The church is a fantastic place for tackling personal issues, and there aren’t many intimate troubles more worthy of this setting than substance abuse. For too long drugs and alcohol have been taboo subjects for those trying in vain to deal with their addictions. Using your ministry to help heal those trying in silence to kick these abusive behaviors is an incredibly noble and worthwhile outreach objective.
Tens of millions of Americans battle substance abuse of some variety every year and often they have to contend with mental health issues as well or are afflicted with both drug and alcohol addictions at the same time. The toll of addiction hits home in a number of other ways as well. Children and loved ones have to contend with the financial drain of abuse as well as the precarious health and fragile mental state of someone they love dearly. It costs us far more than the $740 billion financial tolls estimated yearly.
A safe space to talk is all you need.
Offering a safe space to speak freely is the first step in providing a substance abuse program to those who need it most. Substance abuse is first and foremost a medical issue. Its effects have ranging and lasting consequences, but abuse is often something that people want to break from but are unable to without the support and help of a compassionate community of support around them. Providing a safe and judgment-free space to speak about the effects of substance abuse can be a Godsend for those silently battling with these demons.
All too often those of us who can’t understand the abuse will stigmatize the user with subtle language habits. We might use derogatory language to speak of an abuser or ask why they ‘continue to do this.’ Providing a space for listening and free-flowing discussion starts with taking yourself out of the conversation. As the clergy, it’s your job to heal your community, and this begins by opening up your heart to those who are suffering and letting them know that it’s ok and that they can break their cycle. Empowering those who feel the least powerful is a difficult task but it begins and ends with constant support and an outward belief in the sufferer. You must believe that they have the capacity to make the positive changes that they are so desperately seeking in their lives.
Create the fundamentals of a support group.
In order to build a functioning and powerful support group for those in your community who are hurting, it’s essential to create the confidentiality required of a trusting circle. Remember, each person reaching out to you must feel safe in order to really begin to heal. You can start by placing a small mention of the program in your weekly church bulletin or on your social media page, however, this should be visible enough to bring in interest from those needing it but not so obvious as to attract voyeurs. The larger the immediate circle becomes, the less likely participants are to remain in the program. Making sure that you only give details about the meetings to those who really need help. This will ensure that your group is open to those who need the space to talk and heal and closed off to everyone else.
As well, protecting the identities of everyone involved is essential. Support groups have long held a mantra of secrecy. However, mental health professionals suggest that group members require anonymity but not secrecy in regards to the experiences shared in order for others to fully react and understand the accounts that they’re hearing. Keeping the identities of your members protected should be a primary component of your organizing responsibility.
Giving support to those who need it the most is a noble function of the church. You should form a support group if you see or suspect that members of your community are suffering from substance abuse.