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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

Monday Meditation: Tending the Soil

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

Are you familiar with Jesus’ parable of the sower?

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Matthew 13:3-9)

At first, Jesus’ disciples did not understand the message of his story, so they requested clarification. Jesus explained that the seed represents the message of God’s liberating kingdom, and the soil is the recipient of the message. Sometimes God’s good news cannot take root because the hearer simply cannot comprehend the message. Sometimes the message is initially received eagerly, but the good news fails to take root when trouble arises. Sometimes the recipient hears and understands the message, but the distractions of life choke out the hope of God’s word, resulting in no lasting spiritual fruit. When the good news of God’s kingdom is sown in the life of someone who hears the word, understands the word, and metabolizes the word, then the fertile soil of this life yields a great spiritual harvest.

Perhaps this parable has another layer of meaning that is relevant to our work at The Next Door. Some clients come to us unable to comprehend the good news that healing is possible. Others arrive with eagerness, but as soon as frustrations arise, they give up and walk out. Still others understand that they don’t have to remain in bondage to addiction, and they know that mental illness can be treated. They earn their certificates and return home, but when the distractions of life become unmanageable, they return to old habits and relapse.

But there are success stories – thousands of them – women who hear and understand and metabolize the good news that healing is possible. With our help, they have learned to tend the soil of their lives. They have gained tools that help them to remove the obstacles that hinder recovery and growth, tools that help them to extract the thorns that have choked out the abundant life that God offers them. By the grace of God and with our help, their lives are bearing much fruit.

Let us keep tending the soil of our clients’ lives. Although it may initially appear that our labors are in vain when a client chooses to leave without completing the program, let us trust that incremental change is happening in the soil of their lives. Perhaps one rock was removed, one thorn was extracted. Perhaps one lesson was learned, one glimmer of hope was transmitted.

As we tend to the soil of our clients’ lives, let us also tend to our own gardens. How will you nurture your soil/soul today?

Published on August 24, 2020

Monday Meditation: The Struggle of A Lifetime

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published on July 20, 2020

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

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

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

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

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

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

Published on July 6, 2020

Monday Meditation: Seeking a New Narrative

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

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

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

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

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

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

Published on June 29, 2020

Monday Meditation: A Cry For Help

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

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

“I love you, Lord, my strength.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 18:1-6a

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 18:16-19

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

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

Published on June 22, 2020

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

– Written by Elizabeth Scoville, Family Interventionist

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

“What’s wrong?” she asked him.

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

Raise your hand if you agree with him.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: Memorial Day

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

Memorial Day is a time of remembrance to honor and mourn the military personnel who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. The desire to remember and honor is God-given; the impulse to mark sacred and solemn occasions with rituals and monuments is deeply ingrained in our souls. Long before war memorials were constructed on our National Mall, people used stones to mark places where they had encountered God.

After God liberated the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, they spent four decades living as transients in the wilderness. God led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night and fed them with manna. They were unsettled and uncomfortable, but God compassionately provided for their daily needs, even as they grumbled, complained, and rebelled.

When the Israelites finally assembled on the banks of the Jordan River, Moses and many others from their original ranks were no longer alive. The survivors of the wilderness peered across the water and pondered what it would be like to at last live in God’s Promised Land. God gave Joshua instructions on how to proceed; included in these commands was an order to mark this occasion with a monument that would remind future generations of what God had done.

Generations before, God had parted the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to escape the pursuing Egyptian army. Now God parted the Jordan River to permit the Israelites to pass over into the Promised Land. As the priests remained standing in the middle of the riverbed, Joshua enlisted twelve men to pluck twelves stones from ground to use to construct a memorial – one stone for each of the twelve tribes of Israel.

“Then Joshua said to the Israelites, ‘In the future your children will ask, “What do these stones mean?” Then you can tell them, “This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.” For the Lord your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and God kept it dry until you were all across, just as God did at the Red Sea when God dried it up until we had all crossed over. God did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might honor the Lord your God forever.’” (Joshua 4:21-24)

Last week as I sat a red light at the corner of 8th Avenue South and Demonbreun, I snapped a photo of the boutique hotel that is under construction at the original site of The Next Door. I remembered what God had done at that sacred place and gave thanks. Just as surely as God delivered the ancient Israelites from slavery, God has delivered countless women from the bondage of addiction through The Next Door. Let us remember what God has done and give thanks. Let us remember what God is still doing and give thanks.

Published on May 25, 2020

A Crisis Response to Compassion Fatigue

– Written by Morgan Coyner and Eleanor Wells, RN, BSN, ACC, CCFP

In February, The Next Door hosted a workshop with Eleanor Wells of Cohort4Care on Compassion Fatigue. It’s a topic that is talked about a lot in behavioral health and other direct care professions. You may have heard it referred to as “burnout.” Compassion Fatigue happens when helpers are unable to rest and refuel. Under the best of circumstances and in the most certain times, Compassion Fatigue is still a threat to our staff. Most of our clients have lived through incredibly difficult things that affect how they react and behave. As you can imagine, getting to the root of an addiction and finding years of repressed trauma is hard. Walking women through this process and hearing their stories day after day can lead to compassion fatigue and burnout, especially if staff don’t prioritize their own mental health.

Two months ago, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, and the world as we knew it shifted right in front of us. We moved from being able to learn about Compassion Fatigue and put plans in place to prevent it to having to find a totally different approach. Eleanor Wells puts it this way:

“If someone were having a heart attack, you wouldn’t walk up to them and start talking to them about healthy eating habits and exercise. You’d start performing CPR. The diet and exercise won’t help if you die. Those things will get addressed in time.”

We’re in a crisis right now, and that warrants a crisis response. But what does that look like? Now isn’t a time when front line workers can take a mental health day or talk to their supervisors about being overwhelmed. Everyone is overwhelmed. If Compassion Fatigue happens when people are unable to rest and a symptom of it is being unable to rest or relax, how are we supposed to refuel so that we can get back to work?

One thing we need to do is redefine “rest.” Rest doesn’t have to mean sleep. It doesn’t have to be an extended period of quiet time. Research shows that taking deep breaths makes a huge difference. The coffee break was born out of the discovery that workers were more productive when they had breaks. Even fifteen minutes makes a difference. A few other simple tips: Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Take a lap or two around your building – the fresh air and Vitamin D helps. Put down your phone.

When you ask someone for technical support with your phone or computer, what’s the first question they ask? Did you try rebooting it? A simple reboot can solve a whole host of problems. Our brains are the same way.

Right now, it’s not about big interventions. Incorporate small things throughout the day. And don’t underplay the importance of connection. We will not get through this on our own. It will take a collective resiliency. Find people who are safe to fall apart in front of. Find people who will help you notice the positives in each day. Be that person for others when you can.

We will get back to a healthier lifestyle. We will get back to a life of routine and putting safeguards in place to create healthy rhythms in our lives. Hold on. This is not the end.

Published on May 20, 2020