A Tale of Two Men (Science, Spirit, and Addiction Recovery)

The worlds of addiction treatment and recovery recently experienced the loss of two giants–Dr. Ed Senay and Brother Mickey Evans.  Each represented major historical threads within the history of addiction recovery in the United States and each exerted a profound influence on the evolution of addiction treatment and recovery support services.  They also could not have been more different in their backgrounds and the style through which they achieved their respective contributions.

Dr. Ed SenayFollowing his early medical and psychiatric training at Yale, Dr. Ed Senay was recruited in 1969 from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Chicago to work with Dr. Jerome Jaffe in the development of the Illinois Drug Abuse Program (IDAP).  Under the leadership of Drs. Jaffe and Senay, IDAP’s multi-modality treatment system was widely replicated nationally and internationally. Over the ensuing four decades, Dr. Senay worked in a variety of prominent clinical, research, administrative, and teaching roles and mentored many of the field’s aspiring leaders.  He was also a prolific writer, publishing numerous studies and such classic texts as Substance Use Disorders in Clinical Practice (1998).           

Dr. Senay supervised my master’s degree in addiction studies in the mid-1970s and continued to offer his support and sage guidance over the following decades.  I vividly recall one of my earliest meetings with Dr. Senay in which he stopped my bold and ill-informed pontifications on one of the controversies of the day by saying, “Young man, your passion is in inverse proportion to your knowledge.”  He then sent me off with pounds of books and published studies to temper my rants with the available scientific evidence on that subject.  I will be forever indebted to all the technical knowledge I acquired from him, but also for what he taught me about the importance of personal integrity, toughness, and tenaciousness for those choosing to work in the addictions treatment arena. He was one of the most important of the many esteemed teachers who have blessed my life. In 2011, I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Senay about his life and work.  (Click here for interview).  Dr. Senay died August 11, 2014, but those of us he influenced will carry his work far into the future.

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Mickey Evans was a meat cutter before being called to Christian ministry.  A graduate of Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee, Evans assumed pastorship of the Indiantown Dunklin Memorial Baptist Church in 1959, but two years later, with his wife Laura Mae, left to fulfill his vision of starting a “city of refuge” for alcoholics.  That vision became Dunklin Memorial Camp, one of the premier addiction recovery ministries in the United States.  Located in what once served as a Florida tourist camp in a remote area of the Okeechobee swamp, Dunklin grew into a Christian-based recovery community–a literal community with its own livestock farm, rodeo grounds, fruit groves, sugar cane fields, machine shop, lumber mill, furniture shop, print shop, bakery, library, computer lab, health clinic, tabernacle, dormitories, and cemetery.  I began hearing about Dunklin after I moved to Florida in 2003 and was accompanied on my first trip to Dunklin by Tom Sledd.   

My interest in Dunklin was twofold.  First, I was interested in learning more about faith-based pathways of addiction recovery.  Second, I was fascinated by the recent growth of recovery homes and recovery colonies–a trend I saw as historically important within the American culture of recovery.  My first visit to interview Mickey Evans was followed by others, and I soon found myself enamored by the vibrant healing power of this community.  From its humble beginnings in 1962, Dunklin expanded to encompass a larger vision of family recovery, recovery ministry training, the development of new cities of refuge (Dunklin-type communities around the world), jail and prison ministries, and Overcomers recovery support groups in local communities.  Mickey Evans’ vision extended Dunklin’s work across Southeastern United States, Costa Rica, Brazil, and beyond.  I have met no one more deeply committed to helping suffering addicts and their families than Mickey Evans.  He died August 22, 2014, but the community he founded lives on. 

Dr. Senay was a man of medicine whose work was grounded in scientific evidence.  Brother Mickey Evans was a man of faith whose work was grounded in spiritual experience.  What they shared in common was a passion for addiction recovery and a profound belief in the potential of men and women to reclaim lives ravaged by addiction.  I deeply admired and learned from both men.  The world is a better place because of the service they rendered to it.  That is a legacy all of us could hope for.