NEWARK — Twenty million people in the United States suffer from addiction. Putting that into perspective, that’s one in seven individuals in this country.

Another 23 million Americans are in recovery. Fifty percent of people know someone who has suffered or is suffering from substance abuse disorder (SAD). 

One in seven. That means these folks are with you in checkout lines, at concerts, and at ball games. It also means they are in the church, either sitting in the pew or seeking out the church for help.

Pastor Greg Delaney believes the church can be a source of support for those struggling with substance abuse, especially in rural areas where treatment services are frequently lower and church attendance higher. The goal is to integrate faith-based recovery efforts into recovery-oriented systems of care.

“If we had the eyes to see and ears to hear, how could these stories be changed?” he asked. “If we open our eyes and change our hearts, we can change the story.”

To provide support, Delaney said a church needs to answer two questions:

• What can my congregation do to serve an individual with a substance-abuse disorder?

• How can we support the family of those individuals as well?

Delaney, who leads the Freedom Recovery ministry at A House of Prayer in Xenia, said the answer is to create connections: Partner with other organizations to provide services in the county.

“Intervention and recovery is a holistic effort. The faith-based community is well-equipped to minister to individuals and their families,” he said. “A congregation can provide a caring community. Our faith is designed to have social implications, not just heavenly ones.”

Equipped to relate

Delaney grew up in the church and under the spiritual influence of his Grandma Clara. Entering the business world, he lost his computer job, and pressures began to mount. A high school friend gave him a Busch Lite.

Pressures increased, and the one beer turned into three, then six. Still attending and serving in church — and dealing with his Grandma Clara, too — Delaney got his first DUI in 2001. After an intervention weekend, Delaney thought he was fine.

However, his faith began to wane and relationships began to suffer. Alcohol consumed his life. He went bankrupt and could not hold a job.

Delaney’s wake-up call came when he served as pallbearer for a friend who committed suicide — the same friend who gave him the Busch Lite. He voluntarily checked into the hospital for detox. Waking up after three days in ICU, Delaney said a preacher told him “you are going to be my recovery pastor.”

Since then, Delaney has worked with the Freedom ministry at A House of Prayer and Woodhaven, a treatment center, among many other groups. He founded Jeremiah Tree, a men’s residential facility, and is a member of the Recovery Ohio Advisory Council, Gov. Mike DeWine’s initiative to end the stigma around and support those struggling with substance abuse.

Creating connections

Now in his 14th year of recovery, Delaney is also a staff member with R.E.A.C.H. For Tomorrow, a Christian nonprofit group that seeks to equip, empower, and encourage congregations to be a “hub in their communities” to create change.

He said congregations can bring about change by connecting with nonprofit groups, community prevention coalitions, and treatment and recovery courts, among others, to develop “recovery capital.” Recovery capital is the internal and external sources that can be drawn upon to initiate and sustain recovery for SAD.

“Being connected to resources enables us to help individuals and family members,” he said. “As recovery capital is collected, communities know that congregation or church has those connections.”

Results stemming from recovery capital range from operating a residential men’s home like Cincinnati Restoration Church, to hosting a recovery group like Craft Memorial United Methodist Church in Columbia, Tennessee, to knowing where to refer someone who is looking for work.

Delaney cited one Tennessee community where transportation to treatment providers was a problem. Several congregations had unused capacity with their vans and began providing services. The result was that in addition to providing a practical and needed service, several of the drivers found a new way to serve God.

“At the end of the day, it’s the healthy connection that is missing,” Delaney said. “How I connect is not as important as connecting, whether it’s paying rent, providing transportation, or creating a place of acceptance or sense of belonging. It’s about creating community, not just about proximity. Creating community requires commitment and a willingness to extend yourself.”

Recovery friendly congregations

R.E.A.C.H. offers more than 40 training modules that equip congregations to support individuals and families suffering from substance abuse. More than 400 congregations in Ohio are certified recovery congregations. Tennessee has more than 800.

According to Delaney, part of becoming a recovery-friendly congregation is understanding the definition of addiction.

The professional definition, according to National Institute of Drug Abuse, is that addiction is a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and use despite adverse consequences. Substances hijack the human brain causing changes that affect behavior.

It is not a moral failing, it is a medical condition.

The faith-based definition is that addiction originates in an attempt to solve a problem: emotional pain, stress, lost connections, or a deep sense of discomfort with oneself, for example. Hence the question is not why the addiction, but why the pain?

Delaney says this definition opens the door for the faith-based community to step in.

“They are not addicts; they are not clean or dirty. They are people,” he said. “If they are people, then we can look for commonality and have a conversation: I have pain, I have had loss.”

Citing mental health specialist Dr. Christian Conte, Delaney said people who have not faced a particular issue tend to be more judgmental.

“Although we might not have experienced addition, it doesn’t mean it’s any less real for those who are,” he said. “It’s about practicing humility and compassion. Those are things the Lord has asked us to do.”

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has 12 principles of recovery, several of which Delaney said align well with the faith-based community:

• Recognizing need for change and transformation.

• Recovery exists on a continuum of improved health and wellness, similar to a walk with Jesus and discipleship.

• Recovery involves a process of healing and self-redefinition, similar to finding a way to serve God.

Delaney spoke in November at workshops sponsored by Mental Health and Recovery for Licking and Knox Counties.

“We have trouble engaging the faith-based community … this is a way to help bridge that gap,” Emily Morrison, public information officer for the board, said of the idea of recovery friendly congregations. “I am excited about the potential for this.

“I think when people can see that we can partner in a way that’s inclusive and open to everyone, that will be a good thing.”

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