September is National Recovery Month. This month presents an opportunity for us to think about how this disease is impacting our society, families, and ourselves. You have been hearing a lot about addiction and recovery as the second annual Project Purple campaign is underway in our community. Last year’s inaugural Project Purple was so successful in Talbot county that it has spread to counties throughout the eastern shore.
There are many ways to understand the disease of addiction Our understanding of this disease has become increasingly more complex. This disease has also become more and more pervasive, impacting every demographic of our society. It has become especially critical for every one of us to understand this disease with the arrival of the opiate pandemic.Nowadays, there are few in our community who have been left untouched by the disease of addiction.
Addiction is a complex disease. It has genetic, biochemical, psychological, social, and spiritual components. I would like to briefly address the spiritual aspects of this disease. I find a useful definition that focuses on the spiritual aspects of this disease to be that addiction is “A pathological relationship of love and trust with an object or an event.” (C. Nakken) This disease transforms health into dysfunction. The mutuality and choice found in a healthy relationship changes to self-absorption and compulsion. The relationship with an object (alcohol, drugs gambling…) replaces people. Once begun, a spiral of downward movement of disengagement from life is set in motion.
If addiction does not start out of a spiritual deficiency /disease it quickly becomes one. Addiction is a deadly disease because it attacks the very core or essence of who we are. In other words, it attacks our spirit. Addiction has a major impact on spiritual life through attacking the healthy relationships between self, others, and God. Consequently, restoring a healthy spiritual life is critical to the recovery from the disease. Bill W. understood this when he was constructing the 12-step program “after a while we had to face the fact that we must find a spiritual of life – or else.” (The Big Book pg 44) The 12-step program is a spiritual journey of recovery.
Addiction is a pervasive disease that is very difficult to treat. Even when the alcoholic/addict is in recovery the disease continues to progress. Therefore, it is essential s to ensure one’s spiritual life is deepening and growing at a faster rate than the underlying addiction. A.A. has a joke about this point:
“While you are in recovery, your addiction is doing push-ups, so it can whip you the next chance it gets.”
One of the paths to recovery is the 12-Step program that started with Alcoholics Anonymous. It may interest you to know that the 12-step programs have their foundation in the Episcopal Church. The Rev. Sam Shoemaker of Calvary Episcopal Church in NYC was a spiritual adviser to Bill Wilson. He worked with Bill W. on developing A.A.’s 12-Step Program. The theology of the 12-Step program is grounded in a tradition of deep spirituality. While the 12-Step program is often thought of as only applicable for those who suffer from one of the many forms of addiction, it offers a profound, life changing spiritual journey to all.
In my experience, those impacted by this illness are wonderful, talented, and compassionate human beings. And, when in recovery, one sees a level of acceptance and honesty being brought into “real” relationships that is to be admired. We have all have much to learn from the journeys of those on the path to recovery. Clearly working with our brothers and sisters who suffer from addiction is not just a job for doctors and counselors. They are certainly critically important, but it is also where we, the community and the church, belong. Healthy relationships are critical to successful recovery. God has not abandoned them in their struggle and we cannot either. God is there with them in their suffering and in their victories of recovery – we should be there as well.
We are all seekers. We all have a spiritual life. Unfortunately, we often look and listen in the wrong places to nurture our spiritual life and give meaning to our lives. Just as the prophet Elijah looked for God in the big events occurring around him: strong wind; earthquake; fire; we too look to find meaning in consumerism, thrills, and all too frequently in activities that result in addictions. We, like Elijah, often look in the wrong places for the transcendence that our souls seek. It was in the silence that Elijah finally found God. It was in the still, small voice. We too need to seek out where we may find that voice that will bring real meaning in life.
As you travel the eastern shore this month, as you see the purple lights, take a moment to pray for recovery for those individuals and families suffering from this disease. But also open your hearts to them, open the doors of your faith community to them. There is that well-worn phrase “it takes a village” that applies here. It takes a village to offer hope and recovery. It takes kind hearts and spiritual nourishment of faith to support healthy recovery.
The Rev. Kevin M. Cross is priest and rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Oxford. In addition to holding a Masters degree in Clinical Social Work he also has training from the Hazelden and Betty Ford Recovery Centers. Fr. Kevin brought Recovery Ministries to the eastern shore upon his arrival in 2010. He is past president of Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church has sponsored both national and local conferences on the spiritual work of recovery.