Brighton Center Director on the Faith Community’s Role in the Spiritual Journey of Recovery

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Addiction can be a black hole that swallows up relationships, money, careers, days, weeks, months and years spent compulsively chasing the physical or psychological satisfaction that comes from addictive behaviors or substances. While many may regard recovery as simply the end of addiction, Brighton Center for Recovery Director, Raymond Waller, defines it as “a return of health across a person’s life – mentally, physically, spiritually.”

“The entire person needs attention,” says Waller, whose background makes him well prepared to provide it. Waller received his bachelor’s degree in religion, but chose a master’s program in public health over seminary.

“I was definitely on a track to become a minister. And I feel like I still am, but in a non-traditional way.”

Waller’s ministerial toolkit includes a wealth of experience, his own spirituality, and a public health professional’s depth of knowledge about the process of addiction, the science of nutrition and the social landscape that leads to addiction, particularly among young people. According to Waller, ages 18 – 25 is the fastest growing group of clients at Brighton.

Waller says that the combination of factors includes the ten-fold increase in the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects) content of most marijuana. “It’s not granddad’s weed,” says Waller.

And, he says, it’s a “vastly different culture today. There are a whole set of sociological factors that have changed.” In the sixties, says Waller, the children were children of the depression era, combining weed with a positive peer and parental pressure to succeed.

He ticks off changes that include the rise in single parent homes and the infinite peer group of social media. “You add to that the fact that kids are so much more bored. Thirty, Forty years ago, the word boredom wasn’t used, it was referred to as ‘being idle.’”

“What mom and dad may have done in moderation, the kids are doing in excess. By the time the parents realize the danger the kids are in, they’re well into their teen years. An eight year old with an iPhone is a different world.”

An eight year old with an iPhone and a Big Mac is a different and not so good world. It’s important “to see health as a whole and that it’s not just a drag, a boring lifestyle,” says Waller. “If we can help people gain a better sense of diet, it helps with addiction control. Learning to eat to live, rather than living to eat.”

But the key to a twelve step program, which Brighton is, and to addiction recovery, according to Waller, is to accept a higher power.

“Individuals are giving up what was really their best friend, something that was always there for them, never said no, loved them unconditionally. To turn that switch off creates a mountain of a space. To replace that you need something really substantive to fill that empty space.”

“Recovery is the changes that take place in one’s heart. This inherently gets into spirituality because the level of change is so significant. I don’t know how anyone can recover without being connected to a source of power and that’s God. They rely on the power of God and that’s enough to change behavior.”

There is a great opportunity for the faith community to support this spiritual journey, says Waller.

“Recovery is picked up by being modeled. What the faith community has the potential to do is to model recovery in their own lives.”

There are, says Waller, some addictions that are socially acceptable, that people are regularly using amusement, entertainment, or pornography to tune out of their lives, much like some people use drugs or alcohol. In recovery, says Waller, “people realize that their drug of choice wasn’t the only thing they turn to to turn their minds off.”

“The word itself, recovery suggests that an individual has fallen back from health. Everybody on the planet is either in recovery or they need to be,” he suggests.

When individuals in addiction recovery approach a faith community, says Waller, they’re looking for the place where people are open to talking about and embracing life changes that promote, mental, physical and spiritual health in all ways.

“It creates that great opportunity for self-reflection,” says Waller. “Churches that are able to have these conversations make a great landing place for people in recovery.”

Next month, Waller will be talking to a multi-denominational group of pastors and parish nurses, through a community-based program created by St. John Providence Health System.

“I’m always willing – any opportunity to talk about the home run or the win that is recovery.”