By Rick Kern
Sometimes an author’s words are wept like tears into the pages of their book, streaming from their heart as if it was being wrung out into their story. “Saving Jenny: Rescuing Our Youth from America’s Opioid and Suicide Epidemic,” is one of those reads. With an unclad soul, the book’s author, Vivian Percy, gets right in the face of the explosive national opiate and suicide crisis that barged cruelly, out of the headlines and through her front door wreaking untold havoc in the lives of her and her daughter.
While Ms. Percy is a practicing attorney, “Saving Jenny” was not written from an ivory tower by a talking head. Rather, it is the deeply personal narrative of someone who found themselves “living the nightmare,” dragged through the bottom of the sewer as she and her daughter, Jenny, tried to navigate an alarmingly defective rehab/psychiatric care structure. A sprawling structure crammed with treatment centers that she could only describe as “failure factories,” it didn’t take Vivian long to realize that the “system” was doing more harm than good. With a guided tour through the terrifying wilderness of substance abuse and crippling depression into the Promised Land of hope, restoration, and wholeness, Ms. Percy, bathes the pages of “Saving Jenny” with insights and experiences that fall like torrents of truth.
“The story is of a mother and daughter’s long painful journey from tragedy, through drug addiction and severe suicidality, toward healing,” she reflects poignantly. “It exposes the serious effects of childhood trauma, as well as the failures and abuses of our current psychotherapeutic/rehab set-up. In addition, the book includes a final chapter that puts forth an all-inclusive blueprint of the many vital solutions needed to be immediately adopted to overcome the opioid and suicide epidemic.” She adds passionately, “Most importantly “Saving Jenny” sets out a new paradigm which utilizes both psychodynamic resources and spiritual love to effect healing. I began this book in early 2015 after learning of so many of Jenny’s friends who had recently died from overdoses or suicides. My single goal in writing this story was to help find a way to save lives.”
And lives desperately need to be saved! According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Opiate addiction is killing over 115 people a day while it discards others like refuse to wander among the walking dead. It is devastating families, tearing them to pieces as its bourgeoning web creates an unthinkable economic liability (opioid misuse alone is a $78.5 billion a year burden in the United States).[i]
The shocking social pathologies associated with opiate dependency are all too familiar to “Vivian Percy,” a nom de plume assumed to protect the privacy of all those involved in her saga — and it is a saga in the rawest sense of the word. And while it may seem like an oxymoron, Vivian is an attorney with a heart for the hurting who has sacrificially reached out to make a difference. During her tenure, Ms. Percy has devoted a substantial amount of time to pro bono work, and early on she was an intake assistant on the research floor of Cornell Hospital, Manhattan during the height of the AIDS crisis. Additionally, Percy also cared for her mother with Alzheimer’s for 14 years, navigating all aspects of patient management, and joining in efforts to promote government support for at-home supervision.
In her bio it notes that, “As a single parent (a widow), she never gave up, with the help of God, fighting for the life of her daughter, whose story is the focus of ‘Saving Jenny,’ and whose courage, honesty, and love inspire her mother every day.”
Recently, The Good News had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Percy to discuss her book, the intense experiences that inspired her to write it, and the trajectory of the nation’s opiate and suicide contagion. Her responses reflected a profoundly thoughtful maturity, a depth of insight that could only be born of suffering, and a sanguine sense of hope that optimistically reaches for the stars while remaining rooted down to earth in life’s realities. See if you don’t agree…
The Good News: Can you give us a thumbnail of your background and describe what happened to Jenny?
Vivian Percy: Although my father was a resolute atheist, I attended the humble $15.00 per month parochial grammar school around the corner from my home in a suburb of Gotham. From there I attended a Catholic high school, on scholarship, and college where I was valedictorian. Later, I worked at a major NYC hospital and entered the pre-medical program at Hunter College, NYC, subsequently switching to the NYU School of Law after the birth of my daughter, Jenny. As there were many costs for the care of my mother suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, my husband, a psychoanalyst, asked me to accept full-time employment in a Manhattan law firm. When I questioned how this might negatively affect Jenny, her pediatrician and others told me that, “The studies say” that one only need be home for the first three years of a child’s life,” but this is untrue. And when, against my better instincts, I returned to work, Jenny was left in the hands of soulless caregivers who sexually molested her. This is something I did not discover until some eight years after the fact. Then, at the tender age of 11, Jenny’s dad died in her arms of a massive heart attack on Christmas Eve. At 13, she was hit by a NYC taxi, thrown 30 feet in the air, and went in and out of six comas emerging with severe PTSD, suicidality, and drug addiction. Thereafter, Jenny was acutely mistreated in the very same institutions I sent her to for healing and recovery — an experience that so many children in our society tragically have suffered.
The Good News: Your bio notes: “As a single parent, she never gave up, with the help of God, fighting for the life of her daughter, whose story is the focus of “Saving Jenny,” and whose courage, honesty and love inspire her mother every day.” Describe your relationship with God and explain how you grew close to Him as this nightmare unfolded?
Vivian Percy: Out of my desperation to save my daughter, when every program we tried had failed her, I cried out to God. And I discovered that when I pray for those in dire need of help — if I pray with complete focus and all my mind, positive intention, and heart for healing, then it can be a dynamic force for good. The Creator hears us. “Saving Jenny” has references to many mainstream articles citing scientific studies that prove the salutary effects of prayer. As I wrote in the book, there is no way that Jenny and I would have survived this all on our own, and I give thanks to God for saving us and bringing us through this tremendous ordeal with His infinite compassion and mercy, and the power of prayer. God: the spirit of pure love, goodness, and truth, in whom I find hope, courage, and the will to go on, when surrounded by nothing but darkness.
The Good News: When you say “spirituality,” what specifically do you mean and how does it improve the quality of a life or counter the allure of opiates and other drugs?
Vivian Percy: For me personally, spirituality is best expressed by the Apostle, St. John (John 4:12, 16, KJV): “No Man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us…God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” And in respect of spirituality, as we progressed in our journey, Jenny came to a sense of a Higher Power, greater than ourselves, of pure love, admitting, as have many former addicts cited in the book, that only God could have rescued her.
She told me, “If you ever question what love is, it’s simple. Just read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Incorporating those principles into a logical paradigm for recovery, helping people to feel and know that you have something to cling to that you can have no matter who is around you — is love. Love for yourself, love for your life, love for others, and love for the hope the future can bring and the possibilities of what you can be in those. Everybody wants something to believe in, and faith and love are the greatest ideals to cling to.”
The Good News: You wrote that our drug addicted, and suicidal youth are the “canaries in the coal mine of a nation falling apart from its lack of human values.” Define “human values” and explain what you mean by that?
Vivian Percy: Human values are spiritual values, classically referred to as virtues. And the truth of the matter is that what we as human beings desperately need and seek is spiritual love, because we are souls embodied, and love is life to the soul. The expression of this love is found, in society and one-on-one, in upholding virtue as a public value, and in the pursuit of virtue on an individual basis. The exercise of virtue is vital to the achievement of a healthy and flourishing nation, and for the living of a happy and good life. For this reason, I believe that to restore vibrancy to our culture, we need to instruct our children, as part of our public- school curriculum, in the virtues, and in examination of conscience, from pre-school onward. Furthermore, nondenominational prayer, composed of the religious essentials supportive of a democratic republic, should be returned to our educational system.
These intrinsic human values (as opposed to our current false, external, materialistic values of wealth, power, status, prestige “stuff”, and cosmetic perfection) would include: truth, honesty, kindness, benevolence, peace, love, dignity, respect, forgiveness, faith, hope, charity, “reaching-out”, temperance, chastity, diligence, patience, compassion, self-sacrifice, humility, justice, goodness, courage, fortitude, prudence, and generosity. And these noble ideals need to be encouraged, extolled, and practiced by our educators, local, state, and national governments, as well as by medical, business, and corporate leadership.
Virtuous conduct nourishes the souls of both giver and receiver with expressions of goodness. As such, it produces healing, wholeness, and hope, as does upholding virtue as a societal goal, because then we know that the good exists and we can expect to receive it and attain it. We no longer live in darkness and misery, with no prospect of human benevolence.
However, by contrast, what we have right now is an opioid and suicide epidemic brought about by a society that has embraced inhuman values. And, as stated by Dr. Mohan Debbarma, of the Tripura University in India, “Human society cannot sustain without human values…and a human values crisis is a known fact of modern society.” Dr. Debbarma notes the deadly consequences of our current culture where, “…a person without money is not honored by anybody… and human beings have become the means for the rich to earn money.”
And the absence of virtue has led to the almost complete breakdown of the nuclear family, because the loving and protective rearing of children is not a priority in a world where time is money and money is God. So, our sons and daughters horribly have been deprived of the nurturance, warm-hearted affection, guidance, including spiritual guidance, security, and focused attention (that cannot be given in ½ hour of “quality” time) of traditional, relaxed stay-at-home parenting – now made nearly impossible due to the antifamily government, cultural stance, and tax structure of the last 50 years. And this has robbed them of a loving and healthy attachment to their parents, which is a necessary shield against drug addiction and depression. It has also stolen their authentic selves and their innocence, as they are now no longer safeguarded from malevolent outside influences, causing increased incidences of childhood traumatization.
Returning to our founding absolute values, our human values, is the only way to heal and save ourselves, our children, and our country.
The Good News: How severe and widespread is this crisis of youth drug addiction and suicidality?
Vivian Percy: Drug overdoses now kill more souls in the U.S. than car crashes (rising to 72,000 lethal overdoses in 2017), and suicide is cited as the second leading cause of death for ten- to twenty-four-year-olds. Furthermore, U.S. life expectancy fell in 2016 for the second year running for the first time since 1962-63. The BBC quotes Robert Anderson, chief of mortality statistics at the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, who calls the two-year downturn drop “shocking.” And according to Bloomberg, May 23, 2018, U.S. life expectancy will likely drop for a third straight year in 2017, which three-year decline last occurred during the time of the Spanish influenza, in 1916-1918. If one considers that most overdoses are suicides, then we are facing an epidemic of the self-murder of our children that outstrips the opioid epidemic itself.
The Good News: Where do you see it going if we cannot realistically engage and defeat this raging pandemic?
Vivian Percy: I see it becoming what it really has already become — an ongoing American mass atrocity — an evil incarnate in which young people are dying by the cartloads but to which our leaders until recently have been turning a blind eye. If this plague is not totally and resolutely engaged and defeated, it will destroy us as a country, because it will mean that we are no longer a people with commonly embraced scruples, a staunch sense of moral duty, and the backbone to correct even horrific wrongdoings. We will no longer be “one equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will, to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”, to quote Tennyson’s “Ulysses.” As such, we will crumble from within and fall prey to outside determined forces that are waiting to take over weak and unguarded entities.
This pandemic should have been halted long ago. If we were threatened by the incursion and pestilence of a killer virus, like Ebola, our government would absolutely find a way to halt its spread, discover a successful paradigm, and develop a vaccine against it.
And why has the drug/suicide epidemic not been approached in the same way? Is it because there are too many vested interests that make so much money from ever increasing numbers of sick and uncured people, that it is more profitable not to have a prototype that truly gets them well? Is it because the victims and their parents have been so overwhelmed and destroyed that they do not have the wherewithal to organize themselves into a powerful voting block? Is it because our social Darwinian society wrongfully and heartlessly shames and blames the addicted and the mentally afflicted, deeming them genetically inferior, “at fault,” and unworthy of help on some level? Is it the lack of collective moral fiber necessary to vigorously identify the causes, adopt the needed solutions, and root out a failed mental healthcare/rehab system? Is it the unacknowledged but very real unconscious and ancient urge for human bloodletting and scapegoating, that we see repeated in different shapes and forms throughout the eons? Unfortunately, it may be all the foregoing. And woe-betide us, if we do not spiritually evolve, and immediately take the radical measures necessary to end this slaughter of the innocents.
The Good News: What did your firsthand experience teach you about the current state of our mental health/drug rehab system?
Vivian Percy: I would describe the current rehabs, therapeutic schools, and psychiatric hospitals (the Treatment Centers, “TCs”) as “failure factories.” Almost all the TC’s seem to be financially driven corporations that function for the sole purpose of perpetuating their own existence and not of ensuring that the best and most effective methods of healing are delivered.
First, although announced as between 40 percent-to-60 percent by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the recidivism rate at most rehabilitation facilities is over 90 percent.
Second, many of our so-called mentally ill youth are, in fact, victims of early abuse and neglect, who have been mislabeled as “bi-polar,” “borderline,” “schizophrenic,” “ADHD,” “OCD,” “ODD,” and/or “chronically depressed.” These mainly “genetic/neurological disorder” diagnoses fit the mechanical and ultimately noncurative, but financially remunerative, insurance-driven Big-Pharma pill solution employed by almost all facilities. Although some of the medications may provide a lessening of distressed symptoms for certain individuals, quite often the true source of the psychic affliction, personal and family trauma, remains unexamined, untreated, and unhealed. And nearly all antipsychotic medications could have potentially serious side effects, in particular on a developing brain.
Third, compounding the problem, insurance companies approve only 3 to 4 percent of the inpatient treatment time needed for genuine recovery (psychiatric “cure” and/or sobriety), were an effective program in place.
Fourth, the extraordinary sums of money (about $40,000 to $70,000 per month) demanded for completion of the required length of therapeutic stay, are prohibitive except for the very few super-wealthy, who can afford to pay out of pocket.
Finally, many of these TC’s are dangerous places where drug use is rampant, as is sex between residents or residents and staff, and a patient is more likely to overdose, and/or be abused in a multitude of ways, bullied, and raped than be cured. And at almost none of these programs is spirituality ever offered as a possible source of strength, love, hope, and restoration.
The Good News: Why do people in general and drug-addicted, mentally-distressed youth in particular, need spirituality, acceptance, and love? Why is spirituality so necessary for mental health?
Vivian Percy: Spirituality is necessary for mental health because it acknowledges the soul as being the essence of a human being. And the term “psychoanalysis” comes from the Greek word “psyche,” which translates as “soul.” Therefore, health care practitioners must first admit to the existence of the soul within each person, and then include it in the focus of medical, psychiatric, and psychotherapeutic care. Acceptance and love are vital, because love is that which nourishes the soul as water nourishes a plant. The soul cannot live without love, and God’s love, or spirituality, is the only thing that never changes and is always there at every age for us all — no fees, no bills, no social skills required, but lots to be gained. And drug-addicted, mentally-distressed youths especially need spirituality, validation, and kindness because they are the sensitive souls who are most afflicted by our cruel, loveless, and materialistic culture. They are most in need of the antidote.
The Good News: Would you say that ground zero is the battle is for the soul of the nation?
Vivian Percy: I would say that ground zero is the battle for our own souls, for the lives of our children, and for the survival of The United States of America as the democratic republic set forth by our founders. It is the historic battle for life and good, against the forces of evil and death. If we are not willing to stand up, condemn, and immediately and effectively oppose with all our might this scourge upon the youth of our country — then who are we? We have lost ourselves, we are defeated, and the enemy has won. And then we will easily be overpowered on the world stage and cease to exist as the great nation we once were.
The Good News: How’s the book moving?
Vivian Percy: The book has received wonderful feedback by people from all walks of life. Those in recovery recommend it for individuals battling addiction, and persons who have never struggled with substance abuse remark that this is a subject that needs to be discussed and not hidden — and that “Saving Jenny” is a book everyone should read. This is what we hoped for, that “Saving Jenny” would both help those in need of help and raise the awareness and passion of everyone in America.
The Good News: And where can people learn more about your new book, “Saving Jenny: Rescuing Our Youth from America’s Opioid And Suicide Epidemic?”
Vivian Percy: Thank you so much for covering this important topic. They can find more information at www.savingjenny.com