Ask the Expert: Ed Treat from The Center of Addiction and Faith

We feature an expert in the mental health and substance use disorder field to answer questions. This issue we talk to Ed Treat of The Center of Addiction and Faith about finding hope while in recovery / dealing with mental health issues. 

Q: How does having a sense of hope impact someone’s overall mental health and their recovery?

Hope is the feeling that something good will happen. We hope for so many things, don’t we? I hope I don’t get COVID-19; I hope my work can really help people; I hope our political situation will improve; I hope we can resolve climate change; I hope my kids stay safe. Hope is expecting good things—even when at times things seem dire.

When we are active in our addiction, we slowly lose hope. Addiction is often referred to as a disease of despair and despair comes from losing hope. We gradually lose hope in our disease because as our disease progresses and our addiction slowly consumes our lives, we become less responsible. When we become less responsible fewer good things happen and we stop hoping for good things because we continue to be disappointed. We become jaded and cynical, depressed, isolated, which all leads to hopelessness and despair.

A sense of hope gets restored naturally in the recovery process as we discover better things begin to happen in our lives and we dare to become ever more hopeful. Whereas before all our hopes did not materialize, mostly because of our behaviors, but now in recovery even the little things we hope for begin to happen. As we recover, we become progressively more hopeful over time. It takes time to restore and build up our hope muscles, but it is at the core of our mental health and recovery.

Q: As a Pastor, how do you help people find hope in their lives?

As a spiritual leader it is my calling in life to always point to something bigger. While we hope for things here on earth and while it’s important to remain hopeful for even the little things, there is a much more powerful sense of hope that comes from understanding there is a higher power at work in the universe. Understanding our lives from the perspective of knowing there is something much bigger going on behind all things leads us to a new and infinitely larger sense of hope.

A man dying of AIDS once told me about his near-death experience. He described floating out of his body; of being surrounded by a golden light and loved ones; he described a sense of joy and peace beyond measure; he said he had complete knowledge of everything; he understood that the things we worry about on Earth are so small in the scheme of things; he understood he could stay there or come back to his dying body for a little longer. And then said the thing that stuck with me so profoundly—he said, “I knew I could endure what little time I had left and the pain I was in because I knew I had this waiting for me.”

Helping people see and believe there is something bigger going on, that there is a higher power at work who is personal and means us well, knowing that no matter what, come hell or high water, it’s all going to be okay in the end—this is the greatest source of hope I know, and I try to impart it every chance I get.

Q: What are some ways that people can foster continual hope?

My recovery has taught me more than anything else that we were designed to need each other. We are social beings, and we need love, relationships and yes, accountability. My disease drove me away from all of that. Addiction leads to deep and despairing isolation. The recovery process is a long slow process of restoring those things in my life. For some reason I naturally resist. There is always a part of me that wants to defy needing others and go my own way. I don’t want to be dependent on others. I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it.

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I think this is at the core of the human struggle, whether you are in recovery or not. A truly spiritual life and growing sense of hope, meaning and purpose in life comes from giving yourself to the human family in humility and service. The more I die to myself and live for others the more hope and joy and purpose I experience in my soul.

To foster hope, we attend meetings; we try to be there for others; we help where needed. The more I live for myself, the more hopeless I start to feel and the more I give myself to others the more my hope grows.

Q: What are some resources that are available for those who are feeling hopeless?

The problem is those who are feeling hopeless do not want to reach out their hands.The resources for those feeling hopeless are immense. In fact, I had no idea how many resources were actually out there until I started developing the Center of Addiction and Faith three years ago. There are countless extended hands out there willing to help. There is great help available for just about every affliction under the sun. Just Google what you are looking for and you will get page after page of resources—free and paid.

The problem is those who are feeling hopeless do not want to reach out their hands. They don’t see the point. They are in a downward spiral, and they’ve tried things but are convinced there is no hope for them. They are closed off and closed down.

This is where it is up to those of us who have come from those dark places ourselves to recognize those who need help and to pursue them. An addict cannot save themselves. They need people who love them to intervene. There needs to be a dogged pursuit with gentle and loving prompts continually reminding those who are hurting they need help—and that you are willing to help them. They will eventually come around, but you have to be patient and persistent.

Q: As a person in recovery, how have you found hope?

My sponsor used to say that AA is the last house on the block, meaning it’s the last place anyone wants to turn to for help. The addict wants to try everything else first. That was my story. I did not think I had this problem and even until the day I landed in treatment I was convinced something was wrong with me, but it wasn’t this.

I got my first shot of hope while in treatment learning about the disease and what it does, and I realize this explained everything. It made sense and I realized the insanity was finally over. I had hope for the first time in a long time that I could have a normal life—and that’s all I wanted was a normal life—something to go right for once.

If we say this is a spiritual disease requiring a spiritual solution, how is it that faith communities do not have a better response than they do now?My hopefulness has been built up over years of attending 12-Step meetings, working the program and watching my life grow from one mountain-top to another. There are setbacks all the time, even to this day. The difference is, when I experience a setback of any kind while I was using, I would turn that setback into opportunity to make it even worse by using and spending money I didn’t have doing things that would embarrass and shame me. That setback would go from bad to worse. Now, when I experience setbacks, I know it’s temporary and that setbacks are actually gifts to help me grow and expand.

I’ve also developed my spiritual life through my faith which has given me an expanded sense of hopefulness. My faith has given me a much bigger perspective on life and death and a sense of hope that even death cannot destroy. I had the honor of preaching at my sponsor’s funeral and I reminded people that he used to say that AA was the last house on the block, and I was able to stand there and say, actually there is one more house and it’s the best one of all.

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Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about the topic of hope?

Since you asked, I am hopeful that the Center of Addiction and Faith can inspire faith communities to better engage the issue of addiction and play a role in the healing of those who still suffer. With COVID-19 still raging and people dying from addiction at an ever-increasing pace, I think there is great opportunity for churches, synagogues, and mosques all over the country to play a meaningful role in helping to confront these terrible and needless losses. I hope recovering people who are engaged in these communities will step out of hiding and begin to engage their faith communities to do more. Faith communities are one of the first places people turn to for help when struggling with addiction and too often these silently suffering souls walk away disappointed. How crazy is that? If we say this is a spiritual disease requiring a spiritual solution, how is it that faith communities do not have a better response than they do now? I hope those who preach and believe in the love of God can learn to do better on this issue. That’s my big hope right now.

Pastor Ed Treat. Treat has been in long-term recovery from addiction for 35 years. He received his Master of Divinity and a doctorate in ministry from Luther Seminary. From 1994-2019, he was a parish pastor, serving congregations in rural Nebraska and around the Twin Cities. To provide addiction-recovery support to professional clergy and their families, Treat joined the newly-formed Fellowship of Recovering Lutheran Clergy (FRLC) in 1990. This was a non-profit effort between pastors of the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. In 2001, Treat became the director of the FRLC and remains such today. Through the FRLC and with some collaboration with the Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church (RMEC), Treat launched the Addiction & Faith Conference in 2018 to educate, inspire and equip congregations in addiction ministry. In 2020, Treat founded The Center of Addiction & Faith, as a 501©3 nonprofit. He sits on the boards of the FRLC, the RMEC, the Center of Addiction & Faith, Minnesota Mental Health Connect, and serves on the PAC of Minnesota Recovery Connection. Treat is also author of The Pastor, a psychological novel about a small-town pastor who confronts a mystery surrounding the death of a member of his congregation. Says Treat, “Every living soul is a child of God—without exception. But there are too many out there who call themselves Christians who want us to think there are conditions. There are none! God forgives you. God accepts you. God loves you, period. This conviction is at the core of all my writing, preaching and work with addiction.” When he is not practicing social distance during a pandemic, Treat loves to plan group trips and travel. He and his wife Karen, also a Lutheran minister, have four grown children and one granddaughter.

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Last Updated on January 12, 2022

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