From A Recovering Pastor to the PNW Annual Conference
I have ten months of sobriety. Yes, that’s right, my name is Pastor Susan and I am an alcoholic and addict. I’m also bi-polar so I had a double whammy against me. I quite willingly offered to write this article to reach out to the other 14% of you who may or may not be living in silent desperation. I’m writing to encourage you to ask for help.
Ten months ago, I led our Good Friday service high. GASP!!!! Have you ever done any church related event under the influence? Maybe a Bible Study? Well, my new low was leading worship high. During that service I had a “come to Jesus” moment (some might claim it wasn’t a spiritual experience, it was the drugs.) But that moment led me to finally gaining the strength to ask for help. I called my D.S and made an appointment. I feared that I would lose my nerve if too many days went by, but alas, I found the courage. I knew, before I sat down with him, that my whole life was about to change. There was no going back from this time forward and I experienced both terror and a great relief.
My DS and I then told my lay leader and SPRC chair and shared with them that I would be going into treatment at the Hazelden Betty Ford Treatment Center for at least a month. This was the right place for me particularly because they serve those with a dual-diagnosis (mental health and addiction.) The God-thing was that my SPRC chair at that time, is a retired drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselor. He knows full well about the disease of addiction and he has been my most forthright advocate and supporter ever since.
So it was 10 months ago we celebrated Easter, and 10 months ago I began my journey. Easter week I admitted myself into treatment, and I considered it to be my own resurrection into new life. I even got a tattoo of a butterfly on my forearm, so I would be ever-reminded of this new life of sobriety. Since that fateful Good Friday, something miraculous happened. I no longer crave drugs or alcohol. I WANT them, but I don’t CRAVE them. I hear that’s quite rare, but I believe God loves those rare times.
Since I left Hazelden, I regularly attend AA meetings and sincerely feel that it’s church for me. Leading worship, and not having the chance to “just worship” leaves me lacking for a time when I can just be. AA offers me that opportunity and I absolutely love learning about how others imagine their own higher power.
My SPRC chair and I plan on visiting BOM, Cabinet, and speaking at Annual Conference to do three things:
1 – Help our leaders of the church create a safe place for those active in the disease so that others may have the courage to “come out.”
2 – Offer education on the conference level as well as local church
3 – Encourage those still suffering that it will be OK. That you won’t lose your job by asking for help. That your church can be offered some education around the issues of alcoholism and addiction so that they can support you with compassion.
I think the most important thing I learned while in treatment was from a neurologist from OHSU. He showed us the brain of a “normal” person and compared it to the brain of an addict. There was a clear difference and what my take away was, is that this is a disease, just like diabetes or cancer, I am living with a disease AND IT’S NOT MY FAULT. Phew… Have you ever felt like it was the addicts fault? Do you feel that stigma?
One last thing, the most difficult and excruciating part of holding onto this disease were the secrets. The secrecy was absolutely killing me. My alcoholism flared up soon after my provisionary status and it was full-blown before my ordination as an elder. I held onto this secret all through those sacred times, and deep within I felt like a horrible fraud. In fact, I couldn’t wear my robe. I told everyone it was because I wanted to be seen as another “bozo on the bus” but the truth was, I didn’t feel worthy of the call. How could I preach on our healing, loving God, when I myself was so broken and felt God had abandoned me?
I am living a new kind of freedom that I haven’t known in many many many years. I believe I am soooooooo much better at what I do, not simply because I’m sober, but because I allowed myself to be vulnerable before my flock. My experience tells me that as we open ourselves up and show our true selves, others will do the same for us.
In closing, I want to tell you that the conference, the cabinet, my district superintendent and my congregation have been unquestionably supportive and compassionate to me on my journey toward recovery. For example, even though Hazelden Betty Ford was in network, I still walked away with a $4,000 price tag. Annual Conference picked that up for me. Also, while I was in treatment, I received 86 cards. 90% of them came from my congregation. There is a lot of love, mercy and grace out there, and I know this to be true because I was a grateful recipient of it all.
For more on my story, you can read my blog “A Recovering Pastor” at therecoveringpastor.com. If you would like to talk more about your particular situation or the situation of a loved one, please don’t hesitate to call me at 360-342-7913 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is my new call and I’m here for you.