Champions of Recovery
During the 1950s, a Statesboro, Ga., family was struggling to battle their addictions to drugs and alcohol.
At the time, Dr. John and Dot Mooney probably couldn’t have imagined that their spiral into addiction would result in sobriety. Their personal lifelong journey was one that would create hope and open the doors of healing for thousands of patients around the world.
Today, the Mooney children – Dr. Al, Jimmy, Dr. Bobby and Carol Lind — have continued the powerful legacy begun by their late parents, the founders of Willingway Hospital. The Mooneys have committed their lives to helping people battle drug and alcohol addictions with the same compassionate care as their parents.
WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY
By all appearances, the Mooneys were a picture-perfect family. However, what many outsiders didn’t know was that they were harboring a destructive secret: drug and alcohol addiction. After many years of struggling with substance abuse, Dr. John and Dot gained sobriety. From that moment forward, the couple was determined to help others rebuild their lives.
For the next several years, the Mooneys’ Statesboro home became a temporary boarding house and detox unit while they were raising their family. While the Mooney family grew, so did the number of addicts arriving at their front door. Patients were treated as extended members of the family, and at one time, 26 people lived in their house on Lee Street. Winning the battle against substance abuse was a big step. Helping addicts gain sobriety was even bigger. The next step would prove to be the biggest.
In 1971, the Mooneys opened Willingway Hospital, the first free-standing specialty hospital treating drug and alcohol addiction in the state of Georgia. Today, the licensed medical facility has treated more than 20,000 patients from all around the world and has gained a reputation as one of the top treatment centers in the nation. With 125 people on staff, including two full-time physicians and a nurse practitioner — patients receive round-the-clock care in the 40-bed facility. Although Willingway has seen its share of growth through the decades, one constant has remained: the family-oriented atmosphere from its humble beginnings on Lee Street.
A FAMILY LEGACY
Jimmy, Carol Lind, Dr. Al and Dr. Bobby Mooney grew up in Statesboro surrounded by people struggling with addiction. Their parents, Dr. John and Dot Mooney (at left) opened their home on Lee Street to dozens of addicts over the years. Today, the Mooney children are continuing the family legacy through their work at what has become Willingway Hospital.
Georgia Southern alumnus Jimmy Mooney (‘85) always remembers his father’s simple words: “Trouble is an alcoholic’s best friend.” Willingway’s board chairman has taken those words to heart, having seen the faces of addiction, and also been one of them. For more than 25 years, he has been sober, and also has played a pivotal role in helping Willingway’s patients overcome their troubles and gain sobriety.
Jimmy began working at Willingway in 1980 as the data processing manager, followed by positions including accounts payable manager, business director, administrator and CEO. Through the years, he has supported his parents’ philosophy of providing a caring, family-oriented environment, which he believes is a big reason for the hospital’s success today. Jimmy revealed that Willingway’s abstinence-based approach also puts the hospital at the forefront of other treatment facilities around the nation.
“Our goal is for our patients to be truly chemical-free. Our focus is to motivate and educate patients as well as getting them involved in the 12-step recovery after treatment,” he said.
A licensed specialty hospital, Willingway offers a full continuum of services. “This includes medically managed detox, residential treatment, outpatient services, intensive family program and extended care for people who have had a difficult time staying sober,” said Jimmy.
“The length of stay is one of the most important factors in adequate treatment,” said Jimmy. The average stay at Willingway is approximately five weeks; however, that varies for each individual. “Different people have different needs —both inpatient and outpatient,” he added. In fact, Willingway recently opened a new outpatient program as well as a program for patients who need long-term treatment of a year or more, he revealed.
Besides educating patients, the Willingway Foundation has provided educational opportunities since the early 1980s for the medical community, in hopes of raising awareness about addictions. “We have a great relationship with Georgia Southern and students from the School of Nursing have rotated through Willingway as part of their education in order to get a good overall experience of what happens in treatment. I think it is very important for the medical community to recognize the signs of addiction in their patients,” he said.
“Working in this field is about helping people and this can come about in a lot of different ways,” he said. Since 2002, Jimmy and his wife Robbin have been invited by MusiCares, a foundation supporting the music industry, to volunteer their services in the Safe Harbor Room at many award shows. The couple host 12-step meetings in the hospitality room, an alcohol- and drug-free refuge for performers and staff for several days leading up to the show.
“At these award shows, it is hard for people to get to a meeting,” he said. “The Safe Harbor Room is a lifeline and a supportive network that helps workers and performers,” he said. The couple regularly volunteers in hospitality rooms at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, Calif., the Country Music Awards in Nashville, Tenn., the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas, Nev., and other shows.
Last year, Jimmy was honored for his commitment to helping alcoholics and drug addicts achieve sobriety by the Georgia Hospital Association. He was presented with the Georgia Hospital Heroes Lifetime Achievement Award, and was the only individual in the state to receive the prestigious honor. “I was very honored,” he said humbly, but he feels his accomplishments were possible because of one person: his father. “Our family and Willingway are here and doing what we’re doing because my dad stood before a judge and was sentenced to two years of hard labor for his addictions. For people dealing with addiction, the things that appear to be bad are really the best things to happen. That’s what motivates people to change.”
DR. AL MOONEY
Dr. Al Mooney is a rarity in his family. Although he has lived his entire life in recovery with his parents and siblings, he is the only Mooney who has never suffered an addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Al, the president of the Willingway Foundation, is a family physician, addiction specialist and a pioneer in the field of addiction medicine, having helped establish the certification standards for the specialty while serving on the board of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
He lives in Raleigh, N.C., and in his passion for helping addicts, he has applied the Willingway philosophy to a different segment of people, with a great degree of success. Al is the medical director for The Healing Place, a recovery and rehab facility serving Raleigh’s homeless who are suffering from alcohol and drug addiction. “We have a similar recovery path designed to help the homeless,” he said. “Mentoring and education is the platform, and a large part of this is risk management, and helping people maintain a drug-free life.”
Before moving to North Carolina, Al served as the medical director at Willingway. In 1992, he co-authored The Recovery Book with Arlene Eisenberg, co-author of the What to Expect When You’re Expecting books, and medical journalist Howard Eisenberg.
The Recovery Book is the first book to explain exactly what a recovering addict and his or her family will face during every stage of living clean and sober. Some of the topics include withdrawal, sleep problems, exercise, support groups and anxiety. “This book is a type of Scout manual for recovery, and is a companion to the 12-step literature,” he explained. “After your life is saved in recovery, it’s time to do something with the life you’ve saved. Look at your relationships, your career and school,” he said. The second edition of The Recovery Book is slated for publication in 2014.
“More lives are lost every year due to alcohol and drugs, and it’s my job to make the medical profession aware of these diseases. It’s a hard sell, but if we can empower people to not spend their money on drugs, we will be saving lives.”
CAROL LIND MOONEY
When Carol Lind Mooney (‘92) was growing up, she recalls vivid images of her parents helping addicts recover in their family home in Statesboro. “I shared my room with women who were coming out of detox. There were so many people living in our house, that I had to step over people sleeping on the floor,” said the youngest Mooney sibling.
“This way of life was normal, and it was full of honesty, sharing and kindness. It was a wonderful environment to grow up in. Even though I saw what alcohol and drugs did to people, I still took my first drink at the age of 12,” she said.
Sober since 1982, Carol Lind has received her certification as an addiction counselor, worked at Willingway, graduated from Mercer Law School and opened a private law practice. In 1997, she purchased the Mooney family home on Lee Street and opened the residence as an independent halfway house for women. Another residence is Louie’s House – a men’s halfway house — named for a Willingway counselor who represented a positive influence in her life.
Today, Carol Lind operates several halfway houses in the Statesboro area and provides scholarship beds for residents. During the recovery process, some of the residents are also able to work at her equestrian farm, Mill Creek Ponies.
“My program lasts anywhere from one to two years for up to 30 women,” she said about the women’s halfway houses. Ninety-five percent of the residents live outside the state of Georgia – from areas such as Washington, D.C., New York and New Jersey. Residents of the halfway houses are typically in their mid-20s, and some are Georgia Southern students who have successfully turned their lives around. In fact, several former residents have completed medical, pharmacy and law school and others are currently attending veterinary school. “I always stress that I want them to make a difference somewhere and be the best they can possibly be,” said Carol Lind.
Nearly nine years ago, Carol Lind used her legal expertise to successfully establish the drug courts in Georgia’s Bulloch and Effingham counties. “The drug court is a way for a person to get their record wiped clean after they have successfully completed outpatient treatment, drug screens and daily meetings. I was able to take Willingway’s philosophy into the justice system,” she said.
Always looking for ways to help addicts, Carol Lind recently founded a 90-day men’s program just last month. “People are falling through the cracks, and this is a niche we don’t have,” she said about the halfway house which also incorporates outpatient treatment at Willingway.
“My basic values and principles are ingrained from my parents. I have always felt the need to do something for others. It’s a way of life and a floating philosophy that goes wherever you take it,” she said.
Jimmy and Robbin Mooney with Harold Owens, the senior director of MusiCares at the Academy of Country Music Awards.
DR. BOBBY MOONEY
“I love alcoholics and drug addicts,” said Dr. Bobby Mooney, Willingway’s medical director. “There’s something magical about people who have recovered from alcoholism and drug addiction; there’s an aspect to their life that is very rewarding and I’ve always been attracted to that,” he explained about his career of choice and life commitment.
Since the age of six, Bobby has experienced the recovery of many patients treated at the Mooney family home, and many years later, he frequently sees them around Statesboro. Often, several members of the same family have received treatment. “We recently had a grandfather, father and son — three generations — who celebrated their sobriety at Willingway,” he added.
The third son in the family, Bobby’s original career path was photography. A graduate of the Rochester Institute, he began working at Willingway in 1977, and designed the audio visual studios at the hospital. “I’ve been sober since 1977, and I began taking a much more active role at Willingway,” he mentioned, beginning with gaining his certification in counseling.
“After my dad died, I knew I wanted to make a more significant contribution to Willingway. I had become aware of the important role the physician occupied in the treatment process and after being out of school for 10 years, I decided to return to school in an attempt to enter medical school. I enrolled at Georgia Southern to complete my pre-med requirements. The support I received from the faculty was instrumental in my eventual success.” While at Georgia Southern, Bobby founded the pre-med club and was accepted at Mercer University School of Medicine. He then completed a residency in psychiatry at East Tennessee State University before returning to Willingway in 1995 as medical director.
“I have been truly blessed to be a part of the legacy of my parents. This field requires a great deal of patience, tolerance and compassion. At Willingway, patients can feel accepted and loved, and it makes a big difference in their recovery. The whole recovery process involves patients learning about addiction as an illness and also about themselves, and what they need to do differently,” Bobby added.
“The patients have to learn to live sober. For some of them, it has been 30 or 40 years since their brain has been chemically free. A lot of tears, anger and emotional issues have been buried for years. Our goal is to give a person the very best chance of recovery during treatment,” he said.
THE CENTER FOR ADDICTION RECOVERY
Willingway’s progressive vision of reaching out to younger generations includes the founding of the Center for Addiction Recovery (CAR). Housed in the University’s Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health, the CAR helps recovering students gain college admission, stay on track toward graduation and regain their lives.
After Bobby’s visit to a similar addiction recovery program at Texas Tech, the Mooneys were inspired to create the Center at Georgia Southern. Nearly five years ago, the CAR opened, and the Willingway Foundation provides complete financial support for its operation. Director Emily Eisenhart works with approximately 40 students, who have achieved a 3.5 average GPA. Students have attended leadership retreats, participated in community service projects and shared their inspiring stories of recovery with other members of the community.
“We saw a real need with some of our patients at the hospital who dropped out of college because of their addiction, or could not get enrolled in school because of their problems,” said Jimmy. “We wanted to help integrate students in the community, and the Center facilitates a student’s admission to the University as needed.”
– Mary Beth Spence
A Student’s Journey to Sobriety
Following in the footsteps of her parents, grandmother and two great-aunts, Catherine Mosley is the third generation in her family to attend Georgia Southern University. However, her journey to the Statesboro campus is much different from that of her father, Ronald Mosley (‘82), her mother, Carol Jordan (‘83) and grandmother Elizabeth Smith Jordan (‘47).
Three years ago, Mosley was in legal hot water after she was charged with forging prescriptions for a synthetic opiate or pain reliever she first started taking in high school to ease the pain of her migraine headaches. The University junior also abused alcohol, which made the headaches worse. Eventually, she developed a dependency to the prescribed drug that came in the form of a nasal spray. “I first started taking it to relieve the pain. Then I took more, for more frequent pain. And then I took it because of the feeling it gave me,” Mosley said. “I felt all warm and fuzzy with no cares or worries, and if I didn’t have it, I would drink.”
Following a 2009 arrest, she sought outpatient treatment in her hometown of Savannah, Ga., and soon relapsed. After a second arrest, Mosley entered rehab at Willingway Hospital in Statesboro, Ga. “I went to get out of legal trouble because I didn’t think I had a drug problem,” she said. She stayed for seven weeks, and then moved to Willingway’s extended treatment facility for 13 more months of recovery. In April 2011, Mosley moved to a halfway house and said that is when something clicked. “The halfway house was a safety net. I had coping skills and decided to throw life into the mix,” she noted. Mosley wanted to go back to school but still faced a pending felony charge. She credits the Center for Addiction Recovery for helping her enroll at the University. “After high school, I went to Armstrong Atlantic State University because I didn’t think I could get into Georgia Southern,” said Mosley. “The Center’s director, Emily Eisenhart, was so amazing. I would get so overwhelmed, go into her office and fall apart. She was so patient and loving. It’s cool to have a place on campus where I can meet with people in my own circumstance.”
Now that she is three years into her sobriety, Mosley is taking steps to get her record cleared or expunged. The chemistry major is also following her parents into the scientific field as well, and hasn’t ruled out medical school once she earns a master’s degree in chemistry, public health or epidemiology. When asked what she likes most about Georgia Southern, Mosley didn’t hesitate. “It’s not too big and not too small. I feel like this is where I was meant to be.”
– Sandra Bennett
This month, the Mooneys will embark on a national book tour for the novel When Two Loves Collide. William Borchert, the author and screenwriter for the movies “My Name is Bill W.,” and “The Lois Wilson Story: When Love is Not Enough” and producer of “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon,” has written the novel about the lives of Dr. John and Dot Mooney.
Comments are closed.