PREMIERE ISSUE | AUGUST 2023WWW.BOOKSANDRECOVERY.COM
International Overdose Awareness Day is convened by public health non-profit Penington InstituteInternational Overdose Awareness Day is convened by public health non-profit Penington Institute
1 | AUGUST 2023Welcome to the premiere issue of Books & Rec. Everyone, whether it’s the person struggling with substance use or the people who love and care about them, has to determine what “recovery” is to them and walk their own path toward that goal. As Johann Hari says in his 2015 Ted Talk, Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong, and also in his book, Chasing the Scream (Bloomsbury USA; January 2015), the opposite of addiction is connection. While we won’t necessarily agree on everything about substance use or recovery, we do know that loneliness and isolation are hallmarks of this disease. If you’re the person in recovery, someone seeking recovery or have a friend or loved one who is, I hope Books & Rec will be a valuable resource – and connection – for you.I have always said that my son’s story is his own to tell should he ever wish to do that. However, I have his permission to mention that Books & Rec was born from his experiences with substance use, witnessing him create his own path to recovery, and our journey together to find healing. A voracious reader from the time I was a child, I have always turned to books to find answers. While I don’t believe there is one book that has all the answers to this complex issue, there are many books that have sustained us along the way, and will continue to provide wisdom and insight as we move forward. This issue and future editions of Books & Rec will talk to some of the authors of those books because it’s by sharing our stories that we begin the process of individual and collective healing.May we all find peace. Books & Rec is dedicated to my son, Calvin, whom I love more than anything, and to William Russell Mitchell (1957 – 1981), whom I will always love.In This IssueCover Feature: Melissa Bond .............................................2“Quote, Unquote” ................................................................ 6Q&A with Barbara Butcher ............................................... 8The Rebirth of Murphy Jensen ...................................... 10 AUGUST 2023PUBLISHER Rebecca PontonTECHNICAL ADVISOR Emmanuel SullivanGRAPHIC DESIGNER Kim FischerSUBSCRIBE firstname.lastname@example.orgCONTACT US For editorial, advertising, and general inquiries, please email email@example.com.The contents of this digital publication may not be reproduced either in whole or in part without the express written consent of the publisher. Every effort has been made to provide accurate data; however, the publisher cannot be held liable for material content or errors. You should not rely on the information as a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult a physician or other health care professional. Do not disregard, avoid or delay obtaining medical or health related advice from your healthcare professional because of something you may have read in this publication. Books & Rec and its publisher do not recommend or endorse any advertisers in this digital publication and accept no responsibility for services advertised herein. Coming in September Ryan Hampton, author of American Fix and Unsettled National Recovery Month Mobilize Recovery’s Day of Service Kathy Ireland, Founder & CEO, kathy ireland ® WorldwideVisit www.booksandrecovery.com and subscribe today!International Overdose Awareness Day is convened by public health non-profit Penington InstituteInternational Overdose Awareness Day is convened by public health non-profit Penington Institute
2 | AUGUST 2023Interview withMelissa BondAUTHOR OF BLOOD ORANGE NIGHT: A MEMOIR OF INSOMNIA, MOTHERHOOD, AND BENZOSCOVER FEATUREAuthor Melissa Bond at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Photo courtesy of Josh Blumental.Rebecca Ponton: I read the hardcover version of your book when it came out in 2022, and it was originally titled Blood Orange Night: My Journey to the Edge of Madness. It really captured what someone goes through when they try to get off [high doses of] benzodiazepines and it [can seem like] a descent into madness. I’m curious why you changed the title of the paperback, which was recently released (Simon & Schuster; August 2023).Melissa Bond: It’s interesting because I didn’t make those choices as an author. The addiction memoir genre is very specific, and it can be very narrow, and we did not want this necessarily to be put in with addiction memoirs because it is about doctor prescribed – what they call “dependency,” an iatrogenic illness – which is very different than how people perceive addiction. I have my own feelings about the terminology that we use and the shame that kind of circumscribes that terminology, which I think is absolutely not helpful, so I think initially we were really interested in really just pulling people into the story – like a true crime drama – what is happening on the page as she’s descending further and further into this slide …RP: I was holding my breath.MB: My guess is because the new title is so much more specific, they wanted to see if deliberately spelling it out for the readers would attract more people to the story and then they would get caught up in the story itself.RP: You mention the terminology around substance use. You did have a dependency on these medications because they were prescribed by your doctor, but you were not abus-ing them, you were not seeking them, that sort of thing. Do you consider yourself an addict?MB: I think that’s a really important question and it’s something I wrestled with because the other thing that was really hard to come to terms with was the fact that I come from a household where my mother [used alcohol and drugs]. I was raised in that [environment], so I was the perfect candidate to become an addict. The irony is that I spent my entire life, as a teen and as a 20-something year old, studying everything I could about addiction, but also about personal growth. What is it that drives people to try to anesthetize their own pain or to try to get a high or to try to escape – all of the
3 | AUGUST 2023 Melissa Bond gives a reading at the 2022 release party for Blood Orange Night.things we do to alleviate the sufferings that come with being human – and I wanted to understand that. So, the fact that then suddenly I have this debilitating pathological insomnia, I’m prescribed something that my doctor tells me is not addictive, and then I become so dependent that when I try to get off I have seizures, I have a stroke. I can’t ignore the question: What is that line between accidental dependency where your body can’t handle going off [the medication] and that line of addiction? It’s true that I never abused, it’s true that I never took more, it’s true that I never wanted them for any kind of escape; however, I think the more important question for me is [one] of suffering. We have cultural addictions that are sanctioned: people are shopaholics, they’re alcoholics, they’re “pillaholics.” People do all kinds of things to soothe themselves and ameliorate their anxiety. I think we have to be more humane in our language, so while I’m saying I wasn’t an addict – my daughter would say I’m addicted to yoga [laughing] – I try to choose healthy things to help that suffering. But there are times where we get so broken we don’t know if we can stand up again and sometimes things are chosen for us that can be addicting, sometimes we choose them, but I think shame comes with the term “addiction.” It’s part of the cultural heritage and I think we need to change that because it does not help anyone and it keeps us separate.RP: Those are such good points and I’m glad that you felt comfortable discussing that. I remember reading in the book that your mom was addicted to cocaine.MB: My mom went into rehab when I was 17 and she’s been in recovery about 37 years. RP: Your mom lived in California at the time and you live in Utah, but she came and helped when you were suffering so much. Even though her situation and yours were differ-ent, did you find that she was empathetic to what you were going through? MB: [Despite the expense], she would come once a month and help with the kids and sit with me. There were very few people that could understand and sit with the amount of pain that I was in and she was one of them. Much more so than a lot of other people because I really think people didn’t know where to place what I was going through. They were like, she’s not an addict, she’s not going to rehab, but she’s doing this withdrawal thing and it’s taking forever (a year and a half), and it’s so debilitating she can barely function – there was not even a box to put that in. We know opioids, we know heroin, we know the street drugs, we know alcohol, but this was a whole different ball of wax, so my mom was one of the few people that could say, “I don’t know everything you’re going through, but I’ve been in pain like that and I will sit here and hold your hand.” RP: That’s what everybody needs. I think that’s one of the keys to getting on the path to healing, however you got where you were – whether it was prescribed by the doctor or whether [someone] self-medicates with street drugs, for whatever reason. I think most people are self-medicating some kind of trauma. Your [situation], of course, started out as prescribed by the doctor, but was there ever any underly-ing trauma that you were trying to deal with? MB: No, unfortunately, benzos themselves are so punitive. Their efficacy is really short lived, so I would say the trauma was the pathological insomnia. I literally was getting two to “What is it that drives people to try to anesthetize their own pain? … The more important question for me is [one] of suering.”
4 | AUGUST 2023three hours of sleep a night and it was torturous, so getting [prescribed] something that would allow me to sleep six hours a night was like heaven.Of course, growing up in a home [where there was alcohol and drug use] was part of my journey. It was traumatic but it also set me up to do a lot of personal investigation. [However], I had three things happen all at once that I think are what prompted the insomnia, which was having a child born with a disability, losing my beloved job during the recession, and then getting pregnant again very quickly and my body not being ready for a second pregnancy. Oh, and I say this laughingly, but my marriage was a disaster: it was unhappy, it was very contentious, and I felt trapped. I believe now that all of those things together definitely were part of the insomnia.A lot of people go through those times where we get hit with so many things at once and there’s that sense of, “How am I going to stand up? How am I going to survive?” and so sometimes we go to doctors who prescribe a pill that they say to take every day and we don’t know that it could get to the point that it could kill us. For whatever reason, my doctor kept upping my dose – and it got to the point where it did almost kill me – but I think a lot of people have a slower slide into disability than I did.RP: What was the reason for Dr. Amazing – as you call him in the book – to keep increasing your dose?MB: I can’t begin to fathom exactly how he made his decisions [although], at the time, I think he really did believe that Ativan (lorazepam) was non-harmful. I think he was in a little bit of denial, had not looked at the literature, thought that they were good drugs, and that I wouldn’t have Melissa Bond and her father, James Bond, at the 2022 release party for Blood Orange Night.MELISSA BOND’S Book RecsAll-time favorite book and why. It’s really impossible to list an all-time favorite book! I’m a different person at different stages of life, so books will hit right at those various stages. What I WILL say is that when I was 16, the works of Carlos Castaneda blew open my desire for a kind of spiritual connection I’d never seen before. Journey to Ixtlan and The Art of Dreaming gave me a language of thought that was new. I was young and angsty and had a heart wound as big as a house. These books set me on a journey that is part of my life to this day. Favorite genre. I adore fiction because it allows writers a massive landscape in which to play. Ideas become stories become characters and they’re not limited by anything but the writer’s imagination. Which, in the hands of a master, can create new worlds and new ways of perceiving the world around us.What fellow author would you like to meet and why? I’d be over the moon to meet a number of authors. Margaret Atwood for one. She’s brilliant and creates worlds that make us reflect upon the dark and light aspects of our own cultures. She’s a master. I’d love to have met David Foster Wallace. I doubt he would have talked much, but I’d have taken him on a picnic and hoped he’d stare at the clouds with me for a bit. I’d also loved to have met Gertrude Stein. That woman fractured thoughts I had about language in the best way. She was a poet and a renegade and those are the people I love to spend time with. The book that had the biggest impact on you at any point in your life. One of the books that had the biggest impact on my life was Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic. I was deep in the throes of benzodiazepine withdrawal when I read it. I felt hopeless that I’d ever recover and felt more alone than I’ve ever felt in my life. His book was a lantern in the dark. He helped me see that benzos have been a desperate and underplayed epidemic for decades. He gave cultural and historical context and helped me feel stronger and much less alone while I continued my withdrawal journey. If you could recommend any book (other than your own, of course!) on overcoming life’s challenges, what would it be and why? The books that helped me along the way as I tapered off benzodiazepines all had to do with garnering a spiritual strength. I read Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart, which helped me resist less and embrace the terror and physical anguish of withdrawal. What you’re reading now. Right now, I’m in a reading tornado of four separate memoirs. It’s such a thrill. The first one is called Love and Money, Sex and Death, and it’s blown the lid off my understanding of trans identity. Another one, The Loneliness Files, is also about identity, but it’s in the terrain of loneliness and how we define ourselves when social media is constantly telling us who we are, what we like, and what we should be thinking about. For more information, visit Melissa A. Bond’s website. To read the first chapter or order the book, go to Simon & Schuster.
5 | AUGUST 2023a problem getting off. This is the human aspect of being a doctor. You can be a doctor, but you’ve still got all the stresses of being a human.I did not know it at the time, but [later, when I was no longer his patient], he confessed that [benzodiazepines] had saved him when he had gone through a period of extreme insomnia, so he was basing it on his experience. Also, he had known a few people that had been able to take them their whole lives and I think he had just put on blinders.RP: Without giving away too much, you have added a bonus chapter to the paperback about going back and meeting with Dr. Amazing, and giving him a copy of your book. Did having the opportunity to talk to him give you peace of mind?MB: Absolutely. I had vilified him and it was really easy to blame [him] and have hostility and this burning coal of resentment or anger. I could feel that in myself and I thought, “I don’t want to carry this around for the rest of my life. I at least have to try to have a conversation with him and try to see his humanity in all of it. We all make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes can cost other people their lives and, if he is not aware, I need to let him know.” I wanted to come at it from as humane a place as I could muster in myself.The overarching message is, as humans we go through suffering, and we find ways to survive. For me, the book became this exercise of reminding myself that not only can we survive, but figuring out how we survive and stand back up and face the world again is part of the beauty of what makes us human. It carves us into new creatures. I think everyone has gone through that, so while the book is specifically about my experience with doctor prescribed benzodiazepines, it truly is about immense human suffering, and how we rise up out of that, and how we can transform that into something beautiful.EXCERPT The Lost Year 2010 – 2011In August I’d seen Dr. Amazing for the third and what I didn’t realize would be the last time. I told him the pills had worked for a while but, despite the fact I was still taking them nightly as prescribed, they didn’t seem to be working the way they did at first. “I’m getting maybe four hours of sleep a night at best,” I said. “As a matter of fact, I’m not sure they’re working at all.” I mentioned that my friend Ivy was worried I might have an eating disorder. We’d met for a glass of wine a week earlier and she put her hand over mine, making note of how thin I’d gotten; like a scarecrow. I laughed awkwardly, telling her I didn’t have an eating disorder; I just couldn’t eat. I was sure it was the botched C-section. I’d eat and I’d cramp, and it was awful. She nodded, smiling, but I could tell she didn’t believe me.Dr. Amazing talks about the cortisol test I did after my first visit and says it’s likely my cortisol is still surging at night. My adrenals are upside down; the cortisol test verified his diagnosis. I need to hang on until they resume their proper function. It’s such a relief to have a diagnosis. We’ve identified the problem and we have a strategy to solve it. I trust Dr. Amazing. My adrenals will stop waking me up at night. I just need to be patient. He mentions the inherent stress in having two infants, one with special needs, and losing the job I love. I nod. Yes, yes, of course. All true. He gives me the Super Adrenal Stress formula that’s chock-full of ashwagandha, rhodiola, and chamomile, all herbs that should help me chill out. He also writes out two prescriptions. Xanax, he tells me, is another fast-acting sedative hypnotic. I can use it on alternating nights with the Ativan. He makes no mention of the note from the nurse practitioner as he hands me enough refills of both Xanax and Ativan to last over a year. He increases my dose of Ativan from 4 milligrams to 6. He writes one line of notes in my chart: Patient still can’t sleep. Six milligrams of Ativan nightly prescribed for insomnia. I forget to tell him I’ve begun feeling muddy – my brain unreliable and murky. I forget to say I am losing sense of who I am. But perhaps it’s just the toil of motherhood. Fatigue, overwhelm, loss of self and memory – isn’t that what happens for a while?I take the pills and with each passing week I grow more and more invisible until I feel vaporous. I slide into disability. When we move into the new house, the boxes high and solid, I rattle through the rooms, desperate and light as air.Excerpt from Blood Orange Night: A Memoir of Insomnia, Motherhood, and Benzos by Melissa Bond (Gallery Books; June 2022). Reprinted by permission from the author. Resources: Benzodiazepine Information Coalition | www.benzo.org.uk | Benzodiazepines: How they Work and How to Withdraw (known as The Ashton Manual) by Professor C. Heather Ashton, DM, FRCP (revised 2002). Supplement 2011. Additions 2012 and 2013. Translated into 11 languages. Free to download.
6 | AUGUST 2023 Tracey Helton Mitchell“The main catalyst for me seeking help for my substance use disorder was death. I was slowly creeping up on a place where my use was interfering with the ability to live. I was having breathing problems. I was having heart palpitations. I was prone to soft tissue infections. I was frequently a victim of violence. But, most of all, it seemed that continuing as I was would be a living death as all of the things that make life worth living no longer were a part of my existence.” Mitchell is the author of The Big Fix: Hope After Heroin (Seal Press; March 2016).Quote, UnquoteWHAT WAS THE CATALYST THAT COMPELLED YOU TO SEEK HELP FOR YOUR SUBSTANCE USE?
7 | AUGUST 2023 Peter Grinspoon, MD“The immediate catalyst that compelled me to seek help for my addiction was the fact that the state police and the DEA raided my primary care doctor’s office due to some atrocious prescriptions I had written. It was hard to ignore their presence, especially because it led to fingerprinting, felony charges, a forced march into rehab, and the loss of my medical license for more than three years. The deeper catalyst to my recovery was that I was profoundly unhappy and stressed out due to my addiction to prescription opioids. I was alone, lying to everyone, and withdrawing half the time. On some level, I was ready for a change.” Grinspoon is the author of Free Refills: A Doctor Confronts His Addiction (Hachette Books; February 2016) and Seeing Through the Smoke: A Cannabis Specialist Untangles the Truth about Marijuana (Prometheus; April 2023). www.petergrinspoon.com Erin Khar“After fifteen years of struggling with addiction, two trips to rehab, and countless relapses, I detoxed while pregnant. Yet, I was unsure I’d be able to stay sober. My son’s birth was a turning point. A switch flipped. The moment I held him and looked into his eyes for the first time, one thought pulsed through me repeatedly: I love him more than I hate myself. I love him more than I hate myself. That love was the catalyst for getting the help I desperately needed.” Khar is the author of Strung Out: One Last Hit and Other Lies That Nearly Killed Me (Park Row; February 2020). www.erinkhar.com Maia Szalavitz “I sought help when I realized that I fit my own definition of addiction, which had been carefully designed so that I wouldn’t fit it, even though I was shooting cocaine and heroin and facing many years in prison. I wasn’t court mandated into treatment, but I chose to seek help and got into recovery on August 4, 1988, starting at a hospital detox program.” Szalavitz is the author of Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction (St. Martin’s Press; April 2016), Undoing Drugs: The Untold Story of Harm Reduction and the Future of Addiction (Hachette Go; July 2021), and others. www.maiasz.com
8 | AUGUST 2023Rebecca Ponton: On your website, your work is described as “gritty, demanding, morbid, and sometimes dangerous.” Working as a death investigator doesn’t sound like the ideal job for someone in early recovery. What was it about the work that attracted you? Did having the job aid in your recovery in some way?Barbara Butcher: It’s probably a terrible idea for someone in early recovery to work an emotionally strenuous job, but how could I resist? It’s the most interesting career in New York for someone as curious (nosy) as me, someone who is drawn to the edges of life. I think it really did help me stay sober in many ways, primarily in that it completely absorbed my mind. I was doing such strange and interesting things on a daily basis that I didn’t miss drinking or running around to clubs. When things got bad and I had trouble handling the relentless tragedy, I sometimes thought about a drink, but ate bags of Smarties candy instead. The other nice thing about my work was that I could do a little good in the world, getting justice for victims and answers for families. That helped me feel like a better person, less ashamed of how useless I had become while drinking.RP: There are many things that can trigger relapse, including stress and traumatic events. How do you deal with the psychological impact of witnessing victims of homicide, suicide, and other horrific death scenes, so that you don't seek relief in drinking? In other words, what keeps you sober?BB: AA techniques and practices kept me sober. Whenever I thought about finding relief in a drink, I reviewed my last days drinking in detail. The shitty little studio I lived in, the off-the-books jobs and wasted education, my small and uninteresting life. I did nothing and was nothing. I didn’t even have fun, I just drank and hung out. Whenever I thought a drink might help, I thought about what my best thinking got me back in those days, and the answer was always nothing. Now I had something, and I didn’t want to lose it.RP: In an interview with Publisher's Weekly, you mention “first responder syn-drome,” and talk about the importance of surrounding yourself with beauty. I think this is true for people in recovery, most of whom have experienced trauma whether before or during their substance use. What are the beautiful things in your life?BB: First responder syndrome tells us that life is full of murder, suicide, horrific accidents, evil, and tragedy. If that is what you see every day, it becomes the norm. In surrounding ourselves with things of beauty, we change focus and see how good life really is. Of course, this takes work: You have to go out and find those things, or create them. I have a little house on a lake in the woods, and enjoy being among trees, rocks, and moss. I kayak around the shore and watch herons and eagles fly overhead. I collect Q&A withBarbara ButcherDEATH INVESTIGATOR, AUTHOR OF WHAT THE DEAD KNOW“Every single life is a universe unto itself.”BARBARA BUTCHER’S Book RecsAll-time favorite book and why.Probably Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow. He shows us how each individual life connects to others to create history.Favorite genre. Historical novels.What fellow author would you like to meet and why? The ones I want to meet most are all dead.The book that had the biggest impact on you at any point in your life. To Kill a Mockingbird. Reading it a child spun my head around.If you could recommend any book (other than your own, of course!) on overcoming life’s challenges, what would it be and why? Requiem For A Dream by Hubert Selby Jr. It is not about overcoming addiction, but succumbing to it completely, and that is so scary that it is a powerful lesson in itself.What you’re reading now. May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes.Photo courtesy of Anthony Robert Grasso.
9 | AUGUST 2023antique or unusual Mickey Mice, and love walking around New York looking at old brownstones and new skyscrapers – isn’t it amazing what people can build?RP: Someone in recovery might not think that reading a memoir about the life of a death investigator would be particularly inspiring or helpful to their own recovery. What do you hope readers – specifically those in recovery – will take from your book?BB: Early on in AA, I was promised that if I stayed sober, I would have a life beyond my wildest dreams. I thought that was hyperbole, of course, but it really came true. I have a life that is so much better than what I could have imagined, so full and interesting. Of course, it’s not just me – everyone I knew in the sobriety gang changed and grew, got new lives full of fun and promise. It’s not a miracle, it’s just common sense: If you sit around drunk, you have effectively signed out of life, and you will get nothing from it. If you participate, you get prizes. I hope that someone who is thinking about their drinking will read my story and be intrigued about the possibilities of what they could have. For every reader, I hope they will see what is behind the surface of everyday life – the strange stories, the dramas, the ways people live and the ways they die, and what they leave behind. My stories are a peek behind the curtain.RP: Because we are talking about the power of stories to effect change, what book would you cite as being most impactful to you and why? BB: There are several, but Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow showed me the connections between people and their effect on history; Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. taught me of the small dramas in ordinary lives, and A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin related the tragedy of war in its smallest manifestation, the loss of a single life. There’s a common theme, and that is that every single life is a universe unto itself, full of connections and history and importance. My work reinforced that for me.RP: Sorry, I can’t resist. What is the worst joke you have heard about your last name?BB: When I mistook the bones of a calf for human. My colleagues asked how it was that a butcher didn’t know a cow when she saw one.For more information, visit Barbara Butcher’s website. To read the first chapter or to order the book, go to Simon & Schuster.Excerpt: Chapter 2Luck JoyThe story goes that, at the end of the night, I was standing out in the middle of Seventy-Ninth Street giving the last of my cash to a panhandler who said he wanted it to buy heroin. I applauded his honesty, or so I was told. The last thing I remember was hunching over a glass of Sancerre while struggling to explain something that made no sense—like the origins of the Peloponnesian War. I was the insistent kind of drunk, the one who speaks deliberately, with eyes wide open to appear not-drunk. I have no idea how I got into the street, or got home, or fell. Total amnesia. I was disassociated from myself and completely unaware of what I was doing. A blackout.That morning, I awoke cramped and sore on the floor, half-undressed and tangled in damp, sweaty sheets. I had fallen out of bed. I rubbed my aching head and came away with dried blood on my hand. Leigh said I had fallen in the street and on the stairs. It took a while until I was able to get up, racked with nausea and the guilt that comes from knowing I had probably done something bad. The anxiety washing over me was hideous, more terror than fear. It was the knowledge that something was wrong with me that scared me so much, that I couldn’t remember anything from the night before. A blackout—did that mean I was an alcoholic? That’s not what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a regular, drinking-and-having-fun kind of person. A normal person. I hated the idea of “having a problem,” of being out of control.A fistful of aspirin later, I called my friend Kate, who knew about these things. “Hey, Kate? So, uh, last night I was drinking at Frank’s, and it didn’t go so good.” I told her about how I fell somewhere and cut my head, about how I couldn’t remember anything much after the fortune cookie. I said all of this with a little half-hearted laugh, hoping to brush it off. Just a little madcap adventure, a crazy night on the town.Kate didn’t laugh back.“Oh, Barbie, are you okay? Never mind, you’re not.” At that I started to cry. “Do you want me to come over? Or do you want to go to a meeting?”Alcoholics Anonymous.Shit, had it really come to that?Kate said she’d call the AA hotline and find a good meeting for me. Like Chinese restaurants, there were hundreds in New York.It would be my last night of drinking.Excerpted with permission from What the Dead Know: Learning About Life as a New York City Death Investigator by Barbara Butcher (Simon and Schuster; June 20, 2023).“Every single life is a universe unto itself.”Photo courtesy of Anthony Robert Grasso.
10 | AUGUST 2023THE REBIRTH OF Murphy JensenFormer tennis champion Murphy Jensen, co-founder of WEconnect, talks to Rebecca Ponton about playing tennis for and with his brother, growing closer to his dad through their respective recovery journeys, and the intersection of heart health and mental health.In listening to Murphy Jensen describe his life grow-ing up, you would almost assume he and his brother Luke were twins. Two sides of the same coin, mirror reflections of each other. But they’re not; Luke is his older brother by two years. Growing up, Murphy lived for his older brother’s attention and validation. In fact, he says, “I didn’t really know how to navigate inde-pendently from my brother in this game of life.” His tennis was driven not by his desire to be number one in the world, but by his need to be close to his brother.I’m not sure if I won Murphy over when I accidentally referred to him and Luke as “the Murphy brothers,” or if it’s just because he is the type of guy who has never met a stranger. Either way, Murphy has the ability to make people feel like they have known each other forever and truly are friends.As a tennis fan, I can remember watching Murphy and Luke play doubles in the early ‘90s, shaking up the staid white dress code of the tennis world with their colorful board shorts and unique brand of “rock and roll tennis,” as it came to be known. (A 1993 Rolling Stone article referred to them as “double trouble” and said they were “addicted” to psyching themselves up before matches.) Wearing shades on court with their long hair flying, tennis had never seen anything like the high-octane energy they were bringing to the game.Murphy has one of those megawatt smiles that makes every-one around him smile, so it’s hard to imagine the inner turmoil that it masked. When he and his brother won the 1993 French Open men’s doubles championship, reaching one of the pin-nacles in tennis, instead of being on top of the world, he was in the depths of despair.“I sought security, approval, and affection, and I ended up with insecurity, doubt, and fear. Even before I started drinking and smoking pot, I look back and see I was fearful and scared on the playground. I sought my brother Luke’s protection. Mental health issues – unbeknownst to me – preceded my drug use.”Six years later, after crashing out of the first round of the 1999 U.S. Open, he contemplated jumping out of a hotel window. “I was a dead man walking.” Fortunately, a compassionate hotel manager called an interventionist instead of the police, and Murphy accepted his help. “That man – and a bunch of other people who were worried about me – saved my life.”It would take some time for him to save his own life as he celebrates June 1, 2006, as his sober date. Murphy’s dad, who had alcohol use disorder when Murphy was growing up, had gotten sober and, as Murphy made his first tentative steps toward recovery, their relationship grew closer. “His recovery one thousand percent saved my life.” In a later phone call, he tells me, “My dad got sober and died the man he was born to be. At his passing, the last words he heard from me were, ‘I love you, Daddy,’ and as I kissed his cold lips and said goodnight, my dad knew he could say goodbye and that all was well with his family because Murphy had found recovery.” Following that experience, which Murphy calls one of the most powerful events in his life – “I was shot out of a cannon” – Mur- Murphy Jensen during the filming of the upcoming documentary, Born to Serve.Murphy Jensen, co-founder WEconnect, and 1993 French Open doubles champion. Photos courtesy of Murphy Jensen.
11 | AUGUST 2023“My mission is to make recovery the epidemic and let the world know we’re all in this together.”phy and his wife Kate packed up everything and moved west because his heart had told him he had more to offer this world than being a tennis player. It was during that transition period that he was introduced to his WEconnect cofounder, Daniela Tudor – a meeting he calls “divinely inspired” – because of his willingness to take a family friend in early recovery to a meeting. With tennis behind him and knowing how hard it can be to start over, especially at the age of 44, Murphy and Kate lived in the base-ment of her parents’ home for two years while he and Daniela developed what would become WEconnect, a free app designed to help people maintain their recovery. It is part of a larger plat-form called WEconnect Health, which provides customized support and connection to those who might need support and services for mental health challenges and substance use disorder.The app offers anonymous and con-fidential support meetings and peer recovery services, and has built-in fea-tures that combat isolation and act not only as a first line of defense, but a lifeline for anyone seeking help, including family members and loved ones. Murphy, who uses the app himself, says, “Every recovery activ-ity that I do within the app or without the app strengthens my ability to say no to the first drink and drug. This company has been the most important and impactful work I will ever do in my life and it’s just getting started because I really could have used some of these tools, this first line of defense, when I found myself struggling.” The smile is almost ever present and he laughs easily, but can turn serious quickly. Murphy is open with his emotions, frequently saying “I love you” to friends and family and even strangers, and tearing up not infrequently. He calls his family – Kate, older son Billy, 23, and younger son, Duke, five – “my life.” He wears his heart on his sleeve – and a defibrillator implanted on the left side of his rib cage.On October 29, 2021, Murphy suffered sudden cardiac arrest while playing a doubles exhibition match against Luke and their partners at the Garden of the Gods Resort in Colorado Springs. It was the day before his 53rd birthday. Quick-thinking off-duty medical personnel and a former fire chief began CPR on him while Luke ran to retrieve the automated external defibrillator (AED). Waiting for the ambulance to arrive, Luke cradled Mur-phy’s head, which was later discovered to have multiple frac-tures, and repeated the family mantra, “The Jensens never quit. Kate needs you. Billy needs you. Duke needs you. I need you.”Murphy regained consciousness on November 3rd, which is “my baby’s birthday,” he says, referring to Duke. “I don’t want to take his days, so I’m going to make it November 4th” – a date he now calls his “rebirth day.” He refers to the defibrillator that was implanted during his hospital stay as “an insurance policy so, if my heart ever stops again, it will light me up and restart my heart, thank God.”Prior to his own cardiac event, Murphy had been involved with the nonprofit Steven M. Gootter Foundation, the goal of which is to save lives through scientific research, aware-ness, and education around the prevention of sudden cardiac death, as well as the distri-bution of AEDs. In his role as an ambas-sador for the foundation, Murphy would like to see AEDs available in every tennis facility throughout the country. This year, he and the foundation are joining forces and, in 2023, it will become the Gootter Jensen Foundation.On a recent phone call, separate from our interview, Murphy says, “I’ve gone through two psychic changes in my life. One is living through substance use disorder and the other is surviving cardiac arrest – cardiac death.” Going forward, he envisions the intersection of mental health and heart health being his focus. While he is referring to cardiac health in this particular conversa-tion, he has shown through his own life and by sharing his story that heart health and mental health are interconnected and are the keys to recovery. “The greatest win of my life has been my recovery from mental illness and my long-term recovery from substance use disorder. What I have discovered is, recovery is not the end of my life, but the beginning of discovering who I am, why I’m here, that I’m not alone, and who walks with me.”The upcoming documentary, Born to Serve, featuring some of the biggest names in the tennis world, chronicles Murphy’s rise as a champion, how his mental health issues and substance use disorder affected his life both on and off the court, and how his life is now about service to others. His voice full of gratitude, Murphy says, “I’m living in the light. I live every day like it’s my last – because it could be. When I see that film, it will take every ounce of energy I have not to melt into the ground.”The original version of this article appeared in Issue 84, May 2023, of Recovery Today Magazine. Reprinted with permission.Murphy Jensen and WEconnect co-founder, Daniela Tudor.988 has been designated as the new three-digit dialing code that will route callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (now known as the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline), and is now active across the United States. The previous Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255) will always remain available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis. Source: The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (or 988 Lifeline).