A pastor once said, “if emotional pain made a sound, my congregation would never be able to hear the sermon.” This sentiment is as true here in northeast Louisiana as it is anywhere. While the effects of addiction and mental illness are far-reaching at all levels of society, perhaps one of the most overlooked environments where this can be seen is within our communities’ faith-based congregations and institutions.
When one considers the volume of people in this region, and much of the southern United States, who are struggling with poverty, illness, and unconventional family units, it is no wonder that substance abuse and addiction are prevalent. These social determinants are also a driving force behind the desire of people in our region to connect with something greater than themselves, often in the form of a faith community. It stands to reason, then, that a significant number of people in our churches, synagogues, and mosques are experiencing pain stemming from addiction and mental health issues.
To further compound this issue, the struggle with substance abuse is not limited to those congregational members sitting in the pews, but also extends to the very faith leaders entrusted with their spiritual and pastoral care. Given the high level of trust and influence that these faith leaders have over the members of their congregations, their guidance and encouragement are vital when it comes to conquering addiction. But before they can help their congregants, they must understand their own pain and be equipped to care for themselves.
As a society, we are conditioned to avoid or medicate our pain through drugs that claim to provide “instant pain relief.” For those in addiction recovery, they begin to realize that pain is not their enemy, but a teacher. In recovery circles, there is an understanding that pain can be the cause, the consequence, and the cure of addiction.
Pain as a cause refers to those experiencing addiction as a result of abuse or childhood trauma. Pain as a consequence occurs when a person acts out in response to this cause or attempts to fill the “hole in their soul” caused by their addiction. Such actions frequently result in behaviors that reap undesirable outcomes. Finally, pain as a cure comes from the self-acknowledgment of addiction and the willingness to seek out a solution. It is common during this final step of pain recognition for people to seek out a faith community, which often becomes the necessary starting point for spiritual and emotional healing.
Northeast Delta HSA has a vast array of resources available to individuals seeking treatment for addiction or mental illness that can help address pain in all its forms. However, as a governmental agency, our reach is limited. Given that our citizens are already reaching out to local faith communities, it would stand to reason that these churches, synagogues, and mosques are in an ideal situation to provide the assistance that those dealing with addiction and mental illness are trying to find. Unfortunately, these institutions are often not equipped to provide all of the services their congregants need, primarily those that are available through Northeast Delta. With the creation of our Faith Partnership Initiative, we have found a way in which to bridge the gap between the resources offered by the agency and the “spiritual element” that only a faith group can provide. To meet the needs of our community, we must come together.
Together we can respond to those amid the pain of addiction, help them determine the cause of their pain, work through the consequences they now face, and together set them on the path toward a cure. Together, we can cultivate an informed, compassionate, spiritual response to addiction; help congregations create a safe, hospitable, and healing place that is sensitive to the unique needs of our region; and allow congregants to set aside their pain and truly hear the message being delivered.
Will you join us on this journey of hope and healing? For more information on Northeast Delta’s Faith Partnership Initiative, click here.