Monday Meditation: Devotion vs. Doing

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed Jesus into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And Martha went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42)

This brief passage of Scripture speaks volumes about family dynamics. Did you notice how Martha, in her frustration, attempted to triangulate Jesus to resolve her conflict with her sister? I suspect that this was not the first time that Martha had been aggravated with her sister. I also suspect this was not the first time Mary that was oblivious to her sister’s exasperation.

Unfortunately, this passage has frequently been used to pit women against women – elevating those who worship over those who work, contrasting devotion with doing. Jesus certainly did not disapprove of serving others; he told his disciples that he came not to be served but to serve. Jesus and his disciples depended upon the willingness of others – particularly women – to serve them, feed them, shelter them, and support them financially. To follow Jesus meant – and still means – to embrace a life of service.

Jesus was not condemning serving when he responded to Martha’s request for intervention. So what did he mean when he declared that Mary had “chosen the good portion”? Neither sister was aware that Jesus’ days were numbered, but Jesus knew his time with his friends was limited. Mary seized the moment to sit in the presence of her Lord, to listen and to learn with intentionality. Is that the one necessary thing – to recognize in a given moment what is most important?

Every day we are called upon to make choices regarding where we will focus our attention. Situations that appear to require urgent attention often crowd out the interactions that are truly important. When we are anxious and troubled about many things, our ability to discern what is most important is impaired.

Perhaps sitting at Jesus’ feet is the antidote to our anxiety. In drawing near to Jesus, we gain perspective on what is truly important. Carving out time to be still, meditate, and pray can help us draw near to Jesus. But we can also pray as we serve, remembering that God is with us, within us. Throughout the day, we can seek the Spirit’s guidance to recognize the one thing that is necessary in a given moment. With God’s help, may we choose the good portion.

Published on August 3, 2020

One Day At A Time

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all been pushed to the end of our ropes. So much of the news media has focused on the detriment COVID-19 has been to the recovery community. Don’t get me wrong, there have been – and will continue to be – devastating consequences. However, those in recovery also have an advantage that those who don’t struggle with addiction don’t.

For many of our clients, addiction is a response to some sort of trauma they’ve experienced. When the body goes through trauma, the brain takes control by activating its built-in survival mode. In the moment, this is good. It allows a person to live through the trauma. But when trauma is not dealt with or healed, the brain gets stuck in survival mode. Being in this mode creates a sense of constant anxiety, of not knowing what’s next, of always waiting for something else to go wrong.

Sound familiar? It’s what a lot of us have felt during COVID-19.

So what do we do? How do we survive when we’re constantly on edge and waiting for something else to go wrong? This is where coping skills come in. For our clients, the coping skill they are most comfortable with is using a substance. The effects of the drug or alcohol allow a woman to forget the anxiety or feel numb toward it. We’ve seen an increase in people using alcohol as a coping mechanism during this pandemic. Just look at your Facebook newsfeed. It’s filled with memes about drinking wine at noon.

A coping skill that is effective no matter what you’re struggling with is mindfulness. Mindfulness is just a fancy word for staying focused on the present moment. Essentially, it means taking things one day at a time. When we take the focus off the future, we can concentrate on the task in front of us, whether that task is your job, answering the question “why” from your child for the millionth time in an hour, staying sober, or simply surviving.

Those in recovery have known this for years, and those of us who are not are finally catching up. Recovery is about surrendering the things that are out of our control to a higher power and accepting the idea that we can’t control everything. These are conscious, daily practices for someone in recovery. The general public would do well to take a note from our sisters in recovery on how to do this.

As we continue to struggle through surges in COVID cases and questions about going back to school and the office, it’s easy to be overcome with anxiety and a list of things we don’t know and can’t control. Each time you find yourself spiraling into “what ifs,” repeat this to yourself: one day at a time.

Monday Meditation: The Struggle of A Lifetime

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

Over the weekend my social media feed has been filled with quotes from civil rights legend U.S. Representative John Lewis, who died on Friday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. (Read David Halberstam’s book The Children to learn how a young Lewis was profoundly shaped by his experiences in the Nashville Student Movement.) Of all the quotes I have read, these words from Rep. Lewis were the most striking to me:

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime.”

These words are timely as we continue to wrestle with our nation’s racist past and strive to create an antiracist future for America. But these words don’t apply only to civil rights; they can just as easily describe addiction.

When clients leave The Next Door before completing treatment, when clients fail to take full advantage of the services we offer, when we receive news of the death of a former client, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of despair and question whether our work is making a difference. We would do well to remember that addiction is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year – it is the struggle of a lifetime.

Each day, our team brings our energy and training and creativity and compassion to our work at The Next Door. We work together for a common goal, knowing that there are no quick fixes. Let us encourage one another and not get lost in a sea of despair. Let us be hopeful and optimistic as we work together to transform lives, families, and communities.

“I pray that from God’s glorious, unlimited resources, you will be empowered with inner strength through the Holy Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep God’s love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through God’s mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or imagine.” (Colossians 3:16-20)

Published on July 20, 2020

Monday Meditation: Trusting God with the Future

Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spirtual Wellness Coordinator

As summer gave way to fall in 2002, the “wild, praying women” were hard at work finalizing a proposal to present to the leaders of First Baptist Nashville that would transform an empty building the church owned into a transitional living center for women in crisis. This proposal would have to successfully navigate the Baptist procedural gauntlet before the congregation would have the opportunity to vote. This meant that the church staff, deacons, Missions Committee, Property Management Committee, and Finance Committee would all have to give their blessing to the idea before the congregation could determine the future of The Next Door.

I remember the excitement and the anxiety of those days. I was excited because I sensed that the Spirit of God was doing something spectacular in our midst. I was anxious because even as the wild, praying women were finalizing their proposal, efforts were still being made to lease the empty building for commercial use. The huge “For Lease” sign at the corner of 8th Avenue South and Demonbreun unsettled me every time I drove past it. What if a business decided to lease the building? Would all of our efforts be in vain?

Obviously, my fears were misplaced. God has been transforming the lives of women in crisis through The Next Door for 16 years. Looking back, I now realize how God used that series of events to teach me about faith. Time after time in the intervening years, the Spirit of God has pointed me back to those days to remind me of God’s faithfulness, provision, and perfect timing. God is still at work at The Next Door. Let us trust God with the future.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow  come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:8-11)

Published on July 13, 2020

How Addiction Hijacks the Brain

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

In her memoir We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life, Laura McKowen recalls a cellphone conversation with her friend Holly the day after Laura almost attended a party where she knew she would relapse. Laura had reached out in desperation to Holly via text as her train neared her intended destination, torn between her craving to drink and her desire to avert certain disaster.

“Babe, your brain was hijacked.”[i] That’s how Holly summed up Laura’s experience the previous day. Holly explained what happens to the brain of an addict. The flood of dopamine that accompanies drug or alcohol usage short-circuits the brain’s prewired reward system. The hippocampus creates a record of this pleasure shortcut for future reference. The amygdala signals to the brain that less dopamine should be produced. Consequently, over time more and more of one’s drug of choice is required to achieve the desired pleasurable effect. Simply put, addiction hijacks normal brain circuitry.

The Apostle Paul was not addressing addiction when he wrote to the Christians in Rome in the first century, but Paul’s words certainly have a modern application: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). Time and time again, clients at The Next Door lament the sequence of events that led them to seek out treatment for addiction (or led a court to force them to get treatment). No little girl grows up wanting to be an addict. Our clients don’t understand how it got so bad so quickly. They wrestle with self-worth: Am I a bad person because I kept drinking, kept using drugs, regardless of the consequences?

As our clients learn about brain chemistry during treatment at The Next Door, they discover how their brains have been hijacked by alcohol and drug usage. They come to understand the powerful internal forces that have kept them in bondage to addiction. They come to understand the good news that their brains can be rewired over time. They come to understand that they are worthy of love and respect. They come to understand that they can chart a new path of lifetime recovery, one that will require self-discipline, sober support, and spiritual grounding.

Fr. Richard Rohr, author of Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, believes that all human beings are addicts. Rohr writes: “Substance addictions like alcohol and drugs are merely the most visible form of addiction, but actually we are all addicted to our own habitual way of doing anything, our own defenses, and most especially, our patterned way of thinking, or how we process our reality.”[ii]

Rohr prompts those who are not addicted to a substance to consider the ways their brains have been hijacked by “stinking thinking” – a commonly used term in Alcoholics Anonymous. When do you fail to do what you intend to do? When do you do what you hate? How can you break the cycle? Just like those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, we can’t make a change until we admit that we have a problem.

Creator God, creating still, create in us clean hearts, renewed spirits, and restored minds. Amen.

 

[i] McKowen, Laura, We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life (Novato: Callifornia, New World Library, 2020): 44.

[ii] Rohr, Richard, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Cincinnati, Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2011): xxiii.

Published on July 9, 2020

Monday Meditation: Why Are You Doing What You’re Doing?

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

Do you ever stop to ask yourself why are you doing what you are doing? In her book Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky writes: “Amid the trials and tribulations of our work, it is possible to lose sight of why we’re doing what we’re doing. When we carve out the time to contemplate our intentions, we renew our connection to the needs and desires that have shaped our experience. We remember that we can take action to alter the course of our lives. This will help us to alleviate the sensation of being tossed around in the waves of uncontrollable and overwhelming events.”

To help us navigate these waves, van Dernoot Lipsky suggests that each morning we take a moment to ask ourselves, “Why am I doing what I am doing?” Remember your calling. Reflect on your gifts and how you are using them. Acknowledge that you are making a choice to do the work that lies before you. Accept this responsibility and freedom with gratitude. Ask God for wisdom and courage for the living of these days.

As a companion of fishermen, Jesus knew something about waves – on one memorable evening, Jesus spoke and the waves were stilled. Let us cling to Jesus’s words of comfort and hope during these disorienting days: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Note: You can download a free PDF of Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others.

Published on July 6, 2020

Addiction and Trafficking

Human trafficking is the second biggest growing criminal industry in the world. When we think about human trafficking, we often think of women sold into sex slavery in other countries, the movie Taken, or high-level international crime rings. In reality, trafficking happens locally, as many people are trafficked by those they know and love. And perhaps the most startling statistic of all: the majority of people who are trafficked end up in the United States.

What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is the exploitation of humans for either sexual or forced labor purposes, sometimes both. While this certainly includes forced prostitution, the forced labor part of trafficking is often overlooked. Forced labor shows up in a variety of ways: being deceived about the nature of your job, feeling unable to resign from your position, having payment withheld, or having some or all of your payment given to others. Many women in these situations don’t realize they were trafficked. Even some women who were trafficked for sexual purposes may believe they were in a consensual relationship until they begin the healing process.

Language Matters

The language we use when talking about human trafficking makes a big difference in how we think about trafficking and in how those who have experienced it think about their stories. Trafficking often involves unhealthy power dynamics between the trafficker and the person being trafficked. When we work with those who have been trafficked, we want to avoid creating another dynamic like that through our language.

There are words to avoid when talking about trafficking: victim and rescue. Because power dynamics play a critical role in human trafficking, when walking with someone on their healing journey, it’s important to make sure that they maintain control over their journeys.

When we talk about rescuing someone, it gives us the idea that we are the savior, and someone needs to be saved. This completely takes away a woman’s agency and mimics the unhealthy power dynamic she may have had with her trafficker. What is really happening is that someone needs healing, and we, as mental health providers, can help facilitate that healing.

The word victim becomes problematic for a few reasons. Mainly, it focuses on the part of the story where the hurt took place – not the healing. Some women don’t even identify themselves as victims due to the nature of the trafficking they may have experienced. We must be careful not to assign labels that women don’t believe are true of their experience. Instead, we use the word survivor. We focus on the healing, on the strength she has drawn despite her circumstances.

The Role of Addiction in Trafficking

There is a saying amongst those who do the work of eliminating trafficking. If you find the dope man, you will find victims. Drugs are used as a manipulation tool by traffickers in a few different ways.

  1. Traffickers rely on physical dependency to keep women controlled. Some women are manipulated into staying when they know that they have a steady supply of their drug of choice. If the option is to stay under harsh conditions and avoid withdrawal or escape and face the horrible symptoms associated with dopesickness, many choose to stay.
  2. Traffickers keep women high so that they aren’t 100% aware of what’s happening to them. Being under the influence of a substance can make women more malleable to whatever the trafficker needs her to do.

It’s impossible to tell what comes first – trafficking or addiction. Some women engage in behavior that puts them at risk because of their addiction, and some develop an addiction after being trafficked. What we do know for sure is that trauma makes a person more at risk for both addiction and trafficking.

How to Achieve Healing

It is not uncommon for us to welcome a woman to The Next Door for addiction and find out that she is a trafficking survivor. The addiction is only one piece of the complex trauma a woman has suffered. At The Next Door, we believe that addiction treatment goes beyond simply detoxing a woman from a substance. It involves case management (connecting women to community resources), therapy (finding a counselor with whom a woman can develop a safe and trusting relationship in order to address her underlying trauma), and stability (rebuilding a woman’s self-worth, family relationships, and community.)

For more information about trafficking, you can watch our Panel Discussion or visit the websites of one of our partners.

Nashville Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition

Justice Intervention Services of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County

Metro Office of Family Safety

End Slavery TN

Published on July 2, 2020

Monday Meditation: Seeking a New Narrative

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

Years ago while traveling through the West, I paid a memorable visit to Kartchner Caverns State Park. Located in the Whetstones, a mountain range in southeastern Arizona, this pristine limestone cave is decorated with speleothems – spectacular mineral deposits with whimsical names like cave bacon and soda straws.

Because Kartchner Caverns is a live cave – one where calcite formations are still growing – extraordinary measures have been taken to preserve the caverns from harm. The dry desert air above ground must not be introduced into the humid cave environment; otherwise, the cave will quickly die. Visitors also pose an existential threat to the cave, since they can inadvertently be carriers of substances that could harm the cave’s delicate formations or the bats that call the cave home.

Those who take a tour of Kartchner Caverns must first walk through an air curtain that blows lint from their clothing.  Next, visitors pass through a chamber where mist forces any remaining lint against their clothing. Finally, visitors enter an airlock that preserves the cave’s 99% average relative humidity. The cave remains alive and well because of these safeguards.

That experience of walking through the air curtain has stuck with me through the years. Lately I have been thinking about how I need to pass through a spiritual air curtain – a process that could help rid me of the pollutants I have been carrying around in my heart and mind for too long. Ideas that were once presented as “Truth” have been revealed to be false, antithetical to the loving God who created us. I am seeking a new narrative – for myself and for my world.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” the psalmist prayed (Psalm 51:10). May God cleanse us of all that we carry that threatens the health of our neighbors and our world.

Published on June 29, 2020

Monday Meditation: A Cry For Help

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

Where do you turn when you are struggling to survive, when you are experiencing oppression, when you are fighting forces and feelings that threaten to overwhelm you? For 1,000 years, people have turned to Psalm 18 to give voice to their experiences. The psalmist begins this timeless prayer by expressing love for God, praising God’s character, and recalling how God responded to his desperate cries for help.

“I love you, Lord, my strength.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;

my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies.

The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.

The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.”

Psalm 18:1-6a

 

Can you relate to the psalmist’s words? These vivid images could apply to so many situations, but they are particularly illustrative of the perils of addiction. Recovery is indeed a matter of life and death.

The psalmist imagined what it looked like when God responded to his cries for help. The earth was shaken to its core as the anthropomorphized God breathed smoke and fire and mounted a cherubim to swoop down from heaven amid a hailstorm. The psalmist’s enemies were scattered by bolts of lightning; they were no match for the thundering voice of the Lord. The psalmist was comforted by the image of a powerful God who was willing and able to rescue him in his time of need.

“God reached down from on high and took hold of me; the Lord drew me out of deep waters.

God rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.

They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support.

God brought me out into a spacious place; God rescued me because God delighted in me.”

Psalm 18:16-19

When has God rescued you? When has God been your support? When has God graciously brought you out to a spacious place where you could experience the freedom God intended?

Like the psalmist, take a moment today to thank the Lord, who is worthy of praise.

Published on June 22, 2020

Talking To Your Children About COVID19 (And Other Hard Things)

– Written by Elizabeth Scoville, Family Interventionist

A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine was putting her eight-year-old son to bed, and he was crying.

“What’s wrong?” she asked him.

“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life.”

Raise your hand if you agree with him.

 

When COVID-19 pushed school districts to close, parents were at a loss with how to help their children cope because the adults felt scared and uncertain. How are we supposed to talk to our children about something we don’t understand? Wouldn’t it be better if we protect them from all the negativity, chaos, and uncertainty?

When we don’t talk to children about difficult things, we put them at a disadvantage and potentially harm their healing processes. Children have an idea of what is going on. They see their parents are more stressed out than usual; they see things are different. The children in our lives are going just as stir crazy as the rest of us. They miss their teachers, friends, and their sense of normalcy. If we pretend that everything is a-okay the children might think something is wrong with them for feeling scared.

Instead of pretending that nothing is wrong in front of our children, we can (and have a responsibility to) talk to them about these challenging things–COVID19, addiction, ACEs–in a way that doesn’t traumatize them. We don’t need to tell them every single detail. But we do need to tell what’s going on. Their schedules and routines have changed. We shouldn’t lie to them when they ask us questions. Don’t dumb it down, rather answer their questions in a way they can digest.

Developmentally, children feel the same emotions that adults feel, and they feel them at the same intensity. As adults, we can identify our feelings (even the uncomfortable ones) and manage them. Children don’t have that skill set yet. They are building it. That’s why children throw tantrums; they don’t know what to do with all of their emotions, so they may react and explode.

Talking about these difficult, hard things and how we feel about them helps children improve their ability to cope by expanding their emotional literacy and vocabulary. As adults we literally set the example and show them another way to cope with their emotions by giving them language to describe their emotions so they understand how to talk about their feelings. Children need to know that it’s okay to talk about this. It will prepare them for the hard things that they will experience in the future. And when they go through hard things, they’ll be able to talk about it and cope with it rather than push it down and ignore it.

Here are some ways you can help your child right now:

  1. You might be worried about paying bills and your job. Your children are worried about their friends and what school will look like next year. Both are important. Don’t forget to focus on your children, their emotions, and their experience through this, too.
  2. Increase mindfulness and honor the here and now, the present moment with your children. As much as possible, leave the future in the future.
  3. Normalize and validate their struggles. They need to know that how they feel (no matter what those feelings are) is normal and okay.
  4. Be authentic with your children. Show your children that YOU have emotions, too. It will allow them to increase their emotional awareness and talk about emotions.
  5. Create a place where it is safe for children to get it wrong. Parents set the example for how to cope, but children aren’t perfect mimics. Take advantage of the extra time with your children to teach them healthy coping skills.
Published on June 18, 2020