by Jeanette McDermott, Province Ministries
National Recovery Month provides a platform for spreading the message that substance abuse prevention works, treatment is effective and people can, and do, recover. For 25 years September has served as the month for awareness about recovery from substance abuse. While addictions often jeopardize families, communities and neighborhoods, science demonstrates that addiction is a disease of the brain, a disease that can be prevented and treated, and from which people can fully recover.
Good Shepherd Gracenter provides a supportive residential environment that helps women in San Francisco strengthen their early sobriety and make the journey from addiction to recovery. Gracenter is rooted in the 12-step program, and its programs also help women overcome other barriers to maintaining sobriety, including a lack of access to housing, education, employment, or even getting a driver's license or student loan.
During my visit to Gracenter in September, some of the women living there spoke openly with me about their struggles with substance use, their pain and treatment. Mostly, they shared their gratitude for Gracenter and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. One of the women at Gracenter said, “I would do anything for the nuns. I love them. I probably wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for the Sisters who have helped me. I mean that.”
Another resident said, “One part of the program that I’m especially grateful for is how it is helping me learn to accept love from other people. Most of us in recovery don’t feel good about ourselves because of what we’ve done to ourselves and others. Our low self-esteem often stops us from allowing others to show love for us. But Gracenter is teaching me how to accept myself and how to accept love from other people. Allowing that goodness in my life is a nice thing.”
A third resident said, “I’ve done a 180-degree turnaround since coming to Gracenter. I’ve been here about two years and have become centered and really grounded. I’m a new person today because of Gracenter.”
Science behind substance abuse Throughout much of the last century, scientists studying substance abuse labored in the shadows of powerful myths and misconceptions about the nature of addiction. According to the website for the President’s Drug Policy for the 21st century, when science began to study addictive behavior in the 1930s, people addicted to drugs and alcohol were thought to be morally flawed and lacking in willpower.
Those views shaped society’s responses to substance abuse, treating it as a moral failing rather than a health problem. This led to an emphasis on punitive rather than preventative and therapeutic responses. Even now, discussion of substance use disorders is too often relegated to the shadows, steeped in stigma and misunderstanding.
Programs like Gracenter are critical to helping women break the cycle of drug and alcohol use, crime, incarceration, and re-arrest. The problem is that there is a waiting list to get women into facilities like Gracenter. In some cities, the need to help women in recovery has quadruped in very recent years.
In support of the roughly 23 million Americans in recovery today, the Obama Administration has, for the first time, established a Recovery Branch at the Office of National Drug Control Policy to support Americans in recovery and help lift the stigma associated with addiction. You can read about the president’s new drug policy reform at http:// www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/drugpolicyreform.