A spirit with a memory

“[Addiction] does not want the addict; it wants the family, the community, the nation.”

— the Rev. Renita Weems

Addiction, explains the Rev. Renita Weems, “wants your soul, but it will settle, for now, [for] your sanity. It wants your hope, but it will settle for your family. … It is a spirit with a memory, and it preys across generations of families. It does not want the addict; it wants the family, the community, the nation.”

That thought seems distressing enough, but many women dealing with addiction must confront still more challenges. “When entering treatment, women often face issues such as domestic violence, single parent[ing], pregnancies, [lack of] transportation, lack of support systems, posttraumatic stress syndrome and economic restricts,” states the press release for Addiction: Focus on Women, an upcoming seminar at the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville. “Often, combinations of these factors serve to have a woman leave treatment prematurely.”

The weeklong event, slated for May 10-14, includes more than just informative sessions on addiction and women in recovery, notes conference director Patti Tiberi. There’s also morning meditation and yoga, on-site massage, free time for walks around the lake, and the “Sacred Space” — an area set aside to nurture mind, body and spirit.

After all, Kanuga’s woodsy setting was selected for a reason: “It’s nice to give a healing space to folks,” Tiberi observes. And an array of alternatives — including both commuter and one-day programs, as well as room-and-board options — makes it easier for people to attend at least a portion of the event.

The idea for the conference, developed by the Mountain Area Health Education Center nearly two decades ago, grew out of the realization that, most of the available models for dealing with addiction issues were geared toward men. “A group of female and male [health-care providers] met and talked about the special needs of women as they get treatment,” the director recalls. “Early on, Stephanie Covington was involved, and she came to the conference for 10 years.”

A clinician, organizational consultant, author and lecturer, Dr. Covington is renowned for her pioneering work on addiction, sexuality and relationships as they affect women.

With other like-minded authorities on board, the conference developed a unique mission: educating professionals and the public about addiction in women, examining the effects of different cultural backgrounds on treatment, improving the skills of those working with addicted women, expanding the available resources while encouraging networking, and bringing hope and support to the recovery process.

Covington has since moved on in her career, but the conference continues to draw from top specialists in the field. This year’s keynote speaker is Joan Borysenko, who will discuss “The Power of Change: The Promise of Healing.”

A pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, Borysenko, a clinical psychologist by trade, incorporates mind/body medicine, women’s health and spirituality in her work. Her latest book is Inner Peace for Busy Women: Balancing Work, Family, and Your Inner Life (Hay House, 2003).

“She’ll be talking about the pace we live at and how we take care of ourselves. She really practices what she preaches,” Tiberi reports. “If people have the opportunity to come for just one day, they should attend the Wednesday, stand-alone day [when Borysenko speaks]. They’ll learn a lot from hearing her, and they’ll walk away changed,” promises Tiberi.

Those with more time to commit can choose from a cluster of workshops, such as “The Role of Hope in Recovery,” “Using Music in Working With Substance-Abuse Clients,” and “What is Faith-Based Counseling, Anyway?” Other topics include gambling, eating disorders and the use of the drug Ecstasy. Evening sessions feature lighter fare, such as massage and journaling.

The conference isn’t just for people working in recovery-related fields; it’s also for those struggling with addiction themselves. This year’s seminar, notes Tiberi, is geared more toward health-care professionals, but the program for Wednesday, May 12 may be of particular interest to people in recovery.

Each year, the planning committee brainstorms a theme for the conference. This year, it’s “Hope, Health and Healing.”

“We talked about what kind of topics are coming up in the field for the year,” Tiberi explains. “Because of all the transitions — last year, people were so distraught about losing jobs — we wanted to do something encouraging, something that could give back a bit of what was lost.”

And just because it’s called Addiction: Focus on Women doesn’t mean no boys allowed. “We have a core group of men who come every year and love it,” the conference director reports.

“Of course, there’s a larger core group of women,” adds Tiberi. “This is their respite, where they remember why they’re in this field.”

[Registration for the 18th annual Addiction: Focus on Women must be received by 5 p.m. on Friday, April 16. Forms and additional information are available by calling MAHEC at 257-4475. Tuition ranges from $350 for the week (plus $90/day for lodging and meals) to $95 for Wednesday, May 12 only (plus $10 for lunch and commuter fee).]

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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