For years, Jay Lind lived between the lines of society’s moral and legal boundaries but his smooth privileged life was interrupted when his dad died and his drug addiction snowballed out of control. Between the Lines is the moving saga of Jay’s descent into addiction, his darkest choices, and his struggles in recovery, as told through short vignettes about the many people who touched his life at some of the most critical times.
Jay gained perspective and strength through the guiding words of his father, the unexpected strength of his brother’s love, the heartfelt wisdom of his therapist, and the resilience of the addicts he met along the way but he also learned from people he never thought he would know, a polygraph administrator, a humble celebrity, a veteran with PTSD and the assistant state’s attorney in charge of prosecuting him.
If you’ve ever wondered whether the small interactions of our everyday lives truly matter or whether a few kind words can really make a difference, Between the Lines reminds us that they do and they can. This is the Author Hour Podcast, and I’m your host, Frank Garza. Today, I’m joined by Jay Lind, author of a brand-new book, Between the Lines: A Memoir About Addiction, Empathy, and Evolution.
Jay, welcome to the show.
Jay Lind: Hi, thank you very much. Good to be here.
Bouncing Back From Rock Bottom
Frank Garza: I wanted to start by talking about the year 2015 and in the intro of your book, you get right into that. You talk about how your life took a really big turn in that year. Can you spend some time talking about what your life looked like when that year began? How would you describe that?
Jay Lind: Yeah, well, that’s tough. 2015 was kind of the climax of all of my worst fears and anxieties all at once. My dad had gotten sick, he got cancer a few years before that. I’d spent about a year dealing with him as he’s getting sicker and getting closer to death and then he died in 2014 and from that point on, I had a kind of addiction bubbling under the surface before that.
Once my dad got sick and died, that really took off as addiction does and spiraled out of control until I hit a really terrible rock bottom in 2015. Leading up to that moment, I had a pretty great life in every measurable way. I was working my dream job as a teacher — a high school English teacher in the school, my old high school in my old town where I grew up, where my friends live, where my family lives still. It’s a really great place and a great school. I was married to a wonderful woman, two great young sons and everything on the surface looked pretty great but underneath that, I was really sick.
In 2015, it ended up kind of — I really found the bottom when eventually I was suspended from my job as a teacher while there was an investigation, a criminal investigation. Eventually, [I] resigned because of the felony charges against me, that’s when I kind of came clean to everybody about my addiction and everything else that had been going on. About, kind of a secret life that I’d been living for a long time and once I came clean there, then I shipped out to rehab and that began a slow climb back, really, from that rock bottom which gets me to today, more than six years later. I’m in a much different place.
Frank Garza: You share so many personal and raw details about your life in this book. Was that hard for you, is it still hard for you knowing that the book is about to be published now? Could you talk about that?
Jay Lind: Yes, it’s really hard. It’s a very personal story and it’s one that [is] a story of my mistakes and my flaws, some horrible things that I did and some horrible experiences that I went through and it makes me nervous that it’s about to be available for anyone to read but that’s part of why I wrote the book.
I want people to see those things, to want to sort of de-stigmatize addiction. To help de-stigmatize addiction in America, you have to take all those things that are hiding in everyone’s house and kind of put them out there.
I think that at the risk of exposing myself, I think that it’s for an important cause, which is to see that this is some of the byproducts of addiction but also, to see how it affects people, how it can affect anybody, even your English teacher or your son or daughter’s English teacher down the street but also, I always think of it that I remember this quote, that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
I have this dirty laundry and I need to get it out into the sun and help clean it up. I think that it’s important for me to use this really horrible period of my life to create something good and to affect change in the positive way, to pay it forward and make amends for what I had done.
Frank Garza: As you were writing this book, who is the target audience you had in mind for it?
Jay Lind: Yeah, that’s interesting. When I first started writing, to be honest, I was the only audience for the book. I wasn’t really thinking of it, thinking of an audience, it was very therapeutic for me to process everything that I had gone through and was continuing to go through as I was writing.
Eventually, once I realized I really wanted this to be a real on-the-shelf kind of book, I started thinking about it and you know, the real — who is the ideal audience for this book? I think really, there’s something in the book for everyone but because I think that addiction, in one way or another, is affecting everybody. If you’re lucky enough not to be one of us who has the disease then chances are, someone close to you does. Someone in your office and someone in your family or more than one person and it really affects everyone, not just the addict. It affects all the loved ones of the addict and everyone who is around them.
I think that there’s an audience for people to understand that but also, dealing with grief and loss— which is kind of what started the whole downward spiral for me — and not dealing with that grief and processing and the loss of my father the way I should, coping with it in unhealthy ways through drugs and alcohol and to see that it’s possible that you can bounce back, that addicts do recover and that if it’s treated properly and managed, that an addict can live a long and happy and healthy life. That yes, the disease doesn’t go away but it’s treated and I’m continuing to treat it and manage it, and that allows me to live a happy and healthy life.
That’s part of, a big part of my purpose in writing the book is directing towards that audience of addicts, of families and loved ones of addicts as well but I think it’s also a story about privilege and the different systems in the United States that I’ve been a real — I benefited from being on this side of that privilege and even, in this case, nothing, I came across some really terrible situation and without my privilege, it would have gone a lot worse. I’m really lucky to have all the things and support and resources that I had in this moment.
I went to one of the best rehab facilities in the world a few times and I had terrific lawyers and support system, a place to stay, and all those things and it was still really, really, really hard and that’s was with all the possible resources a person could have. Whether I deserve that or not, I had it and it made me sort of recognize that and realize how lucky I am even more than I ever had in my life before.
Learning to Approach Life In A Healthier Way
Frank Garza: Yeah, I’ve read quite a few memoirs and I found the way that yours is organized and structured to be very unique. Could you talk about how your memoir is structured and why you decided to do it that way?
Jay Lind: Yes, absolutely. My dad was a very important part of my mission and guiding light throughout the whole process of writing a book and two very important things I’ve learned from my dad while he was alive, where I wanted to own my mistakes and flaws and learn from them and get better and to evolve as a human being, as a man. Obviously, that’s something that I’m trying to do and what I’m learning through this whole process.
The other thing about my dad that most people who met him will never forget is that he was always collecting the stories of other people, everyone he met. My dad was asking questions and learning about their lives, about their jobs, about their dreams and passions and he learned from them. He wanted to know about their experience, especially the people who had experiences extremely different from his. He wanted to know all about it and learn as much as he can from it to collect those stories.
In my book, I have organized it in a way where each chapter is a person or a group of people who I’ve come across through this journey over the last six or seven years and a couple from a little bit before that too and in telling their stories I’m hoping to pass on some of the things I’ve learned from them from listening to their stories and collecting their stories like my dad always did as well.
This way, I’m learning from them. I can pass those stories on here in this book, so other people who read the book can learn from them and learn the things that I learned. It’s an act of empathy, I hope that’s the goal. Instead of writing a memoir, it’s just a big book about me from start to finish; here is how things got really bad, and here’s how I sort of bounced back. I’ve read a lot of those memoirs too and I wanted it to be different and I also wanted to show my respect for the stories and the people who I’ve met along the way.
I think that it is unique in that way and hopefully, that’s something that people will enjoy sort of a fresh, new kind of structure from a memoir, I guess.
Frank Garza: I’d like to pull up some of these people, some of these chapters, and just throw them out at you and just ask you to talk about this person and what role they played and why they were important to you. How about we start with your dad? You’ve already said so much about him but I believe he is the only one that had multiple chapters in the book written about him. What else would you like to share about your dad?
Jay Lind: Yeah, you’re going to make me cry here, Frank. Obviously, I’m still doing, processing the grief like that from — for six years now but it’s not something I want to let go. I don’t want to get over that loss, I just want to learn to carry it with me in a more healthy way than I have then. Yeah, my dad has three chapters, there’s one to start the book, the first chapter, the last chapter and then there’s one in the middle.
I think that most importantly, what I want people to know about my dad and what he taught me is that my dad, I think I’m much like him and in so many ways, in one particular way, had some similar flaws and made similar mistakes and he always tried to help me learn from his mistakes. It took me a long time and I wasn’t listening for much of my adolescence, especially. He, more than anyone I’ve ever known, got better with age. He evolved as a human being and a man.
Right about when he was about 40 — which is about how old I was when I hit my rock bottom there — at about 40, my dad really started learning, much to my mom’s pleasure there I think, started learning how to take those experiences and mistakes and flaws of his and become better. He just kept getting better and better. I think my dad was more cooler at 70 than he was at any other age and just a better — more complete open-minded, whole-hearted and lovely human being and he got better.
That’s something I’m trying really hard to continue, you know? In his legacy to help me do this thing and for me to pass it on to my two boys. You know, they’re at two almost teenage boys here. They’re approaching the age right where I turned into a real punk and they’re not showing many signs of it yet but I am keeping my eye on them.
Frank Garza: Okay, how about Chris, your brother?
Jay Lind: So my brother, my parents, you know, we were raised by the same two people. We turned out very different in many ways but there’s a few things in us, my brother and I, that I think didn’t come directly from our dad. And although we have taken different paths in life and we certainly have different personality traits, but it would be pretty clear to anyone who met us and we haven’t been like best friends for our whole life.
He is six years older [and] we always had a good relationship but nothing — you know, I didn’t lean on him. I didn’t call him when things were rough in my life leading up to this. He had no idea anything that was going on but when it all really hit the fan, he showed up. I couldn’t wish for a better brother and he showed up for me in a million ways. We dropped all of that big brother-little brother baloney and it was a very human reaction.
For the first time, I wasn’t scared of how he was going to respond to me as I was unloading all of this secret, all of these unhealthy secrets I had as I began to tell him and ask for his help and he showed me nothing but love. That was really refreshing and obviously, it saved my life in a lot of ways. The help I got from my brother really did save my life and I want to make sure that that got in the book because my brother and I probably aren’t going to have this conversation face-to-face. So I just put it in the book and he read it and I think he understands how I feel now.
Turning Painful Experiences into Lessons
Frank Garza: That’s great. How about Wayne, who you described on the chapter, it says, “Wayne the Drug Addict.”
Jay Lind: So I think the reason I have that chapter is like Wayne’s — and for people I met in recovery like this because I think that there is a lot of people out there that have an idea in their head about what a drug addict is, what they look like and what their stereotypes and other generalizations that people make and all along the way — I have met so many people who don’t fit those stereotypes and Wayne is one of them.
He was the nicest, the most gentle, just really down-to-earth person. He is Minnesota nice, as it says in the book and it’s very true. If you have ever met anyone from Minnesota, you know what I’m talking about.
Frank Garza: My mom is from Minnesota, so yeah, a lot of people. I do know what you’re talking about.
Jay Lind: Yeah, I mean I just felt so — you know, in talking to him, I met him in an in-patient rehab facility in Minnesota actually and spending that month with him and learning his story is just one of the millions that I’ve heard where you realize that this is a good person who never wanted any of this, who have been trying for a long time to get better, to stop the wave of addiction from getting bigger and bigger in his life.
The harder that he tried to stop, the more trouble he ended up in and the more deeper his problems got like the rest of us and until somehow you hit the rock bottom that didn’t end up with him in jail. It didn’t end up with him losing his family or anything like that and then he was there just trying and trying and trying so hard to get better, to beat this illness. I kept in touch with him for a little while after we left.
Sadly, I haven’t been able to contact him or find him in the last year or two, so I really hope he’s okay and just changed his phone number or something like that but sadly, I don’t know, you know? So I worry about him but I sure hope he’s out there and he’s doing great with his family.
Frank Garza: Okay, how about an 18-year-old boy in a Cook County jail cell?
Jay Lind: Yeah, so I know that you can’t see me on this podcast but I am a white guy. I am about as white as a guy could get and obviously, that is something that as I was checked throwing myself in Cook County jail that I stood out. Not many people in the jail there with me who looked like me and I was obviously aware of that as I was going in. I grew up in Chicago, I’m from here, I know how it works and so needless to say, I was stuck out like a sore thumb.
I was very scared for a million reasons, not so much for my safety. For most of the time, I was in protective custody and although I knew I was a target in some ways because of the charges that were against me and I was in the news — while I was there they have TVs in jail so they knew what I was there for and that made me a bit of a target too but for the most part in my short time there, in my brief 40 hours or whatever that I was in the county jail, people kind of looked out for me, some of the other people that were there with me and were waiting for their bond hearings and whatnot.
This kid that I ended up in a cell, a holding cell right, [with] before I went into court for my bond hearing — I was in a holding cell with this young man and one or two other people and he was wearing one of those paper jumpsuits you get when the detectives take your clothes for evidence. He looked scared and he looked a lot like a lot of my students who I have taught over the 15 years teaching high school. The way he was talking really reminded me of them as I was sitting there in that cell thinking realizing that my teaching career is probably over at that point and thinking of this kid and thinking of all my students.
It sort of brought me back to that but then his public defender came in to talk to him for, I don’t know, 30 seconds before his bond hearing. She spoke a hundred miles an hour and she had a million folders in her hands, probably don’t know too much or have too much time to prepare for that moment and then she’s kind of in a flash was out of his cell. He was confused and so he started asking me questions about what she said. I talked to him for a while and tried to kind of translate some of what she was saying to him but the gist of it was you’re not going home. You are not going to be able to bond out. You are going to be here until your trial.
So there I was delivering that kind of bad news to that kid and I was thinking that his story and my story are really different most likely, you know? I don’t know his whole story but sadly the research shows about [what] the crimes committed and/or people charged with crimes in America and especially in big cities that more likely their life didn’t have the privilege that I had, didn’t have the resources that I had, didn’t have the terrific school and healthcare that I had and here I was, sitting across from him in that moment and it will really stick with me.
You know, when I walk out in the court and realized I was probably not going to see that young man again either but I haven’t forgotten about him and again, I sure hope things turned out okay for him.
Frank Garza: Are there any other persons or chapters in the book you really want our listeners to know about?
Jay Lind: That’s hard, you know I think —
Frank Garza: There are so many.
Jay Lind: Depending on the day for me, I think about it like, “Oh this is the most important chapter for somebody” and the next day, it’s going to be a different one and I think another one is important. You know what? I think that this is a hard one for me but I want to chat about my sons and kind of how I feel, what I’ve been thinking and how I’ve been processing all of this information about my illness and my condition as an addict and the impact of the decisions and mistakes that I’ve made on their lives.
They were young but not that young. They weren’t babies and they don’t remember when it all went down. I never did anything that directly affected them or anything in front of them or anything like that but they certainly have experienced me all of a sudden disappearing and then going to rehab and then never coming back home. My wife and I then separated and eventually divorced.
As they get older, now I had to tell them why and what happened. I was in the newspapers and why you could look up my mug shot and why there is some places that I can’t go with them, that’s hard. And also I know that addiction runs in the family, whether it’s genetic or not, who knows? It runs in families, it certainly is around in mine and I worry about it for them and so I think the chapter about my two boys, you can see I think how important it is for parents especially if there is addiction in your family and certainly in my case for — you know, I am an addict.
I am going to be an addict for the rest of my life — to use what I’ve learned to help my boys and to keep an eye on them, to make sure that they’re aware of the red flags that are ahead of them and to just be more cognizant of it, you know?
One of my sons, once I read this chapter to him, he said, “Does that mean I’m an addict, Daddy? Does that mean I’m an addict? Am I going to be an addict? Am I sick?”
I said, “No, no, no definitely not.” It’s like cancer that way that if there is cancer in your family or heart disease — in my family there is heart disease on my dad’s side and when I say that at the doctor’s office, they send in like six doctors to come check on me and read my vitals and go over all this stuff because that is how heart disease works in your dad’s side of the family, but that doesn’t mean I have heart disease.
It just means, yeah, I’m at risk so they’re going to watch it really carefully and if something happens, they will catch it early and that’s how I plan on treating my sons as far as addiction and alcoholism is concerned. I have to deal with the guilt and shame of causing some difficult moments for them already in their life and some harder things they’re going to have to process as they get older but I want to make sure that they know that I am here for them to talk about it.
Hopefully, they can learn from this story, that I turned a really awful thing that caused problems for them and their mom and my family and my friends and my former students but I turned that thing. I didn’t fall in and I didn’t give up and I didn’t quit. Instead, I am turning it into something that I hope will help other people. That’s what I used to do for a living and I really hope that this book is a chance for me to start helping people again.
Frank Garza: Is there anything else about you or the book that you want to make sure our listeners know before we wrap up?
Jay Lind: Oh man, it’s all in the book. If there is any secrets, I don’t have them anymore. I just think I want people to understand that addiction is a disease and it is something that if managed and monitored and people continue to take it seriously that it’s something that we can all live with and you can live a great life. I promise you that that person that you are thinking of, who you are wondering, “Maybe he is an addict, maybe she’s an alcoholic, why don’t they just get their act together, right? Why don’t they just stop?” It’s because they can’t.
They’re sick and they need help and it’s hard to — there’s no silver bullet to figure out how to get them the help that they need but I promise you, that person isn’t happy. They know they have a problem, they are trying very, very hard to stop and no matter the consequences, they continue to use or to drink until they get that help. I mean, I think in the book you will see that I continue to use drugs in face of awful consequences that is risking my life and my kids’s life and my career and my family and everything.
I knew it, I am not an idiot. I knew what the potential consequences were and I kept doing it and then I hated myself for doing it, so then I would use more drugs to cover that until eventually, I hit a rock bottom that lucky enough for me, I could recover from and I didn’t die. Too many people do or suffer from worse consequences than I have, so I consider myself very lucky.
Frank Garza: Well, Jay, I really enjoyed our conversation today. Thank you for putting this book out into the world like we talked about. It’s such a raw honest look at your life. The book is called Between the Lines. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you?
Jay Lind: Yeah, so you can look for me, @betweenthelines on Instagram and I have a website coming up soon when the book launches. Those are the best places to find me.
Frank Garza: Thank you, Jay.
Jay Lind: Thank you very much, Frank, I appreciate it.