By David Palmer
I was having breakfast with a young man, call him John, following a Sunday morning Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and he confessed to me that he had acquired a heroin addiction in addition to his alcoholism.
John, 32, has been abusing alcohol and other drugs for more than a decade, and the odds are that he may die before he is forty if he doesn’t quit. He functions pretty well on his job but at some point the drug abuse is likely to trip him up.
John works as a waiter in a local restaurant on the Big Island of Hawaii where I was vacationing recently and he is good at it. He had been in a suboxone program to get himself off oxycontin and other opiates, but after a year his doctor refused to renew his prescription and John turned to heroin, a less expensive and equally if not more addictive option.
Headlines about heroin addictions have been growing and an HBO documentary about the impact of the drug on Cape Cod in Massachusetts and other New England states has illuminated the problem in frightening detail, and it is time for communities to respond. Addictions to drugs is an evil that can only be overcome, I strongly believe, by a power greater than ourselves, the triune God of our Christian faith.
As Bill Sees It
Bill Wilson, cofounder of AA with Dr. Bob Smith nearly 90 years ago spoke of the need for surrender, including in his book “As Bill Sees It,” and here are three examples:
• “When I was driven to my knees by alcohol I was made ready to ask for the gift of faith. And all was changed. Never again, my pains and problems notwithstanding, would I experience my former desolation. I saw the universe to be lighted by God’s love; I was alone no more.
• “Suddenly the room lit up with a great white light. It seemed to me, in the mind’s eye that I was on a mountain and that a wind not of air but of spirit was blowing. And then it burst upon me that I was a free man…All about me and through me there was a wonderful feeling of Presence, and I thought to myself, ‘so this is the God of the preachers!”
• “Believe more deeply. Hold your face up to the Light, even though for the moment you do not see.”
The Bible, of course, is the source of our most valuable insights in all matters, including this comment from Paul: “There is something deeper and more profoundly wrong with the human race. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but practice the evil that I do not want to do. What a wretched man that I am. Who will rescue me from this body of death (Romans 7:15, 18.19, 24).”
In his book, the Road to Character, NY Times columnist and author, David Brooks, contrasts the character traits which define those who seek, as he puts it, “the eulogy virtues,” those that exist at the core of our being; kindness, bravery, honesty or faithfulness versus the “resume virtues,” those focusing on the achievement of wealth fame and status. The eulogy virtues, I would suggest, best promote sober living in the face of temptation.
Dying for a Drink
I am also a fan of Dr. Anderson Spickard MD whose book, “Dying for a Drink” occupies a prominent place on my bookshelf
“Long before alcohol abusers become alcoholics,” he observes, “they begin to experience the spiritual damage of heavy drinking. Heavy drinking not only interferes with faith commitments and spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation, but it can also lead the drinker to violate his or her moral principals.
“Prayer and science,” Dr. Spickard observes, “are complementary channels of God’s grace.”
With these beliefs and attitudes in mind, I suggest that the kind of recovery we seek should begin in individual communities organized and led, wherever possible by local entrepreneurial and evangelistic churches
The mission of the church led organization, ultimately, is to eliminate drug abuse in every community in America beginning with Little Rock. Our approach will be to:
1. Further define and inventory available resources in Little Rock needed for recovery including medical, churches, AA and other 12 Step programs, law enforcement and programs for teens, vets, prison inmates and other vulnerable populations
2. Survey public opinion (local feelings about addressing the addiction problem and how to solve it) through available data and through polling.
3. Simultaneously begin to develop programs and resources needed for dealing with substance abuse problems.
Members of the roundtable will be men and women of faith with a special interest in helping people overcome their addictions to alcohol and other drugs. We expect to draw members from the following populations:
1. Christian churches – Fellowship Bible Church (FBC) is an expanding and entrepreneurial church and a model of what we need to address the sins of addiction. Its founding leaders and their successors have “planted” new churches, developed numerous initiatives including the international Men’s Fraternity and addressed the drug issue going back to the mid-1980’s. FBC stresses a strong local community focus expressed in its messages “Go and love and serve the city” and “We want to see lives change and the community transformed.”
2. Hospitals and addiction treatment facilities – UAMS, St. Vincent and Baptist Hospital all do addiction research and provide programs for those seeking recovery and treat mental health problems. BridgeWay hospital, which has a medical staff, focuses exclusively on mental health and addiction treatment. Recovery Centers of Arkansas (RCA), Oasis, Serenity Park and others like them focus on addiction treatment with access to outside mental health services.
3. Transition facilities or “halfway houses” – These facilities are designed to help those in recovery make the transition from the treatment phase to living sober as functioning, responsible and productive citizens. We have recent experience with Little Rock’s Recovery Directions’ which has five chem–free homes; the Oxford House model, which has 1,800 homes nationwide, one of them in Little Rock. Other Little Rock halfway houses, which we have not yet researched, are listed on Google.
4. Job creation programs – We favor two approaches to job creation. One is to work with potential employers on placement of people in recovery, and the other is entrepreneurial–helping those in recovery create their own small businesses. FBC’s Paul Chapman, a former Alltel executive has launched the “First Principles of Entrepreneurship” class for prison inmates at the inner city’s $2.5 million Scott Ford Center for Entrepreneurship at Arkansas Baptist College.
5. Educators of teenagers and young adults – Nancy Rousseau, principal at Little Rock’s Central High and Steve Straessle, principal at Catholic High are both savvy and highly motivated educators, and they, or their nominees, should be invited to serve or be represented on the Roundtable. Also, Bob O’Dowd, former head of Quapaw House in Hot Springs has developed teen recovery programs in schools and neighborhoods. As for colleges Dr. Kitty Harris, Director of the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery at Texas Tech promotes the “goal of a totally transformed life.
6. Veterans – The Central Arkansas Veteran’s Health Care system includes two major facilities–the John L. McClellan Memorial Veteran’s Hospital in Little Rock and the Eugene J. Towbin Healthcare Center at Fort Roots in North Little Rock. Fort Roots emphasizes substance abuse treatment and has both an administrative and counseling staff. Also, Judge Mary McGowan presides over a drug court for vets.
7. Prison – FBC is involved in an 18 month “Pathway to Freedom” program for men at the Hawkins unit of Wrightsville prison. There is also an after released element to provide jobs and mentoring. Also in the works is an entrepreneurship program and a pilot program with Falcon Jet.
8. Politics: Local and state governments – Our goal is to consistently cover Little Rock and North Little Rock, Pulaski county and Arkansas state government activities related to substance abuse.
9. Communications – Our principal means of reaching the public is now through our web site and social media and through our contacts in the media, which need to be revived.