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Pregnancy and Addiction

The most vulnerable women The Next Door serves are our pregnant clients. These women walk through our doors in active addiction and are in dire need of  treatment services for both them and their unborn children.  If women don’t get help, there can be serious negative health outcomes for pregnant women and their developing babies, including preterm birthstillbirth, maternal mortality, and neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Unique Issues for Addiction During Pregnancy

Becca Humphreys, a peer advocate with Strongwell, discusses the unique stressors that come with addiction during pregnancy.

  • Physical Stressors – Along with morning sickness, exhaustion, and weight gain, pregnant women can experience lower back and pelvic pain, which is especially challenging for women whose substance use disorder stemmed from treating pain with opioids.
  • Hormonal Changes – Fluctuating hormones can create anxiety and depression, adding to mental health problems a woman may already have.
  • Contraindicated Medications – Medications taken for anxiety or depression may need to be stopped during pregnancy, leading to a worsening of a woman’s mental health condition.

Signs and Symptoms

There are several signs to look for if you are worried that a pregnant woman you know or love is struggling with a substance use disorder.

  • Isolation – Pregnancy is a time when many women want to be around loved ones. However, a woman with a substance use disorder may isolate herself to keep her secret.
  • Avoiding OB appointments – A woman may avoid medical care fearing the doctor will discover her substance use disorder and judge her.
  • Lack of weight gain – A woman may not gain weight like in a typical pregnancy. She may even experience weight loss.
  • Erratic Behaviors – Addiction can lead to erratic behavior, poor hygiene, aggression, and other unpredictable emotions.

Barriers to Seeking Treatment

Humphreys says a primary barrier for pregnant women is knowing where to go to find help. “There are not a lot of resources. There is also the stigma around pregnancy, addiction, and concerns with the Department of Children’s Services. It is difficult to admit something that may take your child from you.”

There is also a lack of OBGYNs who will take on women with substance use disorders as patients. A woman is often referred to a high-risk OBGYN and may lack insurance to pay for the extra cost.

Detoxing during pregnancy is another barrier. A pregnant woman detoxing from opioids can suffer dehydration, which can cause contractions resulting in pre-term labor.  Detoxing from alcohol and benzodiazepines can actually be deadly for both mom and baby.

“To try to hunker down and detox on your own seems reasonable,” says Humphreys. “But, I tell people they may get through the worst of withdrawals, but if you are not actively supported and not seeking recovery support, your odds of staying sober decrease phenomenally.”

The stigma also prevents women from seeking help. Humphreys recalls being in active addiction with her second pregnancy.

“You have so much shame and guilt as a mother” says Humphrey.  “But we are talking about substances that you are physically and mentally dependent on. It’s not whether about you care and love that baby. Just admitting your addiction can be really difficult.”

Treatment Options that Work

Advances in addiction treatment now present pregnant women with several options.

  • Medication Assisted Treatment involves a prescribed medication that is less harmful to the baby but helps with drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Working a recovery plan and receiving behavioral health care for co-occurring conditions increases the women’s chance of success.
  • Many women in addiction don’t seek basic health care, and these visits increase in importance during pregnancy so doctors can monitor the health of mother and baby.
  • If a woman knows she can seek help and have a team of doctors and treatment professionals aid her recovery without judgement, she is more likely to seek help.

Treatment Options

Humphreys says if you don’t know where to turn, the first call is to a high-risk OB in your area. Also, The Next Door accepts pregnant women up to 38 week gestation, and they are given priority in admissions.

To hear the complete discussion on pregnancy and addiction, watch The Next Door’s panel on Addiction in Seasons of a Women’s Life on our YouTube Channel

Is Your Teen At-Risk for Addiction?

The statistics about the use of drugs and alcohol by our nation’s teens are alarming. The Centers for Disease Control reports that by 12th grade about two-thirds of students have tried alcohol, about half of high schoolers have used marijuana, and 20% of 12th graders have used prescription medicine without a prescription. The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics says drug use among 8th graders increased 61% between 2016 and 2020 and overdose deaths due to opioids have increased 500% among 15- to 24-year-olds since 1999.

Unfortunately, in the modern world, drugs are readily available to adolescents.  Many teens say the easiest place to access drugs is school, as students sell and trade substances.  Some raid their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinets for opiates or benzodiazepines. And, of course, drugs are easy to find on local streets, ranging from Percocet to adult cough medicine to psychedelics.

Risks of Substance Abuse Among Teens

There are numerous negative consequences when teens abuse alcohol and/or drugs, including

  • Damage to the growth and development of teens, especially brain development.
  • Encouragement of other risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex and dangerous driving.
  • Increase in the risk of health problems in adulthood, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and sleep disorders.

One of the biggest risks is that this early use of substances can turn into an addiction that follows them into their adult years, wreaking havoc on their health, relationships, and employment.

Cases of Substance Abuse Among Teens

Paris Brown, a recovery partner at Axial-Healthcare, says there are several factors that can lead teens to begin using drugs or alcohol.

“I would say mostly what I see as main stressors is peer pressure.  If their peers use, they want to try it,” says Brown. “Also, family stressors. If their parents used, the kids were more likely to use.”

Often, girls who struggle with anxiety, depression, and childhood trauma, use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. These girls deal with a co-occuring disorder – substance abuse combined with a mental health condition.

“I see girls using super early and trying a wide assortment of things, wanting to numb themselves and not feel some of the things they are feeling,” says Brown.

The rise in social media activity has greatly impacted teens’ likelihood to experiment with new substances.  Different type of drugs are readily available for sale through social media, and when celebrities and influencers talk about the substances they use, it lends a “cool” factor.

“I had a teen client that saw and heard his favorite musician use a specific drug and decided to try it,” says Brown. “However, for this teen, that experimentation became a full-blown addiction.”

Symptoms of Teen Substance Abuse

How do you know if your teen might be experimenting or abusing drugs and alcohol?  Experts say there are some common signs:

  • Increased isolation. The teen may begin to spend more time in his room alone.
  • A marked development in mood, poor hygiene, lack of interest in prior hobbies.
  • Behavioral problems at home and school.
  • School performance. The teen may have a drop in grades or a drop in attendance.

Brown adds another sign to this list. “ I see a number of teenage girls who are influenced by an older boyfriend. This type of relationship is connected to an onset of addiction and relapses. I would consider a 15-year-old girl dating an 18- or 19-year-old man a considerable risk factor.”

How to Get Help for Your Teen

Unfortunately, there is a service gap for addiction treatment centers for adolescents in the Nashville area, with the nearest inpatient facility being in Jackson, Tennessee.

However, there are some options for outpatient services, including Meharry Medical College, Stars Nashville,  and Bradford Health Services.

For more information on Addiction in Adolescence, watch The Next Door’s production on Addiction and the Seasons of A Woman’s Life at https://vimeo.com/manage/videos/478669812.

Addiction and Faith

As The Next Door delivers its addiction treatment services, it does so with faith being at the heart.

“Everything we do, from staff meetings to client care, upholds a Christ-centered focus,” says Ray Brocato, the CEO of The Next Door.  “Our goal is to meet the women’s spiritual needs as well as their physical and mental ones.”

But exactly how are faith and addiction related?

How Should Christians View Addiction?

Much of the world views addiction as a problem, a result of bad choices, or a disease.  However, Pastor Glenda Sutton, the founder and senior pastor of Family Affairs Ministry Fellowship, says people of faith need to define addiction very differently and that a crisis in identity can be the root of substance abuse.

“Addiction occurs because of pain. Hurting people are looking for something to heal them,” says Pastor Sutton. “Faith tells us we were created in the image of God. If you don’t know what you were created for, you gravitate to something else to deal with the pain.”

Dr. Monty Burks, Director of the Faith Based Initiatives of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, warns of Christians sticking labels on people. “You start calling someone an ‘addict,’ and that’s how they feel like they have to operate.  As Christians, no matter what people are going through, we need to be the way out.”

The Role Faith Plays in Recovery

“Faith was everything in my recovery,” says Joel Frame, Director of Outreach & Community Life at Hope Church. “I struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for 20 years, attempting to stop using on my own power. When I completely and fully surrendered to Jesus Christ, I actually found freedom from addiction.”

The well-known 12 step program, which serves as the foundation of many recovery groups, finds its roots in the Christian faith, tracing its origins back to the Oxford Group, a religious movement in the early 20th century. After a spiritual experience led him to quit drinking, a man known as “Bill W.” founded Alcoholic Anonymous using the principles of the Oxford Group.

Step 2 in the program is believing that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.  Is it possible for someone who doesn’t believe in a higher power to recover from addiction?  Amanda Dunlap, the Director of Clinical Services at The Next Door, believes this lack of belief makes it a much harder journey.

“Those that don’t think of something higher than themselves often hit a block,” says Dunlap. “Recovery is not a solo journey.  It’s necessary to believe in a higher power and later on, we give our power to the higher power.”

What the Church Can Do

Drug overdoses recently became the leading cause of death in the United States for people under 50—claiming over 72,000 lives last year. Tennessee is 13th in the nation of fatal drug overdoses.  In Nashville alone, overdose visits rose 30% in 2020.  What role can the local church play in what has become a public health crisis?

Recovery advocates say, first of all, churches need to stop piling shame and guilt upon addicts.  By doing that they are missing their opportunity to offer the healing and true redemption only they can give

“I heard the fear church goers had of addicts and the shame they associated with it,” says Frame.  “I knew it wasn’t a safe place to find help.”

Dunlap adds that people need to be welcome in the church before they feel comfortable seeking help for addiction. “We have to find a sense of belonging before we believe.  I am not going to seek help from where I don’t feel like I belong.”

That is the aim of The Next Door. As a hurting, broken woman walks through the doors of The Next Door, she is welcomed with open arms by a loving, Christian community that is invested in her recovery.

For more information on Faith and Addiction, view our recent panel discussion on our YouTube Channel

Do You Believe in Miracles?

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

“Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”

During the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, broadcaster Al Michaels uttered these memorable words as the final seconds ticked off the clock during the medal round of the men’s ice hockey tournament. This game between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. would determine which team would go on to face Finland in the gold medal round. On paper, the U.S. team seemed to be no match for their Soviet counterparts – amateurs vs. professionals – yet the U.S. won that pivotal game 4-3. The event would henceforth be known as the “Miracle on Ice.”

Do you believe in miracles?

Jesus’ disciples did. So did the crowds who witnessed his compassionate acts of healing, his stunning acts of power. The lame could walk again. The blind could see again. The deaf could hear again. Those in pain found lasting relief. Those plagued by demonic spirits were restored to wholeness. Those afflicted by seizures were made well. Those with leprosy were made clean.

Jesus not only restored individuals to health; he also resurrected people from the dead. Jairus’ daughter was raised from her death bed. A widow’s son arose from his coffin. Lazarus walked out of his tomb.

But Jesus’ miracles were not limited to healing and resurrection. Jesus walked on water. Jesus calmed a storm. Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding feast. Jesus fed thousands of hungry men, women, and children with five loaves of bread and two fish.

The Greek word that is translated as “miracle” is dynamis; this word is also rendered in the New Testament as “mighty work,” “strength,” or “power.” When the crowds witnessed one of Jesus’ miracles, they marveled at his mighty works and praised God. Those who were healed by Jesus experienced transformation that exceeded the cessation of the original symptoms of sickness. Jesus offered holistic healing of body, mind, and spirit. Jesus offered restoration of relationships. Jesus offered reengagement with community.

Do you believe in miracles?

That’s a question still worth asking. If you could be a fly on the wall of my office, I think you would believe in miracles. The word comes up often in conversations as clients sit across from me and share their stories.

“I overdosed. I flatlined. But the paramedics revived me with Narcan. It’s a miracle that I’m alive today.”

“I shouldn’t still be alive. I’ve overdosed too many times. It’s a miracle. I don’t know why God saved me, but I now believe that God has a plan for my life.”

“After the wreck, I was told that I would never walk again. But look at me! Now I’m walking. It’s a miracle.”

The evidence of God’s healing, redemptive power is abundant at The Next Door. The full spectrum of miraculous transformation is on display daily. Clients who once thought they had lost everything realize that all is not lost. They do not have to be defined by their past. Day by day, the claws of addiction loosen their grip. Day by day, freedom is regained. Day by day, hope is renewed. Day by day, health is restored.

God still works miracles in our world. God is working miracles in this place. The Next Door is able to empower women for lifetime recovery because God empowers the staff to use their gifts and training and skills and compassion to facilitate healing – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual healing. Hope and encouragement are freely dispensed by staff members who are further along on the road of recovery. As clients are welcomed into our community by our staff and volunteers and treated with respect, they realize that they are worthy of love and deserving of the best treatment we can provide. Seeds of faith are planted and nurtured as clients reconnect with God or connect for the first time with their Higher Power. Wholeness is no longer an impossible dream.

The offices, medical suites, clinical suites, group rooms, dining rooms, consult rooms, and bedrooms at The Next Door’s treatment center in Nashville are filled with walking miracles. The apartments at the Freedom Recovery Community in Nashville are filled with walking miracles. The community spaces and group rooms and bedrooms and offices at the Correctional Release Center in Chattanooga are filled with walking miracles.

Do you believe in miracles?

I do.

Thanks be to God, who continues to work miracles in our world. Thanks be to God, who continues to work miracles at The Next Door.

“You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.” – Psalm 77:14

Alcohol Awareness Month: Withdrawal

– Written by Vanderbilt School of Nursing Students

The Positive Effects of Quitting Alcohol  

Stopping and reducing your alcohol use has many positive effects on your body. This includes lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, and reducing your risk for heart failure and cancer. Quitting alcohol significantly increases life expectancy. Once you stop using alcohol, your liver has time to heal and restore itself. Alcohol cessation can also elevate your self esteem, decrease anxiety, and promote better sleep.

What is alcohol withdrawal?

After long term use of alcohol, your brain starts to adjust to the constant presence of alcohol in your system. Because alcohol is a central nervous depressant, your brain must work harder to communicate with your body when using alcohol. When alcohol use is suddenly stopped, or seriously cut back, the body experiences alcohol withdrawal. During withdrawal, your brain cannot adjust quickly enough to the removal of the depressant and continues to work in overdrive causing a potentially dangerous set of symptoms.

What does detox feel like?

Detox is the process of removing the substance out of the body. Symptoms typically develop within several hours to a few days of quitting and usually worsen after 48 to 72 hours. These symptoms include:

  • Cramps
  • Increases in heart rate
  • High Blood pressure
  • Hyper alertness
  • Jerky movements, tremors and shaking
  • Irritability
  • Easily startled
  • Vomiting

How detox can become a medical emergency

The medical emergency that can occur due to withdrawal from alcohol is called Delirium Tremens. Delirium Tremens can be deadly and should be managed with the help of medical professionals. Delirium peaks at 2 to 3 days after cessation of alcohol and lasts 2 to 3 days

Symptoms include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Excessive Sweating
  • High blood pressure
  • Disorientation and Clouding of Consciousness
  • Seeing or Hearing Hallucinations
  • Extreme Mood Swings
  • Agitation
  • Delusions
  • High Grade Fever
  • Seizures

These symptoms can be severe, even deadly. If you have an alcohol use disorder or are worried about your alcohol use and want to quit, it is safest to find a treatment center that has a detox level of care so that you can detox safely.

Treatment for an Alcohol Use Disorder can significantly improve quality of life, but it’s not something anyone should go through alone. It can be made easier with support from places like The Next Door. If you or someone you love are thinking about quitting alcohol, please reach out to your provider or a facility such as The Next Door for emotional and medical support.

Ready to detox safely with help and support?

  • Call The Next Door at 855-863-4673

Looking for more information about alcohol addiction or withdrawal?

Experiencing a medical emergency related to alcohol withdrawal?

  • Call 911

Monday Meditation: International Women’s Day

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

On International Women’s Day, the story of Ruth and Naomi seems fitting to contemplate. If you are unfamiliar with their story, the book of Ruth in the Old Testament is a compelling and quick read. Naomi, her husband, and their two sons left their home in Bethlehem because of a severe famine, leaving behind family and friends to become refugees in the land of Moab. While they were in Moab, Naomi’s husband died. Later, both of her sons married Moabite women. Tragically, both of her sons died in this foreign land, leaving three widows in this family. Grief upon grief upon grief.

After Naomi learned that the famine in her homeland had subsided, she decided to return to Bethlehem. When she announced her plan to her daughters-in-law, at first they both declared that they would accompany her. But Naomi argued that the young women should remain in their home country with their families, and she blessed them for the love they had shown her sons and her. One of her daughters-in-law opted to remain in Moab, but Ruth steadfastly refused: “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” (Ruth 1:15-17) That’s quite a commitment for a widowed daughter-in-law to make to her widowed mother-in-law.

As the narrative unfolds, these two grieving women learn to rely on each other as they chart a path into an uncertain future. They have each other; they don’t have to go it alone. I encourage you to read the rest of their story to see how God worked in and through their intertwined lives to bring hope and healing.

Think about the women who God has used to encourage, guide, and sustain you during difficult times. Perhaps during this season of Lent you could take on the practice of reaching out to these women to express your gratitude. As you seek to be a instrument of healing in others’ lives this week, remember those who have brought healing to your life and thank God for them.

Published on March 8, 2021

Monday Meditation: The Beatitudes

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

When Jesus sat down on a mountainside overlooking the Sea of Galilee to deliver what would come to be known as “The Sermon on the Mount,” I imagine that the women and men and children who gathered around him leaned forward, straining to hear his provocative words. The opening passage of this sermon is called “The Beatitudes” – a list of blessings. Jesus’ litany of those who are blessed is somewhat surprising. For example, how can those who are mourning be considered to be blessed? And yet, upon closer inspection, we can see a pattern in Jesus’ words.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3-10)

The poor in spirit are those who have learned that they must rely on God in all circumstances. Those who mourn depend on God to sustain them as they move forward into a future without the companionship of their dearly departed ones. The meek are not people who are weak; they are those who approach God and others with humility. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness trust God to guide their lives, to direct their paths. Those who are merciful demonstrate Christ-like compassion for others. Those who are pure in heart manifest integrity – there is no differentiation between their public life and their private one. Those who are peacemakers desire to live in harmony with God and others. Those who are persecuted for doing what is right take comfort in knowing that they do not walk alone on the path of righteousness.

Do you see the connection – the thread running through all of the blessings? Jesus does not equate blessing with fame or fortune. Blessing flows from an individual’s intimate relationship with God, from an individual’s dependence on God.

Jesus’ words remind me to look for blessings in unexpected places, in unanticipated ways. May you experience the blessing of God this week

When I Grow Up

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney   

During the pandemic, my extended family has gathered weekly via Zoom to stay in touch. With participants ranging in age from 7 months to 81 years, these experiences have been memorable and life-giving for us.

One feature of these virtual gatherings is a trivia game, and if a family member has a birthday coming up, then the trivia game focuses on them. One of the standard questions is: “When I was a child, what did I want to be when I grew up?” The answers have been enlightening and hilarious.

When I was a child, I wanted to be a reporter. I started my own newspaper in 6th grade; as I recall, the issues of this short-lived publication focused almost exclusively on the Cincinnati Reds. During junior high school, I considered becoming a meteorologist, primarily because I was a huge fan of Tom Siler the Weather Wizard on Channel 2.

Looking back, I can now see how my desire to become a reporter was rooted in my love of reading and writing, which eventually blossomed into a fondness for researching, teaching, and storytelling. When I responded to God’s prompting in my life to go to seminary, I was confident that writing and teaching would be a part of my calling. Although I was initially surprised while in seminary by my newfound love of preaching, I realize now that it was an outgrowth of my desire to share stories.

As I listen to the stories that the clients share at The Next Door in group settings and in one-on-one sessions, I am aware that none of them dreamed of becoming an addict when they grew up. None of them hoped to become homeless. No one set a goal to spend time in jail. None of them desired to have children and then lose them to state custody.

Even though their lives have not turned out the way they imagined, many of our clients cling to the hope that the future can be different. As they embrace a newfound faith in God or recommit their lives to following the God they first learned about as children, they are optimistic that new dreams are within reach. They sense that their lives are now on an upward trajectory. They are growing spiritually as healing takes place in their bodies, minds, and spirits.

At mid-life, I have been surprised to realize that I still don’t feel like a grown up. I am aware that I still have a lot of growing to do; I still have so much to learn. The faith in Christ that I embraced as a child has been transformed and deepened through the years. Like our clients, I am still growing up spiritually. God has given me new dreams, and I am grateful.

 

A prayer for spiritual growth: “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please God in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to God’s glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:9-14)

Monday Meditation: The Second Sunday of Advent

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

As I child, I remember learning the song “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

Let there be peace on earth,
and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth,
the peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father,
brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
in perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me;
Let this be the moment now.
With ev’ry step I take
let this be my solemn vow:
To take each moment
and live each moment
in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
and let it begin with me.

 

As I child, I wasn’t bothered by the exclusively masculine pronouns in the song; today I would much prefer the use of the inclusive word “siblings” instead of brothers. But the sentiments behind the lyrics still ring true.

History of the Hymn

This popular folk song was composed in 1955 by Jill Jackson-Miller and her husband Sy Miller. Jill was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1913 and was adopted as a child by the Jackson family. As a young woman, she moved to Hollywood and launched her acting career. At the age of 31, she attempted suicide after her first marriage failed. Five years later, she married Sy, and they collaborated to create this song, with Jill penning the lyrics and Sy composing the melody.

Jill’s reflections about the inspiration for this song are poignant: “When I attempted suicide and I didn’t succeed I knew for the first time unconditional love—which God is. You are totally loved, totally accepted, just the way you are. In that moment I was not allowed to die, and something happened to me, which is very difficult to explain. I had an eternal moment of truth, in which I knew I was loved, and I knew I was here for a purpose.”

Life Application

When the peace of God takes root in a person’s life, transformation ensues. As individual lives are changed, families can be changed, communities can be changed, the world can be changed. Over the course of the past year, I have heard dozens of clients offer testimonies similar to Jill’s: After a near-death experience, they have come to believe that God must have a purpose for their lives. They are grasping for God’s love like never before, clinging to the belief that they are loved and worthy.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Shalom is the Hebrew word that is translated as peace, and shalom means far more than the absence of conflict. To experience shalom is to be at peace internally and to live in harmony externally. Shalom means wholeness of body, mind, and spirit. Our Jewish friends both say hello and goodbye to one another using the salutation “Shalom!” – a wish for peace in their comings and their goings. How lovely.

We are called to peacemaking work at The Next Door, but we must have first-hand experience with peace ourselves in order to faithfully model it for our clients. So let us strive to walk in harmony with one another. Let us solemnly vow to take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us.

Shalom, friends.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:8)

Resources: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-let-there-be-peace-on-earth

Published on December 7, 2020

Not Just Another Statistic

– Written by Jane Saffles-Granville, LMSW, Treatment Therapist

As a therapist in alcohol and drug treatment, one of the first things I ask my clients in our initial therapy sessions is a simple question: “Why did you come to treatment?” It has a handful of common answers. “For my children,” “I want to learn how to be sober,” or “I need coping skills.” One of the responses that has always given me pause is “I don’t want to be another statistic.”

When my clients say that, I hear not just “I don’t want to die,” but also “I don’t want to be forgotten.” The statistics of overdose death are harrowing. Most see the headlines, shake their heads, and go about their day. It can be hard to truly internalize the sheer number of deaths, the amount of loss, the number of grieving loved ones left behind.

For the past few months, it has felt like so many more people are dying. COVID has taken so many lives, and I think the full scope of its toll cannot be fully understood until you also look at so-called “deaths of desperation”—drug overdoses and suicide.

I have this seen firsthand in the past few months in a way I haven’t in my near decade of work in social services. The truth is, I’ve been navigating my own grief for too many clients of mine who have died. Women who had been in my outpatient group just days before, and women who had graduated residential treatment years ago, and many more in between. Women I saw cradle their pregnant bellies and cradle their infant children. Women who shared their own grief for loved ones who died of overdoses. Women who cheered on their peers for leaving an abuser, just as they had once done. Women who fought so hard for a way out of a system that was stacked against them. Women who made me laugh and exasperated me at the same time. Women who gave me hope. Women who were so vitally alive when they were sober, it was hard to imagine them in their addiction then and even harder now to imagine them gone.

I don’t know what led to their relapses. I don’t know what their last days were like, or how long they had been sober after the last time I saw them. It can be so easy to focus on the death by overdose, and see it as failure. But when I reflect on this feeling, a line from the poem “Failing and Flying” echoes in my head: “Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.” When we hear about the mythological Icarus, it is a cautionary tale of hubris and preventable tragedy; but what of the miraculous flight that happened first? His wax and feather wings did not last indefinitely, and yet he did fly. Isn’t that true for people who die from addiction? We struggle to look past the death to see the successes before it, the love before it, the life before it.

And so, I believe “I don’t want to be another statistic” has another meaning: “If my addiction kills me, I don’t want my memory to be reduced to my cause of death.” Sadly, some of those women who told me this have since lost their battle with addiction. They became what they feared: a statistic, one of the many lives lost this year. Overdose is a lonely and tragic way to die, stealing the futures of too many worthy people. On National Overdose Awareness Day, it is our job now to remember their lives, not just their deaths; their names and not just the numbers. They cannot, and will not, merely be a statistic.

Published on August 31, 2020