Slippery Slope

09/27/2019 10:19 PM | Anonymous

Nearly three years ago, our rector asked if she might refer a parishioner to me whose spouse is incessantly drunk, hiding the booze, but unable to hide the mumbling, stumbling muddle, the bruises and the breaks.  I agreed, but when the phone rang again, it was the alcoholic on the line, saying “I drink uncontrollably”. 

It’s been a bumpy ride for my friends: recycling through detoxes and rehabs, lying near death on a hospital gurney and roiling in the codependent turmoil that is integral to all addictions. Now, a measure of hope is taking hold for this unhappy family to find sobriety and tranquility. It also has been, I must add, awkward for the couple within the parish. Church communities are uncomfortable and, at times, clumsy in respecting the privacy dignity of members in dire straits.

The mission of our diocesan Recovery Advocates Network is to “support all who are affected by rampant substance use disorders. RAN is a diocese-wide network that fosters awareness, prevention, intervention, treatment and support, it envisions a safe community within the church. RAN enables recovery, expels shame and celebrates God’s grace outpouring a abundant life in recovery.” 

We are not agents, interventionists, counselors or therapists. We are, ourselves, in recovery or intimately associated with someone who is. We offer our experience, strength, love and faith to the extent it is invited, welcome and helpful.  As a “network” constituted by the diocese, we have experimented with programs and events to bring light to our readiness to address issues of addiction. Two constraints hinder our success: our lack of resources to mobilize and deliver needed activities; the existing overload that burdens clergy, parish staff and volunteers, and our families in their ordinary (manic) 21st century lives. What to do? How do we bring the hand of twelve-step, spiritually based recovery “whenever anyone, anywhere reaches out for help and hope”?

There are many answers, but one in particular seems promising – the existing programs within our parishes address pastoral care, outreach, wellness and spiritual  growth offer stunning varieties of activities and services that engage the interest and skills of our members. Grace brings its own structure.

The key to tapping the potential of these extant resources is to meet people where they are. Until full-blown calamity parts the veil, denial reigns; few are ready to expose their own or their loved one’s travail: the disorder and disease of addiction. Our role as “good Episcopalians” is to care for the “least of these”, not be one of ‘em.  Perhaps, we simply lower the bar. Strikes me there’s a reference to that in Step One in the text of AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises cultivate detachment as foundational to spiritual life.  Vinita Hampton Wright recently blogged:

“Disordered attachments are habits, patterns and addictions that inhibit authentic engagement with God and stifle honest reflection, deep listening with others, and constructive action. Beyond balanced attachments toward people, possessions, money or power, we prayerfully consider the relationships within our own selves – with our feelings, our bodies, our view of life. An attitude toward life that is neither dour pessimism nor blind optimism helps us recognize and prayerfully reconcile our emotional and physical habits. We are called to listen to God, reflect on our lives in view of God’s love, and put that love into action.”

Adapted from “What Is an Unhealthy Attachment?”

It is clear to me and others actively involved in helping the Episcopal Church engage our fellow congregants, our families and communities that our parish life offers many opportunities for conversation about the role of detachment in the stewardship of our souls. Everyone can occupy the top edge of the slippery slope, practicing the sacrament of presence. From that vantage point, we who have experienced the ride to the bottom of that precarious ridge can engage prayerfully, responsibly and effectively as grace and suffering summon us.

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