Good Tidings Do Shine

Merlyn Karst

I listen to the radio. The seasonal carols have begun. I Hark!—and sing along. I repeat and repeat the sounding joy. Of course, many stories and carols focus on the news of old, proclaiming, “unto us a child is born.” I recall the words of that grown up child who, it is written, said, “if you don’t believe in me, believe in what I teach.” Of course, the radio also brings snooze news, commercials galore, and talk shows.  Beyond the nativity is the negativity.

Not all good tidings:  I have read many Christmas stories. I just discovered one I missed. It’s a nativity story called the “Grumpy Sheep.” Among the shepherd’s flock is a grumpy sheep who is not only cross but lazy as well, and has the wrong idea of what the big deal is about not joining other sheep to see this new arrival. The grumpy sheep does discover that it is a big deal when she finally goes to the manger. We now celebrate that “big deal” of long ago as Christmas. Grinch is grumpy. Scrooge is grumpy. Now, in spite of many reasons for joy and contentment, there are millions of grumpy sheep following grumps. They are caroling, do you fear what we fear, say the grumps to the fearful sheep. Baa baa, humbug.  Offsetting this was the celebration of the life of George H.W. Bush, who gave us words to remember.  “Hate corrodes the container it’s carried in.” Living in a kinder, gentler nation is a valid notion that will serve us well in any season

Good tidings. The drug crisis presents opportunity. The positive state of the economy allows increased resources to find solutions and overcome the present and any future crisis.  The recovery movement is strong and growing. Holiday season is very much about children. Unto families, children are born. It has been written that it takes a village to raise a child. For our children and all of us, all the nation’s villages must face and overcome the crisis of the evil that is drug misuse and addiction. In the Betty Ford Children’s Program, illustrated books for children portray, in cartoon style, addiction as a villainous character that destroys families.  In the program, boys and girls, seven to twelve years old, learn about alcoholism and drug abuse and how to separate the person they love from the disorder that consumes them. Even at very low or no cost, there is resistance to assistance driven by stigma, shame, and guilt held by parents and family members. Needed is the lived experience of family peer support.

Not so good tidings: In the face of the devastating news about opiates, we forget that there are other drugs like alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana. These remain threats to families. Alcohol remains the #1 killer. It is cheap, legal, and accessible. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) notes that holiday celebrations feature alcohol and consequences. They provide a Navigator to show the way to safety and sobriety. Vaping is the new delivery system for nicotine and marijuana. It is a growing threat to our young people. Surveys showing growing use by the very young are alarming. The real threat will be impaired brain development and addiction. There is little joy when Individuals and families are living in quiet desperation due to alcohol and other drug mis-use and addiction.

Good tidings. There is hope for families. Over the past few years, “systems of care” have been developed. There are frameworks that involve collaboration across government and private agencies, providers, families, and youth. Community reinforcement and family training (CRAFT) in communities around the country, has been shown to have success in getting substance abusers, perhaps with medical assistance to be motivated to get into treatment.  CRAFT is a set of therapeutic techniques taken from community reinforcement approach (CRA) and applied to the substance abusing population. Rather than target the person with addiction directly, CRAFT works with the concerned significant others (CSOs) so that they can assist the identified patients (IPs). Congress has taken action in the passage of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act.  It includes policies and resources that support individuals and families in recovery from addiction across the lifespan. The act provides for building communities of recovery. Faces and Voices or Recovery founded the Association of Recovery Community Organizations—ARCO.  It has an important role to play.

Timely Tidings: Bill White’s blog titled “Family Recovery 101” has been republished recently on the Faces and Voices of Recovery Blog site. He writes:  “Knowledge about the effects of addiction on families and the family recovery process has grown exponentially as a result of scientific studies and cumulative clinical experience. He outlines 12 important conclusions from this knowledge.” His blog concludes with some important words: “It is time—no, past time—that the basic unit of service within recovery support service settings shifted from the individual to families and kinship networks. Making that shift will require substantive changes across the addiction treatment and recovery support service continuum.”

Very Good Tidings: May all seek and find the joy of hope, help, and holiday spirit and together let’s repeat and repeat the sounding joy,

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Phil Rutherford

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