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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

How Addiction Hijacks the Brain

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Published on July 9, 2020

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

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

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

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

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

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

Published on July 6, 2020

Meditation Monday: Zacchaeus’ Transformation

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney, Spiritual Wellness Coordinator

Last Wednesday night, the clients at The Next Door took a deep dive into the story of Zacchaeus, as recorded in Luke 19:1-10, when they completed their Spiritual Wellness worksheets. Many of us first heard this story as children in church – I was certainly attracted to the idea of climbing a tree to see Jesus!

Rereading Zacchaeus’ story today, we can now see things that we missed as children. As adults, we can more fully imagine the range of emotions that Zacchaeus experienced when Jesus looked up at the tax collector in the tree, called him by name, and invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ home. As a tax collector for the Roman government, Zacchaeus amassed wealth at the expense of his neighbors as he took a cut of the collections for himself. Because tax collectors were often lumped in with “sinners,” he probably didn’t get many dinner invitations from his neighbors.

Zacchaeus likely considered Jesus to be a threat to his way of life, since many people believed that as the Messiah, Jesus would overthrow the Roman government – Zacchaeus’ employer. He climbed the tree not because he desired to follow Christ; he scaled the sycamore tree out of self-interest and curiosity. When Jesus called his name, did this tax collector think he was about to be rebuked or shamed?

What happened around the table in Zacchaeus’ home when these two men sat down together? Luke does not provide us with details about anything Jesus said, but we do hear a declaration from Zacchaeus: “I will give half of my property to the poor. And I will now pay back four times as much to everyone I have ever cheated.” Two thousand years before the 12 Steps were developed, Zacchaeus was ready to practice Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” Zacchaeus was truly transformed by his encounter with Christ.

In his book Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the 12 Steps, Fr. Richard Rohr explains the old way of viewing inner transformation. Many of us have been taught that the progression looks like this:

  sin —> punishment —> repentance —> transformation

Fr. Rohr argues that God’s love, expressed through Jesus Christ, actually works like this in an individual’s life:

  sin —> unconditional love —> transformation —> repentance

I believe Fr. Rohr is right, and the story of Zacchaeus provides us with a perfect example of the progression. The tax collector had been sinning, doing things that dishonored God and hurt his neighbors. When Jesus offered him unconditional love that day, Zacchaeus was transformed. As a result of this spiritual transformation, Zacchaeus was eager to repent and make amends to those he had harmed.

Love is one of the core values of The Next Door: We demonstrate what love looks like, so our women learn to love others in healthy ways and love themselves. We do not shame our clients for their addictions. We do not rebuke them for how they have been living and demand repentance. Instead, we welcome them into our midst with the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. We set the stage for spiritual, mental, and physical transformation to take place in their lives as we lovingly help them envision a healthier, brighter future and provide them with tools for lifetime recovery.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Loving God, help us to love one another. Amen.

Published on June 15, 2020

Impressions Through The Eyes Of A New Employee

By Morgan Coyner, Grant Coordinator

When I came to The Next Door for my final interview, I was surprised to see clients huddled around the front desk. One needed help making a phone call for a ride upon discharge. Another was waiting for her to go get a snack. A few others asked if they got any mail that day, while even more waited for their group facilitator to begin an afternoon session.

The surprise wore off quickly because this shows the heart of The Next Door. Our clients are at the center of everything we do! Typical desk jobs in a treatment facility like ours can make it easy to create a “we” and “they” attitude. We can easily forget the purpose behind the work we do and distance ourselves from the women who seek treatment within our programs. The Next Door eliminates that possibility by the way staff and clients share this beautiful facility. We eat lunch with clients, ride the elevator with them, and through this, we learn their stories. We see them. We know them. We love them. A simple “how are you” can be met with tears after a tough therapy session or any number of responses ranging from joy to gratitude to acceptance.

I’ve only worked here for two weeks, but I can already see the way God moves through this place. After observing parts of the client treatment schedule in my first week, I had the opportunity to pray with a client that her legal circumstances would change, and they did. I prayed with a client that she would find the strength within her to make a better choice than she had planned, and she did.

I’ve heard stories where women get saved and their addiction disappears immediately. I do believe that God is capable of this. However, Scripture often shows God’s people wrestling through hard things to get closer to Him. This is a more accurate picture of treatment at The Next Door. The Israelites wander for 40 years in the wilderness because God knows if they see the struggles that await them when they first leave Egypt, they’ll be afraid. He knows that He has to teach them how to live in community with Him, how to act, how to trust, before leading them into the Promised Land. They have to learn a new way of life. The Next Door is a little like the wilderness, though we’ve got way better living accommodations and a chef who keeps us well-fed on a variety of meals and not just manna. Here, women gain and practice the skills they will need for their Promised Land, a life at home with their families and children, living in recovery.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Exodus 2:24-25, which says, “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”

It’s one thing to know that God hears us. It’s another to watch Him answer prayers in real time, without delay. This has been one of the joys of the past two weeks for me, watching God show up in circumstances that only He can, changing things and moving things so that it is evident that He is in control. My faith is strengthened daily by seeing God answer prayers at The Next Door. I’m excited to continue my career at this incredible Christ-centered ministry.

Recycling is Mindfulness

by Kellie Kroening, TND Intake Specialist and avid baker

Recycling is a mindfulness practice. Maybe you know someone who recycles like it’s their full time job. Maybe you know someone who thinks the whole thing is a joke. Unfortunately, the movement for recycling sometimes get a bad reputation because of the way it’s been presented – for instance, “if you’re not recycling, then you hate animals and the eventual disappearance of the polar ice caps is on you and your empty Dr. Pepper bottles.” (Can we all just agree that harsh and judgmental extremes don’t really help anyone?) If the newest research is true, we have already passed something of a “point of no return” with the climate problems at hand, and it doesn’t just have to do with recycling. There are a myriad of contributing factors. Yet, while we will have to put our heads together in years to come for solutions to this issue, it doesn’t mean we should stop doing what we already know to be important.

The Next Door has recently started a recycling initiative called The Green Team, which I am honored to be involved in. We’re a small group of people who go around the building once weekly to collect recycling and take it to Nashville’s many drop-off centers, in addition to brainstorming ideas of how TND can be more sustainable and focus on how to reduce, reuse, and recycle. However for me, there’s a bigger picture to why I recycle. I’m hoping that as TND participates in the Green Team’s new efforts, the conversation can turn toward mindfulness and how recycling aligns with some of our core values. I believe that recycling actually impacts how we interact with other human beings in the world. Let me tell you why.

When I was in 4th Grade I went to a magically special school called School in the Woods. In the middle of the Black Forest on the Eastern slope of the Rockies in Colorado, there exists a haven for fourth graders where you spend 80% of the school year outside, with the goal of learning how to be a naturalist. A naturalist is a type of biologist who studies the impacts of living species on each other and the environments in which they live. So, a troupe of 10-year-olds including myself spent the year walking around this piece of forest observing, notating, drawing, studying, identifying, counting, quantifying, qualifying, and appreciating the ways that all parts of the earth interconnect and impact all other parts of the earth. This experience was extraordinarily formative for me, and I carry that naturalist heart with me into all facets of my life. As an adult, I came to realize that this is why I was drawn to be a counselor; because counseling is really just naturalism. It is observing, listening, identifying, and appreciating all the ways that each part of someone’s life impacts each part of their own “ecosystem.” How, perhaps, someone’s childhood trauma impacts the beliefs about the self, and how those beliefs impact behaviors, creating gaps in emotional regulation, and how maybe, like for our women and many others, it may result in substance abuse or other dysfunctional coping mechanisms. We can study how the family system can be incredibly resilient even through the harshest blizzards and how the most frozen hearts thaw with enough time spent in the glow of a new sun. Or how when the lightning strikes one too many times, it may set someone’s whole life ablaze. The counseling relationship is there to give witness to all the life and death, growth and change, and to mindfully love the system through the process.

One very important lesson that naturalism taught me was that for the whole ecosystem to be healthy, each part must work in healthful cooperation. This is one of the things that brought me to the Next Door – it attracted me originally because it felt like the sort of place that encourages all parts of the whole to be healthy and to give and take, when needed. For instance, the core values encourage that if we want our women to understand values such as love, respect and community, then we need to also demonstrate love, respect, and community. Health begets health. Love begets love. Respect begets respect. You (be)get the idea.

Which brings me back to recycling. I believe that recycling is a mindfulness practice because for me, when my body makes that habitual motion toward the trash can with something paper, plastic, metal, cardboard etc. in my hand, I pause, and bring my awareness to the moment, instead of mindlessly letting go my waste into some hypothetical landfill. I could throw it away. No one would know. Would it make a difference? Does this one piece of paper or this one straw really matter in the scheme of things? Maybe not. But did you know that every person produces about 4 pounds of waste a day? (Don’t ask me to do the math on that; as you can imagine, School in the Woods didn’t help much with my math issues.) In that momentary pause, I consider that waste begets waste.

So, I mindfully turn my body instead to the little box where I collect recyclables. Because even though I’ll have to make an extra trip, and even though I’m just one person, recycling begets recycling. It is an act of love, and respect, and community because it says “I know that YOU live here too, and for the ecosystem to be healthy, all parts must work in healthful cooperation.” Maybe we are past a point of no return in climate change or melting ice caps but the naturalist in me urges you to believe that we are not past a point of no return within ourselves. It’s what we ask our clients at The Next Door to do every day: to believe that they are not past the point of no return, but that there is still hope that change can happen and that it does matter. Think about the impacts of living species on each other and the environments in which they live, and how that does start with you, within you, sitting at your desk, or standing in your kitchen, practicing mindfulness, and knowing in the grand scheme of things that whether you recycle something to be repurposed or just throw it away, it does matter.

A Building Filled with Hope

by Rachel Morris, Operations Director of The Next Door

I have been employed by The Next Door for almost 12 years.  During this time, as the Operations Director, my mission and purpose have been to provide a safe, clean, and functional facility to the clients of TND.  When I joined the staff in 2007, we were providing services from a small three-story building in downtown Nashville off 8th Avenue and Demonbreun.  This facility served our purpose well until we began expanding to meet the growing needs of the community. Our goal to serve more clients was coming to fruition, but the reality was that our facility could not keep up.  The staff were literally working on top of one another, and the building was deteriorating faster than it could be repaired.

In 2012, we began dreaming of a new and improved facility that would enhance our services and productivity.  In August of 2014, by the grace of God and generous donations from our beloved donors and vendors, our dreams came true! Staff and clients moved from 8th Avenue to a new state-of-the-art facility off Charlotte Avenue.

As Operations Director, this was more than I could have ever imagined. We went from a 13,000 square foot building housing 40 clients to a 44,000 square foot facility that can house 82 women.  We upgraded to all new equipment, bedding, furniture and beautiful decor. We now have:

  • A commercial kitchen that a restaurant owner would be ecstatic to have
  • Group rooms with comfy chairs and essential oils
  • Computers that actually work
  • Beautiful, professional artwork on the walls displaying our core values
  • Attractive bathrooms with fancy tile
  • Ergonomic chairs and new functional desks

Our hearts have been incredibly grateful since our dream became a reality in 2014.  But speaking as someone that worked in the old facility for 7 years, and the new facility for almost 5 years, I can tell you that it is not the building that makes the real difference in the lives of our clients. It is the professional and dedicated staff who truly care about our clients finding their way out of addiction.  When you walk into our facility you will immediately sense a dedicated team that come to work each day ready to serve with their whole heart.

TND has been providing consistent, compassionate care since we opened our doors in 2004.  On May 4, 2019, we will celebrate 15 years of service.  I am honored to be a part of an organization that is willing to serve our clients in any environment. We are proud of our facility but even more grateful for those who truly make The Next Door a success.  If you know someone that needs treatment – a daughter, sister, or friend – I can guarantee they will be in the hands of providers that truly care at The Next Door.

 

Nashville Public Television Opioids Town Hall

 

As our country grapples with the opioid epidemic, NPT held a public forum about how Middle Tennesseans are dealing with this health crisis, recorded on April 9, 2019, in studio A. Our audience discussed how this substance is affecting communities, families and health systems. Participants included members of the public, addiction experts, medical and public safety professionals. Learn more about NPT Reports: Town Halls at https://www.wnpt.org/town-hall/

Rx Summit Spotlight: Blending Faith and Science a Winning Combination

Even amid a crippling opioid crisis, medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder remains highly controversial in the state where April Barnes, RN, works. At this month’s Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit, the outreach director at Nashville, Tenn.-based The Next Door will argue for a treatment approach that fully integrates physical, emotional and spiritual components.

“Many other ministries have great programs but don’t have medication,” Barnes tells Addiction Professional. “We’ve had difficult situations where it’s hard to find a placement for a patient, because at many facilities the patient can’t be on medication.”

At her April 25 workshop session at the Atlanta conference, Barnes will outline how the faith-based treatment organization where she works has moved in a different direction from some similar programs. The Next Door was launched 15 years ago as a halfway house for women reintegrating into the community from incarceration, and has grown into a multi-level treatment provider at a time when the opioid epidemic was intensifying in the state and nationally.

“We’ve always been about adapting to what the greatest need is in the community,” says Barnes, who formerly served as director of admissions and business development at The Next Door. “With the number of overdoses that were occurring, that’s when it went from strictly re-entry into treatment. We’ve been learning and growing over the last five years.”

Chronic illness factor

Barnes sees the role of medication treatment for opioid use disorder in the same way she views medication for type 2 diabetes: an essential component but not the cure-all. Medications such as buprenorphine can keep the patient alive and engaged so that there is time for the other elements of comprehensive treatment to have an effect, the logic goes.

“You’re not going to achieve complete healing unless you have all of the components,” Barnes says, referring to the physical, emotional and spiritual. “All these areas of human life are interconnected.”

That is not an attitude universally put into practice in faith-based programs, however, she suggests. Barnes will discuss in her session how The Next Door’s perspective has evolved over the years.

“Even within our own facility, we were for years abstinence-based,” she says. “This took some time even for our leadership, for our team, to stop moralizing it.”

The Next Door has inpatient capacity for 82 female patients (12 detox beds and 70 residential beds). It is now adding to its outpatient offerings a recovery care clinic where medication-assisted treatment will be at the core of programming.

Buprenorphine and extended-release naltrexone are both available to patients in programs at The Next Door. The organization has a diverse payer mix that includes both public and private insurance sources.

Barnes says she still sees a great need for community education on the importance of comprehensive, integrated treatment. “When I tell people we’re a faith-based program, they often say, ‘Oh, you must not prescribe,’” she says. “We absolutely believe in the power of prayer, but we also believe in science.”

The Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit, April 22-25 in Atlanta, is where solutions are formulated, stakeholders from Federal to family convene, and change begins. It is the annual gathering for stakeholders to discuss what’s working in prevention and treatment. For more information, visit rx-summit.com

 

https://www.addictionpro.com/article/rx-summit-spotlight-blending-faith-and-science-winning-combination

Lost Sheep

by Rev. Ashley McFaul Erwin, Clinical Pastoral Resident at The Next Door

 

So he (Jesus) told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Luke 15: 3-7

During my childhood I came across many lost sheep. There were many days that on my walk home from school I would arrive at my house and see three or four sheep in our front yard. They were adventurous sheep and would often push themselves through the hedges behind our house to venture into this new land. Each time they appeared in our yard, I would go into the house, pick up the phone and let the farmer know that his sheep had escaped again. The farmer would arrive at our house with his sheep dog to round them up. There are many differences between 1st century Palestine and modern-day Ireland; however, one big difference between the lost sheep in my yard and the lost sheep in Jesus’ parable is that the owner noticed the sheep were missing in Jesus’ parable.

Often when we think of this parable we think of the shepherd as God searching for the missing one. AJ Levine, my New Testament professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School, suggests that when this parable was initially told 1st century Jews would not have viewed the shepherd as God, because God does not lose us.  I remember the moment she shared this interpretation with us in class. My mouth opened and I thought, “You’re right God doesn’t lose us! God would have known where that sheep was all along.” AJ suggests a new name for this parable, “The Parable of the Initially Oblivious Owner.”  Those who first heard this parable would have heard a personal challenge to become like the shepherd, to notice when someone is missing. God might just be saying to us, “I know where my child is, I am still with them, you have lost them! Go and bring them back into community.”

May we find comfort and challenge in this parable. May we be challenged to become like the shepherd, to notice when someone is missing, to go and search for them, and welcome them home. As we do this work of welcoming people into community, may we be comforted by the knowledge that each of us are known and loved by God wherever we are. There is nowhere we can go where God is not right there with us. God is with us in our moments of deep darkness and of bright light. God does not lose us.

 

(AJ writes more about this and other parables in her book, “Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi”.)

Rev. Ashley McFaul Erwin is a Clinical Pastoral Resident at TND – this means that she is completing her Chaplaincy training. Ashley is a PC (USA) pastor and has been a Nashville resident for 7 years, having moved here from Northern Ireland. Ashley spends her time at TND providing spiritual support for clients and staff.