Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Talking Books with 'Waking Up Happy' Jill Muehrcke

Credit: Jill Muehrcke
Waking Up Happy

Interview with Jill Muehrcke, author of Waking Up Happy: A Handbook of Change with Memoirs of Recovery and Hope.

Juliana (Jill) Muehrcke is the award-winning author of many books and articles. Founder and editor of the international magazine Nonprofit World (, she has studied at the University of Colorado and the University of Michigan and has a BA degree, specializing in English and psychology, from the University of Washington. Jill is listed in Who’s Who ( In her spare time, she enjoys teaching yoga and eating ethnic food. For many years, in several cities, including Seattle, Honolulu, and Madison, she has written restaurant reviews.

Her latest book is Waking Up Happy: A Handbook of Change with Memoirs of Recovery and Hope.

Q: Is WAKING UP HAPPY targeted toward people who have addictions?

I think the book will be helpful to anyone who wants to change their life, not only people with addictions or bad habits they want to overturn. I want WAKING UP HAPPY to be a handbook for anyone who wants to become stronger and happier.

To quote from the Introduction to WAKING UP HAPPY: “Everyone’s life cries out for transformation. If you don’t change and grow, you die: Bit by bit, day by day, your innermost soul dwindles and perishes. The cost of not continuing to grow is ultimately feeling half-dead.”

I should note that the subtitle of WAKING UP HAPPY is A HANDBOOK OF CHANGE WITH MEMOIRS OF RECOVERY AND HOPE. Almost everyone can improve their life by making small shifts in their routine and believing in the magic of change. It IS possible!

Q: Is there advice in WAKING UP HAPPY for people who have children or other loved ones who are addicted or who desperately need to change their life?

Absolutely. There are many exercises for those who want to help someone else. In particular, the memoir of my daughter, Andrea, speaks to that issue. She struggled, and is still struggling, with helping her children deal with their addictions, and she shares some invaluable, hard-won advice.

Q: You mention that your daughter is one of the memoirists who tell their stories in your book. Who are the others?

WAKING UP HAPPY begins with my own memoir. Then, in addition to my daughter, I’ve also included my granddaughter’s story. Next is Shelly Dutch, a world-renowned expert in addiction counseling. Shelly has recovered from multiple addictions, including addictions to cocaine and unhealthy eating, to begin Connections Counseling Center, an oasis of recovery in Madison, Wisconsin. Counselors from around the world now seek Shelly out to discover the keys to her amazing success in intervening and halting the process of addiction. She shares these keys in WAKING UP HAPPY.

Additionally, there are over 20 other memoirs of a wide variety of people. Those who tell their stories are young and old, male and female, gay and straight, agnostics and true believers. They’ve recovered from addictions to alcohol, tobacco, pills, meth, cocaine, heroin, sex, shoplifting, abusive relationships, and other self-defeating behaviors. Many have learning disabilities but have learned to access hidden talents and become accomplished professionals. Belying the stereotype of addicts as worthless down-and-outers, they are good citizens who contribute a great deal to their communities and the world.

Q: How long did it take you to write WAKING UP HAPPY?

I usually say, “Four years.” But, really, when I think about it, it has taken 28 years – all the years I’ve been recovering and learning lessons in growth and change. I’ve always been fascinated by how the brain works and am constantly searching out the latest research on change theory. So I know the exercises I include in WAKING UP HAPPY have been demonstrated to work.

Q: What was the impetus for writing WAKING UP HAPPY?

My granddaughter, Shyloh. Her heroin use came very close to killing her. During her recovery, she started going to Connections Counseling, where she met Shelly, the founder of Connections, and Skye, a counselor there. Skye had been wanting to gather the stories of people in recovery. When I talked to her about the idea, it all fell into place.

I started interviewing people at Connections and, once I began, I found amazing stories everywhere I looked. My biggest problem was keeping the book from being a thousand pages long!

One of my main goals in writing this book is to help eliminate the stigma surrounding addiction and mental illness. I want people to understand that mental and addiction problems go hand in hand. It’s almost impossible to cure one without getting a handle on the other at the same time.

And people suffering from these illnesses are still blanketed with shame and blame. Understanding that it is a disease, not a defect of character, and seeing that other people have overcome it to become good citizens, can help cut through the shame and secrecy that weigh down so many addicts. At the same time, it can also help educate people outside the recovery community. It can help them understand that these are not bad people. These are good people trying to get well.

Q: The first sentence in your memoir is: Quitting was easy. That sounds counter-intuitive. What do you mean by that?

Yes, it is counter-intuitive. But it’s true, because alcohol and drugs aren’t the real problem for any addict. So giving them up is only the first step of the journey.

To quote from the Conclusion of WAKING UP HAPPY, “It wasn’t about the drugs. There was always something missing at the core. What was missing was love. We had to learn to love ourselves, the people and environment around us, and finally the larger world.”

It’s not an easy thing to do. It can be a difficult journey, but it’s also an exhilarating adventure. That’s what these stories teach us.

Q: You end WAKING UP HAPPY with “365 Steps on the Journey.” What gave you the idea for it?

When people finish reading WAKING UP HAPPY, I don’t want them to close the book and forget it. I want them to pick it up every day and do one tiny thing that will change their world.

That’s why I wanted to give everyone who reads WAKING UP HAPPY a year’s worth of exercises, one thing to do every day of the year to make change happen.

Since every person will find different exercises especially helpful, I set out a buffet of options. I think almost anyone will find some activities that resonate with them. It’s not a matter of doing all the exercises but of focusing on those you find most interesting and helpful and continuing to do at least one of them each day. That’s the way to move forward.

Q: How did you capture the voices of so many different people in such detail and variety?

While I began WAKING UP HAPPY by interviewing people, that was only a small part of the process. A number of unique circumstances gave me a distinct advantage: I was good friends with most of the storytellers and spent a great deal of time with them. Thus, much of the information for their memoirs came from questions I asked casually while doing other things – taking walks, eating lunch together, e-mailing back and forth.

I endured a lot of teasing for my constant scribbling of scraps of conversation every time I got together with these friends, but I think my technique ultimately led to far more nuanced tales than I could have elicited from formal interviews alone. Also, since I shared history with half these people, I was able to use my own journals to remind them of key points in their journeys and tease out buried memories.

Q: If people want to buy WAKING UP HAPPY, where should they go? How will they find it?

The best way is to go to our Website, Or you can find it on Our Website – – is also a place where readers can discuss their reactions to the book and share their own stories. I look forward to seeing you there!

You can visit Jill’s website at

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boomergirl is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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