On March 19 I attended a workshop about Opioid Addiction followed by a Narcan Training. I had read several articles and a couple of books on this issue, but this workshop hit home for me because the main presenter, Dr. Richard Blondell of the University at Buffalo, helped increase my understanding and compassion for the struggles of those who are addicted. The timing was perfect for me because of our Lenten sermon series “Dare to Care” about compassion. I had been praying during this season to grow in compassion and this was one of the answers God sent my way. There was a lot of helpful scientific information about addiction and the brain such as the two major factors for addiction which go hand in hand: genetics and exposure. Yet, the most important part for me came when I made a personal connection that helped me understand some of the seemingly irrational behaviors that are associated with opioid addiction. This came through the example which Dr. Blondell gave about our need for water functioning much like an addiction does. Our brains instinctively know that we must drink water to survive. Our lives literally depend on this innate awareness in our brains. Just imagine going for two days without water. What would your brain be telling you at that point? How would it make you rearrange your priorities in order to get water? For those who struggle with opioid addiction, their brains are sending similar messages to their bodies that their bodies would perish if they didn’t get the drugs.
This new awareness moved my heart about the struggles of others with addiction. It also helped me see the futility of moral lectures to people whose brains are sending them these faulty messages. I gained the insight that going to rehab and staying off drugs for a period of time does not solve the larger problem of addiction as the physical condition would still be there. Compassionately walking alongside those with addiction and their families to help them seek medical treatment is key to their wholeness. In her book Addiction and Pastoral Care, Sonia Waters writes about the idea of “holy curiosity” where we learn about the struggles of others and enter into their lives with love and nonjudgment.
I give thanks to God for this experience and for the new compassion God has instilled in me. I pray that this season of Lent has also helped you grow in your compassion for yourself and for others. Keep the tree of compassion growing!
Pastor Roula Alkhouri