Jean Heaton had traveled the difficult journey of trying to help a family member with an addiction problem and wanted to help others on that same path.
She found help for her own family at the intersection of Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-Step Program and Jesuit spirituality. That led her to write the book “Helping Families Recover From Addiction: Coping, Growing and Healing Through 12 Step Practices and Ignatian Spirituality.”
“I wanted this book to be one that helps others,” said Heaton, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville. “It is a book that gives them a tool to work with.”
The book, which is garnering attention and praise, was honored in the recent 2021 Catholic Media Association Book Awards.
“My book won second place in the categories of Pastoral Ministry – Parish Life, First Time Author of a Book, and an Honorable Mention in the Healing and Self-help category,” said Heaton.
“This is an important topic, and I was grateful for the recognition because it helps people find the book who need help the most,” said Heaton.
“I wrote the book because there are members of our family who have struggled with drug and substance abuse,” said Heaton, who has been a parishioner at Our Lady of the Lake for the last five years and was a parishioner at St. John Vianney Church in Gallatin before moving.
“The fear, shame, and stigma associated with addiction can prevent families from discussing and addressing the issues that affect everyone who loves the addict,” according to the description of the book on the Amazon website. “Addiction is best responded to when we address the spiritual and familial dimensions of the disease, in addition to the physical aspects.”
It was while working on her own program for family members, said Heaton, “that I began to research the 12 Step Alcoholics Anonymous program, and it was there that I discovered the parallels between AA’s 12 steps and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” one of the founders of the Society of Jesus, popularly known as the Jesuits.
“The tools offered with these two programs were so profound that it spurred me to write about my experience,” Heaton said.
Like any literary effort, Heaton’s book went through different stages of evolution.
“There were different versions of the book at various times, and it actually began as a memoir of a parent writing about someone battling addiction,” said Heaton.
Loyola assigned Heaton an editor to work with, something that, said the author, “introduced me better to St. Ignatius and Loyola as an organization,” and the book was published in October 2020.
In the book, “I share a lot of stories from people who are in my 12-step group – with their permission – and each chapter features one of the 12 steps and a tool of Ignatian spirituality,” Heaton said.
“I was concerned about whether or not the 12 steps featured in my book might go against the Church’s teachings, so I did some research and learned about a Jesuit priest, Ed Dowling, who was the spiritual director of Bill Wilson, the co-founder of AA,” said Heaton.
Heaton approached Loyola Press because, she explained, “they are a Jesuit publisher, and we both wanted this to be a book that helps others and gives them a tool to work with.”
Besides writing the book, Heaton leads retreats for people with family members battling addiction with Sister Mary Michael Fox, O.P., of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville.
“Jean has been on a very difficult and at times, lonely journey,” Sister Mary Michael said. “She doesn’t want other women to make this journey alone.”
The book is “well researched and showing the wisdom of many excellent existing resources,” Sister Mary Michael said.
The book’s release happened in the middle of the worldwide pandemic, which made it difficult to gauge initial reaction to the book, Heaton said.
“Feedback was hard to obtain, just as our 12-step retreats had to be discontinued, because no one could go out or do anything, but now I see things starting to get better,” said Heaton.
Alcoholic Anonymous has been especially favorable toward the book, as have other Catholics.
“Fellow Catholics have reviewed my book and found it acceptable,” Heaton said. “This is important for me as an author, since their seal of approval is something that would have been important for me if I were the one looking for a book.”
Heaton will lead a retreat in December at the Ignatius House in Atlanta and the next retreat at the Bethany Retreat House in Dickson, owned and operated by the Nashville Dominicans, will be held in the fall of 2022.
“Bethany was a place of rest for our Lord, and the people who come here all express a tangible presence of Christ here, and a specific grace of healing,” said Sister Mary Michael.
Heaton’s award-winning book can be found wherever books are sold. For more information about Heaton, visit jeanheaton.com.