Episode 277. Jay Davidson – Chairman, The Healing Place
Jay Davidson was born in Denver in 1942. At age 12, he went to work cutting grass and started paying rent to help cover living expenses due to an absent father. When he was 14, he started work at an amusement park. There he began his drinking career, consuming glasses of leftover liquor from the patrons who had partied the night before but still had good grades and became a leader in his high school’s ROTC program. It foreshadowed what he would become: a highly functioning alcoholic – a thriving, rank-climbing Army officer by day, a drunk by night. After finishing high school, He found a job with GMAC and applied for admission to West Point Military Academy but was denied, which fed his inferiority complex. Nevertheless, he stayed with GMAC, rising steadily in the ranks, and attended night school studying accounting at the University of Denver’s Night School & hated it!
In 1963, he met Carolyn Sue Miller, and they married on Nov. 22, 1963, the day JFK was assassinated. He was 21, and she was 19.
In 1965, the Vietnam War escalated, and with his wife’s approval, he decided to enlist, but his wife discovered she was pregnant. Jay might have received an exemption, but he chose to go. Unfortunately, their baby son, Erik, was born with a lung disease & died 36 hours later. Jay buried his son by himself.
In June 1967, Jay was shipped to Vietnam and assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division. He was promoted rapidly – “Combat was the Key,” he says. If he had stayed 2 more weeks, he would have had another promotion, but “I had had enough.” “I saw life snuffed out, men reduced to a mass of flesh,” he says.
In 1969, Jay returned from the war, and he and his wife adopted a boy. After, they had their son. However, the marriage would not last, and she filed for divorce.
In 1974, Jay met his 2nd wife-Shirley – both divorcees & they married in Connecticut within a year; Jay’s sons, Matthew and Jeffrey, and Shirley’s 2 daughters soon went to live with them. So now he was a family of 6!
Now in his 30’s, with a family to support, his drinking had become such an addiction that on the commercial flight home, he “got plastered,” and his commander told him he would kick him out of the Army, no pension or promotion to Lieutenant Colonel unless he got control. Also, he was assigned one summer to supervise an ROTC camp. Work started at 6 am, leading cadets. He stumbled, slurred & smelled. People noticed. His superior officer, Ike Smith, warned him: “Get clean, or you’ll be discharged without honors.” These 2 incidences changed his life, so he dried out, & over time was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. In 1986, he retired highly decorated, receiving:
- The Legion of Merit
- Meritorious Service Medal
- Silver Star, Bronze Star for Valor (two awards)
- The Army Commendation Medal (four awards)
Soon, he was restless & unfulfilled, so in 1988 he took a job in Saudi Arabia as an adviser to the Royal Saudi Air Defense Force. However, in 1991, now back in Louisville and pursuing a social work master’s, he was asked to take over the Morgan Center., a homeless shelter for alcoholics, and it was “the last thing” he wanted to do. But in December 1991, soon 2 key staffers left, and Jay had to run the place himself.
So, in 1992, at age 50 and retired from the military, Jay created The Healing Place, a unique model for residential treatment programs. It combines a “wet/dry shelter” – a homeless shelter and a recovery program. It is a social model, not a medical model, drawing strength from the participants.
In 1995, Jay launched a program for female alcoholics and addicts modeled after men.
In 1997, Jay’s professional peers tried to close The Healing Place. The Healing Place was accused of treating clients without a license and even mistreatment of clients. Jay and two of his colleagues were criticized, and their social work and drug and alcohol licenses were questioned. Finally, the Inspector General of the Commonwealth of Kentucky ruled that The Healing Place was not a treatment but a recovery program. All claims against it were deemed unsubstantiated.
The acrimony wore Jay down. “It was the year from hell,” he admits.
In 2005, the Kentucky government chose The Healing Place as a “Recovery KY” model and replicated it in 10 new centers.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has recognized it. Dr. Burns Brady, a nationally-known expert in addiction medicine, called it “the best recovery program in the world.”
Today the Healing Place campus is expanding & has several thousand alumni with a 75% recovery rate.