Posts

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

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: 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

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

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

 

Weather Changes

by Cindy Sneed, Chief Clinical Officer of The Next Door

The first day of spring might have been March 20th, but that didn’t stop Mother Nature from unleashing some of the most interesting weather in Nashville this year. We had unbelievable amounts of rain, freezing temperatures, and to top it all – SNOW on April 16th!

How does this relate to Addiction Treatment?

The journey to sobriety is an unpredictable one… as is life! At The Next Door, we see rays of sunshine in the women we serve each day. We see them grasp a step in the 12 Steps. We see them become aware of who they are through an individual or group counseling session. But there are also days when it seems like a small cloud might be hanging around. We trust – we have to – that the cloud and its rain are providing much-needed refreshment for the seeds that have been planted. If the sun were to shine all the time, we would become parched and wish for rain. We first meet our clients when they are in the middle of their storm. Dolly Parton said it so well when she said, “Storms make trees take deeper roots.”

The women at The Next Door often wonder if it’s possible they will ever experience warmth from the sun again. We see after a week or even a few days the clouds begin to part. Then the real work begins.

In my 14 years at The Next Door, I’ve seen all kinds of weather. It is both the rain and sun and everything in between that keeps me coming back to see the rays of sunshine that will surely shine again soon.

Life-Changing Recovery

by April Barnes, Director of Admissions of The Next Door

Several months into working at The Next Door, I was having a conversation with my mother and she brought something to my attention that I was floored with gratitude to realize.

She reminded me of the program she entered into over 10 years ago that had given her a safe place to transition into; an opportunity for true recovery. In 2006, my mother was released from the women’s prison and, upon leaving, was able to go straight from incarceration to a program that provided structure, routine, and accountability. Of most importance, this program offered a second chance at life. Not having to return to the streets or to the same environment (people, places and things) provided her the opportunity of a life with hope and a fresh start.

That program was The Next Door’s Re-Entry program. A program for women that was designed specifically to help women coming straight from incarceration to rebuild her life.

I didn’t realize that I was working at “THE Next Door,” because I didn’t recognize it to be what I had remembered. THIS new building? With all of these new services? That much growth and change since 2006! You see, my memories were of that building on 8th Avenue. I have many memories of arriving to pick up my mom for weekend or day passes, to go play softball at Centennial Park or to go have cookouts at the lake. Memories of my mother surrounded by all of her children for the first time. Having grown up separately from my siblings, this was a new experience for all of us to be together. It was joy in its purest form.

I hold on to and cherish those memories because during that time, for the first time in my life, I was building a healthy relationship with and experiencing my mother in true sobriety. SOBER. She had a light in her eyes, a freedom in her spirit, and a joy in her presence that was contagious.

The Next Door now offers treatment to women no matter her entry point. From detox to residential to outpatient services, we are here to help a woman at any point of her recovery journey. Understanding relapse as a part of the recovery journey for many, The Next Door offers a safe detox by providing medical monitoring during their acute withdrawal process. For continued care services after detox, we offer residential inpatient treatment and outpatient treatment services.

The impact of a woman becoming clean and sober can make a difference in the generational pattern that follows. This type of recovery IS life changing.

I’m so thankful for this organization, and to the women who prayed and listened to the call to build this ministry. Philippians 2:13 tells us “For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out his good purpose.” I am blessed to be able to be a part of this missional work and to be a part of a team of devoted professionals called according to this purpose.

Season of Renewal

by Sallie Hussey, Chief Development Officer of The Next Door

Spring is such a beautiful season of renewal. You see it all around and in many forms – flowers starting to bloom, neighbors dusting off lawn mowers to give the yard its first cut of the season, and drive-through car washes with lines around the block. With more daylight now, I see entire families on long strolls testing out bicycles from Christmas.

We see renewal here, too, as women discover how to live a new life in recovery. Watching strong, courageous women overcome a new challenge each day and blossom during their time at The Next Door is humbling. Years of substance addiction have worn down so many women and families physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I see changes happen in the women who are here and it’s just like the awakening in my own neighborhood each spring. Like most staff, I’m occasionally blessed with a brief hallway conversation once or twice a week with one of our women. In every case, I walk back to my office convinced of two things – women are resilient and God is present here. So many obstacles and barriers, like a snow storm on the first day of spring, threaten sobriety, but these strong, amazing women keep pushing forward. Staff (and amazing volunteers) here know that faith and prayer, layered on top of the very best treatment, are like sunshine on rich soil. They can and do produce the most beautiful results.

Addiction treatment is available for every woman and at TND it’s given with a special mix of compassion and grace. We are grateful to be a place of hope and renewal not just during the spring but all day, every day.

Light Bulb Moments at The Next Door

by Kate McKinnie, Development and Events Manager at The Next Door

One of my favorite things about working at The Next Door is hearing about or observing numerous “light bulb” moments that take place in a given day. They come from many different people who make up TND’s community (clients, family members, guests, current supporters) and happen in various settings.

Here are a few examples:

  • At the front desk of The Next Door, there is always a basket of encouraging scripture verses on slips of paper for clients to pick up as they pass by. I love it when the light bulb turns on and I hear clients say, “Ooh, that is just what I needed to read today!”
  • When donors or other visitors come for a tour of The Next Door, typically several of them will have a light bulb moment when they learn the full history of the organization and scope of its services. Often, I hear this remark: “I had no idea The Next Door did so much!”
  • At our annual Benefit Luncheon, after hearing a previous client share her story on stage, many donors reveal to me that they have that light bulb moment when they realize the women receiving care at The Next Door could be their daughter, sister, or friend, and how close to home addiction could be.
  • During a weekly group session facilitated by our amazing team of therapists on the topic of healthy relationships, many clients have the light bulb come on when they are able to identify an unhealthy pattern from past relationship choices, and how it’s led them down a destructive or dangerous path.
  • At evening family sessions or weekend visitation, many parents, family members, or spouses/significant others of The Next Door clients often see that light bulb come on when they learn that addiction is a disease and not just a poor choice on the part of their loved one.
  • Many mornings, after clients have had their morning devotional time, it is not uncommon to hear about that light bulb turning on when women say to staff, “Did you read Jesus Calling today? I swear – it was written just for me!”

Lord, thank you for the LIGHTBULB moments of awakening and new insights you are making possible through The Next Door’s ministry. We praise your name that change is possible when you speak to us and our hearts are open to what you have to teach us.