Where Are You?

Not too many years ago, I met a particularly dark period in my faith walk. I was afraid of death–even to the point of having to avoid news programs and television shows. I struggled with shame (where’s my faith?), doubt (what if God really isn’t there for me?), and discouragement (what’s the point?).

Just wait, my wise friends advised. And although the wait was years long, I did come through to the other side with a new understanding of faith.

Let me be clear. Mine was not an anemic, untested faith. I had known God’s touch on my life through rebellion, reconciliation, sorrow, poverty, cancer, and Multiple Sclerosis. But this was a new season, and it was scary. Since that time, I have heard other women speak of similar experiences. And I hear women my age talk about how their church experiences have changed, as they near retirement age.

James Fowler’s Stages of Faith and a second work called The Critical Journey by Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich–helped give me the words I had been searching for to describe the changes taking place in my life. Here is a simplified version (adapted from the above works)–you may want to read more. This is not a prescription of how things are supposed to be–merely a description of common experiences. Where do you see yourself?

  1. I believe! New believers are willing to do whatever a strong leader or church group says is necessary to grow in faithfulness.
  2. I am learning about God through connection with other believers. I am learning about my gifts and talents and what I have to offer the church community.
  3. I work for God. As I grow more sure of my role in the church, I show my commitment with action. I show up, serve, and share.
  4. I hit “The Wall.” My old practices aren’t resulting in growth. I wonder if there’s something more.
  5. I am living with God. On the other side of The Wall, fresh surrender to God comes along with a renewed sense of my vocation or ministry, a deepening of my faith, and a less-frenzied relationship with the church.
  6. I believe again. As I move toward life’s end, I detach from the stuff and stress of life. I receive God’s love and shalom and am sharing it with those around me.

It helps to know that these seasons are not the result of having done something wrong–rather they are reflections of growth.

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Emerge

This spring, my favorite word is EMERGE. It means to become known or visible–from Latin “to come to light.”

In winter the ground is hardened and brown. Trees lose their leaves and stand bare. We long for color in our landscapes. And when the calendar declares it is spring, we do not always have any proof.

Except, beneath the frozen earth, things are stirring. Roots reach and stretch out stiffness, rhizomes multiply, buds swell until, in startling moments,  green emerges. We blink—is the tinge an illusion?

Then comes the tender green of spring. Leaves uncurl. Blossoms burst. Pollen flies. The earth is not dead, but alive. Not entombed, but arisen.

Notice, that emerge comes from what was planted. Most of what emerges is not new. It comes from depth and that which lives through winters. The world is not dead in winter. Spring brings to light what already formed.

We live in a society that equates emergence with youth…emerging talent, emerging scholar, emerging poet. But life emerges from maturity. Do you see? Life emerges from you!

New Wrinkle in Older Faces

Street drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol…If I asked you to describe a substance abuser, what do you visualize? Do you see a wrinkled, elderly man, or a gray-haired grandmother? Usually not, but it is time to take a closer look at the changing patterns of substance abuse.

Today’s blog post is difficult for several reasons. It tackles a topic that is easier to ignore. It is not pretty or funny or encouraging. It contains  some statistical data that is not recreational reading.

The post is from guest blogger *Linda*  who came up with the idea of an article introducing the topic of substance abuse in aging populations. She did all the hard work, the research, and most of the writing.

There are over seventy million baby boomers, and many are taking substance abuse into their senior years. Dramatic lifestyle changes, along with growing health problems, have led many people 50+ to turn to alcohol, prescription painkillers, and even heroin and cocaine to medicate their physical and mental pain.  Older adults are now hospitalized as often for alcohol-related problems as they are for heart attacks!

Some startling statistics from The Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The numbers are surprising and challenge the picture of older adult substance abusers as 1960s hippies who can’t give up their pot. Among the findings:

  • An estimated 17 percent of people aged 60+ struggle with substance misuse and addiction.
  • Among treatment facilities that receive some public funding, the proportion of treatment admissions for people aged 50 and older nearly doubled between 1992 and 2008
  • The proportion of older adult admissions reporting heroin as the primary substance of abuse more than doubled, from 7.2% in 1992 to 16% in 2008, and the proportion reporting cocaine as the primary substance of abuse quadrupled from 2.8% to 11.4%.

These shifts in demographics should alert health-care professionals to ask tough questions during routine exams. Drug use affects physical and mental health, and impacts the already-strained healthcare, mental health, and social services systems. Among these effects are mood, memory, pain, and sleep disorders , as well as cardiovascular and respiratory problems.

As people age, they can become more invisible, and it may be more difficult to see evidence of substance abuse in older adults’ day-to-day functioning especially if they become less engaged in society.

Why? One reason may be cultural–boomers grew up in an era when drugs may have had a certain allure. Another reason is economic with heightened anxiety about job security and retirement savings. A third reason is emotional–aging boomers may turn to illicit drugs to cope with grief and loss issues such as the death of a spouse or the end of a career.

Vital information is needed to understand the dynamics of addiction in older adults. Whether in self-care or as a caregiver, it is essential to:

  • Clearly distinguish between the signs of aging and the signs of addiction (many of which overlap)
  • Identify the indications of drug misuse and its progression to addiction
  • Understand the unique treatment needs of older adults
References

Arndt, S., Clayton, R., & Schultz, S. K. (2011). Trends in substance abuse treatment 1998-2008: Increasing older adult first-time admissions for illicit drugs. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 19(8), 704-711

Blow, F. C., Oslin, D. W., & Barry, K. L. (2002). Use and abuse of alcohol, illicit drugs and psychoactive medication among older people. Generations, 25(1), 50-54.

Crome, I., Sidhu, H., & Crome, P. (2009). No longer only a young man’s disease: illicit drugs and older people. The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, 13, 141-143.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2010). The TEDS report: changing substance abuse patterns among older admissions: 1992 and 2008. Retrieved from http://oas.samhsa.gov/2k10/229/229OlderAdms2k10Web.pdf.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011). The NSUDUH report: illicit drug use among older adults. Retrieved from http://oas.samhsa.gov/2k11/013/WEB_SR_013_HTML.pdf.