Paying It Forward|
Lives of Hope, Success, and Freedom From Addiction Distinguish De Paul Freedom Award Winners
Jim Thayer is married with five step-kids, 49 years old, a physician, and
a recovering ex-felon.
22, Thayer will receive the DePaul 2004 Freedom Award. The Freedom Awards
recognize people who are public about their recovery from alcoholism,
and educate others or directly help others to seek treatment.
It has been honoring people who have helped send alcoholics to
alcohol rehabs over the years.
seem like an unlikely candidate for any award. But he can tell his own story.
“I did my residency at Emanuel Hospital,” says Thayer. “I
grew up in Indiana. I moved out here to do my residency, then started
working for the county health department. I ended up going to treatment
for alcoholism after my family intervened back in ’87.
father had died, my mother was still in Indiana,
but my sister and my girlfriend conspired to get me into treatment, which
I needed badly. So I quit drinking
and was doing okay. I stayed sober for about a year and a half.
then I relapsed, and no one really knew. It really was sort of clear,
the last two years of medical school, I was drinking way too much, although
no one was complaining. But I knew I was drinking too much. It started
getting out of hand toward the end of my residency. I was working and
drinking, but not much else. And then when I started working for the county
I was 9-5, 40-hour week, so I had plenty of time to drink.
when I relapsed, I was drinking on the sly on the weekends, on days off,
that kind of stuff. But I ended up drinking and driving in a blackout.
I went the wrong way on the freeway and killed a man. That was in April
1990, on the Banfield, out there by Troutdale.
was a guy on his way to work, late at night, Richard Strader is his name.”
himself. “Was his name.
took me to the ER. I didn’t even know what I had done. I had no
recollection of the wreck—still don’t really. But they told
me what happened and I pretty much freaked out. From reconstructing, I
went about three miles driving the wrong way. It was about 11 or 12 at
night. I remember leaving the bar; I remember getting in my car and starting
home. It’s weird, it didn’t even make any sense for me to
get on the freeway—I can’t figure out…as far as I knew,
I was headed home.”
It was the
worst that could happen, the nightmare scenario—killing someone
else and surviving to face the shattered remains of all the affected lives.
Co-winner of the 2002 Freedom Award, with fellow state legislator
things I’m thankful for that I’m not burdened with,”
says Westlund. “I don’t have to know where my cancer came
from—secondhand smoke, agricultural chemicals. A lot of people need
to know… I don’t care.
other is that while I was drinking I never got in one of those wrecks.
I never hurt anybody. It
was just there, but for the grace of God, go I,” Westlund says emphatically.
“One left turn, one right turn, one half-second delayed response
and I could have been there. Those two things I am eternally grateful
Westlund refers to hit him many years after his recovery from alcoholism,
while he was working in the legislature. “I didn’t fit the
profile for lung cancer because I didn’t smoke, never smoked.
did cancer surgery on May 16, 2003 and I went back to the session, did
chemo, did the radiation.
3, 2003 was one of the great days of my life,” says Westlund. “It
was the last day of the session, my last day of chemo, results from my
first CT scan showing things looked pretty good, and it was my
some people a battle with alcoholism, followed by another with cancer
might seem like a heavy dose
of bad luck. But more was on the way. Weakened by radiation, Westlund’s
windpipe became infected, and likely due to prescribed steroids, last
November Westlund’s colon ruptured, requiring emergency abdominal
surgery. Now, weakened abdominal muscles from that surgery have caused
a hernia. But Westlund laughs it all off, happy to be in improving health
and moving forward. “It’s a glide slope down,” jokes
Westlund. “When I get down to a hang nail next year,
optimism, and forward-thinking attitude are a recurring theme with all
five Freedom Award winners.
Pay It Forward
In the 1999
Warner Bros. movie, “Pay It Forward,” Kevin Spacey plays a
teacher whose devastating life story confirms that some tragedies cannot
be redeemed. Sometimes there’s no way to repay, rebuild, or repair
past events—the damage, at least in this lifetime, is permanent.
No going back; only forward. No repaying; the only hope is paying forward.
He challenges his seventh grade class to grab onto that hope and to change
the world, one step at a time. “You take the things you don’t
like about the world and you flip them right on their ass,” he says.
“Possibility exists in each of us.”
One of his
students devises a plan: people must respond to help given them at extremely
critical times in their lives by paying it forward three times to others
in similar circumstances. His plan, which “requires an extreme act
of faith in the goodness of people,” changes the world.
Freedom Award winners have found ways to “pay it forward’
in their lives. Rather than dwell in past or present dilemmas, these well-known
Oregon leaders look for ways to pay forward to others in need. But first
each has had to beat his or her own demons.
for 24 years, Westlund was 31 when he got sober. “What a blessing,”
says Westlund. “The most genius words I’ve ever heard are
Bill W.’s (Bill Wilson, one of the founders of AA), ‘You can’t
keep what you’ve got unless you give it away.’ For an alcoholic
that’s exactly what it is. I get so much satisfaction helping various
people along the way. I don’t go out of my way to find them—they
just kind of find me.”
recovery was a combination of chance, fate, fortuity. “Libby (his
wife) and my mom were saying, ‘Why Ben, why? Why do you drink?’
It was the intensity of the emotions that I felt…music, poetry,
whatever. I wasn’t a violent drunk, I wasn’t a partier, although
I did my share of that. I liked being by myself pretty much, and thinking.
It was the intensity of those thoughts.
one morning, pretty hung over, I found a card that my mom left for a treatment
center in Washington, and I called. They didn’t have a place.
woke up the second morning still hung over. Now I’m calling those
bastards again. I was able to talk my way in. I chartered a plane—I
didn’t trust myself to drive there. The pilot drops me off in a
pouring rainstorm at a little airport—the only thing there is a
phone booth. I call a cab and when the cabbie gets there he’s drunker
than I am. I thought, this is divine justice. I’m going to die at
the hands of a drunken cabbie on the way to alcohol rehab.
God bless him, he made it. I made it.
know what to do. Treatment works. Recovery happens.”
living in the small town of Mitchell, anonymity was always an open question.
“Even though we all think no one knew how much we drank,”
says Westlund, “everyone knew. So it was kinda big news in Mitchell
when I was going up to a treatment center. When you’re coming home,
you think, gosh I hope nobody knows.
everyone knows and everyone is patting you
on the back, saying thank God, good for him…it’s
I was approaching getting into public life, anonymity was a dilemma for
me. What do I do?
Will someone throw mud at me for this?
question was answered for me in summer of ’96. The phone rings—it’s
an Oregonian reporter. First question. ‘Have you ever been arrested?’
It was fight or flight. ‘Well sure, hasn’t everybody?’”
the time I said those words it was very easy for me. ‘What did you
get arrested for?’ ‘Well, drunk driving, kinda.’ ‘Kinda?’
‘Well I was pulled off to the
side of the road changing a tire.’
that’s not why he was calling. ‘Ben, do you know who arrested
the name John Minnis mean anything to you? State legislator John Minnis.
Do you realize that if you win your race, you’ll be serving in the
legislature with the guy that arrested you for drunk driving?’
that ran a few days later read something like, “Officer and man
he arrested may serve time in the big house together.” And, of course,
Minnis arrested me that was my personal bottom,” says Westlund.
“A Portland beat cop just doing his job really helped someone turn
his life around and become a productive member of the community. It all
comes together–law enforcement, personal resolve, and access to
it wasn’t until I got involved in public policy 16–17 years
later,” admits Westlund, “that I started to have the conscious
connection between the number of facilities, the magnitude of the need,
versus what was available. Back then, hell, it could have been the only
one on the West Coast for all I knew.
approaches may work for others. But if you’ve tried to quit three
or four times and it hasn’t worked, read the writing on the wall—maybe
you need a more professional approach.”
2001 Freedom Award winner
went to Serenity Lane,” says Izzy Covalt, founder of the popular
Izzy’s pizza chain. Covalt has been in recovery since May 21, 1981.
“I can’t even visualize being able to survive at the time
if I couldn’t have. And then the tremendous desire the first days
of recovery—I don’t think I could have gone home and kept
father drank but he didn’t go down as far as I did because they
were churchgoers,” says Covalt. “There was no alcohol in our
home. Some in the barn sometimes. I made up my mind early on that I would
never drink at all because a few times my dad got to the pass out stage.
didn’t try alcohol at all—I went to nursing school. But we
were having our junior/senior banquet. It just seemed so different than
my dad having wine out in the barn. They were serving cocktails—it
was just so elegant. I had a pink lady. That pink lady didn’t get
it did…,” Covalt admits, “because it was the beginning.
But I didn’t drink heavily until I was, I’d
her husband Jim opened the first Shakey’s franchise in Albany in
1959. Busy doesn’t begin to describe their new restaurant life,
which included five kids, 0, 2, and up. “My parents and sister loaned
us money,” says Covalt. “I knew that if we didn’t make
$5,000 a month we wouldn’t break even. A good night would have been
$400. Jim tended bar and I did the kitchen and many times I was working
alone. I remember sitting, hoping for someone to come in.”
drinking and the business soon grew; the next year they opened their second
restaurant. “It all happened very fast,” says Covalt.
Bend and Eugene in 61. They opened the first pizza place “The Pantry”
in Corvallis, then Salem and Great Falls.
knew that I was drinking too much. And I was afraid my body was breaking
down and it was going to be so humiliating to have anyone find out.
oldest boy was worried about my drinking. And Jim said, ‘Don’t
worry, when it gets bad, your mother will stop.’ It wasn’t
that he wasn’t aware, but he never nagged me about it. He just took
over with lots of things that a mother would be doing ordinarily. I was
working very hard and the alcohol would give me a lift in the evening
and afternoon so I could keep going.
after a short hospitalization, Covalt told her husband, “Jim, I’m
not going to drink anymore and I don’t want you to mention it again.
I don’t want you to offer me drinks, but you can drink.”
1973. “Believe it or not,” says Covalt, “I stayed sober.
Jim died five and a half years later, November the 20th, 1978. I think
my first drink was three weeks after the service. They were serving after
dinner drinks, and I decided that I could have one. It didn’t bother
me at all, so I decided I could have another one. When I got home I bought
some liquor and then I began to drink wine after dinner, and then a glass
of wine before dinner, and then during dinner, and after dinner.
had six restaurants, probably 100 employees. And my kids were counting
on me. There was a lot of drinking going on in the corporation too. I
didn’t stand out. But I was worried; I could see things not getting
done and see things falling apart. I just continued to drink.
years after opening, the franchise ran out. After a 1980 lawsuit over
renewal terms, the Shakey’s signs came down and Izzy’s signs
had a three day binge around New Year’s 1981, says Covalt. My son
was running the business—he was 26 by now. By the last week I didn’t
work at all. I knew I couldn’t go to a liquor store for alcohol—I
couldn’t drive, I couldn’t stay sober long enough—and
my prescriptions were running out. I went back to the office.
I was leaving my son Jim said, ‘Mom we’ve checked into it
and there is help. And we understand most people can’t stop on their
was a Friday. I wanted to drink but I couldn’t get any relief. I
called my son.
called me right back. I was 54.”
that when she left treatment her counselor said, “I expect you to
get back in that office and get back to work no less than four days a
week and on a schedule, whether you feel like it or not.”
was hard,” says Covalt, “but I did it. I won’t say that
I was effective, but I showed up.”
until after she got sober that her children came down on her about the
business—for not showing up, not following through on things. “My
oldest son was really upset,” she says.
alcohol was gone and Covalt quickly stepped up, making specialty salads,
shipping them regionally, taking more responsibility. The chain now has
30 locations, half franchises, half in the family. Covalt’s oldest
son Fred is still the president of the company and all three sons are
involved. Covalt served on the board until two years ago.
takes a while for most people before they’re willing to admit to
the public that they’re in recovery,” admits Covalt. “I
was high profile in Albany in 1981, there were only 14,000 people. It’s
uncomfortable, but it’s that way for anybody, isn’t it?
Covalt did public speaking on her recovery at places such as Linn-Benton
College, Rotaries, Chambers of Commerce, churches, and schools. Then,
ten years into recovery, Covalt wrote a book, “My Name Is Izzy.”
“Along with speaking I decided to put the book out hopefully to
be helpful to other people,” she says.
found other ways to pay it forward—she currently sponsors 15 other
recovering women. “I’ve had one for 22 years, several for
15, 13 years, and so on. It’s amazing. Some of them are 60 years
old, but they were young when they came in.
“The more people that can get help and then come back into business,”
Covalt says, “and be an example, the better. Because whether they
know it or not, they are a testament to alcoholism recovery.”
2000 Freedom Award winner
was also 54 when he took his last drink. Like other Freedom Award winners,
Wheeler had to deal with his own high profile in Oregon’s business
was on the board of Willamette Industries, and I belonged to the Arlington
Club, and I belonged to the University Club. But I much preferred to drink
alone,” says Wheeler. “So I lived a strange life.”
moment would change that life, and Wheeler has since gone on to pay forward
that same opportunity many times over.
explains, “This doctor I went to see about another family matter
unexpectedly said, ‘I understand you’re an alcoholic.’
the first time anybody had ever said that. Nobody said that. That was
big shock,” jokes Wheeler, “was that Mr. Lookgood here, I
sort of gulped, and said, ‘Yeah I guess I am.’
‘I guess I am.’ I didn’t say, ‘Yes I am.
that was sort of a breakthrough. Then the doctor said, ‘Why don’t
you go downstairs at noon? There’s a meeting, and all these people
were saying, ‘Hi, I’m so-and-so.’
said, ‘What did you think of it?’
said, ‘I’m not going to say I’m Sam, and I’m an
said, ‘Okay, what are you going to do about it?
I said, ‘Well I just won’t drink anymore—I never tried
I tried to stop. It was awful. I drank a fifth a day, and that wouldn’t
quite do it. I liked gin. I don’t know if I liked gin, or if I thought
you couldn’t smell it. But you sure can,” Wheeler laughs.
“You just exude juniper.
once in my life,” Wheeler sighs, “I followed through. I told
that guy I’d do this, so by golly I’ll do it. I went to an
AA meeting and I got there a few minutes late. I turned around and left.
The next week though, I went.”
21 years ago.
Wheeler grew up in a family that was involved in the logging business,
and reasonably successful, despite going through the Depression. “My
father was very likeable, very capable, a pretty well balanced individual,”
says Wheeler. “If anything he might have been something of a workaholic.
My mother came from a Southern family, Louisiana. They’d also been
in the timber business. I believe that my problem came down through my
mother who died of acute alcohol poisoning when she was 44. I
was quite smart, very shy, a loner usually. My father drank, but he drank
pretty moderately, particularly for a logger. I think watching my mother
deteriorate made it imperative—I was convinced I was not going to
drink and I certainly didn’t set out to be an alcoholic or to experiment
with it. Not because I thought it was hereditary, but because I’d
seen what a mess it could make.
I didn’t until I was 19,” says Wheeler. “The first time
I got plastered, and got horribly sick and hung over, and I swore I’d
never do it again.
two months I figured out I could drink most people under the table, and
I felt better when I drank. I thought I was smoother. I’d always
had sort of a low opinion of myself, and that boosted my ego. I won’t
say that for a while drinking wasn’t pretty good, and while I got
drunk quite a bit in college, it was only on the weekends.”
college career began at Cal Tech, but he was displaced after two years
by returning WWII veterans. Oregon State was Wheeler’s next stop
and his drinking increased. “I had a great time at Oregon State.
I really enjoyed myself. I got married and I could still control it pretty
well,” says Wheeler. “But drinking, you know how it is, it
just got worse, that’s all. I became pretty erratic.
I got out of college I was immediately drafted in the Korean War and,
typical service person, I drank heavily on the weekends and didn’t
drink when I shouldn’t. So while I considered myself an alcoholic,
probably no one else knew. But I knew there was something wrong.”
thought I did a pretty good job, but people didn’t like to work
for me. I was running Santiam Lumber Co.—their plywood plants, three
in Oregon, four in L.A., and then we merged with Willamette Industries.
people would put up with me,” says Wheeler. “Most people wouldn’t.
That was 1965–70.
my father died. I came back to Oregon—we had some family businesses.
So I’d been married, had four children, and about the time my father
died, I got divorced. I was erratic with my wife too. I kept drinking.
I was living alone and drinking. I would see my children on weekends.
I drank quite a bit with them. Nothing really slows you down, you just
I got sober,” says Wheeler, “one of the things I decided was
to do everything differently than I’d done before. People who are
alcoholic have a tendency to be a little bit grandiose, and they want
to look good, and
so they don’t ask for help. Oddly enough they think that nobody
else knows about their problem. Everybody knows.
I decided to do everything differently. One of the ways that I’ve
stayed sober is by not trying to hide what I used to be like. Maybe it
will do somebody some good. I know it does me some good. When
you talk about what it used to be like, you start remembering what it
was really like—and it wasn’t much fun.
I’d beaten myself up enough by the time I was 54 to realize I wasn’t
going to get any smarter,” says Wheeler, “and I wasn’t
going to lick this think by myself.
some reason, I decided to just do exactly what they told me to do, and
not fight it anymore—even when I thought they were crazy.”
Wheeler smiles. “It worked.”
understands why politicians don’t devote more funding to addiction
treatment. “People accept that alcoholism is a disease, maybe the
majority. But there is a big minority that definitely feels that you should
just stop drinking. Knock it off, and there won’t be any problem,
and don’t give me your sob story. It’s a vocal minority and
it’s very understandable,” admits Wheeler. “Who would
you rather help, a 10-year-old in Doernbecher, or a 14-year-old in DePaul
Youth Treatment Center?
pretty easy. You ask 100 people, and you’ll get 99 who say Doernbecher,
which is fine.
which is the biggest policy problem?” he asks. “Alcohol is
probably the most prevalent serious long-term disease in the United States.
Many people have to go to treatment to start their recovery. I did not
happen to. On the other hand I didn’t discover my problem and do
anything about it until I was 54 years old, and I wouldn’t wish
that on anyone. Early intervention saves a lot of lives–it saves
a lot of damage. For every alcoholic there are four or five people badly
impacted by alcoholism.”
2003 Freedom Award winner
people in Oregon know more about adolescent drug and alcohol treatment
than Ann Miller, a member of the DePaul adolescent unit advisory board
since last winter. Miller established her reputation in the treatment
community when she started her own successful youth treatment model, A
you have a passion, and you start up a business,” says Miller, “you
don’t get time off. But the intensity of the work is the price you
pay for getting to do things your way and doing what you want to do. Time
off was just not in the script.”
but soon she returned to working with kids, becoming a well-known fixture
in the Canby school system as their drug and alcohol counselor.
Miller, herself a recovering alcoholic, spends every day paying it forward,
one kid at a time.
try to put a teenager in the lowest level of intervention that we believe
will work,” says Miller. But we need the continuum, all the way
from basic stuff for kids who are dabbling, experimenting, up to the highest
level, which is locked down secure treatment for kids on that path of
you’ve got a kid who is 12, 13, 14 moving through the addiction
process, they can do damage to themselves in so much less time than an
adult. All of a sudden, they’re an alcoholic. I've
watched kids go from being in treatment to being on the streets in 2-3
months time and shooting heroin. That’s what’s there waiting
“If you are a parent,” says Miller, “and your kid is
out of control with their use, you say, ‘Honey, I’m really
worried, I see you drinking, I see you using, I’m scared to death
for you. We can either all go in and talk to the counselor or you can
be seen in a lock-down situation. But I am going to fight for your life;
I am not willing to have you stay here in this household continuing to
rip, run, steal from the family, cause chaos, influence your younger siblings,
and cause nightmares in our life.’”
that parents may get to the place where they say to their teens, “Here
are your choices—you’re going to treatment or you’re
going to Prineville to live with Aunt Gertrude, but you’re not going
have more cards to play than they realize,” says Miller. “I
have parents who call up and say, ‘They won’t do a thing I
say.’ And the kid is still driving.
mean, come on. I’ve had people admitted to treatment who said to
me, ‘She’s scheduled for a driver’s test Thursday and
you have group on Thursday, what should we do?’ And I’m thinking,
‘Drive? You’re kid’s being admitted to treatment because
they’re loaded, and you’re worried about driving?’ This
is the insanity.
worst fear is that given a behavior ultimatum, their kids might run away.
So how many kids hit the streets? “It depends on where in the continuum
you do it,” answers Miller, “so the sooner you do it the better.
A lot of kids start out using marijuana and they use it heavily. And there’s
a place where they get in the progression of that drug where they really
don’t care anymore.
because the relationship with drugs has become the most important relationship
in their life—that’s what addiction is—it becomes more
important than school, friends, activities, their families. Trust goes,
because they can’t say, ‘Hey mom, I’m going out to smoke
a few bowls with my friends.’
lot parents try to get around that by saying, ‘Just be honest. If
you’re going to drink, please tell me.’
we say other stupid things like, ‘It’s only pot.’ Well
pot is the number one drug of abuse for our kids in treatment and not
just because it leads to more dangerous drugs, but because it trashes
lives. Five to six percent of people become dependent upon marijuana.
Yes there is a physical component, but it also does the addictive magic—it
changes the way we are, the way we feel. So people don’t think that’s
I’ve got a kid who’s so stoned, so unmotivated, so unable
to remember that they can’t get through school, they drop out, do
we realize the cost of that?
you start getting drunk and loaded as a teenager, you cannot then accomplish
the developmental tasks of adolescence, you can’t properly learn
how to develop relationships with other people, to abstract. We end up
with people who are emotionally, socially, cognitively arrested because
of their addiction. And we say it’s not serious enough to treat
get frustrated because so many adults don’t have the courage to
step up to the plate and say, ‘Enough.’
we play these games like renting them motels and limousines so that they
can drink and use ‘safely.’ Our parents don’t even know
what their kids know about addiction. We run parent nights and the turnout
without a predisposition, all adolescents, statistically, are at a greater
risk of becoming alcoholics—the rate is four times greater if you
start as a young adolescent that if you start as an adult. Their brains
are more vulnerable.
that are early in adolescence don’t have the same ability to look
forward at the potential consequences of their actions in the same way
that you do when you’re 17 or 18 years old. We say, ‘What
were you thinking?’ They aren’t.”
the success rates for treatment? “What if it’s 25 percent,
what if it’s five percent? asks Miller. “Do we do that with
other diseases? If your kid walks in with lung cancer and I say to you
there’s only one thing left we can do, and I say the odds are 20
percent, do you say never mind? No. And yet this disease kills.
get sober and stay continuously sober. We know treatment works. I can’t
understand the flip side of the argument. To just not try, to wait until
the kid hits bottom—I don’t think so—bottom is a long
way down for these kids. Our jails and our institutions are filled with
people who have addictions. Why wouldn’t you provide services at
the front end? It’s going to save so much money in the long run.
plans to be a DePaul volunteer when she retires. She will celebrate 24
years of continuous sobriety in August.
Step Forward on Board
Vice President of Standard Insurance Company, has served on the board
that governs DePaul’s adult and youth programs for six years. Stancil,
though not in recovery himself, is also paying it forward, in a corporate/community
with alcoholism and drug addiction, most people aren’t very far
removed,” says Stancil. It’s not hard to ask—is there
anybody in your family that struggled with an addiction problem? Most
people don’t have to go that far to say, yeah, somebody had a problem,
or that led to a divorce, or some other issue.”
that far for Stancil, whose extended family members have struggled with
alcoholism. “The cause resonated with me because I had seen the
impact on families,” says Stancil. “So I thought, okay, here
are people being treated who probably have far fewer resources to deal
with their problem than people in my family did.
Freedom Awards,” notes Stancil, “recognize people who are
public about their recovery, and help educate or help others to seek treatment.
This could be through public policy, jobs built around recovery, or positive
facility at DePaul quickly rose to number one on the board’s priority
list, due to inadequate size and high per patient costs. The solution
was a $4 million capital campaign to build a new facility, with double
the beds. The campaign has achieved more than 75 percent of its goal.
says Stancil, current board president, runs about 90-120 days. “We
don’t run a 28-day in-and-out and you’re cured thing. It takes
longer than that. A lot of kids have come from very neglected homes. Some
even express concern about leaving,” he says. “The situation
at DePaul—and it is less than ideal at our old facility—is
better than going home. It’s not good for the kids, that many teenagers
that close together. It’s tough. Their whole life is turned upside
explains that DePaul is one of five facilities in the state where operating
funds come from the state and the county—each funding a certain
number of beds. But it’s the only one serving the Northwest heavily
populated region. “It’s a drop in the bucket,” he says.
“The need far exceeds that.
“To me it is simple economics,” says Stancil. “You’re
talking about time that you’re helping somebody buy. And it isn’t
just that you’re sending them on a path for 30 years that might
be self-destructive. It’s going to touch anybody else they come
in contact with from family to employers… Intervening in someone’s
life at any point is going to be helpful, but the sooner you do it, the
bigger the payback.”
who along with wife Joan, founded A-dec Inc. in Newberg, is another active
board member and advocate for DePaul Treatment Centers.
think young people who get into DePaul, if they truly have a spiritual
experience that is the core of this program, will change their lives forever,”
says Austin, who is serving a second stint on the board. “It’s
the only chance these kids have to turn their life around—they’re
not going to get it in a correction institute.
got re-involved with DePaul through Sam Wheeler and Jack Hopkins (current
DePaul board members). I had known Sam through Oregon State University.
Sam Wheeler has been one of the most generous people in this program and
so dedicated to it. When I met Sam the first time I was absolutely amazed—he
was almost like a father to wayward boys. He would help these young people
get their feet on the ground, get them jobs, get them back in school.
Sam has an incredible compassion for these young people and it was easy
for me to come with him and be part of the board.
cannot believe how these young people, who are accepting recovery, feel
about themselves and the world and the changes made in their lives,”
an open campus, not confinement. If they want to walk out, and go back
out on the streets, they will. There’s nothing preventing them.
DePaul doesn’t want to treat kids who want to go back out.
it,” says Austin adamantly, “tell the people—the kids
who are there want to be there, and they need help so they can stay there.
They weren’t stuck in there by the court; it isn’t fenced,
it isn’t secure. The kids want to get their lives turned around
and DePaul is the place they can do it.”
recovery because he’s been there.
one even knew I had a problem,” says Austin. “I never drank
on the job, never had a drink at lunchtime. I would leave and pick up
a six-pack of beer. I’d think, tonight I’m not going to drink
too much, and I’d wake up on the floor at three a.m., the television
is fog…get up…go to bed. I never was late to work, here at
8, stayed til 6. In the latter stages I was tired—sick and tired
of being sick and tired.
isn’t my drinker that’s broken, it’s my thinker,”
Austin says. “I thought, ‘I am not this kind of person. What’s
happened to me?’ I was a Boy Scout, honor student, an athlete, I
was an officer in the Air Force. I don’t know how many honors I
had before I recovered. And I can’t tell you how many honors I’ve
been given since. My thinking was, I can’t be an alcoholic—I
wouldn’t be a distinguished alum from Oregon State. Something’s
wrong here; I’ve got to figure this out.
had the shakes so bad that I would order scrambled eggs and toast and
make a sandwich and hold it with both hands because I couldn’t get
the eggs on the fork to my mouth. A fellow I was having breakfast with
said, ‘You’ve got a problem.’ And I said, ‘No,
I just slept on my arm funny and I got a cramp.’ He said, ‘You’ve
got a problem.’”
fellow told Austin about a book, “Alcoholism: The Exposed Family,”
that he credits with leading him to sobriety. “The fourth time I
read the book through,” Austin recalls, “it hit me that all
I had to do was admit I was powerless over alcohol and that I couldn’t
was reading the book at my beach house on New Year’s Day and I had
promised the family I wouldn’t get drunk. I got up before anyone
else and when I read that I started crying. And I haven’t had a
drink since. The family came out and I admitted to my wife and daughter,
I said, ‘I’m an alcoholic and I can’t drink anymore,’
and they said, ‘Oh dad, you just drink too much, you’re not
an alcoholic.’ I said, ‘Don’t tell me I’m not
told me to call an interventionist, Dr. Neff, who worked with professionals,
and after a year and a half in recovery he told me to go to treatment.
I went down to St. Joe’s in Orange County. I hung in there. It’s
been a long, uphill battle.”
work with Neff would be yet another opportunity to pay it forward, and
the Austins’ business success would make it possible. The business,
A-dec, employs about 900 people in Newberg, with worldwide distribution
and offices in England and Australia. Austin says he doesn’t do
sales and doesn’t do money—he’s the engineering and
product development and manufacturing side (he holds around 35 patents),
and now semi-retired.
Dr. Neff felt there should be a treatment center for professionals in
the Northwest, rather than always sending people to Los Angeles and to
Betty Ford. When Neff approached the Austins for an investment, they responded
with a gift of 23 acres of land. “We gave him the land, put together
a partnership, had ten investors, built the facility,” says Austin.
number of ups and downs the center, Springbrook, was purchased by the
Austins. “We owned it for a number of years, Joan and I. It was
up and running, starting to turn a profit, and Hazelden (a nationally
known treatment group) came to us and asked to buy it. We sold it, as
well as making a several million-dollar gift to Hazelden. They consider
it the second best, if not the best, on the West Coast. It’s their
open about his recovery,” says Austin, “has helped other people.
For 13 years I talked to young people up at Camp Menucha—a Rotary
program for the best and brightest 18-25 year-old kids. Here was Sam Naito,
and Bob Farrell and me, all Rotarians. I thought I was rubbing elbows
with the best in Portland. The speaker after us was from MADD. And I said,
‘Have you ever had anybody speak about success and failure and success
again?’ They said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Somebody
who is successful in business who was an alcoholic and was losing virtually
everything and recovered and got everything back.’ And he said,
‘I’ve never heard of a successful alcoholic.’ I said,
‘You’re looking at one.’ He said, ‘You’re
kidding, you can’t be alcoholic.’ I said, ‘I am an alcoholic.’
year on I talked to the kids…about what it was like when I went
to college, the kind of kid I was. I was just like them, I was a leader,
I was active, but when I’d take one drink I couldn’t stop,’
says Austin with tears in his eyes. “I told the kids, if alcohol
makes you thirsty, you’ve got a problem.
The Meaning of Freedom
22, Jim Thayer will receive the DePaul Freedom Award. The same Thayer
who can’t remember the fatal accident he caused back in 1990, but
a different man too.
came home from the hospital, not really injured. I had a few stitches
in my head, but that was about it. I didn’t have an air bag,”
accident was front to front. He just hit the steering wheel. He was crushed,
he was dead at the scene.
was profoundly depressed after the wreck and was feeling… I was
thinking about suicide. I was feeling bad for me, feeling bad for the
family, feeling bad completely for everything.
went to Georgia where they send a lot of doctors to treatment. They indicted
me while I was gone for first degree manslaughter and driving under the
influence. I pled guilty—went to prison, starting December of 1990
and got out February of ’92. I went to OSP in Salem, then to Columbia
River in Portland.
asked to get into treatment because I figured it’d be a better way
to spend prison time. I ran into a former patient of mine there, a bad
addict. I didn’t know he’d gone to prison. He’s this
large black man, in his 50s at the time. He said, ‘Stick with me
and I’ll keep you out of trouble.’ He was a guardian angel
in there really. I mean it was bad, but nothing happened to me.
got out, got married, and while in prison I was sued by the family for
wrongful death, and settled. They took the insurance money and money added
from me that I borrowed from my family. I was on post-prison supervision
for three years and had no driver’s license for five years.
I appealed to the board of Medical Examiners to reinstate my license to
practice medicine and they did in April of ’92. The county was happy
to have me back to work but it was just one day a week at Hooper Detox.
So I said okay. There were of course no other applicants for this job.
still didn’t know much about alcoholism except about myself. Then
the next job they had open was a clinic for homeless people—a three-day
a week job. Of course, there were no other applicants.
it’s Sept. of ’92, I’ve been out prison six months,”
Thayer says. “All I see are alcoholics, addicts, mentally ill, and
homeless people, but I really like it, it’s really fun. I realized
that I probably ought to think about alcoholism as a physician, as opposed
to just being a recovering alcoholic. I took some courses, and got certified
in addiction medicine in ’94. Then they got this federal grant and
I volunteered—of course, there were no other applicants.
also have a clinic to see homeless people at the St. Francis Dining Hall
two afternoons a week. I’ve been medical director for Hooper Detox
since 1992—that’s four days a week. I work one day a month
at the methadone clinic downtown. Then I moonlight—as medical director
for some other drug treatment programs, DePaul, VOA, and a couple of the
outpatient treatment programs.
guess it’s sort of accidental, depending on your attitude about
coincidences, but that’s what I ended up doing. To me it’s
one of the most rewarding things you can do. I see a lot of people get
better; I see a lot of people struggle. You see some of the biggest miracles—people
who are incredibly trashed who turn out okay.
do it because I like it; it feels good to me. Why it feels good to me
is probably part of all my history. I can be a good doctor partly because
I know that. I do feel very much connected with people with addiction.
I feel like I’m as bad an addict as anybody out there. I’ve
certainly done something as bad
as you can do.
think a lot of medical professionals don’t really quite understand
that alcoholics and addicts get better. They’re still prejudiced
against us because we’re just sort of a pain in the ass. They don’t
run across the people who are doing well. But it’s complicated…what
people see is the behavior.
mad at us,” says Thayer. “People are mad at addicts because
we behave badly. What I did is
a prime example of that—people drink and drive and hurt people.
And they should be mad.
we keep people about a week just to get them through their physical dependence.
Everybody is a volunteer; the door is not locked. You have to try hard
to get in, it’s first come, first served—7:45 in the morning.
We turn about 10 people away every day, sometimes more. Then if you don’t
get in the first day, you’re the top of the list the second day.
over at the St. Francis Dining Hall is much different—these people
are really hardcore homeless, mostly mentally ill. I end up trying to
refer people to mental health service but without insurance you can’t
get care. They come in for athlete’s foot, scabies, asthma, or abcesses,
and the real problem is usually their mental health or addiction. They
think I can help with the other stuff, which I’m happy to do. But
I’m trying to get to the bigger agenda.
at Hooper in the morning and St. Francis in the afternoon. It’s
a great day. I just feel like, if nothing else, I’m at least respectful
and hopeful for these people that don’t really get a lot of encouragement
from anyone else.
don’t need to be mad at them, I don’t need to punish them,
I understand that everything is a mess,” says Thayer. But I have
worked there long enough that I have seen people who by any measure would
be considered hopeless, and yet they manage to quit drinking. There is
no such thing as a hopeless alcoholic.
like DePaul end up treating the most difficult patients. By the time you
get to DePaul you’ve usually been through other treatments, you’ve
lost most of your resources. Instead of spending money on them in the
hospitals, emergency rooms and jails, they’re back to work and productive
citizens. Every study they’ve ever done says it’s a great
way to spend money and save between $5–7 for every dollar you spend.
matter how desperate things are, some of those people are going to get
better,” says Thayer. “I don’t necessarily know what
exactly it is that helps them—it’s miraculous. As opposed
to having some logical explanation—a miracle is as good a description
meet Jim Thayer it’s impossible not to look for the signs of guilt,
to look for hints of depression, or at least deep regret. But if you look,
you just won’t find those things. Like the other Freedom Award winners
before him, Thayer exudes optimism, energy, even joy. He lives his life
by paying it forward. There is no undoing the damage to wives, husbands,
children; there is no repair for the years misspent; and there is surely
no bringing back to life an innocent victim. There is really no redemption
on this earth, only those few chances to pay it forward by sharing a second
chance at life, freedom, and joy.
very honored about the award,” says Thayer. “I’m sure
there are a lot of people who do much more than me. I’m involved,
but it’s really quite an honor. I’m really grateful for it.
10 percent of the adult population is going to have alcohol problems,”
says Thayer. “Places like DePaul are really vital. There are long
waiting lists. It’s a shame we don’t choose to help these
people; it costs more not to treat them. Instead of being mad at them,
and wanting to punish them, we should help them not behave badly. We can
do that. We know how to do that. Everybody wins if we do that.”
By Bridget Barton