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Diaconia: Assistance to those suffering from alcoholism
An experience of assistance to those suffering from alcoholism
Christian public charity "The Old World"
The Inform-12 Publishers

An experience of assistance to those suffering from alcoholism

Our parish began to help those suffering from alcoholism and drug-addiction in September 1995, with the blessing of Metropolitan Juvenaly of Krutitsy and Kolomna.

In the first place, we started conducting everyday prayer services for the health and salvation of those susceptible to this passion. It soon became clear, however, that alcoholism is not a mere laxity or weak will but rather a serious disease affecting not only the physiology of a person but also his or her spiritual foundations.

Aware of the need for both prayer and spiritual care for those suffering from alcoholism, the community of the Church of the Intercession at the village of Yerino near Podolsk, Moscow Region, identified several major thrusts of its work in this area.

We have put in the basis of our approach to alcoholism and drug-addiction the age-old experience of the Orthodox Church's approach to sin in general and the practical insights gained by groups and rehabilitation centres working under the spiritually-guided program "The Twelve Steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous". We were introduced to this program by the Christian charitable foundation "The Old World" whose assistance was invaluable and whose co-operation we have been enjoying to this day.

Speaking about the specific forms of work with alcoholics and drug-addicts, I would like first of all refer to the priority concerns, such as introduction to Orthodoxy - talks in which those who have just come out of a many-day drunken bout are given the most general notions of God, human being, the world and the Church - and full catechism given to those alcoholics who have already decided to join the Orthodox Church and who have come through a long period of abstinence.

It is quite clear how important it is for an adult who was baptised as a child but had no experience of repentance in the Church to make his or her first confession. But in case of an alcoholic or drug-addict it is altogether impossible to liberate him from the chemical dependence without getting him first to make a profound analysis of his life in the past so that his inner world might be put in some order. Aware of all this, in our work with alcoholics we attach the greatest importance to a person's individual confession for his entire life with an analysis of the inner motivations of his actions. Such confessions, though taking a very long time in the order of 6 or 8 hours per person, are extremely beneficial for recovering alcoholics.

As is known, most of the churches given back to the Russian Orthodox Church are in the state of ruin and almost every parish has to do some restoration and construction work which often does not require special skills. For several years now, our parish has pursued a practice of involving recovering alcoholics and drug-addicts in such works provided, of course, they strictly observe certain rules of relations and conduct. This is a very important factor in the rehabilitation of a person who has found himself on the lowest social level. Engaged in the restoration of a church, people have an opportunity to recover the feeling of their importance and usefulness in society. In addition, such work allows a person to be plunged into a milieu where normal, "sober", human relations prevail.

We have also given special attention to those who have alcoholics and drug-addicts in their families. Alcoholism is a family problem. More often then not, relatives unwittingly and unwillingly encourage drunkenness in their families. It happens mainly because people are absolutely ignorant of how chemical dependence works. Through the efforts of our parish, special talks and individual counselling are held for the relatives of alcoholics and drug-addicts. We know of many cases where members of an alcoholic's family have changed their life and behaviour, which usually involved the introduction to the Church, to lead eventually to an easier and more effective recovery of the alcoholic himself.

We have enumerated some really possible methods and forms of work existing in our parish. Apparently, this is only a small part of what the Church as a whole can do to help overcome the global problem of alcoholism and drug-addiction in our country. We will be glad therefore to enter in any kind of co-operation in this area with other parishes.

Rev. Eugene Gening
Rector of the Church of the Intercession
Yerino, Podolsk, Moscow Region
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Christian public charity "The Old World"

Some 25 years ago when I was finishing my studies at the Faculty of Psychology of Moscow University, I began working as a neuropsychologist in one of Moscow's neuropsychological hospitals where a department of the university's Chair of Medical Psychology was located. At that time I could not even imagine that a period would come in my life devoted wholly to work with drug-addicts and alcoholics - so far these problems seemed to be then from my sphere of activity.

The positivistic approach to man and the materialistic, in fact physiological, understanding of his nature soon ceased to satisfy me. This and some other personal circumstances made me begin re-thinking my attitude to the world. I was baptised in 1983 and began to learn to live the church life which was new for me. This in turn led me to seek new areas in which to exert my efforts.

I began working as a psychologist at a narcological clinic where I encountered for the first time the despair and helplessness of many people captured in the dependency on alcohol and drugs, seeking a way out and not finding it. The depth of their tragedy was aggravated by the fact that neither general medicine, nor psychiatry or psychology or psychotherapy could offer anything to them as a cure. To be more precise, there were and are many proposals, including most exotic ones, but the complete failure and utter inefficiency of the attempts to cure alcoholism and drug-addiction using medicines, psychotherapy and openly charlatanic or, even worse, magic methods like "coding" were quite obvious to honest specialists who did not want to deceive either themselves or their patients and in the first place to patients themselves. This is not surprising at all; indeed, the roots of alcoholic, narcotic and any other dependence lie in the violations of the spiritual sphere of a person, which means that it cannot be removed by either medical, that is physical, or psychological, that is mental, means.

The situation seemed to be desperate until in 1988 I was introduced to some groups of the Alcoholics Anonymous movement (AA) which had just begun to appear and to the Twelve Steps program on which their work is based. This program struck me by its closeness to the Christian understanding of the world. It was later that I learnt that it was actually developed in a Christian milieu and was a manifestation of principles of the life of early Christian communities and an interpretation of these principles as applied to overcoming such a specific problem as alcoholic dependence.

Soon I was quite unexpectedly included in the first group of specialists invited by the American International Research and Training Institute for Alcoholism to come for months-long internship in the USA treatment centres.

Even before this mission, I and some of my colleagues, thanks to bilateral contacts with specialists working on the problem of drug-addiction in other countries and through reading appropriate books, made a careful study of the experience gained by the MONAR movement and church and public therapeutic groups in Poland, the CeIS and many other therapeutic communities for drug-addicts in Italy, the Daytop community in Latvia and similar groups and movements in Great Britain and the USA.

Even at that time, a synthesis and analysis of the available data showed us quite convincingly that the only real solution to the problems of alcoholism and drug-addiction lay in creating a large network of activities and programs encompassing all aspects of this problem.

After my visit to the USA this conviction grew, since what I had seen there was a large-scale realisation of this option in practice. We had been thoroughly introduced to the widely-spread, so-called Minnesota model of dealing with the dependency. It represents a comprehensive and complex approach based on a combination of principles underlying the AA's 12 Steps program and the achievements of modern psychology, medicine, sociology, pedagogics and other disciplines. Time has shown the great effectiveness of this approach when used on the national level in a vast country. Indeed, the USA is the only country in the world which has managed not only to check the growth but also considerably decrease the incidence of alcoholism and drug-addiction.

Having come back to Russia, therefore, I and some of my colleagues attempted to reflect on the undoubtedly valuable American experience, trying to adjust it to Russian realities and to re-think it from the Orthodox perspective.

The first step in our efforts was made in 1992 when we opened the Old Word rehabilitation program which since 1995 was to continue its work under the Old World Christian public charity. It was intended for people suffering from alcoholism and drug-addiction and their relatives.

The name of both the program and the charity was a reminder that though American treatment centres were taken as models, the principles underlying the program of treatment were not at all an American innovation but a reflection of the age-old Christian, particularly, Orthodox tradition. And the light (light in Russian is a homonym of world) of Christianity is really "old". Indeed, it almost two thousand years older then the Alcoholics Anonymous movement and those American patterns of treatment which were developed on the basis of this movement.

Our program represents an Orthodox reflection of the Western experience. It is based on the principle of the therapeutic community organised under the out-patient department - the community engaged in an intensive and specially organised psychological work including the 12 Steps program.

Group work under the Old World program has been carried out every night for almost six years now, without interruptions or holidays. The work with recovering people organised according to a clear-cut and stable structure is the basic means of ensuring recovery. Its forms include issue talks and discussions on the psychological, medical and spiritual problems of dependency; small groups, general meetings of all participants and their relatives, individual counselling, work with family members, specially developed written homework, regular therapeutic conferences and working meetings of the participants, daily meetings with visiting priests for those who wish them, prayer groups, catechism and Bible study groups.

There is a separate program intended to help those recovering to re-enter society on equal footing with others, to overcome their legal, family and medical problems and to find jobs for them.

The regular duration of work under the program is from 10 to 14 months. But after finishing the program, people tend to continue coming to us for a year's time to attend special support groups.

There have been over 150 participants altogether. Many of these people have come to stable and conscious abstinence, and most of those who joined the program being atheists or agnostic have been inchurched, replenishing the number of active Orthodox parishioners for whom faith is not an external ritual side of life but Life itself.

As for the rehabilitation of alcoholics, our program has proved to be very effective as 70% of people who worked under it for over three months usually acquire a stable remission for over a year, while 86% of those who completed the program has uninterrupted remission afterwards for a period from one to five and a half years.

Along with this work, we do not cease our efforts to develop a comprehensive approach to the problem of alcoholism and drug-addiction, taking the following practical steps.

For almost two years now, our volunteers have come on duty counselling people over the contact telephone at the Church of St. Protomatyr Catherine. They give free both person-to-person and telephone counsel to those suffering from alcoholism and drug-addiction and their relatives. The Old World program staff holds regular lessons with the volunteers team, helping them to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary in this kind of service.

We have helped several self-help groups to organise themselves and begin their work; at present there are some 70 participants in them.

The Old World staff have given regular lectures free of charge at the Moscow State University, Russian Open Social University and some other educational institutions. They give guidance to students at these institute in their practical work and in writing their term and graduation papers. They have also participated in organising training seminars held by various educational and research institutions and have been permanent participants in various reflection and action conferences.

We have been actively involved in educational work, participating in preparations for and conduct of radio and TV shows devoted to the problems of alcoholism and drug-addiction and contributing to various popular and academic periodicals and publications.

We have also maintained co-operation with other organisations. Thus, the Medical Genetics Centre at the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences has provided us with facilities where Orthodox priests as well as psychologists and medical doctors give daily talks to all who wish to participate. These talks are usually attended by over fifty people.

The Old World foundation has maintained numerous contacts with colleagues in other countries. We have often been visited by specialists - Christian counsellors and psychologists working in the area of the prevention and treatment of dependencies. They deliver lectures for the participants in the rehabilitation program and self-help groups and for their relatives, and we organise their talks with all those wishing to attend. Thus, recently we hosted guests from Great Britain, Poland, the USA, Pakistan and other countries.

We have concluded agreements with some Christian organisations in Northern Ireland, such as the Life Christian charity, the Stauros foundation, the Christian Family Centre, Ulster University and others, for preparation and implementation of a joint program called "Synergos". The purpose of this program is to develop the work carried out by each side for the rehabilitation of people suffering from alcoholism and drug-addiction. The task of the Synergos is to arrange an exchange of specialists and staff, to organise conferences with panel sessions, to translate and produce printed, audio- and video-materials on alcoholism and drug-addiction and related diseases, to compile a library and an information-resources data base and to carry out other activities for mutual support and empowerment of partner organisations.

We have continued to compile our library in which everyone can borrow books on the problems of rehabilitation. We have also been engaged in informational work, regularly replenishing a special computer data base on organizations working in the filed of rehabilitation and related areas.

Recently we have become co-founders of an autonomous non-profit organisation called "The Charity Aid Centre" uniting the efforts of volunteers, including whose who live in Moscow, the USA, Great Britain, Sweden, Ethiopia and other countries, in proving aid for the homeless and needy. This work is closely bound up with our immediate tasks since many of these people have alcoholic and narcological problems. The volunteers at the centre and the foundation arrange hot lunches for the homeless, help them to obtain clothes and render other assistance.

Together with the Charity Aid Centre, the Old World foundation has founded a newspaper called "There Is a Way Out", which was originally called "Abyss". The newspaper carries materials helping the homeless to overcome their problems, and its sale returns have been used for aid to them.

Unfortunately, we still work without any permanent financing, existing exclusively on occasional small donations from various organisations and private persons. This prevents us from employing a sufficient minimal number of professional staff.

All this has made it difficult, and in many ways even impossible, to implement the comprehensive programs we have developed for providing aid to those who need it. This means that people continue to suffer and to make suffer those around them, while relief is quite possible.

In our prayers we ask the Lord to guide us in all our initiatives. He alone can help us if it is His will. But God often works through people; therefore, our dear brothers and sisters, we ask you, too, to help us. We ask in the first place your support by prayer and participation in our efforts.

For those who can help us materially, we give the bank account of the Old World Christian regional public charity: "Stary Svet": Account No. 40703810400000000795 in the Rossijski Kredit commercial bank. INN: 7702160897. BIK: 044541103. Corresponding Account No. 30101810700000000103.

Eugene N. Protsenko
Psychologist and a Chairman of the Old World foundation
The Old World foundation's address:
Remizova St. 5, Dom Marii
Tel/Fax: (095) 127-0488

Telephone for counselling
on alcoholism and drug-addiction
(095) 959-1296
From 15.00 to 18.00 Monday,Wednesday, Friday
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The Inform-12 Publishers

We are private publishers making up a group of like-minded people who are interested in helping people with alcoholic and narcological dependency to get rid of their disease. The non-objective approach to these diseases based on rejection and condemnation, which has prevailed for years, has formed among most people the attitude towards alcoholics and drug-addicts as "second-sort" people, thus depriving them of hope for recovery.

The Inform-12 Publishers, therefore, believe it their primary task to inform public at large about the spiritual approaches to the solution of the problem of alcoholism, drug-addiction and other dependencies.

We have set it as our goal to publish and distribute various literature addressed to both drinking and recovering alcoholics, drug-addicts, their relatives and friends and devoted to the problems of alcoholism, drug-addiction and ways of recovery. Along with this, we shall publish special editions reflecting the world experience and achievements in the prevention and treatment of various kinds of dependency.

Our editorial board is made up of people who have not only special professional training but also know the problem from their own experience.

We seek to combine the personal experience of recovering alcoholics, drug-addicts and their relatives, the modern knowledge in chemical dependencies with the rich experience of religion. At the same time, we believe that the problem of chemical dependencies should not be considered from medical perspective alone. Indeed, the human being represents a whole world, complex and contradictory, the more so the suffering human being. The enormous amount of advertisements in the mass media promising speedy recovery has done a great damage to this category of people and their relatives by feeding them misinformation and misleading them as to the true nature of the disease. The process of treatment offered by such "healers", just as by official narcology, takes place without the participation of the person himself, without using the spiritual potential inherent in every person.

Where then the way out of the impasse of the alcoholic and narcological dependence is to be found? In our view, one of the most effective and affordable ways is offered by the Alcoholics Anonymous community (AA). Its 12 Steps program contributes to the spiritual re-birth and formation of the person. The same 12 Steps program has been used by the Drug-Addict Anonymous and the Al-Anon uniting alcoholics' relatives and friends. The answer to the question 'What is to be done?' asked by the ill and their relatives can be given only by those who themselves have come through all the hell's circles and broke out of them, that is recovering alcoholics or drug-addicts. This has been proved by the whole history of the AA. This community unites over two million people in 150 countries of the world. Hundreds of thousands of people have recovered from alcoholism thanks to the AA.

This movement has existed in Russia since 1987. At present there are 180 groups of Alcoholics Anonymous in 90 cities and villages; there are also groups of Drug-Addicts Anonymous and Al-Anon groups. Many AA members are believers, though the community itself is not associated with any religious organisation. Some AA and Al-Anon groups hold their meetings in Orthodox churches, while priests help them and their families.

In early 1998, the Inform-12 Publishers published a book entitled Alcoholics Speaking About Themselves consisting of stories told by recovering alcoholics. We hope that the experience of these people, who balanced on the brink of death and lost hope to find a way out but managed to come to abstinence thanks to the AA's 12 Steps program, combined with the views of specialists and priests from various countries of the world and materials on the development of the AA movement will help to find hope to all those who were struck by this terrible misfortune.

We have started publishing a series of small-format books Alcoholics Speaking About Themselves. The first of them entitled There is a Way Out explains how to join the AA and the First Step of its program.

In 1998 it is planned to publish the series There is a Way Out for beginners and To Live Sober consisting of books, brochures and information resources, the series Drug-Addict Speaking About Themselves and Everyday Reflections, as well as the next issues of the To Be Free journal devoted to the treatment of chemical dependencies.

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