[su_pullquote align=”right”]RevRN: Reflections on clergy health[/su_pullquote]You know the old saying, “Where there are four Episcopalians, there’s always a fifth.” Followed by “bawahahahahaha”, and slaps on the back while belting down the “spirit” of choice. I knew I would be writing this article post-holiday cheer, so I made it a point to keep alcohol in the forefront of my mind as I journeyed through the season.
Entire sections of catalogues are devoted to plaques, ornaments and other “thingies” related to wine. (Wine happens to be my spirit of choice.) If I got one catalogue, I must have gotten a dozen, solely dedicated to wine and all the accouterments. And I have never ordered wine through catalogues.
Going from store to store, it is impossible to find an establishment that does not have some alcohol stocked on its shelves, including drug stores. Last year drugstore chain CVS stopped selling cigarettes in their drugstores. They felt the importance of limiting the availability of tobacco products for those addicted to nicotine. Cigarettes are legal, and so is alcohol. So what is my point?
Addiction is a tremendous health problem. Did you know that alcohol is the number one drug problem in America? Did you know that there are at least 12 million alcoholics in America? (Of course that is under reported, as while in nursing, when we asked how much a person drank, we could at least double or even triple the amount and come to a more accurate figure.) One in twelve individuals have alcohol abuse issues or dependence, which is classified as alcoholism.
One in twelve of our congregants, one in twelve of our clergy. It is a significant primary disease. This figure does not even begin to address substance abuse in the form of prescription drugs or illegal/recreational drugs. Alcohol is a primary means of “self-medicating.” And just because it is legal, does not make it healthy.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not a teetotaler. But as a nurse, I do take issue with individuals who have a disease process and don’t do something about it. You either have diabetes, or you don’t. You either have thyroid disease, or you don’t. Severity may vary in degrees; however, if you have it you have it. Alcoholism is a primary brain chemistry disease. It is like any disease process – the body of the individual is out of balance. However, there is a level of denial, embarrassment and stigma with brain disease. To have hypothyroidism or diabetes does not carry the stigma. Why should alcoholism or other addiction diseases? (This includes overspending, gambling, pornography, etc.)
Thus begins 2017 with a series of articles to heighten our awareness of alcoholism and addiction in the lives of not only clergy, but of our congregants. As the chair of the Task Force on Alcoholism and Addiction in Clergy, I will be seeking others to make the journey with me on the task force. If you feel called to be a part of this task force, please contact me. In the meantime, please check out Through the Red Door, recovery ministry through the Episcopal Church. It is an excellent resource; while allowing us to be reminded that there are many of us in the same boat! We don’t make this journey alone.
So cheers in the New Year! May we toast with healthy spirits, rather than destructive ones.
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The Rev. Ruth Paulus is a registered nurse and serves as rector of St. Christopher’s, Fairborn. Contact her at email@example.com.