Saving Jenny: A Mother’s Plea to Rescue America's Youth

By The Fix staff 06/13/18

Part memoir, part analysis and solutions, Saving Jenny was written with a single goal: to help find a way to save lives.

A woman's face with a tear falling down her cheek.
I hope Saving Jenny encourages us all to never give up and never give in, never underestimate the vital help and the real power of prayer, and always believe in the cure that is love.

Saving Jenny, Rescuing Our Youth from America’s Opioid and Suicide Epidemic (Radius Media Group, released June 5, 2018) tells the story of a young woman’s personal struggles with opioid addiction, suicidal depression, and other symptoms of childhood traumatization. Written by Jenny’s mother, attorney Vivian Percy (a nom de plume), who graduated from the NYU School of Law, in collaboration with Dr. Anna Bandini, LCSW, PhD (NYU Clinical Social Work), the book explores the disconnect between our drug rehabilitation/mental healthcare system and patients’ needs, how complicity with pharmaceutical companies contributes to the opioid epidemic in our country, and in what ways love and spirituality are essential to mental health and recovery from substance abuse. Below are excerpts from an interview with the author.

The Fix: What made you decide to write the book?

Vivian Percy: I began this book in early 2015 after learning of so many of Jenny’s friends who had recently died from drug overdoses or suicides. My single goal in writing this story was to help find a way to save lives. It was my purpose to disclose what Jenny and her fellow travelers had experienced and witnessed, in memoir form (Part 1), as a vehicle to diagnose the exact causes of our present inability to halt this two-fold epidemic. And then, most importantly (in Part 2) to discover the true remedy and to propose practical solutions (political, social, economic, cultural, health care systems, educational, therapeutic and spiritual) for stemming and ultimately defeating it. 

TF: Did you write it more with the parents or their children in mind as the reader?

VP: I wrote this book with both parents and their children in mind, as helping one is helping the other—they are both one and the same. However, I realized, as I progressed in my work, that I was writing for everyone in society, because this crisis imperils all of us, and our drug-addicted/mentally injured youth are the canaries in the coal mine of a nation falling apart from within due to its lack of human values. 

TF: How did you meet and decide to collaborate with Dr. Anna Badini?

VP: As Jenny and I were going through our odyssey, we came to know Dr. Badini as a leading authority in her field. Therefore, I reached out to Dr. Badini who collaborated to ensure the accuracy of descriptions of therapeutic practices within psychiatric/rehab institutions, and to help address the flaws in the current mental health substance abuse model and what would constitute truly effective therapy. 

TF: You write that a neighbor responded to a young man’s overdose death by saying, “Well, no one put the drugs in his hand and made him take them. No one made him do it!” Why do you think, especially with how rampant opioid addiction is now, that so many people still view addiction as a moral failing rather than, as you put it so eloquently, “a disease of physical/psychic enslavement…?”

VP: First, I think that in some respects we still live in a “blame the victim” society, which may be a carry-over from late 19th century, Social Darwinian influences of the past. Very simply put, the attitude of many people is, “I don’t use drugs, so why should you? That’s your choice and you are responsible for your actions.” It keeps things simple, gives them a justification for their refusal to help or be concerned, and allows them to feel strong and superior. Such persons basically believe that if the addict/mentally-emotionally fragile individual is that “weak-willed” – then “he got what he deserved,” because “no one made him do it.” They wrongly judge addicts as choosing to indulge in a vice and living a corrupt lifestyle, when there is very little choice involved.

The truth of the matter is that most of those tormented by substance abuse disorder are suffering from multiple devastating traumas since a very early age (including sexual abuse in the case of many women), and frequently also socio-economic deprivation, are in unendurable emotional and mental anguish, feel hopeless, and use drugs to self-medicate, as a last stop before suicide. 

TF: You write that you think healing can begin with, “(1) the incorporation of spirituality, love, and virtue into the individual, familial, community, educational, and healthcare/government systems and on a societal and national-leadership basis and (2) by adopting a soul-centered therapeutic model in which spirituality, altruistic love, and psychodynamic treatment are synonymous.” Can you elaborate more on these concepts? In the book you give examples of how you think they can be executed in all areas. Can you tell us here how this would work on an individual basis?

VP: In respect of these concepts, as we progressed in our journey, Jenny came to a sense of a loving Higher Power, admitting, as have many former addicts cited in the book, that only God could have saved her, and she told me:

“If you ever question what love is, it’s simple. Just read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. You don’t have to be religious to believe in what this passage says. 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.”

And as Dr. Gabor Maté, who has worked extensively and compassionately with addicts in Vancouver, has stated: “If an addict can feel loved, their brain can relax, and they can accept the possibility of salvation without addiction.” Dr. Maté quotes Dr. Thomas Hora in saying: “All problems are psychological; all solutions are spiritual.”

As individuals, we can begin by being kind and more considerate, loving and giving toward others, because good will and good deeds have the power to connect people positively. In Saving Jenny, I explain four essential prongs of spirituality which saved me and Jenny, by employing them on a personal basis, and have supported others as well: (i) Compassionate feeling and action: The Curative Connection, (ii) Faith: Acquiring Strength and Identity, (iii) Prayer: The Way to Healing Energy, and (iv) Forgiveness and Self-Forgiveness: Bursting Out of Hate. It was prayer, most especially, that turned everything around for me and Jenny, and there are numerous, well-respected research studies that verify that daily prayer works as a vital means of healing. 

TF: Your experience is rooted in living in or around a large city with a daughter whose peers also live in or around a large city—do you think the issues and potential solutions surrounding drug and suicide issues you discuss in the book are also applicable to youth living in middle America or more remote areas?

VP: Jenny at one point traveled to the Rocky Mountain West in search of the therapeutic power of the beauty of nature, and a new environment, away from the fast-paced city. And she loved the people she met and was transfixed by the pristine natural surroundings. That said, she told me that she found that the drug/suicide problem was, in many respects, even worse in more remote places. So, yes, the issues and potential solutions are also applicable in these areas. When I asked Jenny why she thought this was the case, she answered that there is not as much to do, and a greater feeling of isolation than in more crowded metropolitan areas, so substance abuse seemed more prevalent. 

TF: It’s impressive that when you were called to the ER when Jenny was hit by the taxi, you were able to immediately question their willingness to discharge her so quickly simply because there were no broken bones. You described it as, “…the beginning of a long pattern of quick and premature discharges by all the health care facilities we henceforth deal with.” Why do you think you had such strong instincts around this issue? Do you think your experience as a lawyer was part of it?

VP: Thank you, however I believe that the way I reacted was because I am a mother, first and foremost. There is nothing more powerful than a mother’s love, or keener than a mother’s instincts when her child is in danger. 

TF: There currently aren’t really any set federal standards for what a “rehab” is required to offer. Do you think some standards should be mandated, especially for rehabs that claim to offer dual diagnosis support for both substance addiction and co-occurring mental health issues?

VP: Absolutely, and in Saving Jenny, we propose a 20-point dual diagnosis inpatient treatment paradigm. This program would place an emphasis on one-on-one, empathic, psychodynamic psychotherapy for 45 minutes at least twice per week, that incorporates the skilled treatment of trauma, sexual abuse and PTSD; family therapy both with the patient, and without the patient, in two weekly 45 minute sessions; the inclusion of the option of pastoral counseling on a daily basis, as well the opportunity to attend weekly if not daily religious service; daily in house NA/AA meetings; addiction and nutrition education; nutritional meals served within the facility; how to handle relapse; mindfulness and dialectical behavioral therapy; at-level high school/college education and jobs training, daily exercise and sports; access to the outdoors and nature, and much more.

TF: How is your daughter Jenny doing now? Is she in recovery?

VP: Today, although Jenny is still dealing with post-addiction challenges, overall her story is one of deliverance, personal transformation and, with God's help, new life found.

TF: What is your hope for this book and those who read it? What’s the ideal impact it would make on society?

VP: My hope is that the voice of Saving Jenny will be heard by as many people as possible, because this country is full of millions of Jennies and Johnnies, and “this could happen to you.”

It is also my ardent wish that Saving Jenny will reach the individuals currently struggling, as well as the people endeavoring to understand, and prevent things happening like they did to Jenny, and to many other youths, in this day and age. And, most importantly, I hope Saving Jenny encourages us all to never give up and never give in, never underestimate the vital help and the real power of prayer, and always believe in the cure that is love. 

Regarding the ideal impact it would make on society, it is my heartfelt purpose that this book will bring about swift, restorative, and revitalizing solutions on all levels, and transform our culture to one of health, virtue, and human values, where our children are nurtured, guided, and protected, and their innocence is respected and safeguarded. In this way a young person may know love and faith and have hope that she will grow to be the person she is meant to be – a wonderful expression of her true, God-given self.

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