Keeping Love First

Recovery Unscripted banner image for episode 54

Episode #54 | March 7, 2018

Featured Guest: Jeff Jay

Today’s guest is Jeff Jay, interventionist and co-author of the best-selling book Love First: A Family’s Guide to Intervention. He sat down with me at the Moments of Change conference in Florida to discuss how he and his wife Debra created a step-by-step method to guide families through the intervention process, with or without a professional interventionist. He also shares why keeping love as the centerpiece of this interaction helps families reach past the addicted mind and connect with their loved one’s heart.

Podcast Transcript

David Condos: Hello and welcome to this episode of Recovery Unscripted, a podcast powered by Foundation’s Recovery Network. I’m David Condos, and today’s guest is Jeff Jay, interventionist and co-author of the bestselling book Love First: A Family’s Guide to Intervention. He sat down with me at the Moments of Change conference in Florida to discuss how he and his wife, Debra, created a step by step method to guide families through the intervention process with or without a professional interventionist.

He also shares why keeping love is the centerpiece of this interaction, helps families reach past the addicted mind and connect with their loved one’s heart. Now, here is Jeff.
I’m here with Jeff Jay, thank you for being with us today.

Jeff Jay: I’m glad to be here, thanks.

David: Let’s start off by having you tell us some about your personal story and how you got started doing what you’re doing today.

Jeff: Sure, absolutely. I was a young guy who looked good on the outside earlier on, good home, good family, National Merit Scholar, et cetera. But by the time I was 26 years old, I was sleeping under bushes in the city park out in California and I was homeless, penniless, bleeding ulcer, bleeding colon. I still didn’t think I had alcohol or drug problem. I just thought I had a little cash flow problem. Anyway, it was a rather unconventional family intervention that got me into treatment and ultimately into recovery when I was 26 years old.

David: You say unconventional, what did that look like?

Jeff: Well, it was kind of a long distance intervention. It is a long story too but it was an intervention none the less. After I had been clean and sober for five years, I decided I wanted to start working as a counselor and I’ve now been working in the field for a very long time. In fact, tomorrow, I will celebrate 36 years clean and sober.

David: Awesome, congratulations.

Jeff: Crazy. I’m a big believer in intervention personally as well as professionally because it saved my life, I wouldn’t have made it any other way.

David: Yes and that gets into my next question as you have your own recovery journey that you were going through and then you said you took a few years and decided to get into the industry on this side. Why did you decide to become an interventionist specifically?

Jeff: Well, I’ve been working as a counselor for a rehabilitation center and some other places just as regular line therapist. After I met my wife, Debra, and we were married, we both wanted to make a larger impact in the field that at that time which was a long time ago, intervention was not known, believe it or not.

David: How long ago was this?

Jeff: Well, the early 90s. There was Vern Johnson but he hadn’t really codified the process and hadn’t really put love into the process in a big way and so we kind of set out to do things differently and we brought that together with Betty Ford Center and a program called Take Charge and then ultimately our book Love First and a lot of other things.

We’ve been big in the trying to make intervention a household word which it is now but at that time it was not. It made such a difference in my life, we wanted to make a difference in everybody’s life because there’s such a huge problem.

David: Absolutely, yes, and that’s interesting to think like the early 90s isn’t really that long ago but you had to at that time evangelize for the whole concept of intervention, not just your idea.

Jeff: Absolutely. Yes, it was not well known. Vern Johnson had done the pioneering work, he is the father of modern intervention but there wasn’t really a method being taught. It fell to us to help put an actual method together that people could follow.

David: That gets us right into, as you mentioned, you wrote the book Love First with your wife, Debra, and that’s really become the handbook for doing this family style of intervention in a loving way. Could you tell us just from the beginning what’s the background of why you decided to write that book and how you put that all together?

Jeff: We wanted to be able to teach families how to do an intervention, to manualize the process so that they could do it on their own even if they didn’t have the advantage of working with a professional because they were living with the addiction day in and day out all the time anyway. Why not give them better tools. The keys are really planning preparation, bringing a group together, rehearsing, really knowing what you’re going to do crossing the t’s, dotting the i’s.

We wanted to manualize the process and make it accessible to people to really explain to them why this is an illness, why you need to take action, what are the actions, what are the A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H of how you do this step by step by step so that families can be successful. As it turned out, the professional community really adopted our book as well. We are glad to be above help out in that way.

David: Yes, that’s interesting. When you launched the book, you were envisioning families could do this on their own so you broke it down to the level of even if you have no training, you can still do this.

Jeff: That’s right, if you put love and concern first and put a structure around that, you can shut down that enabling system, you can offer help and you can really get people into treatment and make the big difference.

David: What’s is the whole concept of Love First? What does that mean to you?

Jeff: It really means that love and concern is the power that makes the difference. It’s not coercion, it is not anything else, it is really the love and concern of the family members and friends coming together as a group, as a “we.” Most people want to do this one to one or they want to do some kind of strong arm thing but what we find is, a well-rehearsed group that’s putting love and concern first is going to be the most effective.

David: Yes. You mention this step by step process. Can you tell us a little bit about what a love first intervention entails?

Jeff: Yes, well, when people are working with professionally, we, first of all, we want to bring the team together whatever that’s going to be, family members and friends and we want to have everybody hearing what everybody else has to say. We’re usually doing it by conference calls because people are spread out geographically. But I want everyone to say from their perspective what are they seeing with their addicted loved one? Let’s get all the facts out on the table because all the sudden, their little sister will be telling all the truth and she knows it all. Grandma and grandpa know nothing and the friends know something and mom and dad know something. When you get all the facts on the table, then it really has the secondary effect of galvanizing the team and getting everybody to say, “We’ve got to do something now.”

Then lay out for them, how do you do that? We’re going to have everybody write down what they’re going to say in the intervention in the form of letters. How do you write the most effective letter? There’s a seven-point process for doing that that makes everybody a great writer. It’s not a guessing game of what to say. What are the person’s objections to treatment going to be? Let’s talk about them, let’s brainstorm that, let’s figure out what the right answers to those objections are.

David: You’re not scrambling when that comes out?

Jeff: Right, it’s preparation, preparation, preparation. Then before the intervention, we’re all going to be getting together to rehearse and edit the letters and run through various scenarios that might take place in the intervention. What are we going to do if he walks out? How are we’re going to handle that?

Again, it’s all about preparation and planning for every eventuality so that when you actually do the intervention, when you invite the person in to speak with all of us or we go to where they are, whatever it’s going to be, we’re prepared for whatever might happen and we can keep that love and that concern and that calm and that solution front and center all the time no matter what happens.

David: You mentioned writing letters is a big part of this. What are some of the techniques or the tips that go into that when you’re when you’re helping families write a good letter?

Jeff: Well, we want to emphasize the power of relationship, we want to emphasize that connection, we want to emphasize the love and concern kind of in a counterintuitive way. We want to talk about when the addict has been there for us, when has he been helpful in our life? When have we been proud of her?

David: Yes because this person means something to everybody in that room.

Jeff: We want to say why we’re here, they’re thinking we are going to come in and start wagging our fingers and instead we’re going to say, “You know what? This is why I love you so much, this is what you have meant to me through the years.” Now we want to reframe the issue as a medical problem rather than a moral failing or an ethical issue or willpower issue or anything like that.

We want to make a commitment to walk with them through the treatment process and the recovery process and really be involved, it’s not just them, it’s all of us, we want to ask them to participate in a treatment program. We want to all give them an affirmation of what their life can be like on the other side and how we are all going to be together.

David: Yes, you also mentioned preparing for objections or resistance. What do you do if somebody wants to walk our or just doesn’t want to acknowledge a problem?

Jeff: Sometimes it’s just emotionally too much in the personal get up and walk out. We normally identify two of the most influential people in the room that have the least baggage, have them go after them and say, “Listen, it’s okay, we just need to talk. It’s a free country, you can do whatever you want to do, but we are here today because we love you, and we just want to talk.” Normally, they just need to blow off a little steam then they’ll come back and then we can proceed. The disease at that moment is fighting for its life. Part of the preparation process is to get the family ready for what’s the disease, and what’s our loved one and keep reaching for the loved one. Keep reaching for the heart, and don’t think you are going to negotiate with the disease.

Just go right past it and go for the heart because the addiction owns the brain. The brain is going to be kicking out all kinds of reasons why treatment is a horrible idea. But in the heart, the person knows. That’s where the real battleground is. It’s not the mind per se, it’s the heart. We are always keying our intervention to reach for the heart.

David: Wow, yes. I love that imagery of the addiction is in there fighting for its life, and you can’t reason with that. You think of an alien movie or some they go–

Jeff: No, you cannot negotiate with the alien.

David: Then remember that your loved one is still in there.

Jeff: You better believe it right, it’s all a matter of the heart. Just keep reaching for the heart. Love first.

David: We’ve talked but the preparation and that is rightfully such an important part, but then also there is the phase of the journey that comes after treatment and a transitioning back into life. A lot of times that can be forgotten or be treated as less than, but I know that’s something that love first addresses as well.

Jeff: starts the day that a person admits to treatment. Keeping that intervention team that we’ve already got together, let’s keep them working. We do weekly conference calls with them for the purpose of getting them into recovery. Not theoretically, but actually going to AA and getting a sponsor and working the steps, getting a home group, getting a service commitment.

Get them truly not theoretically, but truly working a program of recovery so as they begin talking to their loved one in treatment, week two, week three all of a sudden mom and dad and brother and sister or a spouse or whatever they are talking about getting a sponsor. They are talking about going to their home group. They are talking about all this stuff and it’s so shocking to the person in treatment that they are actually progressing on the same path that they are being asked to progress in treatment. We want to create a structure through structured family recovery for the whole family to get into a program of recovery and really work it, because that’s how you create durable, long-term recovery. We are all in this together.

David: In a bigger picture view, in your experience, why is family involvement both the intervention and then also in ongoing recovery, why is that so crucial?

Jeff: Because addiction is a disease of isolation. When I’m addicted, I may be in a crowd of friends or family or colleagues but I am alone and I think I have to go it alone. Addiction cuts me off from other people and as long as I’m cut off, I will keep going back to my drug of choice for my behavior of choice as my escape, as my soothing mechanism. It really takes over the brain as we already discussed. So the journey of recovery is a journey from that isolated I, to a “we.” It’s back to where we are supposed to be. We all come from family, we all go home to family, in the end. However we define family that maybe defined very untraditionally but we want to help the person make that journey from the isolated I, to the “we.” That’s where real healing is.

David: Then you are also presenting here at the conference as part of a panel on the state of interventions in today’s landscape, and I know some of the things that are being covered in the panel specifically are the role of the opioids crisis right now, the emergence of mental health disorders, and the roles they play. What are some specific challenges, your approaches or some things that you’ve seen to be effective for helping intended patients who are addicted to opioids specifically?

Jeff: I think as a field we have to make sure that we don’t get to scattered shots in our approaches. We’ve got to make sure we got the basis covered first. It’s great that we have Narcan to save lives, but if it’s Narcan and then you walk out of the hospital 90 minutes later like Prince, what’s the point? Narcan is got to be followed by treatment. We have to have all hands on deck to make sure that that happens. Narcan on its own is like setting a badly broken leg and not putting a cast on. We are talking about the wrong thing sometimes. We are not talking about long-term treatment, we are not talking about 60,90 days especially for opiate addicts. We are doing them a tremendous disservice.

David: Missed opportunity.

Jeff: It’s a totally missed opportunity and we’ve got to stop being sidetracked into little conversations like, “How are we going to define?” The definition de jure now has to be substance use disorder and we get into a lot of language arguments. It’s not really important. What’s important is time and treatment, getting people into treatment, keeping them long enough, getting the family involved and stuff like that. We’ve got to keep our eyes on the ball and not get into a lot of little arguments.
We spend a tremendous amount of time and a tremendous amount of money talking about stigma.

I hate to say that this is politically incorrect, but stigma is about the 17th thing on the list of important things that we need to talk about. It’s not about stigma. If I’m drinking, I’m drugging, living the life that I used to live, stigma is the last thing I’m worried about. I’m trying to figure out how to get 20 bucks out of you so I can go use. I’ll steal my kid’s lunch money if I have to. Stigma is not my thing.

David: That’s maybe not the first step?

Jeff: No, it’s not, and we get sidetracked into these arguments that are frankly ivory tower. They are intellectual and people are dying at a rate like we’ve never seen before. We’ve got to get back down to, what do we need to do to save their life, and then get them into testament and keep them long enough that they actually think their getting well is a good idea.

David: Moving on to the mental health emergence of those issues, when you are intervening with a situation where mental health is a big factor, what are some of the unique complexities you face there, and how do you then turn it around so it’s still a positive result for the family?

Jeff: A lot of times, depending on the nature of the mental health problem, that will change how you are going to configure your intervention team. For example, if someone has a really profound anxiety disorder, a large team is going to be really a bad idea. Instead of having seven or eight people, we might have three that are really influential. We want to make sure that it’s a little more of an invitational model. We want to assure the person that they are going to get good medication support when they get to treatment.

On the other hand, if a person is very depressed and feeling very despondent, a larger group may be much more effective and they may need to hear from a lot of people on their life who they’ve become alienated from that, “No, we do love you. We care about you, we understand. This is a medical problem. This isn’t you.”

David: To build them up.

Jeff: Right, to build them up and say, “No, and we are going to do this with you.” You have to decide how you are going to configure things for the mental health issue that you are dealing with and then, needless to say, you have to pick your treatment provider based on who’s going to provide the best service for that.

David: All right, you’ve given a lot of yourself and your time to this world over the past three decades. Could we wrap up by having you just say a little bit about why helping lore families find recovery is so important to you?

Jeff: I just think it’s a privilege that I have been given. I should have died really in my addiction, and I know how fortunate I am. This is a gift that was given to me that I frankly didn’t deserve in a lot of ways. It’s my privilege to pass it on in whatever way I can. I read another book recently called Navigating Grace which is more of a spiritual memoir about my journey. Part of the message of that journey has been how many people have continued to help me through the years. Whatever little bit that I can do to help other people, whatever little bit I can do to help other families, is a great joy, and a great privilege to me, and I’m glad to be able to do it.

David: Yes absolutely. Thank you for your time.

Jeff: You are welcome. It’s been a pleasure.

David: Thanks again to Jeff for taking the time to share all of that with us. Now, I’m happy to welcome Jordan Young from the Foundations Events team, which puts on four great conferences for the behavioral health industry each year. As you may remember, he’s joined us every few months to give us an update about what they have coming up. Their spring conference, Innovations in Recovery, is just around the corner. I’m excited to have him come back on the show and give us a quick preview of what to expect next month in San Diego. Welcome, Jordan.

Jordan Young: Thank you, David, it is always a pleasure to be on here with you.

David: Absolutely, good to have you again. I really love Innovations in Recovery, I’ll be there again this year recording more podcast interviews but, yes, what would you say to introduce it to someone who’s not familiar?

Jordan: Innovations in Recovery, this will be our eighth year that we’ve had a conference in Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. There’s a lot of exhibitors, we have one hundred plus exhibit tables, we’ve had over a thousand attendees the last two years. Innovations in Recovery is one of the biggest and best conferences on the West Coast.

David: Yes and getting into that, what are some of the speakers and topics that you’re especially excited about bringing people this year?

Jordan: A couple of the presenters that I’m most excited about are Sam Quinones who is the author Dreamland. Dreamland is a book on opiates and how they got to be so big in the US. I read his book last year and is very interesting to me the story of how black tar heroin infiltrated the US through smaller groups of people that came from Mexico. That’s where the heroin comes from. He also talks about the way that opiates came down from big pharma in the US. That’s very interesting, the opening keynote will be Michael Botticelli. Botticelli was the drug czar under the Obama administration, he’s going to talk about personal narratives.

He’s a man that’s in recovery himself, he has a lot of legislative experience. I feel like he’s going to bring some good insight. Some other things that I’m really looking forward to in the content side of things, we’ll have Andrea Barthwell who was the head of Drug Control policy under George W., under the W. administration. She’ll be presenting, we will have topics on things like chronic pain, on sex addiction, eating disorders, important payer and billing things that are going on in the industry.

That’s one that’s relevant to everyone right now because everybody is fighting the battle with reimbursements. What is going to qualify? How many days are we going to be able to treat this client for? What type of rates are we going to be able to see? We’ll have some topics on that, we’ll have topics on ADHD, ACOA, which is Adult Children of Alcoholics. One that I think’s going to be really good it’s called A Clinician’s Guide to Survival. That one’s going to be a really good presentation along with many others. Forgive me if I left you out.

David: Nice, yes. I know in addition to all that education, the marketing opportunities are big part of all your conferences. What can you tell us about that?

Jordan: For marketing, I feel like it’s a great opportunity to build your business, build your reputation nationally as well as on the West Coast if you’re looking to have more of a focus on that area. A couple of tips that I would have for your attendees if you’re going to the conference and the sessions you want to go to, know who the speakers are. There’s going to be a whole lot going on there.

You’ll try to walk down the hallway or in the exhibit hall and you’ll get pulled 46 different ways, I know I do, while you’re trying to go from one road to the end, make sure that you have your schedule of who you want to see present, what times those are going to be because you only have a defined amount of time in the conference. Make the best use of it. That goes for attendees as well as the exhibitors.

For the exhibitors, know who you want to connect with, check out the other exhibitors, check out the speaker sessions, having a plan for who you want to meet, what you want to do there, make sure that you’re efficient with your time because while it is a long conference, it’s not a long period of time. You’re only there for a few days and I feel like you need to make the most of that investment of your time and your resources. Then also, one of the things that we like to talk about always is follow up. After the conference ends, follow up with that emails, phone calls. If the conference in the on Thursday no later than your middle of the next week, make sure you’re following up with people.

David: Yes, man. For anyone who’s listening, who is interested, where can they go to find more information about Innovations in Recovery?

Jordan: For more information, go to our website at discontinued events. If you have questions about how to get involved as a speaker, an attendee or a sponsor, you can fill out the “Contact Us” form or you can always just register online.

David: All right. Thank you, Jordan, looking forward to it. Coming up here, April 9th through 12th.

Jordan: April 9th through 12th at Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, California.

David: Perfect. All right, thank you Jordan.

Jordan: Thanks, David.

David: This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. Today, we’ve heard from Jeff Jay of Love First interventions. For more, visit Thank you for listening today. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please take a second to share it and also be sure to check out our previous episodes for more great conversations about recovery. See you the next time.

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