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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

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

Monday Meditation: Healing

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

As a child, I was fascinated by the story of the four men who carried their paralyzed friend on a mat to Jesus because they believed that Jesus could heal him. Since a large crowd had gathered to hear Jesus that day, when the friends arrived at the house in Capernaum where Jesus was preaching, they could not get in the door. Unwilling to give up on their mission of mercy, the friends carefully carried their friends to the roof of the home and made a hole directly above Jesus.

I wonder how much debris fell on Jesus before he stopped preaching. I wonder what the homeowner said when he saw a mat being lowered by ropes through his new sunroof. I wonder what the paralyzed man was thinking when his mat came to rest on the floor in front of Jesus and he looked up into Jesus’ face.

What happens next is somewhat surprising: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” (Mark 2:2-5) When Jesus witnessed the faith of these friends – a faith that led them to go to great lengths to access healing for their friend – Jesus responded with mercy.

Interestingly, spiritual healing preceded physical healing. “Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So Jesus said to the man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ The man got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’” (Mark 2:9-12)

Faith is one of the core values of The Next Door. Often our clients’ family and friends keep the faith long after our clients have given up hope that they might experience healing. They are the ones who call our Admissions Team and drive their loved ones to our door seeking help; they are the ones who pray for healing for their incarcerated mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends who are completing their sentences at the Correctional Release Center.

Where do you see yourself in this story? How have you helped a loved one access healing in the past? Who has helped you experience physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual healing? Who needs your help this week to receive the healing they seek?

Monday Meditation: Easter Sunday and Trauma

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

Although we tend to focus on rejoicing on Easter Sunday, the gospel narratives remind us that the first Easter Sunday was the culmination of three days of trauma, and trauma doesn’t simply evaporate. Three days prior to the discovery of the empty tomb, Jesus’ partners in ministry scattered in fear after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Afterwards, as Jesus predicted, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Consumed by shame, Judas – Jesus’ betrayer – died by suicide. A small group of women who had supported Jesus throughout his ministry followed Jesus all the way to the cross, bearing witness to his brutal execution. From the cross, Jesus called out to his friend John, instructing him to care for his mother Mary, who watched in horror as her firstborn son took his last breath. Unforgettable, horrific images were seared into their minds.

On Easter Sunday, when the grieving women went to the tomb bearing spices to anoint Jesus’ body, they were still reeling from all they had witnessed. Can you imagine the range of emotions they must have felt when they arrived at the tomb to find the stone rolled away and the body of their beloved Christ missing? More trauma. The women were terrified when angels suddenly appeared and asked them, “Why do you search for the living among the dead? Jesus isn’t here! He has risen from the dead?” How could they possibly process all they were experiencing?

Meanwhile, the remaining 11 apostles were huddled behind a locked door, fearful that they would be the next ones to be executed. They, too, were traumatized by the loss of their teacher and friend; their dream for a new kingdom of God on earth had been shattered. When the women arrived to pass on the angelic message of Christ’s resurrection, the men did not believe their story because they thought it sounded like nonsense. How did the women feel then? Two of the disciples were curious enough to check out the women’s story and discovered for themselves that the tomb was indeed empty. How did the men feel then? Even after Jesus finally mysteriously appeared in that locked room and revealed the wounds in hands and his side, the disciples’ joy and relief was tempered by the trauma they had experienced.

Yesterday as I led the Easter worship service at TND in Nashville, I was mindful of the trauma and grief present in the midst of our rejoicing. One client was marking the one-year anniversary of the death of her partner. Several were grieving the loss of loved ones in recent months. Others were desperately missing their children; some took comfort knowing they would soon see their children again while others grappled with the grim reality that they have permanently lost custody.

With this in mind, let us focus our prayers this week on clients and staff who are grieving and wrestling with traumatic events:

  • Those who are grieving the loss of loved ones
  • Those who are grieving the separation from their children – either temporarily or permanently
  • Those who are grieving missed opportunities, fractured relationships, and time lost due to addiction
  • Those who are grieving the countless losses and absences and unrealized dreams due to COVID-19
  • Those who have been traumatized by abuse
  • Those who have been traumatized by racial bias, ethnic discrimination, racism, and hate crimes

“Blessed be Abba God, the God of our Savior Jesus Christ, the Source of all mercies and the God of all consoling, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the same comforting God has given us.” 2 Corinthians 1:2-4

Monday Meditation: Do You See This Woman?

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

As The Next Door focuses on the core value of respect throughout 2021, we can turn to the Gospels and look to Jesus for inspiration. A story from Luke’s Gospel seems particularly relevant.

A religious leader had invited Jesus to be his honored guest for dinner. The meal was interrupted when a woman with bad reputation in the community entered the home uninvited. She was carrying a bottle of expensive perfume and weeping as she approached Jesus. With great humility, she knelt down and began to anoint Jesus’ feet, her tears mingling with the perfume on his skin. The host was astounded and offended by her actions, thinking to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39). Reading his host’s mind, Jesus told him a brief parable about a creditor and two debtors as a way of explaining that the woman’s actions reflected her deep gratitude for forgiveness.

Jesus contrasted his host’s failure to wash Jesus’ feet – an expected expression of hospitality – with the woman’s gesture of respect. “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little” (Luke 7:44-47).

Do you see this woman? Arguably, the religious leader did not truly see this woman. He had labeled the intruder as a sinner from the moment he laid eyes on her – someone who was less worthy than he was of Jesus’ attention and love. Jesus, on the other hand, truly saw this woman and welcomed her with love, treated her with respect, and blessed her for her actions.

Every woman who walks through our doors deserves to be welcomed with love and treated with respect without judgment. May our gratitude for the forgiveness and love that God and others have shown us fuel our desire to treat others with respect and compassion. Do you see this woman? May we learn to see each client with Jesus’ eyes.

 

Published on March 29, 2021

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: A New Look at Psalm 23

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

At least once a month, I lead a Spirituality in Recovery group focused on Psalm 23, perhaps the most famous of the 150 psalms included in Scripture. This psalm is frequently read aloud at funeral services because of this line: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” When I discuss this psalm with clients, I frame it as an expression of delight in God. The author – believed to be David, the shepherd who became Israel’s second king – gratefully expounds upon the ways that God has demonstrated provision, protection, and compassion for him.

In her book Guide My Feet: Prayers and Meditations on Loving and Working for Children, Marian Wright Edelman includes a version of Psalm 23 that she heard at All Saints Convent in Catonville, Maryland. Entitled “The Nuns’ Twenty-Third Psalm,” this variation on Scripture speaks to our need for provision, protection, and compassion from God in our work at The Next Door.

The Lord is my pace-setter, I shall not rush.
He makes me stop and rest for quiet intervals;
He provides me with images of stillness, which restore my serenity.
He leads me in ways of efficiency through calmness of mind.
And His guidance is peace.
Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day,
I will not fret, for his presence is here.
His timelessness, his all-importance will keep me in balance.
He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity
By anointing my mind with His oils of tranquility.
My cup of joyous energy overflows.
Surely harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruit of my hours for
I shall walk in the place of my Lord and dwell in His House forever.

May you sense the loving presence of the Good Shepherd as you work this week.

Published on February 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

Monday Meditation: “The Hill We Climb”

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

I can’t get her words out of mind. Last Wednesday, 22-year-old Amanda Gorman burst into the world’s collective consciousness as she recited her poem “The Hill We Climb” on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Gorman began and ended her poem with references to light.

In the opening line of her poem, Gorman poses a timely question:

“When day comes we ask ourselves,

where can we find light in this never-ending shade?”

The word “dark” has been used repeatedly to use to describe the historical period in which we are living. Where can we find light in these dark days?

Amanda Gorman answers her own question in the closing lines of her poem:

“For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

 

Poet June Jordan would agree with Amanda Gorman. In her “Poem for South African Women,” Jordan declared: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

We are called to be the light. Jesus declared this in his Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Let your light shine, Jesus said. How do we do this? By remaining connected to One who is the source of all light. The psalmist wrote, “You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.” (Psalm 18:28) We do not have to draw from our own limited resources to be light in the world; instead, we can allow the power of God to flow through us. With God’s help, we can illuminate the darkness. With God’s help, we can be light for women who are searching for a way out of the darkness where they have dwelled for far too long. With God’s help, we can be bearers of the light for one another on those dark days when we can’t see the way forward.

To be light in the world requires courage and connection. May Amanda Gorman’s words be true of us in our work on behalf of women and their families at The Next Door:

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true,
Even as we grieved, we grew,
Even as we hurt, we hoped,
Even as we tired, we tried.”

photo from politico.com

Published on January 25, 2021