Tag Archive for: mental health

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: 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: “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

How Food Feeds the Mind

– Written by Rebekah Miller, RDN, LDN at HBC Nutrition

The Gut-Brain Connection

Food not only nourishes the body, it feeds the mind. Glucose from the foods we eat acts as energy to keep the brain active and engaged. Fat from our diet helps to build the brain, which itself is 60% fat. Anyone who has experienced butterflies in the stomach knows that emotions and feelings experienced in the brain are also felt in the stomach. Ever get irritated or upset when you’re hungry? That gut-brain connection works both ways, with the brain sending signals to the digestive system and the digestive system sending signals back to the brain. Using the Enteric Nervous System (ENS), the GI tract and brain speak to each other through a nerve network that links emotion and cognition in the brain with the function of the gut. In fact, there are as many nerves in the gut as there are in the spinal cord.

The Main Character

How, then, can we use this connection to influence our mind and emotions? Are there foods that support healthy cognition and emotional regulation?  Indeed there are, but there is one more character heavily involved in the story of food and its role in the brain.  The GI tract is filled with nerves, but it is also filled with microbes.  These tiny bacteria reside throughout the digestive tract, even in the acidic environment of the stomach.  Each bacteria performs its own essential work.  Microbiota help create vitamin K, protect the lining of the intestine, improve food absorption and, most importantly, activate neural pathways between the gut and brain.

Microbes in the stomach are also responsible for regulating serotonin, a popular hormone known to stabilize mood, regulate sleep, inhibit pain, and aid in digestion. In fact, 95% of the serotonin produced in the body is produced in the GI tract.  While the science behind how exactly the serotonin from the gut can impact the serotonin in the brain is somewhat complicated, the basic principle is that a healthy microbiome in the gut improves the brain’s cognition and mood.  Changes to microbiota affect both gut and brain serotonin levels.

What Can We Do?

What can we do to help our microbe friends?  How do we increase the number of beneficial microbes in our digestive tract? How do we keep the ones we already have? Increasing the number of microbes can be done in two ways:

Eating Fermented or Cultured Foods

Eating foods like yogurt, miso, tempeh, and fermented vegetables like kimchi or sauerkraut, or drinking fermented drinks like kefir or kombucha on a regular basis helps build a powerful plethora of beneficial bacteria. Just be sure to buy these foods with active cultures in the refrigerated section of the store. Anything canned and shelf-stable no longer has many active bacteria.

Taking a Probiotic Supplement.

There has been research that suggests that food is a better carrier than supplements, but either way works. If supplements are a more preferred route, one study suggests that the ingested bacteria survive best when taken during a meal that contains some fat content, or up to 30 minutes before or after the meal.

Probiotics increase the number of bacteria. Prebiotics feed the bacteria already present.  Prebiotics are found in foods that contain fiber. Bacteria in the gut love to eat the parts of plants that are harder for our system to break down. Common prebiotic rich foods that can increase the health of your bacteria include: almonds, asparagus, bananas, garlic, kiwi, oats and whole wheats. Fiber is not only a good food for bacteria, but it also helps to regulate blood sugar and promote regular bowel movements. Remember! When increasing fiber in your diet, always do it slowly over a span of weeks, and be sure to increase the amount of water you drink as you increase fiber.

Other Ways to Promote Healthy Gut Flora

Stay active and manage your stress. Stress decreases the amount of bacteria in your gut and limits blood flow to the intestines, making digestion less effective.

Limit the amount of foods with refined sugars or too little fiber. Sugar encourages the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut. Too much harmful bacteria leaves little space for the beneficial ones to thrive.

Alcohol, too, can kill bacteria. Choosing recovery is a great step toward a healthy gut and brain!

Although we can’t see them, these little bacteria friends help us thrive.  They are one tool in our tool chest of ways to maintain a healthy mind and happy mood.

What will you do to feed your own microbiota?

Published on November 19, 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

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

Meditation Monday: Running on Fumes

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

The Parable

In Matthew 25:1-11, Jesus uses a parable about ten bridesmaids to describe the kingdom of heaven. In this story, the ten bridesmaids have gathered to await the bridegroom’s arrival, for they will accompany the groom in a festive procession to the wedding banquet. All ten bridesmaids have come equipped with oil lamps, but only five of them have brought flasks of oil to enable them to refuel their lamps. These five women were wise, for the groom was delayed. When he finally arrived at midnight, the wise bridesmaids were ready to go with fuel to spare. Unfortunately, at this key moment, the lamps of the unprepared bridesmaids flickered out.

You could read Jesus’ parable and view the five prepared bridesmaids in a negative light, since they refuse to share their oil with the other five bridesmaids, but to do so misses a key point: There are some things in life that can’t be borrowed.

The Demonstration

In her memorable sermon on this passage titled “Filling Stations,” Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence describes a scene from one of her seminary classes. A lamp that only had a little oil left in the reservoir was placed on a table in front of the class. The wick was lit, and the students watched with interest as the lamp burned up all the oil and flickered out.

“What just happened?” Dr. Florence asked the class. “The oil ran out, so the light went out,” the students replied. This object lesson was used to convey a vital message: A Christian with no oil can’t be the light of the world for anybody, no matter how much they want to.

The Lesson

There are some things in life that can’t be borrowed. You can’t borrow someone else’s relationship with God. You can’t borrow someone else’s faith. You can’t borrow spiritual maturity. You can’t be light for the world if you lack spiritual fuel.

You likely won’t be able to do a very good job of nurturing others if you aren’t taking care of yourself. You won’t be able to serve God as energetically as you desire if you are physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually burned out. That’s not to say that God can’t use you when your reserves are running low. God certainly can and does do this – I can testify to this reality. However, we would be foolish – like the five unprepared bridesmaids – if we allow ourselves to always run on fumes.

We can’t expect to fill ourselves up spiritually once a week and think that will be sufficient. If we desire to love God with our heart and soul, mind and strength, we need to fill up our spiritual tanks frequently. Some of us feel spiritually energized when we do things with others and for others. Some of us need to be alone, quiet, and still in order to recharge. Perhaps you need a little of both. We can find God both in times of devotion and in times of service.

We need plenty of fuel in order to burn brightly. What will you do today to fill up your spiritual tank?

Life-giving God, fill us up so that we may be the light of the world. Amen.

Published on June 8, 2020

 

Monday Meditation: Disappointment

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

Disappointed.

This word has been popping up repeatedly over the past few months as a result of the physical distancing necessary to minimize the impact of the pandemic.

  • High school and college students are disappointed that they were not able to celebrate their academic achievements at traditional in-person commencement ceremonies.
  • Brides and grooms are disappointed that their wedding plans have been dramatically altered.
  • Grieving families are disappointed that they have been unable to gather for funeral services to remember loved ones who have passed away.
  • Athletes from children to Olympians are disappointed that they have been unable to compete.
  • Singers and dancers and musicians are disappointed that performances have been cancelled – and their fans are disappointed, too.
  • Parents are disappointed that their children have been unable to attend school.
  • New grandparents – like me – are disappointed that they have not been able to meet their newborn grandchildren.

The list goes on and on. How would you complete this sentence?

I am disappointed that _________________________________.

 

Disappointments are a part of life. At The Next Door, we are disappointed each time a client chooses to leave AMA or ACA. We are disappointed when the difficult decision must be made to ask a client to leave. During this unprecedented period in the history of TND, we are disappointed that some of our team members cannot work alongside us for financial reasons. We are disappointed that volunteers cannot safely join us in our work. We are disappointed by all the disruptions, personally and professionally.

In the Spirituality in Recovery group, clients regularly express three primary levels of disappointment:

  • They are disappointed in themselves.
  • They are disappointed in family members.
  • They are disappointed in God.

God can handle our disappointment. We need not fear being honest with God – after all, God knows what we are going to say before a word is even on our lips. We can express the depth of our disappointment and ask God to help us to make meaning of these troubling circumstances. What does our disappointment reveal about the routines and rituals that are important to us, the people who are important to us, the values that are important to us? In the midst of our disappointment, can we still see God at work?

 

“Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise God again—my Savior and my God!” (Psalm 42:5-6a)

Published on June 1, 2020

One Word for 2019

by Kate McKinnie, Director of Development of The Next Door

For the past 8-9 years, I have chosen a word of the year.  I begin praying in December for how I want the next year to be different.  I pray for wisdom of what one word of focus could be to help me get there.  This year, my word is INTENTIONAL.

What led me to this word was that I felt like at work in my role as Director of Development, everything I do is with great intention, purpose and strategy to achieve the fundraising goals for The Next Door.  However, outside of work, I don’t live with much intention.  I chose this word for 2019 because I want to be intentional with relationships in my life I want to strengthen, and I want to be intentional with my health, fitness and dietary habits.  There are several other ways in my personal life I need to be more intentional, because I believe when you approach things with intentionality, you are more likely to see change that you want in life.

Because I love this annual exercise of choosing my word of the year, I decided to ask our clients about theirs.  On New Year’s Day, I put up a sign next to the elevators on each residential floor and asked a simple question:  “What one word do you want to guide you and define you in the new year?”   During the entire month of January, as new clients have come into the program, I have enjoyed seeing their responses.  Here is what they wrote:

  • Happy
  • Humble
  • Serene
  • Sober
  • Peaceful
  • Recovery
  • Thankful
  • Strong
  • Productive
  • Sunshine
  • Resilient
  • Amazing, sober mother
  • Real
  • Different
  • Blessed

While I thought, prayed and toyed around with several words that I wanted to guide and define me in 2019, the women in treatment at The Next Door last month most likely came up with theirs in a brief period of time, while waiting for the elevator!   The simplicity of their answers was inspiring.  To merely want peace, serenity, happiness, strength or sobriety as they look at a new year may seem simple to me, but for our clients, this could be a major shift from the life they are living now.

Each day I work in this ministry, I realize that I have MUCH in common with women of The Next Door.  I may not struggle with addiction, trauma or mental illness, but what I do long for – like each woman within our doors – is a new start and moving from weak to strong in some area of our lives.  Whether that’s to be more intentional in my approach to relationships and fitness or women simply wanting to wake up sober and productive each day of 2019, we each seek change.

See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. – Isaiah 43:19

I hope each of you is having a wonderful start to your new year.  Remember:  we love to have visitors at The Next Door!  If you feel led to be involved in some way in this life-changing ministry for women and find common ground with these courageous women like I do each day, come see us!  To arrange a visit, please contact me:  kate.mckinnie@thenextdoor.org.

I Love Data!

by Ginger Gaines, Chief Operating Officer of The Next Door

My co-workers, family and a few friends know how much I love a good spreadsheet.  I am by nature very analytical, and I want to have all the facts before making any decision.  Of course, when deciding where to eat dinner this can be infuriating to my husband who would say, “Just pick one!” and then have no angst about the choice.  If there is an unfamiliar option, I would first want to review the menu, other diner’s feedback and their prices, to start.  Are you like that?  I just love putting everything in a spreadsheet, at least mentally, to reveal the obvious best choice!

Well, did you know that January 22-27, 2019 is National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week?  I was recently reviewing much of the research data found on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website about substance use disorder, alcohol use, suicide rates and so forth.  Even loving data, I quickly became overwhelmed by the magnitude of the growing drug and alcohol addiction impact to communities and families today.

While all the national and state-level data is quite daunting, I am excited about the difference that The Next Door (TND) is making – one life at a time.  I am so grateful to serve at an organization that restores hope! TND exists to empower women for lifetime recovery in an environment of faith and healing.  I can really get excited about the data and feedback gathered through client surveys regarding treatment service experiences at TND.  For example, 1461 clients received treatment services at TND Nashville in 2018 and of those 1461, the overall satisfaction ranged from 91-95% positive!

Let me share just a few of the actual client comments from surveys in 2018:

  • Treatment with genuine care and respect
  • Liked opportunity to engage in service work in the dining room
  • So grateful for all of the staff, they are awesome!
  • The Next Door is an amazing, safe compassionate program
  • This place means the world to the rest of my life.
  • It means so much that the staff try so hard to love us during this crucial time.
  • Admission process was very smooth. Made us feel welcome & loved.  Staff were calm and patient. Quick response when call for treatment.
  • Detox saved my life, it was exactly what I needed.
  • Our group facilitator is wonderful.
  • The Therapist included us in the development of our treatment plan.
  • The Case Manager included us in the development of our discharge plan.
  • The accountability requirements really helped me stay in line and learn more responsibility.

Of course, TND also learns from the constructive feedback from every client. My favorite this year being that Food Services serves too much broccoli!  Seriously, we gather and utilize the feedback of our clients for continuous improvement.  We know that not only does every life matter, but also every life represents a network of more lives finding wholeness and hope for the future.  Though this is difficult data to quantify, in a spreadsheet or not, it brings me great joy!