when you're fine'? We didn't know what tack to take."

They arranged for him to go to the Hazelden drug treatment clinic in
Minnesota and went there for family treatment. "That's when we began to get
what's going on," she said.

Bill Moyers agreed: "That was the turning point for me and the beginning of
the reeducation. I grew up in a culture where, almost unspoken -- but there
were comments -- alcoholism is a moral failing. If somebody was a drunk,
that person lacked character, lacked willpower. And I have to acknowledge
that even after our son 'crashed,' I struggled with that, with moral

Judith said she recalled Bill's telling Cope: "You can choose to be sober.
It's up to you whether to choose or not."

At Hazelden's family counseling, Bill Moyers learned the good news and the
bad news. "Addiction is not something that somebody gives somebody else,"
he said. "It's not like carrying a virus, and it's not like unsanitary
hands. You didn't cause it and you can't cure it. So there was an end to

"But there was a growing fear that he might not make it. Two of Cope's
former good friends in treatment are dead now. Addiction kills. There's a
high attrition rate. Recovery is hard. So guilt was replaced with this fear
that he might not make it."

Their son's road to recovery has been difficult and erratic, with at least
two relapses. "I wish I could tell you that in 1989 I got sober," he said.
"I didn't." 

Over the next few years he would undergo three rounds of rehab at two
centers. Cope's experiences, and his parents', became the catalyst for what
Moyers believes to be the most comprehensive series yet about substance

"This is not about use or abuse," said Bill Moyers. "This is about
compulsive, obsessive use of a substance that has taken over your life.
Addiction is not voluntary. About 20 percent of people, according to
studies, are able to stop on their own, whether it's cigarettes, drugs or
alcoholism. And 9 out of 10 people who drink don't become alcoholics -- but
they still have drunk- driving accidents. We do try to make that
distinction. Lots of documentaries have treated drug abuse and the drug
war, but this is the first time, our research shows, that television has
treated the subject of addictions."

They called the series "Close to Home" because of the family connection and
because they wanted to "disabuse people of the idea that addiction is
somewhere else, the notion that it's not in my home, in my workplace, in my
neighborhood -- it's over there some place."

The first show, "Portraits of Addiction," is Bill Moyers's favorite because
"it's got people telling stories." Among the recovering addicts who speak
candidly is a former police undercover agent who says she was obliged to
use cocaine in front of pushers and got hooked, and a journalist who
eventually served as researcher for this series.

"This series is full of people who wanted to tell their stories, who wanted
to be on camera," said Judith Moyers. "It's significant that people feel
they are able to do that today. Twenty years ago people would not have done

Even today, however, some won't. 

"One woman who is a lawyer has to take her methadone [a synthetic narcotic
used in treating heroin addiction] before she could practice law, and she
said the stigma would be too great," said Judith. 

"And one woman told me she had been sober for 20 years but never talked
about it openly. She said, 'I would have to talk with my kids and
grandchildren about what they would think about their mother and their
grandmother being on national television telling her story.' She got back
to us in a week and said they said, 'Go for it, Mom.' "

The second installment, "The Hijacked Brain," pictures an addict's
electronically monitored brain -- she is a volunteer -- changing as she is
given cocaine intravenously, changes that researchers believe are
permanent. Bill Moyers compared an addicted brain to one that has suffered
a stroke: "A stroke kills certain cells of the brain, but a person can
relearn around that hole in the brain, can in effect rewrite the brain to
compensate for the loss." 

Judith Moyers likens addiction to diabetes, "a progressive disease that is
not curable but highly treatable. You can see it in the brain; we can
locate it."

The third program, "Changing Lives," focuses on treatment and features
Hazelden and Ridgeview Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program near Atlanta,
where Cope stayed 115 days after what he called a "short but very intense"
five-day relapse in 1994. He had been sober 3 years.

"That's where it all ended and all began," he said. "[Addiction] had just
rolled over me, flattened me like a steamroller. It had just crushed me. I
was done. I knew that if I was going to survive, literally, I needed to do
what they told me to do. My insurance would only pay for a certain number
of days of treatment, so I paid out of my own pocket. I was there longer
than anybody else."

It was at Ridgeview, he said, that he gave up "listening to what was going
on in my own brain and trying to dictate my own progress and tell other
people what I needed to be doing. I just listened to what other people told
me and did what they told me to do. If I was ever going to see my wife and
children [now 5, 3 and 1] again as a healthy father, I knew I had to stay
in treatment until I got better."

Part four, "The Next Generation," explores efforts to prevent addictive use
among the estimated 20 percent of American children who live in a home with
an addicted or alcoholic person. Among its stories are those of a
heroin-addicted Seattle couple and their two children, and of a high school
junior in Florida who participates in a program for teens at risk for

The fifth installment, "The Politics of Addiction," looks at government
programs, including Arizona's Proposition 200. It mandates treatment for
non-violent drug offenders, including moving people out of incarceration
and into treatment.

"That represented a sophistication about drugs that had not been manifested
before in an election," said Bill Moyers.

Among those with whom he talks are drug offenders in Maricopa County's
tent-city jail outside Phoenix; and, in Washington, retired Gen. Barry
McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Although Moyers mentions his son when he opens the series, he and Judith
spent some time grappling with how to deal with their own family connection.

"We talked about doing a book based on our experience and decided that
journalists shouldn't make themselves the story, or the story of the
journalist shouldn't become the story of the documentary, and it just sort
of hung there for a while," said Bill Moyers. "If we did a series and
didn't acknowledge that there was a personal issue, people would say, 'What
kind of journalism is that? He's not forthcoming, he's not disclosing the
full truth.' We decided we would deal with Cope's story as one of the
undercurrents that had moved us to the decision."

With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Mutual of America,
the Moyerses began hiring researchers and production personnel in March
1996. They chose to focus on substance addiction, rather than other
addictions such as gambling, sex, eating disorders and "workaholism."

"It was a big undertaking," said Judith. "And we thought we should have
some people on the production team that would know the subject first-hand."

They decided to invoke the name of Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill
Wilson, said Bill Moyers. "We ran a classified ad saying, 'If you're a
friend of Bill W's and have any experience with documentary production, get
in touch with the post office box number.' We had a lot of response, but
not a lot had had experience with documentary production."

The Moyerses' experience also caused them to look carefully at their

"This should be part of a health profile," said Judith, "because if there
is [addiction], you might want to make special considerations in your

"You don't know who in the family is susceptible," said Bill Moyers. "If
you're the son or daughter of an alcoholic, your chances of becoming one
yourself is four times greater than another person. Genetics is clearly a
factor in much of the picture, but it's not the only factor." 

As it turns out, Bill Moyers is the grandson of an alcoholic, but he did
not know that. He knew his mother was adamantly opposed to drinking, but
not until she was in her eighties did she and her sisters talk openly about
their father.

"My grandfather was what we called a drunk, but it was a well-kept family
secret," said Moyers. " 'Sometimes he'd have a little too much, but he was
always a good man,' my mother would always say."

Meanwhile, Cope Moyers, after having returned to work for CNN, decided to
move his second wife and children to St. Paul, Minn. With a family to
support, but no job, he began reading the classified ads.

"I had never needed to do that," he said. "I'd always had a good job. I
rarely missed a day of work in the eight or nine years that I was working.
So I'm reading the classifieds and there was a job description for a public
policy analyst at Hazelden Foundation."

He is now Hazelden's director of public policy. When he talks to patients,
"I tell them that I was basically dragged kicking and screaming there, I
had to pay to get in, and I stayed a lot longer than I wanted to stay, and
I couldn't wait to get out. Now I drive there every day and they pay me.
And I've got the keys to the place. And therein lies the miracle of recovery."

In the final installment, the cameras are rolling as Bill Moyers walks down
the halls of Congress to cover a meeting of the National Leadership Forum
and encounters Cope, there to represent Hazelden at the same meeting. 

"He's about a head taller than Bill," related Judith, "and he came loping
across the lobby and did his usual thing, the big bear hug."

Bill Moyers, newsman, sees an opportunity to get his son on tape: "I say,
'You know, we've been through all of this for 10 years or so now, and I've
never asked you why you've gone public."

Cope Moyers, former newsman, laughs and says: "No comment!"

His father smiled at the recollection. "That's totally unscripted," he said. 

 Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company