Dirty Little Secret

Written by Julie Mikus 

75% of us have a dirty little secret. Some of us ignore it, hoping it will go away. Many cry alone. Others know about the dirty little secret, and carry a cloak of shame.  Some judge the secret, whispering opinions not based on fact or truth. The secret is heavy to carry, leaving many overwhelmed and feeling isolated. Judgement, preconceived notions and misunderstanding hold the secret in captivity.

What is this dirty little secret? It is the fact that 75% of us have a person in our inner circle who has a substance abuse problem, and stigma holds it in darkness.Unfortunately, we live in a society where millions of Americans are dependent on drugs or alcohol. Many of these families are victims of stigma.

To understand the problem, we need to examine what stigma is and how detrimental it is to the many families facing addiction. Stigma uses negative labels to identify people who have a socially undesirable attribute. It’s always rooted in fear and misunderstanding.

We, as Christians, have a weighted responsibility to remove the stigma families are facing when a loved one struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. Yes, that’s right. It’s OUR problem.

In Luke 8:17 it says, “We’re not keeping secrets; we’re telling them. We’re not hiding things; we’re bringing everything out to the open” (MSG). When we bring it out to the open, we can finally respond.

When we don’t talk about the problem, we can’t be part of the solution. When a family experiences stigma they are often seen as less than. It’s time for the church to lead the way in breaking free of stigma and how it shames and devalues families.  We need to bring this out to the open. We’re called to be a part of the solution. We’re called to be doers of the Word, not just hearers (James 1:22).

Families with a loved one suffering from addiction experiences prejudice, rejection and discrimination. They often believe their socially undesirable situation can’t be revealed, leaving them feeling devalued and judged. They are in our workplaces, classrooms, churches and homes.  It is time for us to break down barriers that promote stigma.

So what can we do as a faith community to remove the stigma so many families are facing?

We can offer compassionate support.

We can listen to families, withholding judgement and stereotypes.

We can see people for who they are, not the drugs they use.

We can be kind to our brothers and sisters who are in vulnerable situations.

We can learn about drug and alcohol dependency.

We can speak up when we see a family or person mistreated because of addiction.

We can treat families of addicts with dignity and respect.

We can promise to avoid hurtful labels such as “junkie,”user” and “loser.”

We can replace negative attitudes with evidence based facts.

We can understand that addicts are not “bad people.”

Responding in this way will bring families out of darkness, breaking them free of stigma. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry the Word says, “…the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts a shadow, a light has shined.”  Without doubt, as we remove the stigma, a great light will shine on this problem. Jesus’ ministry commencement offers us an excellent example of where to start.

For families facing addiction problems, the instinct is to keep it a secret. Families, I encourage you to step in to the “great light” and come out of hiding. Share your struggles so the church may pray for you and your loved one. Let us support you. You will find that others are going through the same thing. We can gather together for support and encourage each other, praying corporately for our friends and family suffering from addiction. It is not easy to admit that someone you know, love and care for is addicted to a substance. It is not easy to admit that addiction has impacted YOUR family. It is important for you to know that you deserve a place where you can bring what is in the dark to light.

Church, it is time to bring the light to families struggling alone. We have a weighted responsibility to let families know they are loved through these darkest of days. Addiction can no longer be a dirty little secret. 100 people are dying every day in America – that’s about one every 12 minutes –  from overdose deaths. These families need our help. We must rally together to love families who are isolated and marginalized. We must walk with them towards their loved one’s recovery. This is OUR problem to face together. Stigma only perpetuates the notion that addiction is dirty and shameful. It’s time to shake off our discomfort and talk about this! We need to communicate, tearing down barriers. Light is always better than darkness. I challenge and encourage you to extend your hand and heart to a hurting family today. Let’s find opportunities to be more open to listening and loving, rather than passing judgement and perpetuating stigma.

We must lay the groundwork to remove stigma. With an open heart, our faith community can offer a healing environment.  It is up to every one of us to create an atmosphere for families facing addiction to feel valued and loved. Let’s show them their innate worth.  It is time for us to examine and acknowledge (with great humility) our prejudices and stereotypes of addiction problems.

In Pennsylvania, we are facing a catastrophic substance abuse problem, nothing short of staggering.  From 2015 to 2016 Pennsylvania experienced a 37% increase of drug related overdose deaths. 7% of Pennsylvanians abuse alcohol. If the statistics feel overwhelming, it’s because they are overwhelming.  However, together we can respond and make a difference TODAY by removing stigma for families facing addiction.

Denis Meacham wrote in The Addiction Ministry Handbook, “When a congregation succeeds in eliminating the stigma of addiction within its own community, it is ready to begin transformation to the larger community.” Church, we have an incredible opportunity to be leaders of change, lifting the stigma of drug and alcohol addiction. Now, lets roll up our sleeves and get to work. It’s time to bring the light and break the stigma.

Let’s pray together:

God we thank you for your help to bring the secret of addiction out of darkness. We can rejoice in the middle of this mess because you are holding hurting families in Your hands. You are with them during this painful journey. Thank you for your Son Jesus who comes after each and every one of their hearts with unfailing love. Forgive us Father for falling into a cycle were stigma has been perpetuated. Help us examine our stereotypes and judgements with great humility. Help us to remember the families shattered by addiction. May we remember the parent who has lost a child to overdose. Help us to see them in our church and  in our neighborhoods. Equip us, Your Church, to be agents of change in this addiction problem. Enable us to bring what has been hidden in the dark in to Your great light. Father, you leave not one behind. Help us do that, too. We pray for a miraculous healing in the lives of those facing addiction, one where they can finally experience freedom and most importantly, know the fullness, power and victory of your healing that only the cross can provide. It is only in Jesus’ precious name name we pray. Amen.

If you or a family you know has a loved one battling addiction, connect them to “6 Steps to Sanity” offered at the Hampton and Deer Lakes campuses. For more information, email noh@allisonparkchurch.com.

Julie Mikus serves as the Program Director for Network of Hope, an organization that promotes lasting change for those that have been marginalized by hardship.