I've read a lot of blogs and newsletter articles about self-care during these Covid times. Included in these articles is the acknowledgment that Covid effects our mental health in significant ways. Resources for counseling and psychiatric treatment is extremely difficult to find due to the influx of people suffering from the fallout of Covid.
But one thing I can't find very much conversation about is the unhealthy ways people are coping when they can't get professional help. Emotional distress, compassion fatigue and even eating disorders are listed as problems for many of us, but there are two dirty words that no one seems to want to talk about and that is "alcoholism and addiction." It's almost as if we treat alcoholics and addicts as lepers. We shake our heads and say, “what a shame,” or “I’ll pray for you,” and then bury our heads in the sand, consciously or unconsciously, choosing to ignore "those people."
Perhaps I haven't dug deep enough to find those conversations on-line, but why do I need to dig? When I put "addiction and covid" in Google's search window, the first articles that pop up are about addiction to exercise, or addiction to technology, or addiction to opioids. Yes, these addictions need to be named and addressed, but what about the more prominent and acceptable addictions like alcoholism or marijuana? These two substances are not taken very seriously when we use the word "addicts." Addicts are people who use opioids or heroine or crack/cocaine, etc... People who have a drink too many aren't alcoholics, they're just having fun, letting their hair down, blowing off steam.
I found an extremely helpful website called "The Center of Addiction and Faith." They point out that no real significant work regarding addictions have occurred by any mainline church body. They note, "the lack of knowledge and awareness around this issue - not just how it affects the addict personally, but the systemic implications and consequences are poorly understood or addressed in the church at large. Not only that but, pastors are at a higher-than-average risk group for all kinds of addictions."
So, my question is why? Why doesn't the church talk about alcoholism/addiction? We're not afraid to talk about mental illness, racial injustice, economic injustice, burn-out, and more, but all those things are often catalysts to addictions to substances of all kinds.
In 2015, the Episcopal Church was forced to focus on alcohol abuse in the wake of the resignation and defrocking of Heather Cook. Heather Cook was a bishop for the Baltimore diocese. While driving intoxicated, she struck and killed a cyclist, Thomas Palermo, a 41-year-old married father of two children. Bishop Cook served time in prison and was defrocked from the denomination.
I am dismayed at how poorly the church, not only the United Methodists, but the church at large, addresses this epidemic. For some reason it is acceptable to call the opioid crisis an epidemic, but not alcoholism. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, "an estimated 95,000 people (approximately 68,000 men and 27,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States."
Our local churches may give space to 12-step groups, but that's often the extent of facing this tragedy. I just wonder what are we so afraid of? What is it about alcohol that we don't want to talk about? We study and educate ourselves regarding all sorts of social issues, yet this, for some reason is mostly ignored. The most bizarre thing about all of this is that it is an accepted truth by most people in the field of addictions that one’s spirituality and reliance on God is the most effective way to tackle this tragedy. Leading people to rely on God is our job, isn’t it?
I believe the time has come. No, let me rephrase that. The time is long past due to put the energy and will into addressing the realities of substance abuse. There is no room for complacency when people are hurting so deeply and I believe the church is negligent if we don't open our eyes and witness the category 5 tornado ripping apart individuals, families, and communities.
So, let’s talk….