By Martina Hart
SOUTH CHARLESTON—Blessed Sacrament Parish in South Charleston hosted “Pathways to Recovery – Inter-Faith Day of Hope” on Jan. 11.
The free seminar on the issue of substance use disorders was organized together with Faith Communities United (FCU) of the greater Kanawha Valley with the goal to provide hope and education for clergy/faith leaders, people in recovery and their friends and families. It drew about 70 participants from various different churches in Kanawha, Putnam and surrounding counties.
“The questions that we received from other clergy at the outset was: ‘Our parish families have problems; people in our congregation have problems; we really just don’t know what’s out there, what to do, how to communicate with them,’” said Reagan Whitmyer, who co-chairs the Substance Use Disorder Taskforce at Blessed Sacrament Parish. “We wanted it to be an intellectual learning experience but even more importantly an experiential time for people,” added Joe Deegan, a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament, who also serves on the FCU steering committee and is the Business Development Liaison for the Addiction Healing Center at St. Francis Hospital in Charleston.
The day began with a prayer service in the sanctuary which focused on the 11th step of the 12-step program created by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and now implemented by various addiction recovery programs: Prayer and meditation as principle means of contact with God, which help a person in discerning God’s will. Workshops were offered on the Pharmacology of Addiction (a presentation explaining how addiction affects the mind and body), Hidden in Plain Sight (how to identify tell-tale signs of addiction and its concealment), as well as an open AA meeting with an emphasis on grief and loss.
Resource organizations had set up displays and information tables in the parish hall. They included different substance abuse treatment facilities; Help4WV, a 24-hour helpline for West Virginians who need help with addiction or mental illness; United Way’s 211 hotline that provides connections to local services; The Rock Ministries in Putnam County and Rae of Hope Fellowship Home in Charleston, both providing housing and support for people in recovery; as well as AA, NA, and Al-Anon, a support network for families and friends of those suffering from alcohol use disorder.
A training session was offered on how to administer Narcan, emergency treatment for a narcotic overdose. GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing) displayed a banner with faces of people who had died from the disease of addiction.
“In our Catholic faith we have a wide ocean of mercy that God has given us, and so we pray for these people and know that they’re safe in God’s hands, and that’s kind of a message of safety, protection,” Deegan explained. “We need to have places where people can go to talk with other folks who have lost loved ones, and that’s where GRASP is going to come in.”
Sky Kershner of the Kanawha Pastoral Counseling Center introduced CRAFT, Community Reinforcement And Family Training, a new approach using motivational interviewing as a way to communicate with those suffering addictions. During lunchtime the 15-minute documentary “Out of the Pills” was shown, a production by students from Ithaca College, New York, about the opioid crisis in West Virginia. The Fayette County man and his family who are portrayed in the movie were present at the seminar and were happy to field questions by participants.
“Parents, grandparents, clergy need to be armed with information on what resources are out there,” Whitmyer said. She added that parishes could be places of support by “fostering an atmosphere where people don’t feel shame in sharing these things because secrets make us sick, and if we keep these family secrets hidden and we do not talk about that, that’s problematic.”
Deegan felt encouraged by the outcome of the event.
“We really feel like this is just the beginning of something very positive that we want to continue to offer in our community, where it’s upbeat, it’s hopeful,” he said. “We really see this as something that we can continue to do and grow into the future.”