Written by Dr. Stanton Peele, leading expert and pioneer in the field of addiction and author of Love and Addiction, 7 Tools to Beat Addiction, Addiction-Proof Your Child and many others.
Amy Lee Coy is a unique woman. Not unique because she rejected psychiatric medications, rehab, and Alcoholics Anonymous on her way to sobriety after two decades of substance abuse, depression, and alcoholism. Many people perform versions of this “miraculous” self-cure. In fact, a majority of alcoholics and addicts recover for and through themselves, outside of the halls of treatment programs and AA meetings.
She is unique because of her bravery, her clarity of vision, and her ability—and her willingness—to express these things.
Amy Coy always felt alone—partly because her mother left her alone to join a cult. Partly because her grandfather sexually molested her as a child. Partly because, through hundreds of therapy sessions and AA meetings and rehab groups from the age of 13 on, her own inner lights never turned on. In fact, the psychiatric and rehab facilities she frequently found herself in seemed intent on beating her spirit out of her, and certainly not in giving her room to find her core self.
Finally, at the age of 35, writhing on the floor in a small Pennsylvania town as she withdrew from alcohol and tobacco, she saw her first beacon of light: She would talk to all of those other lonely people, the ones who likewise hadn’t been turned on by psychiatry, medications, and the 12 Steps. From this epiphany sprang the germ of From Death Do I Part.
And you, lucky reader, are the beneficiary of her fulfillment of this promise to describe her own personal path, the promise that has maintained her sobriety since she first imagined you reading her words. Helping you to help yourself is her goal—just as she finally discovered that only she could help herself. Only then could she let go the despised inner self she has replaced with a generous, creative, comely spirit that matches her radiant outward appearance. A beauty she never before accepted, or believed, she had.
Amy was always told—like you may have been—that AA and the 12 Steps were the only way for her to recover. That psychiatric meds were the only solution for her depression. But all of these things only made her feel worse about herself. And Amy is not alone in this experience—even AA’s biggest fans acknowledge that only a minority (really a quite small minority) stick to and succeed at the “program.” Most prescription takers don’t find in them a permanent resolution for their mood disorders either. And a distinct minority—like Amy—will attempt suicide while on these meds.
Maybe it was the way professional helpers always seemed to disdain her and to begrudge her the time they were spending talking to her. All they wanted her to do was to cooperate, to be silent, to take the meds they gave her. But Amy wasn’t prepared to be obedient—which first got her in trouble when she was kicked out of school at 14. And, she figured, if she were taking prescriptions to modify her true feelings, why not drink? That worked “better” for her, after all.
She was abused in several such institutions as a young teen. After that, she began a modeling career, developed an eating disorder, was married twice—once to an international jet-setting semi-retired lawyer, once to a university professor. And she drank, always drank, to fight off the inner demons, the self-contempt, and the inability to appreciate the world around her.
Amy doesn’t describe herself as being in recovery. She doesn’t want to center her identity around her drinking or not drinking—which is one more reason AA meetings aren’t for her. For one thing, once she sobered up, she was too busy. Busy writing music, a children’s book, and—most important of all—From Death Do I Part. She just needed to clear the airwaves to get to these tasks.
In my substance-abusing life, I had become bored. Although I was doing most of the basic tasks that life requires, I was uninspired. All that I knew about life depressed me. All that I knew about myself saddened, angered and disappointed me. I was living in a very narrow world, and that reflected upon my opinion of myself. I bottled up all those dismal and dreary feelings of mine, and I used them to define myself. That is how I ended up ugly in my mind.
To change that low opinion of myself—to change my alcohol-guzzling, cigarette-smoking identity—it was necessary that I quit ingesting those things, of course, but it was also just as important that I allow myself to have new thoughts and opinions about myself as well as about life.
For Amy, the process of overcoming addiction is a process of moving forward—not of labeling herself, not of rehashing her failures and abuse, not of blaming herself or others. She knows—the decades she spent doing these things never allowed her to quit drugs, alcohol, eating problems, cigarettes. Something else did. She needed a new way of thinking about herself and life, one not
anchored in the past, or in her trauma, or in the bromides of the 12 Steps or of psychiatry.
It was never satisfying for me to hear, “You are an alcoholic because you have a disease,” or, “It’s in your genes.” For me, such generic explanations of my very personal problems were no help at all. I wanted to understand what was going on with me emotionally in the way I understood what was going on with my body in the yoga class. That way, I would not feel helpless—as I could sense I was not.
I made the choice to quit using alcohol and drugs. In that choice was a commitment to find out how to significantly improve my life—not merely to deny myself the use of substances. Because of that commitment, I needed a deeper understanding of my psychological patterns. So I decided that since it was me who was struggling, then I was my best subject for study. I began to carry out that study by using the powerful tool of self-observation.
Thus, this book doesn’t dwell on Amy Lee Coy’s problems. She only describes situations from her past when she wants to illustrate how she has overcome them, and how others might learn to do so. Nor is this a book about religious belief. Nor is it simply a recipe of ways to avoid craving and to sustain sobriety. Rather, it is about the self-discovery that leads to finding satisfaction in life, genuine satisfaction, life-sustaining satisfaction. This discovery includes finding the reasons, and habits, and feelings that underlay the past addictions, so as to sidestep and replace them. It entails modifying thinking, even playing mind games with oneself.
Some call this cognitive behaviorism, or changing thinking, behavior, and the links between them. I call Amy Coy’s approach, on the other hand, spiritual behaviorism, a synthesis I have seen performed by no one so well as she. Although our backgrounds and approaches are different, I find the convergence of my ideas with Amy’s remarkably reassuring. How could two such different people with two such different exposures to addiction—hers through living and overcoming it, mine through researching, writing about, and treating it—arrive in such similar, compatible places? It seems that we are honing in together on something truthful.
Some might find it strange that I write this foreword for Amy’s book, since I have written as a psychologist about addiction for over 30 years. But in all of my books, from Love and Addiction to 7 Tools to Beat Addiction, I emphasize the power of individuals to cure themselves. Of their need to do so.
I have also created a treatment program. But the treatment, called the Life Process Program, is pegged exactly to Amy’s life, although I did not know her at the time.
Amy found the occasional urges she had to return to drinking—and smoking—couldn’t match the rewards of being herself that she found, and developed, once her life was clear of the miasma of booze and medications. Among her many insights, Amy perceived that, “When I choose immediate gratification, I miss the genuinely gratifying process of working to satisfy the desires of my true nature.”
It is exploring these aspects of herself and her experience, past and present, en route to achieving fulfillment, that form Amy’s antidote to addiction. Either way—through the Life Process Program, or through processing your own life like Amy did—you will travel a similar road to escape addiction. Or better yet, you will find the same path into yourself to accept the person you are and that you can be. Not the same person as Amy Lee Coy. She’s taken. Her words will help you to find yourself.
There are several overarching things on which Amy and I agree. One is the importance of having a purpose in life: “Feeling that we have a purpose in life, a positive reason to be healthier and to make changes, makes a huge difference when it comes to quitting an addictive habit.”
As for regrets for the lost years, “I can now see that there are still many, many positive—and joyful—things that I can do for myself and for others in every moment that I am alive.”
And one last crucial thing we share is the value, the power, of the self, of yourself:
Although I believed that I was doomed to end up sick, drunk and miserable, I was not. It is never too late to revive your spirit and to care for your body. No matter how deep you think you have sunk into the misery of addiction, all is never lost. You always have the option to discover your strength and change the choices that you make. You can lift yourself into a new, healthier life.
Which is why Amy wrote this hopeful, inspiring, encouraging book, beginning it as she did in her deepest depths of despair and aloneness.
Stanton Peele, Ph.D., J.D.
Author, Love and Addiction:
7 Tools to Beat Addiction
Founder, Life Process Program,
May 15, 2010