Roberta Jewell's Interview
The following is a transcript of a special interview conducted by Michael Dresser, host of The Michael Dresser Show with Roberta Jewell, author of My Way Out, on May 22, 2005.

Michael:
Roberta, what exactly is the My Way Out program about and how did it come about?

Roberta: Well, as I've often said, I never ever intended to write a book and in terms of recovery books, this one probably breaks every rule. About how you treat drinkers-specifically problem drinkers. I mean, while this program can be helpful to anyone who is alcohol dependent, it is specifically tailored to problem drinkers, people who are often able to navigate through the day, are highly functional, they get through the week undetected by those around them They are not falling down drunk, blacking out, that sort of thing. But they are in terrible pain and are dealing with a horrible and dangerous health problem.

This population of drinker represents millions of people. There are four problem drinkers for ever hard core alcoholic. That's a staggering statistic. And they are often unwilling to come out of the closet and get help. They don't feel they fit the traditional alcoholic profile, so they do not seek traditional treatment. But they are desperate for help. I know this because I was one of them. I was this highly functional problem drinker. I went to work, I did my job, I was respected by my peers, I had a great career, a wonderful marriage, I had kids who I adored, I was involved in the PTA, all that stuff. On the surface I seemed just fine. But I was literally killing myself. Every night I went home and I would drink and drink and I could not stop. I would make promises to the kids that I couldn't remember later. I would argue and become irrational with my husband…I would wake up in the morning with this throbbing and pain behind my eyes. I started missing work more frequently, and when I was at work, I was often less productive that I could have been. I was gaining weight, my health began to suffer. And I simply could not stop drinking, no matter how hard I tried. I knew I was going downhill.

By the way, problem drinkers may behave in different ways-I drank every day…I couldn't imagine getting through the day without a drink, but you also have your binge drinkers. They may go through the week, or even longer without touching a drop, but when they start, they cannot stop-they also have a very serious problem and need help.

Anyway, I had tried for so many years to control the craving, but I just couldn't, I had read everything I could get my hands on, I researched the subject like crazy. And ironically, I was known for my skills as a highly proficient researcher. I'd even self- experimented with many different therapies that were out there, but nothing worked.

Michael Dresser: So what is it that changed for you?

Well, it wasn't until I developed this program-and I did this for myself, I never intended this for anyone but me-but I combined a number of different therapies: a new anti-craving medication, powerful self-hypnosis, a blend of nutritional supplements, herbs and amino acids specifically tailored to address alcohol craving, and a simple diet and exercise program and I put them all together, and everything changed. You know it's interesting, we're hearing so much on the news this past week about kudzu, which is a powerful anti craving herb that the Chinese have used for centuries, and now there is scientific data to support just how effective it is. But I'd been reading studies about this for 15 years and of course, it is included in this program.

So, I put all these elements together in one integrative therapy and I had the most remarkable success and I started sharing it with other people and they tried it and it worked for them, too. So then I presented it to experts in each of the fields represented in the program-I mean even the researchers who had been published in the Lancet for the medication they'd developed for the anti-craving-and all they way around, I gained a tremendous amount of support for this therapy and that's when I knew I was on to something.

Michael:
Is that when Dr. Garcia got involved with you?

Roberta:
Yes, exactly, I had the good fortune of meeting her through one of her colleagues and then began working on the program with her…she is a highly regarded medical doctor-an internist-and she helped me understand that what intuitively made sense to me…to combine a number of different therapies so you could tackle the problem from many different directions-was actually a valid medical approach, just like you treat diabetes or coronary heart disease, and that's why it's so effective.

Michael: You mentioned that a problem drinker has unique characteristics. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

Roberta:
Well, yes, and Dr. Garcia actually refers to three levels of drinkers. The first is the social drinker. That's someone who can "take it or leave it". There's not that preoccupation with drinking. And they rarely drink to the point of intoxication. I am so thrilled to be at that stage, by the way. This was my goal and I feel I have achieved it. I used to go through the day-my work day, for instance-waiting to go home and drink. I no longer do that. Now, I'm sure there's some overlap with the next two stages, but I would define them as saying the next level is the problem drinker. Again, that's what I was before I started the program. A problem drinker cannot control their drinker. He or she drinks despite the negative impacts to their social, physical, emotional or financial health. They may try to cut down on their drinking but they cannot. The longer they drink, the greater the tolerance they develop for alcohol. And then there is the alcoholic, who has a full blown physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. They may have medical complications because their addiction has compromised their health. They may lose their job, engage in dangerous behaviors like drunk driving. They just spiral downward unless they quit. It doesn't go away, this is a progressive disease.

Michael:
So what does this program offers that, say, others recovery programs do not?

Roberta:
Hope. A true chance of success. A multi-faceted approach that simply has not been available before. Like I said earlier, it tackles the disease in a whole new way: physically, behaviorally, nutritionally, pharmacologically, all wrapped in to one and that is an extremely powerful proposition. It also offers people an opportunity to work one on one with a clinician and customize the program. For instance, I've seen some people work through the hypnotherapy piece and come to the conclusion that they may want a little additional support in terms of counseling, and it helps bring them to the point that they're comfortable with that and ready for that change. Or with craving, Dr. Garcia has tweaked the program for her patients in many different ways. Say, have her patients try …maybe a little more L-Glutamine longer-term or green tea or kudzu, or a different titration rate on the Topamax. And they see it working, and their families see it working. It's a very exciting thing and then patients begin to take control of their recovery when it's working, and they see that it's not nearly as hard or as painful as they thought it was going to be. It becomes fun and they see results and there's this clarity that wasn't there before-they wake up in the morning without the hangover and the guilt and remorse. It's really very remarkable.

Michael: You mention that certain types of drinkers can drink moderately once they start on this program. That's sort of a new concept in recovery, isn't it? Which path did you choose and why?

Roberta: My personal choice was moderation, but I had a backup plan to quick drinking completely if it didn't work. I mean, I'm not stupid…I know that alcohol is poison if you drink too much of it, and it'll eventually kill you. I didn't want die. But on the other hand, I guess I tend to push things as hard as I can; I wanted to give this my all, and I also wanted the best possible quality of life I could achieve. And you know how it when you're on one of those strict diets and all you think about is food? I didn't want it to be like that! I didn't want to live like that. As I tell people: I wanted to enjoy a rich merlot with a tenderloin steak when I went out to dinner with my husband. We have kids and a very busy life and frankly, we don't go out that often-but even at home, I love a nice Chardonnay with fresh seafood-to be able to enjoy that with control to me is one of the most wonderful things. I wanted to be a social drinker, like my parents-my adoptive parents, not my biological parents. My biological parents could not control their cravings for drugs and alcohol. I was adopted out of that madness, thank God, and I had an opportunity to grow up with loving parents who were social drinkers. They did not obsess over alcohol, as I eventually did. And that's all I wanted, that's all I was asking for. So for me, moderation was the best case scenario, and when I developed this program, I decided that this would be my goal, my best case scenario, and because I felt the approach-this way of tackling it with medication, behavior modification, nutrition, diet and exercise, was going to be so powerful it just may work…and it did!

Now, I would agree that many people, including many experts, feel strongly that abstinence is the ultimate goal-the gold standard, and that's fine. But even the researchers, the PhDs and MDs who developed the topiramate clinical trial would agree that treatments to help alcoholics cut down, say, from ten drinks a day to one or two, is very worthwhile. They've been quoted as saying 'If you can get people stop drinking at a hazardous level, you have done them a lot of good.'

I mean think about that! Think what that means in terms of how many highway fatalities you've prevented. Think about how many marriages and families you've preserved. Think about how much money you've saved this country's health care system. So yes, abstinence may be considered the gold standard-and some may scoff at my goal of moderation…although it's a choice I am comfortable with and very happy about. But in terms of harm reduction, we can do an incredible amount of good with an effective program like My Way Out that offers moderation to those who simply would not accept any other program or therapy. And of course, it provides complete abstinences as an option to others, because that is a much more appropriate goal for some people-we have to remember that. Sometimes I'm afraid that message is lost in the shuffle, the message about abstinence.

Michael:
Speaking of abstinence, Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-step approach has been very helpful to millions of people in overcoming their addiction. Is your program mutually exclusive of a fellowship based program like AA?

Roberta: Absolutely not, in fact I hope we begin to see people using the My Way Out system along with AA and other fellowship based programs. The beauty of this system is that it is a highly customizable therapy and the whole point of my developing it was to find something that worked for me, that I would do…to begin a path to healing that I was comfortable with and that was effective. Also, I would never disparage AA because we know-as you say-that it has been very helpful to people but I think we also need to understand that many individuals are simply not comfortable in that environment. And we need to respect that, so this program offers them another avenue to get well, to begin the process of recovery and healing, and that's a good thing, to provide another option, another choice to people.

Michael: You talk about using a prescription medicine in your program. Can you tell us more about that aspect?

Roberta. Sure. Topamax, or topiramate, is a medication that has been around for about a decade and is used as an anti-seizure medication, primarily for epilepsy. It's also been approved by the FDA for treating migraine headaches. It's used off-label to treat a lot of different things, like obsessive compulsive disorder, binge eating, and additive disorders, like smoking and cocaine dependence. It apparently blocks certain receptors in the brain; basically it interrupts areas of the reward signally center. It's really pretty fascinating how this stuff works. And it's not mind altering or addictive.

So in 2003 an article was published in The Lancet-I talk about this in the book, I sorta stumbled upon the article and it got me very excited. The Lancet is a highly respected medical journal, and the article described the work of a research team in Texas that was led Dr. Bankole Johnson, who's an MD and PhD. He had done a lot of work in this area and in this particular trial he used the medication with 150 heavy drinkers. Some were given Topiramate and others, a placebo. The people who took topiramate were six times more likely to abstain from drinking for a month. And after three months, a quarter of them had abstained, where only 4%, I think, of the placebo group had remained sober. And it worked even better for binge drinkers.

Michael:
When you say heavy drinkers, how do you define that?

Roberta: Clinically, and for this trial, that would be five drinks per day for men and three drinks a day for women-it's different because of body weight and how alcohol is metabolized. So with the trial, and with this medication, one of the other exciting things is it can be initiated while people are still winding down on their drinking. That's a first and it can be particularly helpful. However, even though Topamax appears to be the most effective medication right now, as I mention in the book, there are a number of other meds in the pipeline, or combinations of meds, and one of the strengths of a multi-faceted program like this is that it is only one piece of the therapy. So if and when newer, or more effective medications are developed they can be plugged right in. There's a lot of talk about a medication called Acomplia, which is slated for FDA approval next year, and also a combination of Topamax and the drug Zofran-Dr. Johnson has been studying that for some time as well.

Michael: When we talk about alcoholism, are we talking about something that falls within the realm of "disease"?

Roberta: Well, yes, I think so. Certainly, I'm not an MD, but clearly, if you look at it: alcoholism is chronic, it's progressive it has definable symptoms, like the strong need to drink despite negative consequences. And like many other diseases, it generally has a predictable course. It seems to be influenced by both genetic and environmental factors that you can define. And, now we can treat it like a disease-we can have success in approaching it this way, which is very exciting.

Michael: What role do you think genetics plays in alcoholism?

Roberta: I think it plays a fairly significant role. Again, I don't have a scientific background and I'm obviously not a geneticist, but to me, there seems to be a fairly strong link. I like the way Dr. Garcia describes it: that those of us with parents or family members who drank are not necessarily "doomed" to inherit the disease; however, we may be predisposed to express those traits. And obviously researchers are making progress on finding the direct genetic link; there have been many exciting developments in this area. It seems to me the better we understand this, the better our chances of treating it, just like any other disease. And treating without the stigma and shame that's been associated with it for so long.

Michael: What role does nutrition play in the My Way Out program?

Roberta: Nutrition is so important, but really easy in terms of this program. That was one of my goals when I started out because my life was so busy. This system had to be easy, easy, easy. So we talk about reducing the intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates, drinking lots of water, eating a well-balanced diet. One of the happy side effects of this program, typically, is weight loss. I lost nearly 30 pounds in three months and have kept it off over this past two years. And of course the supplements are just critical. There's a six week supplementation program we recommend and the supplements are specifically tailored to keeping the craving at bay and to help with withdrawal because even though problem drinkers may not suffer anything as drastic as the "DT"s, their bodies will be impacted once the excessive amount of alcohol is reduced, and this program makes for a remarkably painless transition. We use a nutritional powder-ALL ONE-from a company called Nutritech that it's very good and provides a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals and amino acids, which are so important. And then we augment that with a small number of other supplements that include herbals and homeopathics. It includes kudzu that I mentioned earlier. Some people tweak the formula, but that's the foundation. It's all highly customizable.

Michael: How do you use the hypnotherapy in the program?

Roberta: Oh my gosh, everybody loves this part of the program, the hypnotherapy. They tell me privately in emails, they tell me on the mywayout.org discussion board. Many of them have never undergone hypnosis before…I certainly had not. But it's powerful, wonderful stuff, and here's how it works.

Actually, before I go into that, let me mention that when we say hypnotherapy, what we're really talking about is a combined approach of hypnosis and relaxation and positive imagery. Each of these in and of themselves are very effective behavioral modification strategies. But combined, they are really something. When I first started looking into this particular aspect of the program, I knew I wanted something really good, really powerful, effective, and could be used in the home. I had researched and read about the efficacy of hypnosis in treating addiction so I was looking for the ultimate program. I had evaluated a number of products but I just wasn't satisfied with what I was finding. I knew I needed something that allowed a high level of customization and I wanted to work with someone who had a great deal of experience in treating addiction and behavior modification. I found it when I began working with James Schmelter, a highly respected hypnotherapist who started researching and studying hypnosis about 35 years ago and now has hundreds of pre-recorded titles-in fact dozens of them are related to addiction alone. And people actually work with him in creating their own custom titles on many, many topics. I've referred a number of clients to him. He's extremely experienced in this area. So I partnered with him in developing a series of recordings to integrate this into my program and the results have been really incredible.

To be honest, when I did the first set of recordings, I wrote it specifically to my needs-again I never set out to cure anyone but me-so I used language, for example, about being a better mother, because that was so important to me, and of course, my goal was one of moderated drinking. But when I broadened the program out for others, recognizing that some there would be men, or single people or grandmothers or individuals who would seek total abstinence-not moderation-I knew I would need to change the language and the scripts, which are core to the hypnosis program.

So James and I worked together on a new, equally powerful, but different set of recordings. And they've been working absolutely great for people. In fact, we're working on a new one now to help drinkers, that they can use before they attend certain social events where alcohol may be present, so they will have even greater self control.

So anyway there's the history, but back to the question about how it works: my background is in technology management so I liken it to being a programmer. The subconscious mind is so incredibly powerful, it's just waiting for instructions-waiting for that code-and this process guides you to place, I mean you are always fully in control, that's important for people to understand, but it's as if you become this wonderfully proficient programmer with the ability to write any software application you want. You can absolutely change the way you behave when you connect to your subconscious. You create this positive change yourself, it's easier than you think to remove old, unhealthy patterns and replace them with new desirable ones.

It's incredible what you can do with the power of the mind when you have someone who is truly motivated. And I've found there's nobody more motivated than someone who's been addicted to a substance and has tried to get off of it but can't. Who's lost their dignity and self respect because they cannot control this horrible craving. Who wakes up every day filled with self loathing. I mean, Michael, they want this more than anything else. It's amazing what you can do with that type of motivation. When you take a highly effective, multi-faceted program liked this, and plug it in to the power of your mind.

And the best part, according to the people who are doing it, is that it can be done comfortably and discreetly-the patients love this-it can be done in your own home. You don't have to drive to somebody's office (or, by the way, pay them a small fortune) you can do it at your own convenience. Some of it, you can even do when you're driving or working-the subliminal CDs, anyway. You wouldn't want to do the hypnotic recordings while you're driving-I want to be clear about that!

But the series of recordings does many things. It clears your mind, it prepares you for suggestions, it allows you to customize those suggestions. There are both subliminal and post-hypnotic suggestions-it's a unique and highly effective approach. And we believe the fact that it is so customizable really adds to the effectiveness of the system. It's quite something.

Michael: The program itself, My Way out, does it include support? I understand that's very important in the recovery process.

Roberta: Yes, it does, and you're right, support is very important Some people find support at home with friends or family who have tried to get them into recovery for many years. Others may, in fact, do the program in tandem with a 12-step program, although to be honest, we find that many of our patients are not necessarily comfortable in that setting. One really wonderful setting where we are seeing more and more people finding fellowship is the mywayout.org website, where we have a message board and individuals are connecting there and learning that they share so many common characteristics. It's heartwarming to read their stories, to see them finding one another-to say, boy, your story is my story-we hear that a lot. And of course, we know that for every person who posts a message-and we can see this from the web stats-there are dozens who simply read and watch. And that's okay, because we understand that helps them heal, as well. It helps them understand that they are not alone in this battle, that this is something that millions of others fight on a daily basis, but there is hope for them and there is a way out for them if other methods have not worked.

Michael: We know that alcoholics have to be concerned about relapse and recovery for the long term. How do you address that with this program, or do you address that?

Roberta: Yes, absolutely, and this is a significant concern, of course, and because the program is integrative, we are really thrilled that we can offer people a number of different ways to help with long term control over the craving to drink. Like I was saying earlier about kudzu, there's so much about this now in the media, it's all over the news. This is the an excellent example of a safe and effective supplement that can be pretty much administered forever and has been scientifically proven to help curb the craving to drink excessively. The Chinese have known this for centuries. So it's an excellent lifetime nutritional supplement, particularly for our moderate drinkers, who need to be able to "flip off that switch" after, say one drink-this supplement helps them do that, to feel satisfied. It's also included in our first six weeks of intensive vitamin supplementation and works with the other elements of the program. And as we say in Chapter Six "Long Term Maintenance" there are a number of ways you can adapt various elements of the program to ensure the continued success.

Others long term maintenance solutions may include alternative methods outside of some of those included in the My Way Out program. Again we need to adapt therapies suited to the individual, whether they are pharmacological or holistic or a combination of both. One of the things Dr. Garcia and are I have been researching and will be writing about soon is therapeutic massage and auricular therapy; that's another very effective therapy for addiction that comes from the East-it's essentially ear acupuncture. Something your listeners may be interested in learning more about.

Michael: Well it sounds very exciting and I wish you well with the program, Roberta. Where can our listeners find you more about your program?

Roberta: The best way is to visit our website, www.mywayout.org. We have a great deal of information there about the program, and we're always adding new research, as well. As I mentioned, we have an active message board, and that's is a fantastic way to check in, meet others and get started. We'll be adding a new section where Dr. Garcia will be providing information, so we're pretty exciting about that. And of course, there are links there to buy the book, from Book Clearing House, our distributor, but it's also available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and more recently, James Shmelter's site. He's the hypnotherapist we're working with.

Michael: Okay, great, we've been talking with Roberta Jewell, author of the book "My Way Out, One Woman's Remarkable Journey in Overcoming Her Drinking Problem and How Her Innovative Program Can Help You or Someone You Love. Thanks again Roberta.

Roberta: Thank you Michael, thank you for having me on, it's been great talking with you.
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