Wounded Healing: The Art and Soul of Surthriving
A Q&A with Dr. Jorja Jamison
This Q&A, facilitated by Jeremiah Gardner of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, was originally published for Hazelden Betty Ford’s monthly Recovery Advocacy Update. If you’d like to receive our advocacy emails, subscribe today.
Dr. Jorja Jamison is a licensed psychologist and professor at the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies. For over a decade, she has trained counselors in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of substance use and mental health disorders, specializing in general psychology, adolescent addiction, adjustment issues for recovering individuals, social and cultural diversity, and addiction within the LGBTQIA+ community.
But for six years, Dr. Jamison also led a painful double life, presenting to the world as a competent clinician while secretly battling her own addiction. Now several years into a transformative journey of healing, the professor who earned her PhD in counseling psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and completed her predoctoral internship year at Duke University, also is a recovery advocate — and she has captured her story in a new manuscript entitled Wounded Healing: The Art and Soul of Surthriving. While Dr. Jamison awaits word from potential publishers, we got the scoop on her inspiring new memoir.
Dr. Jamison, congratulations on completing your manuscript! You’ve come full circle — from deep secret to open book. What does it mean to you, and feel like, to be able to live freely and authentically today, and share your recovery with others?
You know, if you had told me 10 years ago that I was going to so fully share my story, I would have said you were crazy. I was deeply ashamed of my addiction, and the fact that I was developing a solid professional reputation as an addiction psychologist at the time only fueled this. I really felt split into two: on the one hand, I was a growing expert; on the other, I lived a life of deep despair. The biggest gift of my recovery today is that I am a whole person again.
What does recovery look like for you, and what has it empowered in life?
I use Twelve Step recovery for my addiction to drugs, and cognitive behavioral therapy for my food addiction. I have a weekly practice of attending two home groups, one for health care professionals, and one for queer women. What my recovery has empowered in my life is, frankly, the “Promises” outlined in Twelve Step literature. Where once I was uncertain, insecure, and ashamed, I now practice self-compassion and self-acceptance, and live a relatively stable and serene life. I encounter every day in recovery completely differently from how I did when I was active in my addiction. There are still lots of ups and downs, to be sure, but I live on very solid ground now.
Let’s get to your manuscript, Wounded Healing: The Art & Soul of Surthriving. What’s the story arc and the significance of the words “wounded healing” and the new-to-me term “surthriving?”
I wrote the book weaving together chapters telling my personal story of being wounded with chapters describing the healing work I do with patients and students. Many of us work as “wounded healers” and have been taught to hide away the wounded parts of ourselves. This leads many healers into despair. I believe most healers have wounds, and it’s better to acknowledge these wounds and work to heal them. I use the term “healing” to denote that this is active, present-tense work, and we shouldn’t hide it or be ashamed of it. Rather, professional boards and organizations should be supporting this work.
The term Surthriving is sometimes used in trauma treatment, in that many trauma survivors go through a process of moving from a place of mere survival to really thriving in life. This was the path my transformation took, so I use that term as well. As a healer, I am also responsible for guiding patients through this journey, and I’ve learned there’s a lot of art and soul to this craft.
Your addiction led to consequences but also the opportunity to get help and ultimately preserve your career. And your story illustrates the reality that healers and teachers sometimes need healing and help, too, even potentially with the health condition that is their area of expertise. What do you hope readers will take away about the broader relevance of your story?
It’s funny, isn’t it, that we don’t look down at the oncologist who gets cancer, or the physician who breaks a bone. But there’s a special stigma around counselors or health care providers developing a substance use disorder, in that we’re somehow supposed to be immune to it. I hope readers will take away an understanding that absolutely no one is immune to this disease. I also hope they appreciate that the healers of our society (doctors, nurses, counselors, ministers, etc.) are held to this higher standard and this creates additional blocks to recovery. At the same time, it was going through this journey of secrecy and shame that developed me into the powerful advocate I am today.
Now that your recovery advocacy is emerging as an important part of who you are as a person and professional, what are your thoughts on balancing that with the counseling ethic of limiting self-disclosure?
I have given this topic a great deal of thought. There is a boundary that I’ve lifted — between me and my students and patients — in that I am revealing the deepest layers of myself, and this is counter to how we train counselors. Ultimately, I decided to proceed because I believe my story is powerful and can help others. I also waited a number of years before doing so, both to gain distance and allow plenty of time to reflect on what I went through, so I’m comfortable that what I am sharing is not about me, but about helping others. It does mean, however, that I will need to interact with all future clients and students differently.
Switching subjects for the last question, I know you frequently present about cultural adaptations that can help people from underserved populations more readily benefit from a Twelve Step recovery orientation. What’s an example or two, and why do you feel these adaptations are such an important opportunity?
You know, historically individuals from marginalized populations (e.g., women, LGBTQ+ people, atheists, etc.) were asked to assimilate to Twelve Step recovery programs. Many people held onto relatively rigid views of concepts like surrender, God, and character defects. I believe we have reached a time in our culture where we need to shift this lens and help Twelve Step recovery acculturate to individuals from all backgrounds, if they choose that path. For example, I’m a huge advocate of using alternate versions of the Twelve Steps that use different language to convey the same basic concepts of recovery but in a way that resonates with more people. I also advocate that we acknowledge the additional barriers that marginalized populations experience, instead of sweeping them under the rug. I’ve given a few talks along these lines, and look forward to continuing to develop this work.