Faith Partners in Kentucky

January 26, 2009 by  
Filed under What's New

Trish Merrill

Louisa United Methodist Church (Prestonsburg District) hosted the “Core Competency Training: Addiction Survival Kit for Clergy” in their new family life center on March 9-10, 2009. Forty persons from around the Kentucky Annual Conference came together to learn more about the issues surrounding substance abuse and hear first-hand accounts of the recovery process. The program was part of Prestonsburg District’s long-term commitment to addressing the problem of substance abuse in the area.

Rev. Guy Moyer, pastor of Louisa UMC, said, “The conference was exceptional. It was presented in a professional and profoundly powerful way. Rarely have I seen conference participants so engaged, energized, and honest in their dialogue concerning the challenges of addiction, the opportunities for ministry, and the hope that is in Christ to make all things new.”

The goal of the two-day seminar, led by Trish Merrill and Drew Brooks of the Austin, Texas, based Faith Partners, Inc., was to equip participants with knowledge and skills to build confidence and commitment for the initiation and support of addiction prevention and recovery ministries.

“It was one of the most helpful continuing education events that I have ever attended,” said Rev. Brad Smart of Bagby Memorial United Methodist Church in Grayson, Kentucky.  Funding for the cost-efficient seminar was provided through the clergy education monies set aside from the Pikeville Hospital settlement.

I Once Was Lost

January 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Success Stories

Reaching Prison Inmates

Story: I started drinking at at age 12.  Believe me I needed a drink, and managed not to cross the imaginary line of no return until I was about 18.  Even then, I still had a good 18 years of fight left in me which included a few moves around the country, a few sordid relationships, several DUI’s and many jobs or lack thereof. There was a drive-by meeting; a thousand lies; some thievery to be sure; umpteen, “I’m never gonna do that again” promises; not to mention a sense of loneliness and despair I never want to repeat. 

Intervention came in 1997 as I sat hungover by my pool in Manhattan Beach, next to a guy who was smoking a joint. To this day I have no idea who he was. A sliding glass door opened, it was my brother Chris whom I hadn’t spoken to for quite a while. Something inside me shuttered.  He asked if I would come inside, he had something he wanted to talk to me about. That sounded pretty serious and I wanted nothing to do with anything serious or heavy, I was just biding my time until happy hour with some girls I met the night before. However, not wanting to be rude I went inside and there they were: the intervention team. And so it began. After much hemming and hawing from me about how I couldn’t go that day on account that I didn’t want to stand up the happy hour girls, I finally did accept an invitation to a place that had “great food and a pool”. Did I mention it was in the wine country? How bad could it be? And I did need a vacation. I was tired. 

I had an amazing 28 days at Mountain Vista Farm and learned much, except that I had a progressive and fatal disease as well as a spiritual malady. Who knew?

After several months of roughly a meeting a week and trying to hang out with my old friends, I moved to where I thought was the “best place” for me, Aspen, where I opened a bar and proceeded to almost kill myself. I then decided it was Aspen that was the problem and moved to Austin. This lasted for 5 long days and nights until I found myself without a job and mobile-homeless. I called my brother in California and conned him to let me stay with him. He said if I was serious about getting sober then yes. I made it there and it lasted for about a week or so until he kicked me out. I went to stay with the old friends and that lasted for a couple of days and then they told me to leave. I stood on the corner somewhere in Manhattan Beach, where the journey began and the seed was planted.

I called my Mother to get her to send me to rehab but the universe had other plans. My Step-father, who had 12 years clean at the time, answered the phone. I pleaded my case for Crossroads in Antigua but he did me the greatest favor and instead, lovingly said, “Go to ninety meetings in ninety days” and that was that. End of conversation. 

I didn’t know it at the time but luckily I was out of plans. I went to a meeting at appropriately enough “the last house on the block” and someone came up to me and asked, “Are you new?”  I said, “Yes. How did you know?” And so began my continuing journey in recovery. I was lucky enough to not have to really work my first year but I managed a quick run as a waiter and as a research assistant, both of which lasted about a month total. I was not employable yet, so I attended about 270 meetings in my first ninety days. Eventually I knew I wanted to work in treatment. Once employed, I was quick to find out it was a tough gig but, I really liked the one-on-one stuff.  I was lucky to experience the training for what I was later to become, a sober companion, a role which I love very much. Today I have a beautiful wife and two beautiful daughters. They are miracles for a guy like me who thought he was to live his life out as a bar-fly.

Spirituality and Healing Places

January 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Research & Evaluation

“The great fact is just this, and nothing less: That we have had deep and effective spiritual experiences which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward life, toward our fellow and toward God’s universe. The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by ourselves.”
– Alcoholics Anonymous

cloudStudies confirm that spirituality can be a catalyst of recovery initiation, a protective shield in early recovery and an increasingly significant dimension of long-term recovery maintenance. As such, spirituality is a valid area to explore in the assessment and service planning processes. Clients’ understandings of spirituality exhibit significant shifts in how spirituality is defined and utilized over the course of recovery. Addiction counselors would be well advised to support each client’s unique, stage-dependent interpretation of spirituality (with or without belief in a higher power) and to approach spirituality within the larger framework of life meaning and purpose.

The role of spirituality in recovery initiation requires that we remain open to the power of sudden, transformative change. Many clients talk about a “turning point” in their lives in spiritual terms. Such experiences often occur in the context of near death experiences (from overdoses, suicide attempts, violent victimization), HIV/AIDS, addiction-related deaths of close friends and incarcerations. Addiction counselors can play an important role in enhancing the enduring influence of such experiences.

The evolving role of spirituality in long-term recovery dramatically underscores that recovery is much more than the removal of alcohol and other drugs from an otherwise unchanged life. Early recovery is marked by the stressors of disengaging from alcohol and other drugs and cleaning up the debris of one’s addiction. The successful resolution of these tasks is often followed by existential panic: “I’m sober. Now what do I do?” (Chapman, 1991; White, 1996). Moving through this crisis involves a transformational journey marked by major changes in character, values, identity, interpersonal relationships and lifestyle. Spirituality is a potential sense-making framework through which these transitions can be planned and retrospectively understood via story reconstruction. Addiction counselors can play an important role as a guide in this process and help each client construct a recovery-enhancing narrative of his or her life.

Love God with all your heart

January 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Theological Perspectives

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. – 1 John 4:7

Guest Author: Mary Boone, Austin TX

As an interventionist, I have opportunity to reflect on ways in which the illness of addiction robs one of the ability to truly love. Rather than supporting intimacy, commitment, and unconditional warm regard in a family or amongst friends, it promotes distance, broken promises, and ill will. Rather than leading persons to their God, it sets up false gods.

As addiction of any type progresses in families, the Rule of don’t trust; don’t talk; and don’t feel gradually takes over and governs relationships. When life is painful and coping involves addiction to substances or behaviors, a family becomes dysfunctional. Trust is absent because honesty with self and others is absent. Talk is absent because walls of protection surround persons in an effort to avoid facing the truth. Feeling is absent because no one can afford to feel the pain. Relationships become superficial and persons rely on externals for an artificial sense of comfort and security – a false feel-good.

On the other hand, I also have the opportunity to witness the miracle of recovery. The illness of addiction can be a gift that, in recovery, fosters strong relationships, authenticity, and acceptance. It can become the path to loving God with all one’s heart, to healing that makes loving oneself possible, and to compassion and outreach to others.

A Team knowledgeable about supporting persons or family members at critical times and referring them to resources can play an important role in whether the addictive process is interrupted or not. Intervention is any effort that interrupts the progression of addiction and initiates change and healing. Intervention can happen in many ways. Often it is in the form of not rescuing persons from the negative consequences of their behavior and helping them to view the consequence as opportunity to initiate recovery. For many family members, this concept runs counter to what is familiar and feels “un-Christian.” They are in need of education and support.

As I conclude this reflection, I am reminded of an older gentleman in his late seventies whose family developed the courage to talk to him about the effect his drinking had on their lives. As a result, he entered a treatment program. After several months of recovery, he said to me, “I wish my family had talked to me sooner. How different our lives could have been.” Perhaps if a faith community had delivered the message….

Many times I have wondered how it is that some find recovery and many others don’t. I think the difference lies in the support structures that may or may not be present. Core beliefs and values that have developed over time predispose persons to growth in recovery or to continued self-destruction. If helpful support structures that reinforce openness to growth are available early, persons have a much greater opportunity to “grab on” to recovery. Faith communities are definitely one of those support structures.

Faith communities have an essential role to play in finding that path and facilitating the Great Commandment. However, faith communities, which are made up of families, are at risk of adopting the Rule of the dysfunctional families that allows addiction to grow unless there is a commitment made to honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness – the Rule of recovery and healthy functioning. Honesty with self and others cuts through the deception necessary to sustain addiction. Open-mindedness creates an atmosphere in which new information can be incorporated and one’s thinking can change for the better. Willingness is the ingredient necessary to overcome fear and change behavior.

How might faith communities implement such a mission? Creating a Team that is equipped with the necessary tools, such as non-judgmental attitude, understanding, information, and knowledge of resources,, is an important first step. Simply having such a structure in the community goes a long way towards establishing an environment in which addictive behaviors can be addressed openly and without judgment. It will result in greater awareness and persons will not be seduced so easily by the “false feel-goods.”

The Team has an essential role in prevention of addiction and in intervention to stop its progression. Prevention can be viewed as an effort to discourage engaging substance or behavioral addiction by modeling and teaching alternative ways of handling life’s inevitable pain. Prevention can also be viewed as an effort to minimize the damage of addiction in early, middle, or late stages and stop the progression by creating an atmosphere where persons trust one another enough to talk honestly about difficulties and share their feelings.

The team can implement strategies that convey the message, “It is ok to talk about it here.” Concerned family members may be empowered to come forward for support and information. More often than not, it is family members who seek help first. Changed attitudes and behaviors on their part often motivate the addicted persons to seek help.

Photo Credit: pedrosimoes7 via Flickr

A Family Affair

January 23, 2009 by  
Filed under What's New

Recovery: A Family Affair

April 9, 2009 by Emily Battaglia

As part of Alcohol Awareness Month in April, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is promoting the message that recovery is a family affair. According to SAMHSA, over half of all adults in the United States have a family history of alcoholism or problem drinking. SAMHSA is striving to inform all Americans that alcoholism is a preventable and treatable disease, and that individuals in a family where alcoholism exists need to receive help, too.

Family dynamics often play a role in the development and facilitation of addictive behaviors. In order for an addict to recover, those closest to him must also re-examine family interactions, habits, and roles to discover destructive, detrimental, or self-defeating behaviors. Although all families have unique dynamics, and it is normal for family members to take on certain roles, addiction heightens the intensity of dysfunction in a family and tends to bring out certain types of roles and interactions within a family.

The addict: Addiction is a complex phenomenon, but usually indicates a fundamental inability to cope. As addiction grows, the addict unbalances the family by becoming the center of the family’s energy and attention. Other family members shift roles to compensate for the imbalance. Although recovery for the addict is the focus, recovery for other family members is no less important to the healthy functioning of the family.

The hero:Usually one person in the family will begin to focus on appearances as a way to cope. He will ignore obvious signs of addiction and strive to make the family and family members look good in spite of one member’s problem. He ignores the dysfunctional interactions of family members and insists that things are fine. This person is dealing with underlying feelings of fear, guilt, and shame.

The mascot: This person is the family jester and copes with the situation by refusing to take it seriously. She will use humor to distract herself and others, and to avoid confronting the reality of addiction. This person’s role can hinder other family members’ attempts to recover. This person feels embarrassment, shame, and anger.

The lost child: The lost child withdraws from the family and surrenders personal needs in favor of avoiding any discussion of addiction or recovery. This person is lonely, angry, guilty, and neglected.

The scapegoat: This person tends to act out, rebel, and work to draw attention away from the addicted individual and any efforts at recovery. The scapegoat prefers distraction. This person often feels empty, shameful, and guilty.

The caretaker: The counterbalance to the addict is almost always a caretaker. This person facilitates the addict’s destructive behaviors, often out of misguided attempts to love or care for him. This person also facilitates the dysfunctional behaviors of other family members. She strives to keep everyone “happy” and make excuses for all behaviors. This person often feels inadequate, fearful, and helpless.

For the family to recover, each member must reclaim healthy roles and priorities. In the dysfunctional family, the addiction of one member takes precedence over all other matters, members refuse to recognize the addiction as a source of problems, blame is used to deflect responsibility, and communication is either nonexistent or detrimental.

In a healthy family system, self-worth is high for all members; communication is direct, clear, and honest and allows the expression of feelings; family rules are appropriate and flexible; and each person has separate goals and plans but is supported by the family in achieving them.