Rich Shaus – Gospel Rescue Mission – Stigma of Addiction Interview

Retired US Army Captain helping families in their battle against addiction

Charles:

I would like to welcome Rich Schaus from the Gospel Rescue Mission in Muskogee Oklahoma who will be discussing the Stigma of Addiction with us today. Hello Rich, how are you today?

Rich Schaus:

I am doing fantastic.

Charles:

I’d like to let our readers get to know you a little bit before we dive head first into such an important subject. Can you tell us a little about what you do at the GRMM and yourself in general?

Rich Schaus:

In 2001, I resigned my commission as a US Army Captain and moved to Washington state where I began working in March of 2002 with women and children that were experiencing homelessness. My belief was that I would go in there and fix people an teach them the right way to live. I also believed that I would only do that for a few months before something better came along. A weird thing happened. I fell in love with the people. They were hurting and loving and they had stories to tell that made me laugh, cry, get mad and all sorts of emotions. Anyway, I never left the business. Last July I took a job in Muskogee Oklahoma with Gospel Rescue Mission as their executive director.

We work with men and women who are experiencing crisis of hunger, homelessness and hopelessness. Many of them are struggling with addictions of all sorts. About 9 years ago my Aunt Anne died of her alcohol addiction so I have a passion for helping folks. I wish that I had understood it better back then. Maybe I could have saved her life. My theory back then was that she should just quit drinking.

Her death motivated me to study in every way possible so that maybe I could save someone else the pain.

Charles:

Wow, so you have worked with addicts and their loved ones for a long while now. I do have to ask with our VETs being such an important part of society and of service to our country have you also worked with veterans and their families?

Rich Schaus:

I have often worked with VETS and I understand their pain. I do have to push through my initial bias that a soldier should be able to be tough and not use drugs or alcohol to get over the pain of our experiences. I know that I can get judgmental if I let my self think that way. So I choose to be their friend and encourage them to remember the positive times that the military offers.

Charles:

I am sorry to hear about your aunt and I can see that you have dedicated yourself to a life of service to your country. I want to take you back to a comment you made; back when you didn’t know what you know today. “she should just quit drinking.” Stigma can often be a barrier to both the addict, their loved ones and especially the ones wanting to help. Would you say that such a misunderstanding can foster Stigma and what insight would you give to break it?

Rich Schaus: Mostly people think that someone experiencing addiction can simply wake up and decide to quit. I have only known one person who ever pulled that off. Addiction is more of a symptom. We don’t totally discard someone or come up with cruel names for a family member or friend that has a toothache or cancer. I don’t believe that addiction is a disease like many, but I do believe that we have to recognize that just like the cancer is about the cells or the toothache is caused by an infection. Addiction has an underlying cause. We need to help root out that cause and help folks heal. I would also point out that the stigma often comes not from a mean spirit. One example is AA. NOTE: I love AA and the 12 steps I am just giving the one piece that I disagree with. At a typical AA meeting someone stands up and says, “My name is Rich and I am an alcoholic.” That statement defines and identity that is not true. What is more true would be to say that I am a person who is currently struggling with my addiction.

Charles:

Excellent point Rich; I have however spoken recently with an individual that like you disagrees with the label however defines and explains the reasoning behind NA, AA approach which is a means to self-identify. I can see both sides of the coin on this one; it is good to have two perspectives. I would like to delve deeper with you into the Stigma of Addiction: From what I understand you work a lot with families, how in your opinion does the Stigma of Addiction impact the family members of an addict in terms of a family unit recovery?

Rich Schaus:

Families like to separate themselves from the addict. Parents often feel like they have failed as parents. Most have not but they believe that to be true. Most of the family members will not openly talk about their loved one trapped in addiction openly. Shame is a major factor that will prevent the family from healing.

Charles:

How do you help a family through this at GRMM?

Rich Schaus:

We will soon be offering some group programming so that they can see that they are not alone. But currently we spend a lot of time simply talking with the family. We listen to their stories and give some direction on sticky issues. Questions typically come up around security and safety. Should they answer their calls? We also comfort them when they get happy because their loved one is in jail. They don’t get to share that joy with their church group. We at GRM understand it because they know that their loved one is safe.

We teach basics of the 12 steps and also use Celebrate Recovery materials. We also share resources about whatever the drug of choice is. Most of the time it is possible for us to introduce someone else to them who has recovered from their addiction. That gives them hope.

Charles:

You obviously get to see both sides of the coin especially working with the families so much. I love the introducing them to someone who has recovered element. I want you to look back over the past 14 years and maybe you can give us some insight into an important question. Have you come across individuals that have been refused jobs, entry into school or similar discrimination due to being the loved one or family member of an addict?

What steps can be taken in such a situation to help and fight such a nasty side of the Stigma of addiction?

Rich Schaus:

Sadly, the only place I have seen that happen is in the church. What I usually recommend in those situations is that if the church you are part of does not understand addiction and grace then you are better off not being there. I don’t know if I would call it discrimination as such but it is a sad commentary on what a lack of understanding can cause.

Charles:

Wow that is quite sad. Rich, I think we have covered a lot of ground today and answered some very important questions; I would like to thank you for joining us today and helping with your experience and thoughtful input on the subject. If you had to give one last piece of advice to families, addicts and people helping them recover and thrive even against the backdrop of Stigma what would it be ?

Rich Schaus:

Don’t give up. Seek help from others. This issue is too difficult to handle alone.

Charles:

Thanks again Rich for being with us today, I know you are working on a book to help individuals and families going through hard times and I look forward to discussing this with you in the future.