Hope for the Wounded: Advocating for Addiction Recovery Among Adventists

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Hello, my name is Juliet.” I begin as I introduce myself in my 12-step Sabbath School class. “I’m a grateful believer in the Lord, Jesus Christ. I struggle with work-a-holism and codependence that manifests itself in perfectionism and control. Food is far too often my drug of choice.”

If you were in my group, you would say, “Hi Juliet!” and I’d feel a tad less vulnerable and a little more courageous for having shared a raw truth about myself with a circle of people on a Sabbath morning.

It took years to reach this place, years of allowing God to gently peel away onionskin-thin layers of shame. As a third generation Seventh-day Adventist, I am no stranger to church. I am, however, a stranger to “airing your dirty laundry” at church. I grew up in a church culture where people sat like well-dressed ducks in a row. We smiled, nodded, and said “Happy Sabbath!” with gusto. Even if on that particular Sabbath we were not happy, we’d never let anyone know.

For much of my twelve-year marriage to a chemically dependent spouse, Sabbaths held a concoction of relief, hope, and dread: relief if he was sitting on the pew next to me, hope that he was really “clean and sober,” and dread that someone might discover our family’s dirty little drug secret. Church often felt lonely, even though we were active participants. I naively believed we were the only couple dealing with the corrosive effects of drug addiction. Hindsight proves me wrong. We were simply one more unaddressed statistic in our church. Many more filled the pews. There was no safe, healthy place to address our reality, and there were no relevant resources specific to our needs.

That was nearly a decade ago. Although cocaine eventually destroyed my marriage, God continues to redeem every dream I thought was lost. In 2007, I was humbled to the core when the happy Christian-family facade I’d carefully built utterly disintegrated. In the aftermath of divorce, I discovered my own need for recovery from the pain and the poor habits I had developed as coping mechanisms. When my spouse was no longer available to blame, I was forced to face the truth about me. What part did I play in the sick cycle of addiction that ruled our union? Why did I respond to every uncomfortable situation with fear-based control? How could I prevent myself from repeating my unhealthy patterns in new relationships?

In my quest for answers, I discovered a nondenominational Christ-centered recovery program in a church across town. I learned the biblical principles of recovery and began applying them to my situation. I accepted the truth that I am not my sin, nor am I the sin that has been done to me. It was there that I embraced the idea that my identity is in my Savior, Jesus Christ. I began living by His promise in Philippians 1:6 (NKJV): “…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you [me] will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

Fast-forward several years. I am now the wife of a kind, Adventist pastor. My life is completely different, but I have not forgotten the pain of sitting in church week after week with a broken marriage and a wounded spirit. Sadly, as a pastor’s wife, I see and hear too many stories similar to mine from long ago. Addiction is destroying families from the inside out, whether it is an addiction to food, alcohol, illegal substances, or pornography.

Kiti Freier Randall, Ph.D., who has served as the director of Psychological Services, Department of Pediatrics, Loma Linda University Health, is a board member of the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children. In a July 8, 2014 Adventist Review article entitled “Substance Abuse in the Family,” Randall states, “We prefer to believe that substance abuse doesn’t happen in our church families; however, as a psychologist (Kiti Randall) who has had the privilege of providing various behavioral health training for the Adventist Church in more than 40 countries, I can assure you substance abuse is a struggle for many Adventist families.”

For me, it is not enough to simply be aware of, or compassionate towards, Christians wounded by addiction. I am compelled to make a difference in my local church and the Adventist church at large. My vision and passion is for every congregation to have Christ-centered, 12-Step recovery groups where men and women can find the hope, healing, and wholeness that comes from fulfilling the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), consistently speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and humbly confessing faults and praying for one another (James 5:16).

Shame, secrecy, and fear breed in isolation. Healing takes place within the context of a safe, healthy, supportive community. People struggling with addiction, and those who love them need hope. In The Ministry of Healing, p. 165, Ellen White spoke of this hope:
“Christ honored man with His confidence and thus placed him on his honor. Even those who had fallen the lowest He treated with respect… As we partake of His Spirit, we shall regard all men as brethren, with similar temptations and trials, often falling and struggling to rise again, battling with discouragements and difficulties, craving sympathy and help. Then we shall meet them in such a way as not to discourage or repel them, but to awaken hope in their hearts.”

In response to the alarming rate of addiction among Adventists, recovery resources have become increasingly available from denominational sources.

Many resources may be found at Adventist Recovery Ministries, an official resource of the North American Division. The Hope Channel and 3ABN offer recovery programs such as Unhooked and Celebrating Life in Recovery to provide insight and tools for dealing with addictions. Books, such as The Journey to Wholeness by Jackie Bishop and Shelley Curtis, and a recovery edition of Steps to Christ, are available through Adventist Book Centers.

I am excited about these resources. I am hopeful that our churches will embrace the opportunity to become relevant to those suffering the effects of addiction. Will you join me in following the footsteps of Christ and becoming a hope-giver in your congregation and community?

This article first appeared in the August 2016 issue of the Southwestern Union Record It is reprinted with their permission and that of the author.

Editor’s Note: Juliet Van Heerden is a writer and pastor’s wife. Her blog – Sowing Hope in Hearts Wounded by Addiction Is located at https://julietvanheerden.com/

(1) VA Earnshaw et al, Peer Victimization, Depressive Symptoms, and Substance Use: A Longitudinal Analysis, Pediatrics originally published online May 8, 2017.