The Rev. Janice Ford, Rector
The Church of the Reconciliation (Episcopal)
5 North Main Street, Webster, MA 01570
On June 7th I will have been the Pastor in our parish for five years. I think I was only in Webster for less than six months before I realized how much addiction plagues this small town. Whether we are talking about drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, cigarettes or food, there seems to be a disproportionate amount of addiction for a town this size. I realize that what I am writing here is not going to make me very popular. However, if I continue to be silent regarding the addiction problems in Webster, I would hardly deserve to be called pastor.
I recall initially trying to figure out why there was so much addiction here. How did it begin? I talked to some of the “townies” and people in public positions. No real answers emerged. Granted, almost every town and city has trouble with such things “downtown.” However, I soon realized that it wasn’t just a “downtown” problem. Good people, living in good homes, with good jobs and good families were also living in the shadows of addiction. In fact, many of them don’t even realize they are addicted. Drinking to the point of drunkenness on a regular basis is considered the norm, right? Smoking a little pot is harmless, right? Going to the casino every weekend is entertainment, right? Cigarette smoking and over-eating aren’t really addictions, right? And, as for sex, well, everybody’s doing it…right?
The truth about addiction involves more than just a spin on our moral compass. It’s not about what makes one person more righteous than another. It’s about the fact that addiction steals people’s lives—and sometimes, their souls. I am the daughter of a man addicted to gambling, cigarettes and sex. My father’s addictions ruined our family life, left us in poverty, and cost him his life at age 59. My father was not a bad man, but his addictions led to a bad life—for our whole family.
Some addictions are physical—like drugs, alcohol, and nicotine. Others are psychological like gambling, overeating, and sex. Some are eventually both. The feature all addictions share in common is that they stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain. Addictions feel good. Because they feel good, we use them to “self-medicate” when we are feeling stressed, or life seems out of control. The trouble is that the addiction eventually steals our ability to have control over anything—mostly ourselves. That’s why the first step of the AA Twelve Step Program is, “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” We can substitute the word drugs, gambling, sex, cigarettes and overeating for the word alcohol, and the idea is still very true.
There are volumes written about addiction by people more notable than I, and there is only so much I can fit in this column. The point, however, is that the level of addiction in this town is stealing the lives of its citizenry, and it is long past time for us to take a serious look at it. Because I am a priest and pastor, I suggest we start with the second step of the AA program; namely, “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Whatever each of us perceives as the “Power greater than ourselves,” I suggest we reach out and make that connection.