BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Pastors got together this past weekend to bring awareness to the disease of addiction. Anyone suffering with the disease, or knew someone suffering was invited to the free event.
But word of mouth just wasn’t enough to bring those suffering or living with someone suffering from the disease out in the open. Less than 20 showed up.
“This is an illness that affects almost every family in our society,” said Reverend Robert Pearcy of Lakewood United Methodist Church, 5995 MLK St. S., St Petersburg where the event took place. “I don’t know if I’ve ever met a family through honest introspection who doesn’t have addiction going on someplace, somewhere.”
Pearcy, who has 28 years of sobriety under his belt, explained the very nature of the disease itself could account for the low numbers in attendance. But Dr. Basha Jordan, a pastor and recovering addict 25 years, looked out at the small group he remarked, “I’m a firm believer that God has here who he wants to be here.”
Person after person addressed the group with stories of either their own addiction or the rollercoaster ride of living with a loved one struggling with the day-to-day process of recovery. Whether it be need of assistance with alcohol abuse, drug abuse, or mental illness there was someone on hand to offer a personal perspective on the diseases and a way to cope.
State Representative Darryl Rouson briefly spoke on the lack of funding coming out of Tallahassee for those dealing with overcoming addiction. In fact, just recently the governor killed a bill that would allow non-violent addicts to receive a reduction in their prison sentence and undergo substance abuse treatment instead. And according to Rouson an increase in monies toward fighting addiction has also been squelched by lawmakers.
“Every year we have to beg and grovel with the legislature and the governor to put more money in substance abuse treatment,” Rouson said as he reminded the room of the 444 children who died in foster care over the last few years in the state. He reported that in some 70 percent of those deaths, one or both of the parents were addicted to substances. Nearly 14 million extra dollars was requested to go to the Department of Children and Families to help with substance abuse issues in families. That too was denied.
But the weekend long conference focused more on the message of hope in our own community that addicts in recovery are tirelessly trying to get out.
“The message of hope that you’re spreading is hugely important and I thank God for people like you who 16 years, 2 months, 2 weeks, and 5 days ago saw enough in me to encourage me to get clean and stay clean,” expressed Rouson who is no stranger to the disease.
Jordan recalled living in denial with the disease even when counseling members on the ills of addiction. One day when he had just finished a sermon, a group of men approached him wanting to conduct a 12-step program out of his church.
“Little did they know that this pastor that they were talking to had cocaine in his drawer and was snorting,” said Jordan who believed at the time that his status as pastor along with his degrees meant he was okay and not truly an addict. “Denial is a tremendous position to be in because you only know that you are in denial when you come out of it.”
He now runs the Hope Alive Ministry out of Baltimore where he has established a House of Hope in which addicts wishing to recover from their addictions can stay for up to a year and receive the treatment they need to get clean. The “Hooked on Hope” radio show is also streamed live on WRXB-AM Radio 1590.
The plan for the rest of the seminar was to break out into sessions, but due to low attendance, the various speakers spoke to the group at once.
Eric Goden, a Windmoor Health representative, relayed treatment options and recovery awareness. Windmoor provides a full range of psychiatric and chemical dependency services, offering intensive treatment of dual diagnosis issues. This comprehensive approach is highly individualized, designed to guide patients and their families through the process of intervention, assessment and treatment.
Marvin Coleman, a representative from Operation PAR, a drug treatment center located locally here in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, doesn’t suffer from addiction himself but has watched family members struggle with the disease his whole life. His older brother, who he refers to as his hero, is an addict.
“He grew up in the same room I grew up in, we went to the same schools, and we went to church every Sunday,” explained Coleman. “But he struggles with the things he just can’t kick.”
Coleman has hope that addiction can be eradicated by focusing on the family perspective. Any given day a recovering addict can experience a life-changing situation that sends them down a spiraling vortex of destruction. Coleman outlined some of the many reasons people use drugs and alcohol. The main reason being to mask or hide their pain, but with adolescents oftentimes they start experimenting out of boredom and them become addicted because it “feels good.”
So Coleman and Operation PAR approach teenage use in a different way as drug abuse at the early stages of development has been known to have a lasting detrimental impact.
He advised parents to keep their kids engaged in activities such as sports, music, or other enjoyable outlets, especially during the summer, so that they don’t have time to get curious.
The last speaker was from the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s (NAMI) local chapter outlying the connection between substance abuse and mental illness. Executive Director Gay Hawks became involved with the organization to give back to those in need.
The organization began some 42 years ago and has 1,100 affiliates across the nation. The St. Petersburg arm has been working toward managing mental health and substance abuse in those with mental health issues for some 28 years.
“Sometimes the easiest, cheapest way for someone with mental illness to calm those voices and to treat themselves is to use drugs and alcohol,” she said. “Alcohol is cheaper; drugs are available on the streets.”
Hawks says people stay hidden because of the social stigma associated with mental illness, but that lack of treatment oftentimes leads to homelessness, jail time, and in some cases violence and death.
The conference ended with a question and answer session for the professionals who took time out on a Saturday morning to help all those who were willing to receive it.
For more information on how you or a loved one can get help go to windmoor-healthcare.com, www.operationpar.org, HopeAliveMinistry.org or nami-pinellas.org.