Silent Struggles

Published in the Newburyport Daily News on March 22, 2024

Eight of us sat in the small conference room in the lower level of my church discussing how we could get out the message about addiction recovery. Two weeks earlier, 22 people had crammed into a similar room after Sunday worship service. The topic of both meetings was addiction, and the ways in which our church can support our members and friends and advocate for increasing public awareness of this endemic while removing the stigma still too often associated with it.

Rev. Nathan Detering from the Unitarian congregation in Sherborn, MA recently spoke in our church. He shared his family story and loss connected to addiction and read from his book, Why Can’t I Fix It?: The Questions We Ask When We Love Someone with Addiction. The post-sermon discussion brought 22 people together in person and on Zoom to share their stories.

Knowing we are not alone is a critical source of resilience when we deal with or love people who struggle with addiction.

In 2022, 46.8 million (16.7%) of Americans (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder and 21.5 million American adults (8.4%) suffered from both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder, or co-occurring disorder. (United States National Survey on Drug Use and Health). The Surgeon General has named alcohol and drug misuse and related disorders as “major public health challenges…taking an enormous toll on our society.” In August 2023, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated that the annual economic impact of substance misuse was $249 billion for alcohol misuse and $193 billion for illicit drug use.

These statistics are staggering and of enormous concern. What numbers and percentages don’t describe, however, is the colossal pain that addiction causes to the addict and everyone who loves and cares about them. That pain is endemic and generational and is also a public health crisis. No one is immune from the effects of addiction. It leads to secrecy, isolation, and feeling inferior to others, whether we are the addict or the people who love and care for them.

My family tree is ravaged by alcoholism. Memorial services for people who lost their lives to addiction show raw and expansive pain that no family should carry alone.

Addiction affects people of all races, economic status, genders, and age. It affects populations in our country according to these same demographics in different ways. This is an important issue to be understood and addressed.

It is time we end the stigma around addiction and recognize it is something almost every individual experiences or is affected by in their lifetime. The fundamentals that help those affected to recover and build resiliency help us all. These include connection with others, sharing the truth, self-examination, willingness to ask for and give support, humility, vulnerability, and bravery. We all benefit from these things.

I am proud that the FRSUU talks about these issues from our pulpit and that we have an Addictions Ministry Team committed to helping folks in our congregation find the help they need and working to educate us all on these critical issues. We recognize that addiction is a public health crisis. No one is immune or even “not addicted” since we can even become addicted to use of our cell phones.

We need to learn how to talk about these struggles and find healthy ways to process all that is happening in the world.

May we remove the shame and cones of silence and invite identification and respect. May the silence be broken and may we walk each other home to safety, compassion, and respect.

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